In today’s episode, Jim and Tyson chat with one another about what it takes to be a successful law firm owner. They dive into the journey of how to separate yourself from the daily tasks and the big rocks that come your way. If you’ve been looking for a way to systematize your firm and have it be less person-centric, check out this episode.
2:39 myth of Sisyphus
5:54 push the rock up the hill
8:46 we know we shouldn’t be pushing the boulder
11:45 leadership meeting
15:08 be nimble
18:34 succession planning
22:48 case to case stuff
Jim’s Hack: Remember to be mindful and to be present at the moment. If you’d like to learn more about the fundamentals, being in the moment, and breathing, check out Guided Meditations by Tara Brach.
Tyson’s Tip: Put a systems team in place to build out your systems. Having one in place has allowed my firm to quickly test things and see how they will work and implement as necessary.
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Transcript: The Myth of Sisyphus w/ Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Oh, nothing, my friend. I just got back from Hawaii. Had a great time. Oh my gosh, it was so fantastic. Sunny every day 75/80. We went out kayaking with the turtles. And we went on whale watching during sunset. Of course, there was someone on our little 12‑person catamaran from Belleville, Illinois, right across the river, because that’s how St. Louis rolls, and we just had a wonderful, wonderful time.
Tyson: That’s awesome. The pictures were just gorgeous, man. I mean, just absolutely gorgeous. It was awesome.
Hopefully, Amany had a lot of fun. It’s for her birthday. Does she– I mean, you couldn’t just like surprise her with it, right? You didn’t just like say, “Hey, we’re going to Hawaii.” Like how did you– because it looks like a last‑minute thing, I think, right?
Jim: Yeah. We only decided like three weeks ago. And we have a Southwest credit card, so it actually cost us each $11.20 to fly there. So, we splurged a little bit on the hotel. And we were in a cabana. It was probably 30 feet from the ocean. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise. We planned it together, but it was pretty darn sweet.
Tyson: That’s awesome. Really cool. I’ve got to do something similar. That’s just so awesome.
Okay. So, you introduced to me the idea – it’s the Myth of Sisyphus. And after you told me that last night, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. I know what the story is. I have an idea as to how you’re going to relate that to running a law firm, specifically, the ending of the story of Sisyphus, but I’m going to let you take it from there. That’s all I know. But all that Jim has told me is that we’re going to talk about Sisyphus today. So, go ahead.
Jim: This is great because I don’t really remember the ending to Sisyphus. So, I’m glad you’ve done your research. I think it’s interesting that you went to YouTube first to do your research on Sisyphus. I would’ve gone to something textual, probably, but I think that’s interesting. And it demonstrates where people are going right now on the internet. They’re going to video, as we’ve seen.
Tyson: Hold on. Real quick. No, it’s funny. No, the first place I went was podcast because I had my kiddos last night, that Emma had gymnastics and Amy had karate. So, I wanted to be able to listen to it and I could not find a good podcast episode, so I had to find something I could listen to, and a YouTube video was the best I could do. So, that’s why. [inaudible 00:03:40].
Jim: Well, I’ll set up Sisyphus. And then, you can tell us how it ends. I’m sure it ends tragically because it’s a Greek myth.
So, when I was at St. Louis University High School, you know, they were lightyears ahead of even most colleges when it comes to teaching you how to write. Like that was what we did. We wrote all day long, every day, for four years, particularly in the English department.
And the English department, each of the teachers in high school had PhDs, if you can believe that. So, it was a hell of an English department. In fact, when I was thinking about old Sisyphus yesterday, I emailed my sophomore‑year English teacher to tell him how awesome he was and to thank him for helping instill a love of reading and writing in me. And he was the moderator of a student‑run publication called Sisyphus which was based on the story of– I think he was a mini‑God or somebody who was destined to push this big heavy rock up the hill every single day. And he would make some progress. And then, the rock would roll back down.
And now that you’ve done the research, why don’t you tell us what happens to poor old Sisyphus?
Tyson: Okay. So, you skip straight to the ending. All right. So, the story of Sisyphus is this– and I’m not going to have all the names, just remember that. There are a lot of names I don’t remember. So, Zeus, he was in the form of an eagle and stole another king’s daughter, right? Well, Sisyphus told this other king about it so that he could get fresh water diverted down to his kingdom, right? And so, it benefited him.
It made Zeus mad, so he sent the god of death to go get him. Sisyphus tricked the god of death. I don’t remember the god of death’s name. So, he, basically, chained him up so that– and then, no one was dying, right, because the god of death was chained up because he had tricked him.
Well, then, the god of war, don’t remember his name, went down and freed the god of death, because he was bored, because they couldn’t kill anybody during the battles. This is all in the store. It’s amazing, right?
And then, they went back to get Sisyphus again. He tricked the gods again and, ultimately, he ended up dying, right? Well, everyone dies.
And so, the end of the story, his punishment for the rest of eternity is he has to push a rock up this hill. And when it gets to the very top of the hill, it gets even more heavy – it gets heavier, and it rolls back down – every single time. So, for the rest of eternity, he’s rolling a rock up a hill.
So, that’s the part that I thought you actually might relate back to running a law firm. Anyway, so, it’s interesting that you went straight to that. And so, I kind of figured that’s what you were going to talk about. So that’s the setup. I’m sorry for everyone that knows the story and you know all the names. I apologize. Look [inaudible 00:06:20].
Jim: I’m sure you don’t.
Tyson: Yeah, so.
Jim: Yeah. Well– so, the student‑run publication had a picture of a person pushing this big boulder up a hill and that’s what stuck in my brain. Clearly, the ending of the story. And thank you for that background. I appreciate it.
Yeah. So, that’s why I wanted to bring it up. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today in this episode. And that is that, you know, when you own a law firm, and you start growing, and you find people to help you grow your firm, that there’s even people that help push the rock up the hill, right? And it can be a real trap though that, when those people leave, the rock rolls back down. And that’s what I want to talk about.
You know that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about one of my major employees who just left. And there’s one department in the firm where we’ve really not missed a single beat. And that department is one of mine, which is the lawsuits, so suing USCIS and the State Department for delays. So, we had built out that thing where the employee who left had already trained a supervisor and two foreign lawyer/paralegals to run that department. And it reminded me of a quote that said, basically, that you’re not a leader until you’ve trained another one to be a leader. That, in other words, as long as we’re still involved at some level, if we don’t have the safety of not getting pulled back in, when something happens, or when someone leaves, then that rock is falling back on us.
And so, just because I’ve watched this one department just sail right through, obviously, if they all left, the rock would be on me but because I have two highly trained paralegals and a case manager for that department who used to be one of the paralegals, and they all work under the person who left, that department hasn’t felt the departure nearly as much as some of the other departments. And I just see that when attorneys leave, or when key employees leave, the owners can get pulled back. And, to me, that feels like pushing that boulder up the hill. That’s what I wanted to talk about.
Tyson: So, it’s interesting. The way I interpreted it. The way I thought you might relate it. It’s similar to what you’re saying but I was thinking that–
Here’s what the thought was. As law firm owners, we keep pushing this big boulder up the hill. We keep pushing. We push. And we know we should not be pushing the boulder. We know we should not be pushing the boulder. And then, eventually, the boulder becomes so heavy that we can’t push anymore and it rolls back on top of us. And we have to start from scratch again.
It’s related a little bit to what you’re talking about. But like there’s all these little things that we do in our firm that we know we should not be doing. We keep doing them. We keep doing them. And that, eventually, it bites us in the ass because we’re still doing it. So, it relates to what you’re saying because you know you should be hiring people. You’re not hiring people. You’re not training successors to whoever’s in that role, not having backups.
That’s why I think that the pod system is actually a perfect system because even though if a case manager might go down, a CCC can fill in, the attorney can fill in. Everyone can kind of fill in and fill that role until we have someone that’s in that place. So, I think it’s a clever way of relating it.
Did you see something about Sisyphus recently that reminded you of it?
Jim: No. But– well, not in the way that you’re thinking. So, this absolutely ties into what you just said and that is that Amany noticed that, while we were gone– you know, I was working a couple of hours most days. I took two days off, out of the six that we were there.
But, you know, in a very small minority of cases that we file, the government files these motions to dismiss. And the motion to dismiss reply system that we have at the office was the one part of lawsuits that wasn’t separate from the person that left. In other words, the person that left was really the only one who knew how to do the replies, who had the knowledge of where all the information was, and he could do it. So, guess who was doing it? Me. And–
And, you know, we talk about this a lot in Maximum Law in Minimum Time. We talk about polishing the silver, about how my son Yusuf, when he moved up to kindergarten, his Montessori teacher found him down with the three‑ and four‑year‑old’s polishing the silver because that was something he liked to do and it made him comfortable.
I was having a ton of fun blowing up our reply system, like I just started from scratch, because I wanted to freshen things up and make some new arguments. And I was having a lot of fun, right? And so, that’s the real trap. And that’s where you get into you, yourself, as the business owner, start pushing those things because you enjoy doing those things.
And, for me, I sort of missed it, you know? I mean, I don’t want to do it now. And, now, Amany’s jumped in and we’re having a meeting at 11 o’clock today to sort of figure out how to get all the lawyers in the firm helping with this because, you know, it’s sort of mind boggling to think that lawyers, other than Jim, would be involved in drafting responses to motions to dismiss. But that’s the trap. That’s the trap of Sisyphus is that I’m going to take back this rock. I’m going to take back that rock and let ‘em roll back on me. And I’m going to be pushing ‘em with both hands, trying to keep it all going. And that’s where you can really get run over.
Tyson: Yeah. I’ve not really thought about the idea of multiple boulders too because it’s absolutely true.
Walk me through what the steps you’re going to take. You said, you’re having a leadership meeting to kind of figure this out. Well, tell me more. Tell me more about it. I’m curious to see how you’re going to solve this problem.
Jim: So, I have downplayed and underestimated the impact of these motions to dismiss, right? They used to be just like one here, one there. And, now, they’re becoming a little bit more regular, especially in certain kinds of these lawsuits. And so, one of the things is that the US Attorneys in DC don’t want me filing them anymore. So, we’re going to– one thing we’re going to do and we’ve started doing is really spreading out. We have local counsel now. We’re filing the lawsuits where the plaintiffs live and nobody really gives us the motion to dismiss/transfer when we file where the plaintiff lives. So, that’s part A.
And part B is that, you know, we had thought that we were going to be able to do this in Outlaw which is a software that’s supposed to integrate with Filevine but, side note, that has not gone very well. The integration is not really good. So, we’re going to actually have to do like legal work. It’s going to be hard to templatize it. We’re going to have a bank of arguments because it’s the same– you know, they pick and choose maybe four arguments out of maybe 12. So, we’re just going to have a round robin. The lawyers in the firm are going to do this.
I mean, immigration lawyers, we do a lot of fact development. We don’t do a lot of like pure legal work. Like, even all of us, not even just including me, we’re not on Westlaw all that often. We don’t do deportation so we don’t have to do a lot of research for that.
So, really, something that Amany thinks the lawyers will like. And she says that it’s an example of lawyering that the lawyers will probably like. And we have some really good writers here. So, I’m excited to see about it. And what we’re probably going to do is just do a round robin of everyone, once–
We’ll have to do a training, you know, this is what we’re seeking in mandamus. This is what we’re seeking under the APA. These are the basic arguments that the government makes. We’re probably going to tweak our intake process to figure out if there are certain cases that we might be filing too early, the delay hasn’t been long enough, they might be more susceptible to motion to dismiss. So, we’re sort of attacking on all fronts. But the main goal of what Amany wants is for me not to be the one doing the motions anymore.
I can review them and I can– like, I can like say, “Hey, go argue this or go find a case that says that.” But having me be the ones to actually do it, she says, is stupid.
Tyson: So, this is interesting, you talking this through, because it made me realize something. Because sometimes we can develop our systems around certain strategies. And then, you have to change your strategy. Let’s say that the law changes. I mean, it could have a significant impact on your systems. Like you are having to reconfigure many, many things because your strategy has changed, because the government has probably picked up on what your strategy was, and they’re starting to respond to it.
So, that is interesting that we’ve got to be nimble. And, I guess, I can try to relate it to Sisyphus about like you’re kind of– the systems scene might be pushing the boulder up the hill, up the hill, up the hill. And then, all of a sudden, the litigation team says, “Hey, guess what, I’m going to put a lot more weight on this boulder because we’re shifting everything.” It’s rolling right back down the hill.
So, sometimes, though, I will say, the boulder rolling back down the hill can be a good thing, right?
Tyson: Because you’re having a reset. Sometimes you just need to have a reset.
But it is an interesting thing that I’m not sure I’ve ever contemplated the idea of like us having to change our strategy completely and having to revise all of our systems. So, it is a good lesson to be nimble. You’ve got to be nimble and not be too dependent on what you built out and always be ready to shift.
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Jim: You’re listening to the Maximum Lawyer Podcast. Today’s just Tyson and I. We’re talking about changing on the fly, fixing our systems, and modifying our approaches and how we do that once we’ve built that a system. It definitely takes some flexibility and some nimbleness. And it also really helps to have an outside person. Amany doesn’t do anything with lawsuits. She saw that in me. She saw that I was polishing the silver. She saw that I was pushing these boulders. So, it really helps to have someone do that.
The other thing is, in January of 2022, we filed our 1000th lawsuit against USCIS or the state–
Jim: Our 1000th lawsuit.
So, Amany made another point on other issues. The bigger we get, the more outside on the bell curve we’re going to get. So, because we’re filing more of these, we’re getting more motions to dismiss. It might be the same types of cases or the same percentages. It’s just that the volume has gone up so much that we’re getting this.
So, yeah, you do have to change your approaches, not only because of a change in the law, or a change in approach, but also sometimes you have to change your system because of volume, right? Because, you know, when it was just, say, two motions to dismiss a month, you know, I had someone on law clerk that could knock it out, or I had someone here that could knock it out, or– you know. But, now, with multiple jurisdictions, you know, now, we’re having to change our approach because, you know, if we’re in Louisiana, we need to use Fifth Circuit cases versus DC circuit cases. So, yeah, yeah, for sure.
Tyson: Yeah. And you have to have an adaptable system with that because, as we begin to expand, too– it’s interesting because like we were having to learn new statutes of limitation. And the strategies for each state are going to be a little bit different. So, you also have to have systems that can adapt to that and be flexible for those different approaches because– I mean, I’ll tell you that like, I’m thinking back about, whenever I used Infusionsoft for everything. I mean, just–
Jim: Ha, the good old days.
Tyson: Yeah, the good old days. Like, there’s no way I could do it now. There’s just no way. Like there are limits on fields and the capabilities of it. Luckily, like there’s no limits on Filevine when it comes to fields and all that. But you do have to have something that, when you’re thinking about what you’re going to do when it comes your strategy going forward, your vision for the firm, you’ve got to have systems that can grow with it because, if not, you just need to bail on it and move on to something else.
You’re making me think about all these different things, Jimmy–
Tyson: –that I have not really had to think about which is– hopefully, it’s making other people think the same thing.
But if we relate it back to the original part, like what made you think about the story of Sisyphus, is really having that– I mean, I don’t want to call it succession plan but maybe I will call it succession plan for every role in your firm because we talk about– sometimes we talk about it. I wouldn’t say a lot. I think that’s a weakness that all of us have is we don’t talk enough about succession planning for our firms.
But I think it would also make sense to have succession planning for every person in your firm. That way, it’s next person up. Like, you know, NFL athletes, they talk about, you know, next man up, next person up when it comes to your law firms. I think that that makes sense. We’ve got to think about that more.
Jim: I agree. I think that the safest way to do that is to actually have not just someone waiting in the wings but actually two people doing it. You want to have two– you know, two people be able to do any one task. So, you know, as I mentioned to you the other day, our front desk person left to go become a paralegal somewhere else. And, luckily, we had already trained up– it was actually my assistant. So, she’s over there covering that while Adele is hiring for the position. So, yeah, I think you want to have that duplication and definitely people waiting in the wings. And that’s sort of what I was talking about is having those levels of people who all can sort of plug in, if need be.
Tyson: Don’t you think that the pod system really plays into that? Having those different pods where you can have you can plug and play if you needed to. And, if someone in pod one needs a fill in for pod three, they can do that, and vice‑versa?
Jim: For sure. For sure. Yeah.
So, you know, it’s interesting. This whole thing is interesting. One of the things we’ve been talking about, it’s on our list of issues. So, you know, we have our list of issues to work on at our level‑10 meetings. One of them is a system for evaluating our systems, right, to see what needs to be modified. So, not making it so that it takes on Amany watching Jim work on a motion to dismiss on the plane to LA, on the way to Hawaii, but rather that we have a system or someone who’s responsible for looking at our systems and saying, “Hey, this out of date. Is this still working for us?”
Tyson: I think it’s a great idea. We don’t have that per se. But what we do have, in our L‑10 meetings, we have got our systems team lead is part of that. And then, right after the L‑10 meeting, we’ve got a systems meeting that they relate together. So, it kind of is what you’re talking about. But we do have a full systems team. And I will tell everyone, “I highly recommend it.” Maybe I’ll say it. Actually, you know, I’ll say that for my tip of the week.
Jim: Okay, cool.
Tyson: Actually, I’ll save that for my tip of the week. And I’ll do that. But having that system for building systems, I think it’s a wise idea.
Tyson: Yeah. And it’s also, you know, why it’s so important. I mean, I think, so few of our listeners really take the time to step back because we’re just doing, doing, doing and there’s just no substitute to having – even if it’s just an hour and a half a week, where you step back, and you look at what’s going on, and you figure out which of your systems is in most urgent need of tweaking or improving. Or, sometimes, you have to start it over from scratch because, you know, there’s new data, new information, new issues or problems.
And so, I think that I can’t advocate enough for people to have that time. And, also, I think, the other thing is, that you need to remember that, as you get further away from “the front lines,” the direct client interaction, or the direct, you know, legal work, you really need to empower the people who are in those roles to raise issues and to sound the alarm when something’s not working or to–
You know, I love that example of, you know, the car assembly line in Japan, where, if there’s a problem or a defect, anyone on the floor can push the red button and notify everybody. Like they can stop production, right? They can literally stop production.
I signed up a case the other day– about a month ago, out in DC. I was so excited with my own legal brilliance that I thought, “Oh, yeah. We can win this case.” And our paralegal, in DC, she Slacked me and said, “Jim, what are you doing? We can’t sign up this. We can’t win this case.” And the problem was I really liked the client and she had a really great marriage to her current husband. But that husband, who’s the foreign national, had filed a really shitty case before. And there was a whole lot of problems with that. And that’s one of USCIS’s new tricks is they’re going back to look at your old marriage to see if you were engaged in some kind of shenanigans. But I was so convinced that this person was such a good person that we could win this. And so, we gave the lady all her money back and shut it down. And that’s what I’m talking about that, if you’re two levels or three levels away from the case‑to‑case stuff, you need to empower your team to allow them to hit that red button.
Tyson: I love it.
All right. Do you want to end it there?
Jim: Yeah, sure.
Tyson: All right. Let’s wrap things up.
Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the big Facebook group. Join us there. Lot of great information being shared on a daily basis. I’ve noticed that it’s kind of picked up quite a bit, too. So, that’s great.
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Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: So, when my dad was in the process of passing away, last December, there were moments in the last few days where, obviously, it was really, really sad. And I said to myself, during those moments, “Don’t distract yourself. Don’t fight it. Just be in it.” And I felt and I was really sad.
I don’t know if you did this at your wedding. But, at my wedding, I did this a couple of times where I said to myself, “Boy, you know, I want to remember this particular moment forever.” And so, even with my dad passing away, I did that. And I was able to do that because I was just mindful and present in the moment, right? And being present in the moment is so freakin’ hard. I think we’re going to try to tackle this at the conference.
But one of the things that’s really helped me is learning how to meditate and making time to be present. And I know that a lot of people have struggled with this. And so, I’m working my way through right now. It’s a 40‑day, free 10 minutes a day mindfulness thing by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes. And, basically, it’s teaching you how to meditate. It’s really good on the fundamentals of breathing, and focusing, and, you know, eliminating distractions. I’m on day eight. And I highly recommend it. So, we’ll put that link in the show notes.
Tyson: I love it.
I will tell you that’s one of my hardest things is really– it’s just being in the moment. It’s hard to do. I think everyone struggles with that, so it’s a good tip.
Okay. So, I kind of teased my tip. I was going to give a different tip but I’m going to give you the tip I just– when we were just talking.
So, we did something that has made a significant difference in our firm. And that’s we’ve– we now have three people. We have a systems team, right? We’ve got three people that are full time working on systems – building out systems because we’ve got an expansion. So, it’s a big thing that we’re doing.
And I will tell you, Jim, it is so great being able to say, “Hey, tweak this little thing right here.” It’s like almost like, “Hey, change the lightbulb.” Like, it’s so freakin’ awesome. We can test things out, now, very, very quickly. Like I’m testing out team inboxes where, instead of an email coming through to Jim Hacking– you know, each person’s going to have their own email still but instead of– maybe– maybe it’s a motion to dismiss. Instead of a motion to dismiss coming through to Jim Hacking’s email address– and I know that there’s a– you have a mail room inside of Filevine but that can kind of get cluttered with a lot of information coming through, it comes through to an actual team inbox. And that team–
I’ll give an example. Like a discovery. A discovery comes through. Multiple people do things with that set of discovery that comes through. Instead of it coming through to an individual, it comes through to a team. So, I’ve got someone on the systems team testing that out right now and seeing how that’s going to work. And, once it’s ready, we will implement it, kind of launch it to the to the team. But she’s testing it out right now. So, having the systems team has been amazing. I highly, highly recommend it. So, that is my tip of the week.
And Jim posted the link on The Guild to his hack of the week, so that’ll be in the show notes as well.
Jimmy, it’s been fun. I think it was an interesting topic. For sure. I’m glad you came up with it.
So, as always, I love talking. It’s always fun to chat with you. It almost feels like Saturday morning, whenever we’re chatting in The Guild.
Jim: Well, I missed on Saturday, so that works out perfectly.
Tyson: Absolutely, so.
All right, man. Have a great day. I’ll see you later.
Jim: See you in a bit.