I recently met Ray Zolekhian at a wedding. He went to Harvard Law School, worked as an associate at Skadden in Los Angeles, and started his own law firm with a friend, Robin Hanasab.
As soon as I heard Zolekhian’s background, I immediately guessed that he started a personal injury firm. Isn’t that the most natural progression?
Apparently so. Founded in July 2009, Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP began as a firm specializing in restructuring commercial real estate loans. The firm then transitioned to personal injury litigation, because the founding partners found the work interesting and lucrative. But Zolekhian had no background in personal injury; according to Zolekhian, the pair was “thrown into the fire.” They were not devoid of help, however, and benefited enormously from the resources and mentoring given by other attorneys in the close-knit plaintiffs’ bar.
What does Zolekhian like most about his practice?
Zolekhian enjoys the practice of personal injury litigation because, unlike many of the large corporations he represented at Skadden, the clients he now represents are people who would not have access to the judicial system without the contingency-fee representation Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP offers.
I asked Zolekhian if he was hesitant to get into an area of law with certain negative stereotypes attached, based on his HLS / Skadden background. “If you practice in this world, you soon discover that such stereotypes are not true,” he said. “There are a lot of great personal injury attorneys and their goal is to help people who need it.”
Other than Zolekhian’s background, there is something else that makes Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP different from many other personal injury firms: the founding partners’ ages. They are younger than many in the field. Yet this has been a huge advantage to the growth of the firm. Why? Because Hanasab and Zolekhian’s youth makes them more energetic and hungrier than many of their colleagues, attributes that translate into great customer service.
Also, these young folks grew up in the Internet age, so they know how to use social media to expand their practice. They use Facebook and Twitter to advertise their firm, and they are developing a blog that will offer substantive information to clients and potential clients. Insert impressed-face-emoticon here!
But it’s not just new media advertising for them. Like many personal injury firms, Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP advertises on television. Given the cost of this form of advertising, however, the ads are carefully planned so as to target the right market at the right frequency.
While we all know the dangers of having a motto, if Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP had one, it would be “Clients First.” This ability to put the clients first is aided by the fact that the firm is a small one. Ray Zolekhian and Robin Hanasab truly know all of their clients. While they both want the firm to grow in the future, they want to make sure that the growth does not impair the attorneys’ ability to build personal relationships with their clients.
After talking to Zolekhian, I was convinced that he was one of those happy lawyers I read about in the news (or write about in this column). But surely a part of him must miss the white-shoe fabulosity that is Skadden?
I had a great experience at Skadden. As a junior associate in Biglaw, you get to focus exclusively on practicing law, without worrying about business development, or IT issues. But I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit that I was not able to tap into as a junior associate. So, while I enjoyed my experience and I worked with great people, I love my current challenge and am not looking back.
In sum, if this post was a made-for-tv movie, the moral would be don’t judge a book by its cover. There is no reason why a Harvard grad and Skadden alum would not open a personal injury firm. Or, if this post was a Bravo special, the Mazel of the Week would go to contingency fee arrangements, for (1) giving access to lawyers for people who could not otherwise afford representation and (2) raking in the dough for the successful personal injury attorney.
To learn more about Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP, check out their website.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.