MH: Hello, I'm Mike Hackard; I'm the chair of Hackard Law, a law firm focusing on estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation in California's major urban areas. This is Hackard Law's first podcast, It Starts Here. This is a July 2017 podcast featuring John Long, the business manager of Hackard Law. We're going to discuss how an estate, trust and elder abuse financial litigation firm runs, and John is very well qualified to speak to this. So, John, welcome.
JL: Thank you, nice to be here.
MH: Give us a little background about where you were born, a little bit about your education.
JL: I was born in a little town outside of Sydney called Singleton, Australia in the state of New South Wales. I am the son of both an American Citizen and an Australian citizen; my mother was American and my dad was Australian, so I tell everybody I am half and half.
MH: Well said, yeah. Because John and I have worked together for many years, we always have a few jokes about John's combined heritage. So, you were born in the Sydney area?
MH: Did you go to school there?
JL: Yeah, I grew up all the way through grade school and high school on the north side of Sydney and enjoyed the community. I was a surfer and loved to surf before school, and after school, and during school, and had a great time. It was a wonderful community and I still have extended family. And then I went to university, to a school called Macquarie, named after one of the first governors of New South Wales, and graduated with a degree in economics and accounting.
MH: And soon thereafter I understand you began to travel?
JL: I did, right after graduation from college, I decided I was gonna take a one-way ticket to Los Angeles from Sydney. And I bought it on a French airline, then in those days called UTA, and I used to call the flights the "mail plane" because it would stop on every little French Island in the South Pacific and you could get off with an open ended ticket. You could get off the plane, spend a few days on that island, and then just show up at the airport slightly before the departure time of the next flight, and get back on the plane and go again. And I think I was in about 8 different islands, either French national or French owned islands, or Western Samoan and American Samoan islands as well. It was a great time; I spent about 6 months just traveling the South Pacific.
MH: Wow. When you would stop at those islands, would you work at any of the local spots?
JL: I didn't work, I was only there for about two or three weeks at the most on an island, sometimes less than that. But yeah, I had to find fast friends and let them know that I would be willing to do dishes, or do, you know, outside chores at their house or whatever. So, typically I would meet people on the plane who were getting off at that stop, and I would let them know what I was doing, and they would invite me to come stay for a while, and I would end up doing chores around their house, and they would take me back to the airport, and I would catch the next flight.
MH: Yeah. Well, I have learned over the years that you are very creative and hardworking. So then finally you got to the United States, and some of the jobs that you began as a very young person in your twenties, what kind of things?
JL: Yeah, I traveled, just as I spent 6 months, or just under 6 months, traveling the South Pacific, I traveled the US, since I am a citizen. I traveled the US for about another 8 months, and stopped at different places and worked for longer periods of time. So I flipped pizzas in Houston Texas in a pizza restaurant; I was a maitre'd in a Mexican restaurant on Redondo Beach. I was a ski lift operator in Colorado Springs for a while; I was a limo shuttle driver in Chicago between the loop downtown and the airport. I worked in Portland, and then I ended up staying in Portland, Oregon for a while and became a custom house framer for custom homes, doing wooden house frames.
MH: I know you well; I know you can do it all.
JL: Well, I don't know about that.
MH: And I know you went through a number of other things, you might just talk about your IT background.
JL: Yeah, I have always had a passion in IT computers and technology, but I had an opportunity to go to work for Microsoft in the early days of their mail program, called Exchange, when they were just developing it, and they were trying to give it away because it was in the days when main frame computer technology was still at the forefront, and most large corporations depended or relied on these huge main frame computers for all of their computer daily access, including the exchange of mail. So when Microsoft came out and said: "There is a product, a mail product called Exchange that can act effectively as your mail post office, and we're gonna put it on this thing called a server, and the server is only a box that you put in your data center", it took a while for IT companies, IT departments, to accept that critical business tools like email could run off of smaller servers. And so I became basically an evangelist for Microsoft and we did testing installs in a number of bay area companies, Chevrolet, Packard Bell, some of the larger corporations, Levi Strauss. All adopted Microsoft Exchange in the early days of 1994, 1995. It was in that time frame.
MH: Okay so that kind of takes you through the mid 90's, and then, when, you know, I can remember when we joined our forces together. But do you remember how we started? How you started to help me?
JL: Yeah. I had been working for Microsoft in both the Bay Area and Sacramento, and had again done some project work in the area of email introduction, and I think you became aware of my IT skills in the fact that I'd been managing IT professional services in the Sacramento area for a while. And right before meeting you, my most recent job before that was with GE Capital the company, a big company, large corporation. And they had an IT division that was providing professional services to the state of California. And you started a company called Mariemont that was focused on contracts with various large agencies in the state of California. You were hoping to expand and build on that, and so you invited me to come and be a part of a fledgling young company in 1999, and provide IT contracting resources to Caltrans, DMV, Department of Water Resources, all kinds of contracts that we had with the state of California in late 1999, and we were approaching the year 2000 when there was great concern about this Y2K issue; that somehow all of the data on computers wasn't going to be advanced enough to distinguish between the 20th century and the 21st century. And so we worked with a number of agencies ensuring that the code was not gonna screw up their whole computer system and be unable to advance at the turn of midnight.
MH: Yeah, that was an interesting time; no one quite knew what was going to happen. And then ultimately you transitioned over to the law firm to help run the law firm.
MH: And I'm gonna fast forward a little bit.
MH: Into where we are now and what we have been doing over the past several years. So, we've focused on estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. And basically, you run the business operations for this law firm. So, give me some ideas about what does that involve? What do you do?
JL: Well it's not that different from being the general manager of a small business that has a fairly large staff, and has a high budget. So some of the tasks that any general manager would face, including managing people, human resources, finances, technology, all the assets of the firm, the properties, rental agreements, contracts; all those kinds of things come into play because there are multiple relationships that any small business has without trading, without the business partners. A lot of my effort is to alleviate any of the stress that the attorneys have to endure in terms of business relationships. So, I'm able to do that, establish all the contractual commitments, all of the vendor relationships, CPA relationships, TAX relationships all of those kinds of things, enabling the attorneys to just focus on doing the law.
MH: Okay, and I know within the context of what you're doing that you have the opportunity to meet Hackard Law's clients at various times and the attorney-client relationship. Can you talk about that a little bit?
JL: Yeah, typically I'm involved from the beginning, or soon after the client agrees that they want to have Hackard Law represent them in whatever legal matter they are facing. And so I'm involved in the final shaping of the fee agreement, and together with you we determine the terms of that fee agreement with the client, and then ensuring that the client understands the fee agreement and is willing to accept the terms. And we structure those differently; some are hourly billable arrangements, other times it's a flat fee arrangement where we will provide the legal work for one single flat fee. And other times we accept the case on what's called a 'contingency', which means that our ability to charge a fee is contingent upon the client receiving a settlement of some kind in the case. And then typically that's a percentage of the settlement amount that is recovered on behalf of the client in their case.
MH: Okay, and I know when it comes after a trial or a settlement, and money is paid, that you have a happy face and clients generally have a happy face as well. But what does that involve finally? So money comes in, and there is settlement money, or money paid after a trial.
MH: So what does that involve?
JL: Well, oftentimes the terms of the fee agreement. If it's a contingency fee agreement, meaning that our ability to recover any fees, or any costs, is contingent upon us winning on behalf of the client. If it's a contingency fee agreement, then we might advance all of the expenses of the case. Which in legal terminology, we call costs, and so the client doesn't have to pay anything out-of-pocket during the time period of the litigation. And that might include court fees, special expert fees, if we have to have an expert testify to the facts of the case, any filing fees, and any court running fees, all those kinds of things; newspaper publishing fees. All of those are advanced and paid for in advance by Hackard Law, and then we have a right to recover those costs as a reimbursement from the proceeds of the settlement. And so the client, once they know what their settlement amount is, has to then agree to the disbursement schedule that acknowledges our fee and then also acknowledges the fact that these costs have to be reimbursed as well. And then the client received the net after that arrangement.
MH: Excellent, I can say that John goes over those documents very closely with the client to make sure that everything is correct.
JL: Yeah, and along the way, the client is aware of what these costs are as well. I mean, it's not hidden anywhere that we might be spending anywhere from $5,000, to $8,000, to $10,000, in costs on any case. And if we go to court on the matter, and have to go to trial, then the costs expand exponentially because of the cost of being in litigation and in trial.
MH: Now, any business has a culture, or a sub-culture, or a combination of cultures. How would you describe the culture of Hackard Law?
JL: That's a good question, I think of it is a large family-run business. You know we are very collegial, all of the staff are. We are very respectful, and yet we acknowledge in much the way a family member might need to in a large family. I think you provide leadership that is strong and generous and kind and gracious. But you have high expectations, just like parents have high expectations of family members. And so I think anyone who works here has to have a strong measure of independence, has to have a good intellect, be a good writer, be willing to, at any point, on whatever task may be given to them, and then certainly be friendly and collegial in working with their co-workers. We don't really have a strong authoritarian hierarchy here, obviously as the owner of the firm you're the last word on the case, but I think people need to fit in and be comfortable with that kind of a role. I like to tell some folks that "If you wanna work here, this is not a corporate environment and there is no place to hide. So it's not like you can find a corner and just, you know, do your own work and never have to worry about anyone else and your relationship to them". I am a big believer that relationships are the bottom line for effectiveness in the workplace.
MH: Well, this is an appropriate first podcast, I love it. We've done so many things through the years, we've helped to guide this business, this law firm, this profession to serve more and more people. Now serving people throughout the state of California.
JL: Yeah, and Mike, this is quite an accomplishment today to have your first podcast. I think it's great and it's gonna be terrific. I can only imagine all the guests that are gonna be sitting in this chair right here that you will have an opportunity to interview, and that will show their expertise and their level of influence. And often their level of influence is a result of a relationship with Hackard Law.
MH: Yeah, fabulous, thank you. So it starts here and it started here today, thank you.
JL: Thanks, Mike.