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Louis Goodman / Arya Firoozmand – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to lawyers about their lives and careers. Today, Arya Firoozmand joins the podcast. Recognizing the need and demand of small and solo firms to refer legal work to each other, Arya, along with two partners, formed Overture.law. I encourage you to check out their website as it may be helpful to you in your practice.
Overture is on the cutting edge of blending law, technology, and networking for the benefit of practicing attorneys. Arya Firoozmand, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Arya Firoozmand 00:43
Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Louis Goodman 00:46
It’s a pleasure to have you on. I’m very impressed with the work that you’re doing.
It’s very interesting and I definitely want to get into it. Where are you talking to us from right now?
Arya Firoozmand 00:57
We’re out of Los Angeles. So I’m actually, as most people are these days, working from home most of the time. But yeah, we’re in Los Angeles.
Louis Goodman 01:06
I spoke about it a little bit in the introduction, but I’m wondering if you could tell us what sort of practice, what sort of business that you’re in right now?
Arya Firoozmand 01:17
Sure, sure. I’ll tell you. Overture is an attorney-to-attorney referral platform that lets attorneys refer matters to each other that they can’t service and monetize those referrals through ethical referral fees. It makes a lot more sense when I think we go to how we got to this point. I started a few companies with my co-founders, Curt Brown, a buddy of mine from law school, and Brian Liu, who started LegalZoom back in 2000.
We’ve been working together for the last seven years and in different spaces, originally in the plaintiff space generating cases and referring them throughout the country, but most most prominently, we started a company called BizCounsel, which is a legal subscription company for small businesses. We built that up to service thousands of small businesses throughout the country to provide them with basic legal services, and things were going great until the pandemic, and we saw our own clients spread out all over the country, have employees over here, operations over here, have legal issues in states and practice areas that we just couldn’t service. And we talked to our colleagues and said, Hey, is this a problem you guys are having too, these solo and small firms that we knew in our circles? And the stories, no matter what practice area you ask was, yes, you know, people who lived in New York now needed an estate plan, but they bought property in Florida during the pandemic. So now you need a rope and 2 lawyers.
Even personal injury lawyers have a client who during the pandemic moved to another state. So now they need an attorney in that state to help them. And so we built Overture, honestly, because we needed it. We needed a place to refer our clients to trusted attorneys and find them a great home first and foremost. But secondarily, build a mechanism for us to be able to monetize those referrals.
Louis Goodman 03:04
Where are you from originally?
Arya Firoozmand 03:05
Born and raised Southern California.
Louis Goodman 03:08
Did you go to high school there in Southern California?
Arya Firoozmand 03:10
High school here in Southern California, El Camino Real for the folks who are in Southern California, but yet born and raised and never really left.
Louis Goodman 03:19
When you graduated from El Camino Real high, where’d you go to college?
Arya Firoozmand 03:24
I went to UC Irvine, I went to UC Irvine just an hour south of here in Los Angeles. Actually, it was one of the best things that happened to me because I met Curt Brown, who ended up going to UCLA for law school with me. We went together. We happened to be in the same section and sat together every single day and studied together.
And you know, you would think that we study every minute of the day together. We go to the same time at the library. We took all the same classes. We do the same, but Curt was at the top of his class and I was towards the bottom. But we ended up working together here at Overture all these years later. So it was a blessing.
Louis Goodman 04:02
When you graduated from college, did you go straight through to law school, or did you take any time off?
Arya Firoozmand 04:08
I went straight through, I went through undergrad and then immediately went to law school. And as most people said, and I’ve heard on this podcast, it’s a shock to do that, right? Because you go from fun college to law school where it’s serious business, but I think that’s why in those first year or so. You got that punch to the mouth and that I got personally, but it was honestly a blessing. I don’t think I would be here doing what we’re doing, chatting with folks like yourself, if I didn’t have that reality check.
And it forced me to frankly look at problems and try to find unique ways of solving them because The OCI route of going and getting a big firm job wasn’t immediately apparent to me after my first year. I had to find new and different ways to get to that overall goal. So, blessing in disguise, making it through directly from undergrad and getting that shock that first year.
Louis Goodman 05:04
What was that reality check shock that you got the first year?
Arya Firoozmand 05:08
Just not being able to perform well in school to the standard that you would expect because now everyone at UCLA is smarter than you. That was the, that’s the first time that you run into people where everyone is as dedicated and as talented and if not more than you.
And it was one of the best things that happened to me in life because I think too often, I’ll speak for myself, you know, you just do the path that’s in front of you. You go to undergrad, you take the LSAT, you go to law school, and you keep going down this path. But getting that reality check that first year really forced me to step back and say, where do I need to go visualize how we need to get there and figure out what are your skill sets and what are your strong suits to be able to get you to that path, even if it’s not the same path everyone else took.
Louis Goodman 06:00
Yeah, I had a similar experience at Hastings. I had gone to a very competitive elementary school, public school, and then when I got to junior high and high school, it was competitive and difficult in some ways, but I never had any problem finding myself near the top of the class in college, it was no problem staying at the top of the class. And then I got to law school and it was, wow, these people are really smart.
Arya Firoozmand 06:37
And it’s such a shock, but it’s a blessing in the end because it, it forces you to elevate your game and your standards and work harder. And I think that’s probably one of the best takeaways of law school is being around all these really intelligent, capable people.
Louis Goodman 06:54
Yeah, people ask me why I do this podcast and I say, well, it’s because I get to talk to lawyers and lawyers are really fun to talk to, you know, they’re smart and they read and they think about things and they generally have something to say.
Arya Firoozmand 07:05
That’s true. Funny enough, I do the same thing. Our world is talking to lawyers most of the time and that’s one of the best parts of what we do.
Louis Goodman 07:11
When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer?
Arya Firoozmand 07:16
My path was, I think, unorthodox in that regard. I was always good at math and science, and so I did the only natural thing was to go in the complete opposite direction, and to become a political science major in undergrad, and that kind of showed me the world of law, and I saw folks like Curt who again, works with me here at Overture. He was dead set on law. And I saw, Hey, it seems like he knows exactly where he’s going. Let’s go to.
But the truth is also law was something that was presented to me as something that opens up endless opportunities. I think everyone thinks of, of getting your law degree is just being a lawyer, but You think of all the, these amazing careers and paths that lawyers have taken, it really opens up more doors than I think any other postgraduate degree can.
And so I think that, that ability to say, Hey, you can build your own future from here was really exciting.
Louis Goodman 08:12
What did your friends and family say when you said, Hey, I want to be a lawyer. I’m going to law school?
Arya Firoozmand 08:19
They said, you better know what you’re doing because they were a family of engineers and, and doctors and things like that. And so I was the first one in my family to go to law school. But as long as I made that jump, right, that jumped from undergrad to law school, once I got in and I found my way, they were more than happy, but it’s a scary transition, right? It’s if you go to undergrad and you spend four years and you become an engineer, you graduate, you’re an engineer and you have a career set for you.
When you graduate with a political science degree, it’s a little bit more challenging unless you make that jump to law school.
Louis Goodman 08:56
What was your first legal job when you got out of law school?
Arya Firoozmand 09:01
Yeah. So my first legal job was at a, I guess, midsize firm in Orange County. They did primarily construction defense for very large builders and mostly hourly work. But I was very fortunate to meet one of my mentors, Bob Scott, who was doing plaintiff’s insurance bad faith. And he was a very, very small part who was almost an isolated part of that firm. And I just grabbed on to him whatever work he had, I wanted to do. And he was the one who introduced me to the business of law.
You never hear the word referral fee in law school. You never understand how the business side of law works in law school, as many of your guests have attested to as well. But he being in the plaintiff’s world really showed me how this entire world works and was instrumental in me eventually leaving that firm and starting our first company with Curt and Brian.
Louis Goodman 09:55
Okay. Walk me through that process of leaving the formal law firm and going into the entrepreneurial side of law.
Arya Firoozmand 10:08
Yeah, so I think it comes back to my, that first year it kind of forced me to do things and look at problems in unorthodox ways. And when I was working with Bob and we were doing insurance, bad faith, you started to realize, as we were talking to these clients that
they just didn’t know that they were attorneys who did this type of law. They were stuck. It’s not like a personal injury where everyone knows you can hire an attorney and they’ll do it on contingency.
This was an area of law that people didn’t know that they were attorneys who specialize and the fact that they did it on contingency was new to them. So I was talking to Curt and I said, Listen, why don’t we be that connector and build something that connects clients with insurance bad faith needs to attorneys who specialize in this all along the country? And we talked about that for a while. I reached out to Brian Lou completely cold, just sent him an email and said, Hey, I’m working on this project, and funny enough, he had ideas in a different space. And so we ended up getting together and over a year of working on it, Curt and I said, Hey, let’s give it a go.
So me, Curt and Brian started our first entrepreneurial venture and insurance, bad faith. And that ended up morphing to personal injury and employment and ended up back in business where obviously Brian had inroads from his days at LegalZoom.
Louis Goodman 11:27
Yeah. Where does LegalZoom and Robert Shapiro fit into all of this? Cause I know it fits in someplace and maybe you can tell us.
Arya Firoozmand 11:35
Yeah. So Brian was one of the co-founders of LegalZoom, right? With Robert Shapiro and Brian Lee and Eddie Hartman. And at the time that I had approached Brian, he was chairman of the board of LegalZoom, but he wasn’t involved too much in the day to day anymore of LegalZoom and he was trying to figure out that next path of what makes sense. And I think just out of sheer luck, when I contacted Brian, he was thinking of something very similar to what we were proposing. I was just contacting him to get his two cents and to chat with him for a few minutes, but a year’s worth of chatting ended up that we ended up starting working together, the three of us. And that was the beginning of how we started.
So LegalZoom isn’t involved in anything that we do other than we share a co-founder. Even, even before that was a company called Right Counsel. And the idea was we were generating these contingency fee cases and sharing them with contingency fee lawyers throughout the country and generating a referral fee.
Then we were set up as a law firm and that’s where we really started to understand the nuances of referral fees, how they work in all 50 states, how the plaintiff’s world treats those cases. And as you mentioned, then we ended up going back into the business world where we started a subscription company, an old-fashioned subscription company for small businesses.
But then when Overture came about, when we needed homes for these clients that we couldn’t service at BizCounsel, we kind of morphed our two worlds together. We took the sophistication of referral fees that have been around for decades in the plaintiff space and brought it to areas of law, like business litigation, real estate transactions, wills and trust, areas of law that just didn’t share in fees through referral fees. We took that sophistication and brought it to this world that we obviously knew very well from BizCounsel.
Louis Goodman 13:30
In researching this podcast I looked at the business model, I looked at some things that were on your website and I was talking to a colleague and my colleague’s question was, how is it ethical? And I’m sure you’ve looked into it and I want to answer his question for him.
Arya Firoozmand 13:48
No, that’s the question everyone asks, right? Is this ethical, but the honest answer, like I mentioned a minute ago is we’re not, I wish we invented something new. We really didn’t. The referral fees have been around for decades in the plaintiff space, they’ve been using it to their advantage. Every state has rules on how you can ethically share in fees with other attorneys. We’re not doing anything different than those plaintiff’s folks are doing. We’re using those laws as they’re written, but they have nuances, right? Certain states follow laws like here in California, peer referral rules. Other states follow the ABA model rule. Every state may have some nuance to it. Our job is to put together a platform that makes it easy to share those referrals and make sure that you share those referrals ethically.
And Curt has become kind of a referral fee expert over the years of not only talking to Ethics Council and going through that whole process, but researching the laws and staying up to date as well. I think frankly this morning he was doing a CLE for one of these CLE providers on referral fees. He thought might as well share some of this knowledge that I’ve learned across 50 states with other folks.
So part of our job, frankly, is educating folks on this, this area that they may not have learned that much about in law school or dealt with because it’s not a common practice outside of personal injury. We’re just taking that sophistication there and bringing it everywhere else.
Louis Goodman 15:12
My practice is criminal defense. But I get calls from people for all kinds of things. So let’s say I get a call and someone says, I have a contract problem in Arizona and I have a criminal defense practice in California. I’m not licensed in Arizona. I just am licensed in California. So how would that work?
Arya Firoozmand 15:37
Yeah, that’s a great question. So. The way that we built the platform is that if you are a member and granted, we vet every member and we can talk about that in a minute of how we want to ensure quality of the people that are using the platform, but the nuts and bolts of how the platform works are you, if you were a member would post that referral, other attorneys who match that practice area in that state would be notified. If they, if it’s interesting to them, if it’s something that they can assist with, they would reach out to you. You guys would have that connection through the platform. We’ve built some great chat functionality and email functionality there. If you feel great, you say, Hey, this is a great home for my client. You make that referral over to that attorney. We’ve built e-sign on to the platform where we can ensure that you upload your engagement agreement, you send out your engagement agreement the way you want, we just attach the overture addendum that has the necessary disclosures for the states that issue to ensure that we can ethically share in fees, so we can ensure that when that engagement agreement goes out, the client is signing the right disclosures to allow these referral fees to be ethical.
And even on the back end, we’ve built some simple billing tools where the attorney who accepts the work can bill the client from sending a retainer request to invoicing, all of that on our system, such that when those funds get paid, they come to us and we can direct deposit them to both the referring attorney and the handling attorney for full transparency.
Again, the way that this works is Overture is set up as a law firm. That’s the benefit of all three of us going to law school is that we’re in that transaction with everyone as they’re making those referrals.
Louis Goodman 17:19
And how does Overture make money?
Arya Firoozmand 17:21
Overture takes a percentage of successful referrals. We wanted to, when we built this, you know, we were thinking, do we charge a fee for people to be members? But the truth is, as the membership continues to grow and get better and you find more and more practice series and more and more parts of the country, the platform only gets more meaningful.
It gets more powerful for the members that are in it, right? Trust me, I’m an attorney too. I get those emails. We can put 10 more clients in your, in your caseload. I didn’t, I didn’t want that. We wanted to build a tool that’s valuable to attorneys. When you have clients that you can’t service, trusted clients that you don’t want to say, Hey, I don’t know who to send you to. You can find a great home for those clients through the platform. That was the first and foremost goal. And we didn’t want a monthly fee to be a barrier to that.
If you, if you’re able to find great homes for clients that you can’t service, if you’re able to get great work from other attorneys, fantastic. If you’re able to monetize them along the way, all the better.
Louis Goodman 18:24
You said that you started this Overture.law program with two partners. On your website I noticed that there are a number of other people who are part of your team. Can you tell us a little bit about how many people you have on your team and what those people do?
Arya Firoozmand 18:44
Yeah. So that’s a great point. Yeah. Me, Curt and Brian are the co-founders of Overture, but we have folks on the membership side who are focused entirely on vetting, reviewing applications, interviews, reviewing attorney references. We have folks on the tech side, building a ton of the technology that we built, we spent about a year building the technology that I just mentioned to be as easy as we could possibly make it for referrals. Right?
The benefit of having a law firm myself, and we have litigators in both L. A. and Dallas, I think it’s about 15 attorneys now, is we had our own test group. When we would make this, we would throw it to them and say, what do you think? Would you use this? How can we make this easier? And so it took a lot of tech to see how we could build this to be as easy as possible to add on top of to what you’re currently doing. I knew that this was going to be a secondary platform to everything else that you’re doing. I needed to make it as easy as possible to make that integrate.
And then we have, of course, service folks and folks ensuring that everything is working as smoothly as possible. Service folks, of course, help in the vetting. That’s probably our biggest challenge. But besides myself and Curt and Brian, that’s kind of the departments that we have and most of our days, as I discussed earlier, are spent having great conversations with attorneys.
I think the first six months of the year, we grew just based on friends and family and their recommendations of other attorneys that they knew and trusted. But earlier this year, we said, or excuse me, earlier this month, we said, Let’s spread the word. Let’s go out and market a little bit more and have more of an outward facing approach. And the honest answer is we’ve been inundated with folks. And as much as I want to get them on the platform as fast as humanly possible, if everyone doesn’t trust in the members that are in it, it’s just a fancy tool. No one’s going to actually use it to refer their trusted clients. And so we’re limited by the hours in the day in terms of vetting all the attorneys and seeing if they believe in our core values and what we’re about and our expectations for client service.
Louis Goodman 20:54
Well, we’ve already established that you’re a bright guy and you are a lawyer and you have really great business skills, but what is it that you really like about being involved with the law and being involved with lawyers? Cause you could talk to anybody you wanted to, but you’ve chosen to spend time with lawyers.
Arya Firoozmand 21:17
I think the reason that I’m still involved in the vetting and either in the vetting process or in the onboarding process with almost every attorney that joins the platform is because it is truly enjoyable learning how different attorneys service their piece of the legal world, right?
There are so many nuances to our practice of law, so many different amazing parts of the country, and it’s just fascinating talking to attorneys who really understand, frankly, that we’re in client service. At the end of the day, we’re in customer service. And frankly, not everyone remembers that. That’s something that I think is forgotten, is a forgotten skill, but the ones that really get it, it’s refreshing talking to them and, and hearing how they talk about their clients and hearing about their success stories and, and how they try to better the lives of the people that they service. So when I, when we get to talk to those folks, it’s an absolute pleasure to have those conversations.
Louis Goodman 22:18
If a young person was just coming out of college and thinking about a career choice would you recommend law? And if so, what sort of caveats would you give them as well?
Arya Firoozmand 22:27
Yeah, that’s a great question. I absolutely would recommend it. I know a lot of lawyers who would say no, don’t do anything else, but most lawyers have done pretty well for themselves. It’s definitely a challenging career, but I think it opens up a ton of doors. You know, you can go practice for a few years and be like me and go into legal tech and try your hand at that. Or you could go in-house or you could work as a VP of a company. You could start your own practice, the ability to think in a different way is what law school gives you that critical thinking ability, that ability to solve problems and issue spot and figure out ways to get to a solution. And I think that skill is invaluable.
Of course, it’s expensive to go. It’s a time-consuming part of your practice, part of your life, excuse me, but I would 100 percent recommend if you’re interested in the law and it’s something that you want to pursue personally. Then do it. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Louis Goodman 23:24
What advice would you give to a young person just starting out in the practice of law?
Arya Firoozmand 23:29
Try to broaden your perspective as much as possible, right? If you just do this one thing, which is great, I think you should do that. And I think my general advice to folks is you should specialize in some area of law at some point because if you become a very specific specialist, people will always find you for that one specific thing, right?
But, in the early days, I think you should try to learn as much as you can, and you should try to try areas of law that you never would have considered or be open to working with partners who do something different than you normally do. Getting that wide range of experience allows you later on to say, what do I enjoy doing, what am I particularly good at, and let me drill down to that further. If you just box yourself into one thing from the very beginning, you may never experience a world outside of that.
Louis Goodman 24:20
Do you have any business advice, young people just starting their own firm, maybe they’ve come out of a… larger firm or a government job and they wanted to start their own practice, any advice for what to think about in terms of setting up the business of practicing law?
Arya Firoozmand 24:38
Yeah, I’ll tell you from experience of what Overture members who have been very, very successful have taught me, and it’s the fact that they think of themselves and they’re able to position themselves to their clients, their friends, their family is not just trademark attorneys, not just criminal defense. They are advisors. And the ones that are extremely successful at doing that, in telling their clients, I don’t care what legal issue you have, call me. If I can’t solve it, I’m going to find you somebody who can, that’s an invaluable skill to have as a practitioner.
Louis Goodman 25:16
Going to shift gears here a little bit. What’s your family life been like? And how has practicing law fit into that or your family life fit into practicing law and running your business?
Arya Firoozmand 25:27
Well, I have a two-year-old who’s probably giving my wife hell in the other room, but you know, funny enough, the pandemic has caused a lot of change, especially in the practice of law and caused us to, forced our hand rather to start Overture.
But you know, this hybrid work life that a lot of us enjoy now has been frankly a little bit of a blessing. I get to have lunch with her for whatever 15 20 minutes that I have and sit with my kid for a minute or two in those breaks and as everyone says it’s a challenge balancing those two worlds but cutting out an hour commute in the morning and an hour commute in the afternoon on most days is is a nice benefit and being able to spend that time with the family.
Louis Goodman 26:08
Do you have any recreational pursuits, anything that you sort of enjoy doing to get your mind off of work?
Arya Firoozmand 26:14
Chasing after the two-year-old isn’t a, isn’t a hobby? Besides that, trying to stay active, get outside here in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. There’s a lot of great nature around here. Try to get outside, bike, run, play basketball, whatever, whatever we can do to stay young.
Louis Goodman 26:31
Is there somebody who you’d like to meet?
Arya Firoozmand 26:34
I heard another gentleman on your podcast talk about Barack Obama and I don’t want to steal his answer. But I’ve just finished reading his book, funny enough, and I think he’s, he’s probably the one who’s on my mind. Just the story of how, you know, he faced so much more adversity than I think most people realize, and how he just overcame it and overcame it and how unlikely of a story he was to become president is inspirational, especially on those hard days where it seems like nothing’s working, hearing these stories of folks who had challenges from all angles of their lives and able to rise to become president is very inspiring.
Louis Goodman 27:17
Let’s say you came into some real money, 3 or 4 billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Arya Firoozmand 27:24
3 or 4 billion? With inflation that’s not that much anymore, but all kidding aside, I think the, the luxury that folks that you see with, with that kind of money is the luxury of time.
They hire chefs, they hire drivers, they bring on people so they have, they choose what they do with their time. You know, after this call, I’m. I have to go fix the garage door, that’s what my wife told me is giving her a hard time and having money like that lets you decide what you want to do with your time. And that’s the biggest asset that we have.
So of course, you’re going to eat nicer food, have nice, sleep in nicer beds, go on nicer vacations, but I think that amount of money to me gives you the ability to control very precisely what you do with your time.
Louis Goodman 28:10
Let’s say you had a Super Bowl ad. Someone gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl to put out any message that you wanted to this enormous audience. What would you want to say?
Arya Firoozmand 28:22
That’s easy. I would talk about Overture for all of the 60 seconds. I think, like I said, the challenge for us is getting the word out because it’s something that’s so new and attorneys always have that visceral reaction of, can you do this? And after you explain the rules, and people are free to look up the rules on their own and see that, yeah, other attorneys are taking advantage of this, and maybe we aren’t, and why aren’t we, and why can’t we do this to better service our clients and monetize those referrals along the way. I would 100 percent use it to get the word out for Overture because there’s no shortage of great referrals out there that are currently happening. And if we can get more great attorneys who believe in this mission of what we’re trying to do, that only helps our clients find great homes.
Louis Goodman 29:13
Maybe we’ll hire a biplane to drag an Overture.law banner behind it as well over the stadium.
Arya Firoozmand 29:21
We’ll take it. We’ll take it.
Louis Goodman 29:23
Speaking of which, if someone does want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that?
Arya Firoozmand 29:31
Yeah. So the easiest way is to go to our website, Overture.law O V E R T U R E dot law. Anybody can, any attorney rather can create an account and see the platform. Just, you have to put your name, email, bar number, all that great stuff, but I wanted you guys to see what’s actually happening and you can see how the platform and the tool actually works. Seeing is believing and so everyone has that ability to see how it all works and functions and if it’s for you and you’re interested, you can apply from there and you’ll chat with one of our team members and I’m sure I’ll chat with you along the way. So that’s the easiest way. Overture.law.
Louis Goodman 30:08
Arya, is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to discuss, you’d like to say, you want to, anything at all?
Arya Firoozmand 30:18
Well, we could chat for another hour, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I think that was a good, good background on me. I hope it was helpful for folks to learn a little bit more about Overture and hopefully open their mind to referral fees if they haven’t already.
Louis Goodman 30:31
Arya Firoozmand, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer Podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Arya Firoozmand 30:39
Pleasure was all mine. Thank you again.
Louis Goodman 30:41
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Arya Firoozmand 31:20
Sorry, you dropped off for the beginning of that question. I apologize.