From Prosecutor to Law Firm Owner with Aaron Levinson


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Meet Aaron Levinson, a former prosecuting attorney who recently launched his own law firm. Aaron's journey from being a prosecutor to starting his own firm is a testament to his determination and resilience. Listen into this episode where Jim and Tyson dive deep into how and what Aaron did to start his own law firm. 

Jim’s Hack: When people show you who they really are, believe them the first time. As it relates to potential new clients.

Aaron’s Tip: Say “Yes!” and be open minded and experience new opportunities.

Tyson’s Tip: Use ChatGPT upgrade where it talks back to you in a conversation

Episode Highlights:

  • 01:06 Aaron’s transition from being a prosecutor to starting his own law practice
  • 07:22 Starting his own firm 
  • 09:53 Aaron discusses his plans and observations while still working as a prosecutor, and the steps he took to prepare for starting his own law firm
  • 11:12 Aaron talks about the different mindset required for being a prosecutor versus a criminal defense attorney and how he approached the moral quandaries of each role
  • 16:57 Aaron discusses the unexpected aspects of running his own law practice, including the supportive network of attorneys and the misconceptions he had about competition. He also shares his plans for future hires

Connect with Aaron:


Transcripts: From Prosecutor to Law Firm Owner with Aaron Levinson

Speaker 1 (00:00:01) - Run your law firm the right way. The right way. This is the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Podcast. Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson metrics. Let's partner up and maximize your firm. Welcome to the show.

Speaker 2 (00:00:24) - Welcome back to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. I'm Jim Hacking.

Speaker 3 (00:00:28) - And I'm Tyson Matrix. Jimmy you got some got some umph to your voice today. What's going on?

Speaker 2 (00:00:33) - I've been up since 4 a.m., my friend. I've been up since 4 a.m.. I've already been to the gym. I've already journaled. I've already meditated. I am on track for a kick ass day.

Speaker 3 (00:00:43) - Nice. I've done the gym. I've not done the meditation and all the journaling and all the stuff you've done. But I'm ready for the day too. So you ready for our guest? Yes, sir. All right, so our guest today is Aaron Levenson. Aaron is someone that I've had cases with. He's a former prosecuting attorney. He's launched his own law practice, which we will get into in a little bit.

Speaker 3 (00:01:06) - Aaron, welcome to the show.

Speaker 4 (00:01:08) - Thank you, gentlemen so much for having me. Delighted to be here.

Speaker 2 (00:01:11) - Before Jason got on, Aaron and I were talking about the world of criminal prosecutions and defense, and I'm really glad that I don't handle those kinds of cases. But, Aaron, I'm really glad you joined us. Yeah. Talk to us a little bit about your transition from being a prosecutor and sort of what led you to open your own firm.

Speaker 4 (00:01:29) - Absolutely. So I was a prosecutor for 11 years, and for most of that time I really loved my job and was passionate about it. But there are a lot of things about being a prosecutor that began to grind on me after a while, and I think that's a factor of working for the government. You're always kind of at someone else's behest. You have to do a lot of things you don't necessarily want to do or not super interested in, and I really started to get the itch to be my own boss. And that meant that when I felt like my time as a prosecutor was coming to an end, I wasn't looking at joining someone else's firm.

Speaker 4 (00:02:04) - I was looking at starting my own firm and really creating something for me.

Speaker 3 (00:02:07) - So, Eric, tell us a little bit about the the journey, though. So you were a prosecutor. You've moved. So talk about that. So you go from prosecutor, prosecutor then starting your own firm. So tell us about that and what that's been like.

Speaker 4 (00:02:24) - Absolutely. So I went to law school at Washington University in Saint Louis. And I like Saint Louis. And I stuck around there for six years. I was a prosecutor in the city of Saint Louis, got some great trial experience, met you. You know, I enjoyed my time there. We ended up moving to Cincinnati because my wife matched for her residency there. And so it was just a personal matter. Didn't have anything to do with my career, but I really had to start from scratch again when I moved here. And so I started working in the Kent and Commonwealth Attorney's Office that's in Northern Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. And I had to rebuild a whole new network.

Speaker 4 (00:03:03) - And so that meant my reputation from Saint Louis didn't follow me, and that I had to start from scratch. And it took me a while to do. But, you know, as I was doing that, I was I was making these connections that would come back to be so helpful. As I was starting to get this idea in my mind that I wanted to have my own firm, and after a long time of doing the same thing, you kind of want something different. And so part of the reason why being a prosecutor wore on me was just because I'd been doing it for a long time, and I needed to change the scenery, I needed I needed something different. And I had the opportunity to work with and, and see how many different practitioners conducted their business, people that work for firms, people that had their own firms. And I got to to kind of decide how I wanted to move going forward, and used a lot of those people's role models and mentors and friends.

Speaker 2 (00:03:53) - Aaron, we've had a surprisingly high number of attorneys join Maximum Lawyer and go out on their own from government practice and specifically from the prosecutor's office.

Speaker 2 (00:04:02) - And it makes me think about your philosophy and what you said about building a new network when you move to Ohio, Kentucky, and in my experience, prosecutors, there's sort of tends to be two different kinds of prosecutors. One are like true believers who think the government's always right and are going to do everything they can to crush their opposition and just be very, very difficult. And then you have these other kind of prosecutors who sort of realized that they have a reputation to maintain or to build, that they get things done much more easily and efficiently. If they can act like human beings and talk to people like real people and sort of see the global picture and know that, you know, what goes around, comes around, can you talk to us a little bit about that? And then we'll sort of dive into your private practice?

Speaker 4 (00:04:50) - Absolutely, absolutely. So I think that you're absolutely right. There are different prosecutors and different approaches to it. I had some great mentors, particularly in Saint Louis when I was still young and up and coming attorney, and in Saint Louis, we were we were just so busy and that if you took every everything personally and got riled up about every issue, you would just never have time to work on the serious cases that matter.

Speaker 4 (00:05:15) - And so when you're a prosecutor, integrity is the most important thing. And I think that's true. That carries on to to any job you do. So you have to take your job seriously. But that doesn't mean every case is equally important. Or you need to pick a fight about everything. And I think the best prosecutors are people that have some perspective on what matters, what does and what's worth pursuing, what's not worth pursuing. And so I'm lucky that I learned from from some attorneys that were great about that. I had a mentor that used to say, in this life, in this, in this profession, there are there are mice and there are elephants. And you can spend all of your time chasing the mice, trying to trap the mice, or you can go after the elephants. And by the elephants he meant the big cases, the cases that matter, the cases they're high profile, the serious cases. But if you spend all your time picking fights with people over stuff, that doesn't matter.

Speaker 4 (00:06:06) - You're going to drop the ball when it comes to the stuff that does. And so I've always behaved in a way that I think was consistent with that. And I think people really appreciated that. I've always been very straight up with with people I will not necessarily give. When I was a prosecutor, I wouldn't necessarily give defense attorneys what they want, but I would give them a straight answer in one way or another. If something wasn't possible, I would tell them that. And I think people appreciate directness and and truthfulness in a way that often gets overlooked. But it is so important.

Speaker 3 (00:06:36) - I really like the idea of the mice versus the elephants. I'm going to I'm going to use that. I'm going to steal that. It's pretty good.

Speaker 4 (00:06:42) - Yeah. Go ahead.

Speaker 3 (00:06:44) - I want to ask you, because you go to law school in Saint Louis, you start your professional career in Saint Louis. So your professional network is in Saint Louis. You move to a different city. You start practicing as a prosecuting attorney in that different city.

Speaker 3 (00:07:01) - So you have no private practice experience. And so what gave you the confidence? Because, I mean, I got to say, it's impressive with what you've been able to do. What gave you the confidence to go out on your own in a fairly new city with no private practice experience? I mean, that's a pretty gutsy thing to do.

Speaker 4 (00:07:22) - Thank you, thank you. It was a combination of things. As you know, I'm a trial attorney, and trial attorneys have a little bit of arrogance and a little cocky. And, you know, I believe in my own abilities. So that was that was part of it, something that my wife and I did a couple of years ago, which has given me a lot of a lot of confidence as well, is we started investing in real estate, nothing big. But, you know, we basically have been running a business for a couple of years, and I didn't really think of it that way at the time. I was just thinking of it as, as like, you know, another form of investing.

Speaker 4 (00:07:54) - But like then I kind of stepped back and it's a different way of thinking about the world. It's a different way of, of behaving than most people do. But, you know, I thought, I've already started one business, you know, what is a second? I have these skills, I know what I'm doing. I can do it myself. And so it is a pretty big leap starting your own law firm. But I think the fact that I'd been doing a different business on my own made it slightly less scary in terms of the logistics of criminal law, there are some things that make it a little less scary being out on your own as well. So I am on two conflict panels, so I have guaranteed money coming in each month. So I take cases for the Campbell County, which is Newport, Kentucky and the surrounding areas, and Hamilton County, which is Cincinnati, Ohio. And I get assigned a certain amount of cases per month or just over a period from those jurisdictions. So there's a there's a tremendous fear when you're starting out.

Speaker 4 (00:08:53) - There's going to be nothing coming in. How will I pay the bills? And I didn't really have that as much because I was able to. I mean, a lot of this is from using my network, but to to make sure that I had a base where I could build off of. But I wasn't going to be just going from zero.

Speaker 2 (00:09:10) - So let's talk about the build up to launching the firm. And then the first six months after the firm opened, what were those days like what? How? You know, some people have a binder and have rules and everything that they're going to do from the day they open and other people just sort of shoot from the hip and get going. So how much prep time did you have and what did the first six months look like?

Speaker 4 (00:09:34) - So the prep time, I mean, in my head, psychologically, I had a couple of years because I knew this was something I wanted to do. So I was a prosecutor for 11 years, and part of the reason I stuck around as long as I did is I had a lot of student loans, and I did the public service loan forgiveness, so I always had a ticking clock in the back of my mind.

Speaker 4 (00:09:53) - And so even if I wasn't making concrete plans, I had in my mind that this was an option of something that I wanted to do, and I just pay attention when I was in court or with other attorneys and see what they did that I liked or didn't like. In terms of the actual logistics of it, there was a lot of stuff that I did, but there's always stuff that, you know, when I started out, I wish I did this, I wish I did that, but, you know, a lot of the things start happening once you get the ball rolling, like I. Am sharing office space with some attorneys that I started working with actually working against on a criminal case, and I really liked them. They're nice guys, you know, we kept up the communication when our case went away and they had an open office. And, you know, their business is separate from my business, but I'm with them. So I was able to get office space that way. I was able to use my network to start getting connections, get on the conflict panel.

Speaker 4 (00:10:47) - I was able to, you know, I created my LLC. I did all of those things getting ready. But there are just some things you really can't do. And I was always very cognizant of the fact that while I was still a prosecutor and I didn't really take a break off between being a prosecutor and starting my own firm, that there were some things that I did not feel comfortable doing. And so there's just a lot of stuff that, that I couldn't really get going on until I started my own firm.

Speaker 3 (00:11:12) - So I have a mindset question because and just to me, it's like, for example, like personal injury attorneys versus insurance defense attorneys, it just takes a different mindset to do one side or the other. And I was kind of thinking the same thing, like with prosecutors versus criminal defense attorneys, it takes a different mindset. So did you find that as the same where there's just a different mindset? And if so, how did you overcome that? Because it it's a different it's almost like a different way of viewing the world.

Speaker 4 (00:11:42) - I think I didn't have that issue really, because, you know, right now I am not taking the most serious of cases. And it's not that I wouldn't, but I, you know, I just haven't haven't gotten them yet. Those tend to be the, the high dollar cases. They're looking for defense attorneys with more proven track record. But, you know, I was handling some very serious cases as a prosecutor and some not serious cases. And it was always a lot easier to prosecute the very serious cases because you don't really have so much of a moral conundrum. Right. But there's plenty of times where I'm wondering, is this worthwhile? Is this really for the best of society? Is this a big deal? Do we need to prosecute it? And maybe that was just me as a prosecutor, but for me now is a defense attorney. It's very easy. You know, it, especially on the lower level stuff like it's very easy to work for the client. I work for the client.

Speaker 4 (00:12:31) - I'm just representing them. They have a constitutional right and they may not have done it even if they did it. Do they deserve the punishment that they might be getting? So I never really had a struggle with that. I it might be more of a moral quandary when you get to the very serious cases, but for me, it it hasn't really been an issue.

Speaker 2 (00:12:50) - You're listening to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Our guest today, criminal defense lawyer Aaron Levinson. Aaron talked to us a little bit about. What it was like to actually have clients for the first time. Like, you know, when when you're a prosecutor, you have to deal with the families of the victims and those kinds of things or the victims themselves, I guess. What was it like to actually have to worry about customer service or about keeping clients informed about their cases? I mean, that had to be a big shift.

Speaker 4 (00:13:18) - Yeah, that was a change. I mean, to be honest, the toughest part was the money talk, right? Because that's not something I'd ever had ever been a part of, figuring out the right way to quote, the right way to collect.

Speaker 4 (00:13:30) - I mean, that's that's an unusual thing for someone who's always been in the public sector and not something that I would ever see. I think most people could figure out pretty quick from talking to me, that I knew what I was talking about when it when it came to the, the actual practicing of law. So I felt much more comfortable when we were talking about like the merits of a case or defenses or things of that nature. But you're right. The running of a business is very different, and that's something I'm still working on. I mean, people are people. At the end of the day, as long as you kind of behave in a certain way and treat them with respect, most people are going to, you know, get along with you and or, you know, be straight with you. And so there's definitely been some changes, I think, the business side of it, more than the case law side of it, the actual practice side of it for me.

Speaker 3 (00:14:21) - I remember the first time I got a big stack of cash as a criminal defense attorney.

Speaker 3 (00:14:25) - It was just so it was so exciting to be. I remember it, and Jim talks about the first time he generated a lead through the website and how excited he was about that.

Speaker 4 (00:14:35) - Yeah.

Speaker 3 (00:14:36) - It's really motivating. Did did you did you sort of experience that same thing?

Speaker 4 (00:14:41) - Oh, the first time I get handed a big stack of cash, I got so nervous and immediately drove to the bank to deposit it. I've never had that much cash in my hand before. It just didn't know what to do with it.

Speaker 3 (00:14:52) - It's really it's. Yeah, I think especially people who do criminal defense, you've experienced that, but so have you given any thought to to really what your plans are for the future. So we call it, you know, the vision or whatever. But have you, have you thought about that, about what you want for your law firm?

Speaker 4 (00:15:08) - Yes, absolutely. So I am spending an awful lot of time right now hustling between courtrooms and going here, there and everywhere. And I would definitely like to have an associate in the future, or maybe grow my firm to have potentially a partner and a few associates.

Speaker 4 (00:15:24) - I think in the criminal defense world, it never makes sense to have a really large firm, right, because there's so many benefits to having a smaller firm in that you can take conflict cases and and you're creating more conflicts if there's too many people in your firm. But there is so much there's a lot of volume in the criminal world, and there's a limit to what you can cover yourself. And there's also, like I was talking about before, the mice and the elephants. And right now I don't mind chasing the mice so much because I'm building up my reputation. Every court appearance I make, everywhere I show up, people are seeing me, seeing me in action, seeing what I can do. But I don't want that to be my firm. Five years, ten years down the line. I'd like to be a little more selective in the cases I take, and I'd like to have other people make court appearances and and do cases on behalf of my firm. So yes, I don't I don't want to grow exponentially, but I do want to grow the firm.

Speaker 2 (00:16:16) - What has surprised you the most about yourself as you stepped into this role of law firm owner defense attorney?

Speaker 4 (00:16:24) - I think how comfortable I am in the role, it's I was in government for a long time, and you get used to doing that. But I've really been inspired and motivated by working on my own, working for myself, working for my clients. And it's, you know, I get up and I'm excited to go in the morning. And that wasn't always the case as a prosecutor. And it's it's just it's kind of given me a new pep in my step. Has there been.

Speaker 3 (00:16:51) - Anything that you thought would be true, but wasn't quite true about running your own law practice?

Speaker 4 (00:16:57) - I don't know, there are so many misconceptions out there. I thought that there would be like a more of a cutthroat attitude between attorneys. Right? Like, in theory, you're all competing for the same piece of the pie. I think most attorneys are smart enough to know, you know, these are colleagues and hopefully friends that you'll work with and have an abundance mindset and help each other out.

Speaker 4 (00:17:18) - And I've certainly found that to be true. So I was initially like a little worried about sharing too many trade secrets. You know, obviously I have a lot of information about how prosecutor's offices work, how the office that I worked at specifically worked, and I wouldn't hesitate to use that for my my clients. But people have been so forthcoming and helpful to me. It's like, it's not like everyone guards their secrets and never, never share some. Everyone's got a slightly different perspective or expertise, but I've been truly amazed at how the network that I've built has just, you know, really stepped up to help me when I was building my firm. And it's been incredibly invaluable.

Speaker 2 (00:17:56) - Aaron, what's your next hire?

Speaker 3 (00:17:57) - That's a good one. I can't wait to hear this.

Speaker 4 (00:17:59) - The people I work with have a support staff person already, and I can imagine a situation where I will not have a support staff person for myself full time. But but like share paralegal, do something in that situation so I don't have to spend so many time filing motions and entries of parents and stuff like that.

Speaker 4 (00:18:22) - But I think the next full time hire I would want to be would be an associate. So we can just really increase the volume of who's going to court the cases that we can take, what we can cover, that kind of thing.

Speaker 3 (00:18:34) - It's funny because we had a conversation with someone in the guild just a couple of days ago about what model might make sense for, for criminal defense attorneys. And I would maybe at your level, maybe encourage maybe a different hire, maybe someone that does more of the office work while you're running around from court to court, but you're going to know better than we are just because it's your practice. But it's one of those things where it is nice having another, an associate that can can run and do things for you. That's a it's a massive benefit. But so it is a really tough one when it comes to criminal defense.

Speaker 4 (00:19:08) - Yeah. It's interesting too, because I know a lot of attorneys like share office support people, and I think that makes a lot of sense because in the civil world, often your paralegals are drafting significant motions or doing much more technical work.

Speaker 4 (00:19:22) - And the criminal world, I'm not sure how much of that I'd really outsource. There's a lot of like, filing generic motions, but it's not. I don't think it's as involved as some of the stuff I see the paralegal here working on. Yeah, it's a good point.

Speaker 3 (00:19:36) - All right. We are going to wrap things up though. We're getting close to time. Before I do wrap things up, I want to remind everyone to join us in the guild. If you want to have deep conversations and talk about marketing and running your practice. And there's been a lot of good tax advice lately, I've noticed in the guild. I don't know if you've noticed that, Jim, a lot of good tax advice in there, which is great. And then also, if you don't mind leaving us a five star review, we would really appreciate it. Help spread the love to others. Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?

Speaker 2 (00:20:08) - So I've been thinking a lot about the quote from my Angelou that many people know, which is when people show you who they are, believe them.

Speaker 2 (00:20:16) - And I went back and looked up the quote, and it actually goes a little bit further than that. And it's when people show you who they really are, believe them the first time, the first time. And that I think obviously sometimes people have a bad day and make a mistake. But I think about that quote in lots of different contexts. And the one I want to share today for my hack is when people show you who they are, believe them the first time as it relates to potential new clients. In my experience, people come in to the firm the way they're going to be. So if they're busting busting the chops of your intake people or if they're being very difficult or they're insisting on only speaking to Mr. Levinson or Mr. Matrix, then you know, you probably have a problem and it's someone who's going to be difficult all the way through. So when potential new clients show you who they are, believe them the first time.

Speaker 3 (00:21:09) - I like that one. It's funny because I think people do tend to leave that last part of it off.

Speaker 3 (00:21:15) - I have heard that quote before, but I'd forgotten that that's what the entire quote was. So that's a good it's a good reminder. All right, Aaron, we always ask our guests to give a tip or hack of the week. It could be a book. It could be a quote, it could be a podcast episode, you name it could be anything yet a tip or a hack for us.

Speaker 4 (00:21:34) - Yeah. So this is going to sound very generic, but my, my tip or hack is just to say yes. Like there's so many things that, that you stumble upon in life that you don't plan to do that you would never come across if you weren't willing to engage in new opportunities. And it's very easy to focus on, you know, your immediate world and what you're doing. But I can't tell you, in the two and a half months I've been in, in my own firm, how many opportunities I stumbled on just by agreeing to go to lunch with someone or cover a case for someone else or whatever it is.

Speaker 4 (00:22:07) - So just be open minded and say yes and experience these new opportunities and embrace them for what they are.

Speaker 3 (00:22:13) - I think that is especially true early on. I think you'll also get to a point later on where you say only say no. I would love.

Speaker 4 (00:22:21) - To get to that point, but for right now it's been wonderful.

Speaker 3 (00:22:25) - No, I do think it's important early on, especially whenever you launch your firm to do that. So that's a good one. I know I took that approach early on, so I think that's good. All right. So my tip of the week it's it's back to ChatGPT Jimmy. And there's a new feature. And I don't and I don't know if it is a if if it's exclusive to people that pay for it. But I know that we pay for it and it's on the phone app and you can have a conversation with ChatGPT. You can change the voice. It is actually very impressive and it dictates. Everything that's said during the conversation, and so even has ums like whenever it's talking to you, it'll say, um, and then it's, it's really, it's really interesting.

Speaker 3 (00:23:11) - So yeah. Yeah, yeah. Jim's face, if you saw his face, he's like, it's a it's actually it's rare to surprise Jim. And that surprises Jim. It is a it's it's a really interesting thing. So I recommend that people check it out. And it's, it's one of those things where it makes it way easier to talk because it has a conversation with you about what you're wanting because it'll, it asks follow up questions about what you're looking for. It is it's quite interesting. So I recommend that everyone check it out. All right Erin, this was take two for people that don't realize we we had a snafu with the technology before we got it done today. So thanks so much for coming on and and doing a take two with us. We really appreciate it and good luck on your journey.

Speaker 4 (00:23:53) - Thank you. And I appreciate you gentlemen having me on. Great talking to you.

Speaker 2 (00:23:56) - Thanks, guys. You bet man.

Speaker 1 (00:23:59) - Thanks for listening to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Stay in contact with your hosts and to access more content content.

Speaker 1 (00:24:07) - Go to Maximum Have a great week and catch you next time.

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