Sharing Knowledge and Building a Strong Legal Community with John Day


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In this podcast episode, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux are joined by John Day, a successful plaintiff's attorney from Nashville, Tennessee. John share’s his journey in building his firm and shares best advice on starting and growing his own law firm. It's intriguing to see how much the landscape has changed over the past few decades. 

John also talks about his experience practicing law remotely while spending time in Madrid, emphasizing the importance of trust and communication offering tips and tricks for lawyers to succeed.

Episode Highlights:

  • 00:40 Meet John Day 
  • 02:01 Mindset and reasons for starting a firm 
  • 05:30 Advice on growing a law firm
  • 12:35 Running a law firm remotely from Madrid, Spain
  • 19:15 Remote work and international collaboration
  • 21:08 The process of moving to Madrid

🎥 Watch the full video on YouTube here.


Transcripts: Sharing Knowledge and Building a Strong Legal Community with John Day

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.

Jim Hacking (00:00:22) - Welcome back to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. I'm Jim Hacking. And I'm Tyson Matrix. Actually, Tyson is going to join us just a little bit late. So it's me by myself for the first couple of minutes of the pod. And our guest today is John Day. He's a very successful plaintiff's attorney down in the Nashville, Tennessee area. John, welcome to the show.

John Day (00:00:40) - Oh, thank you very much, Jim, for having me.

Jim Hacking (00:00:42) - Oh, John, we're really excited to have you. And you and I were just talking before we went on air. Your office, one of your colleagues, your partners kindly helped sponsor me to the Middle District of Tennessee. So we appreciate that. But more importantly, we're excited to hear sort of your story and sort of how you grew your firm into the big firm that it is.

Jim Hacking (00:01:01) - Why don't you tell us a little bit about your story? John Well, thank you.

John Day (00:01:04) - I grew up in northern Wisconsin, went to a state undergraduate school in Wisconsin, went to the University of North Carolina Law School, finishing in 1981, and came to practice law with what was then a big firm in Nashville. 20 lawyers. And I started with that firm in May of 1981 and stayed there for 11 years, basically having a 11 year residency with a very excellent plaintiff's lawyer named John T Connors Jr. He allowed me to work with him and learn from him. I left that firm effective January 1st, 1993, and started my own firm with another very excellent lawyer here in Nashville. And we are now in our 31st year of practicing law. He is no longer with the firm, but there's seven lawyers and a total of 23 people, I guess, working here now.

Jim Hacking (00:02:01) - So many of our members are maybe on the fence about starting their own firm or they're getting ready to start their own firm. Walk us through, if you can remember back that far sort of what your mindset was when you decided to go out on your own in 1991.

John Day (00:02:14) - You know, this may sound untrue, but it's not. It had nothing to do with money. I was treated very fairly by my old firm. They were great lawyers. They helped me build whatever reputation it is I have. And as I said, I had a great mentor who stayed behind. I started my own firm because of conflicts. Our firm was growing. As I mentioned, it was 20 when I started. There was 80. When I left, there were more and more conflicts or what I called country club conflicts, which are, you know, not real conflicts. But John, you can't sue people that we would like to represent type of conflicts, which I totally understood. I mean, there was no hard feelings by me, but I could just see that as time went on, it was going to be harder and harder for me to do what I love to do. So I just jumped in and I had a wife and a baby and a mortgage and I could not get a line of credit, not even 50,000 bucks, but I did have $75,000 saved and I had 15 or 16 cases.

John Day (00:03:15) - And, you know, with the benefit of hindsight, it was probably a little crazy. But I'm glad I did it when I did at the age of 36, because I don't think I would have done it at 45. You know, it's scary.

Jim Hacking (00:03:29) - So one thing that happened to the guys that I used to be partners with and I've heard it happen a lot, is that, you know, you have those cases that you bring with you when you start, but then you sort of work those off and there's sort of a dip there. Did you have that dip? And then how did you start bringing in cases once you had set up your own firm?

John Day (00:03:46) - I did not have the the business continued to come to me after I left the firm. And it's because I worked very, very hard from day one big in Nashville, Tennessee, getting to know people at the time I've moved here, the only people I knew were people in the firm. That was it. I had no connection to Tennessee, no connection to Nashville.

John Day (00:04:06) - And I worked very, very hard to be active in the state trial lawyers organization. I was president of it when I was, I think, 36, but worked very hard in legislative efforts and continuing legal education efforts. I was active in the Nashville Bar Association, so I got to know lawyers across the state who were kind enough to think I was competent and would send me work. So I never really had the dip. I just had the pipeline effect. That is, I had to wait for the cases to mature before I could make money. But quite frankly, I did not have to struggle as much as many people had to. I was scared every single day, but the work continued to come and I continued to turn it over and provide for my family and pay everybody. I'm very proud saying that I've never had to lay anybody off.

Jim Hacking (00:04:55) - Oh, that's great.

John Day (00:04:56) - Even when, you know, there were times when I went without a paycheck. But there were. Never times when I've had to lay anybody off.

Jim Hacking (00:05:02) - Tyson and I just spent the weekend, John, with 30 law firm owners out in Denver. And a lot of them are sort of in that stage where they've gotten started, their firms sort of growing. They're getting busy. They find themselves doing too many things and they want to grow. What advice do you have for people? Obviously, you've grown your firm from when you went out on your own in 91. What advice do you have for people when it comes to the mindset of hiring and growing?

John Day (00:05:30) - Well, my belief is we're in a service profession and if you serve the clients, things tend to work out. And I also have worked very hard, as I mentioned, in the state trial organization and the national trial organization, and now with yet another organization working to keep my name out there and getting to know people. Last year we had over 800 lawyers referrals, business. We've continued to work at that very, very hard and then give good service to the clients we represented. They've been kind enough to send other people to us.

John Day (00:06:02) - So I guess the only thing I would say is treat your clients like you would like to be treated in that situation and keep giving things away to your fellow lawyers. I've given over 500 speeches in 17 or 18 states. I've written six books and over 100 published articles. And some people say, John, you're crazy. Look at all that you're giving away. And I say, Look what it's given me in return. I mean, it's all worked out pretty well. So. John That's a lot of referral partners.

Tyson Mutrux (00:06:32) - So how are you able to foster all of those relationships? Because that is a lot. You obviously cannot speak to every single one of them all the time. So how are you able to foster that many referral partners? That's really impressive.

John Day (00:06:44) - Well, it's not the partnership that I read that so many other people have where they have 15 or 20 or 30 in, they are constantly working to stay in touch with them. Many of these people are seeing repeated referrals. Other people do not get lots of referrals from big firm lawyers and non personal injury lawyers.

John Day (00:07:05) - Many of them are one shot referrals. And the way they think of me, I think, is because I write a lot and speak a lot and make myself known in the legal community. And I think people think I'm competent and we care about what we do. So if one of their corporate clients has an issue involving personal injury, wrongful death, they think us. It's not the kind of relationship that John Fisher may have with 15, 20, 30, 40 lawyers in New York, it's a much different thing and I couldn't possibly take care of 800 lawyers. So, you know, I mean, there's just no way you could have that kind of relationship with that kind of people and still practice law.

Jim Hacking (00:07:44) - What has changed in the last 30 years when it comes to the practice of law? What have you noticed maybe trends in the way cases go, how your team works together? What are some of the things that you've seen really change over these last three decades?

John Day (00:08:01) - The pace is much faster. Know I remember when I started practice.

John Day (00:08:06) - Geez, I'm starting to sound like the old man being interviewed.

Jim Hacking (00:08:08) - Sorry, John.

John Day (00:08:09) - Is there an obituary in my near future? No, we did not have fax machines right when I started practicing law. When I opened my firm 193, we bought a fax machine. It cost $4,000. The technology was still that new that to have a fax machine that would handle the work of two lawyers cost $4,000. So the pace of things is much, much faster. I think the elbows are a little sharper in litigation than they used to be. I've said for years it's a whole lot easier to attempt to take advantage of people you don't know than people you do and you have to see every single day. So now the Nashville Bar is over 5000 people. Many of us deal with the same people all the time, but there's more and more people coming in from other parts of the state, from out of state. And sometimes those elbows tend to be a little sharper in health care liability area, Med Malaya than I've worked in for over 40 years.

John Day (00:09:07) - Those lawyers are excellent. They're the best trial lawyers, I think, in the bar, med ball, defense lawyers, very, very competent people, but they're under a whole lot of economic pressure. So there tends to be more depositions, more squabbles than there used to be. So those are the major changes, I think. And of course, just from the plaintiff's competition is changed a great deal. It used to be that the small town lawyers or the suburban lawyers would have plaintiffs cases come into them, and that's how they would say their kids to private school or that's how they would do go on vacation. And those lawyers aren't getting those cases like they used to. Many of my friends who were small town or suburban lawyers make less money now than they did 20 years ago. Advertising is swept up on those cases, so that affects referral relationships. The income and wellbeing of those lawyers and its that's been a sad thing for to observe over the years.

Tyson Mutrux (00:10:07) - It's an interesting point because I actually wanted to talk a little bit about this because it's a good segway into what I wanted to ask you about.

Tyson Mutrux (00:10:14) - Morgan and Morgan has been in your yard. They're in your backyard. They just came into our backyard in Missouri pretty aggressively. So what is your advice to some of the smaller injury law firm owners to help combat that? It is an issue. It's something we've got to know about. So how do you combat that?

John Day (00:10:31) - Well, Morgan and Morgan came into our market, I think it was seven years ago, and they had no name recognition. I mean, zero Now they have 16 lawyers. They're taking 4 or 5000 cases a year out of the market. So now the good news is the Nashville market is growing. Last year, we added 98 people a day as residents in Nashville, the year before was a little bit higher than that. So there's the market is growing, but how do you combat it? I think the way you combat it is just continue to do good service and pay attention to it. And hopefully your clients can be your ambassadors out there and to continue to work with other lawyers to hopefully send you work.

John Day (00:11:18) - We have not seen our business decline. In fact, this year we're having the best years in terms of new case signups than we've ever had. So you can compete in that marketplace. You just have to make a more conscientious effort to do it. But it is a little scary.

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Jim Hacking (00:12:35) - You're listening to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Our guest today, John Day, a very successful plaintiff's personal injury attorney down in Nashville, Tennessee. And we're going to change topics here for a little bit. One of the reasons we wanted to have you on the show, John, other than to hear of all your experience, is the fact that you have been able to practice and run your firm while spending significant time in Madrid, Spain. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

John Day (00:13:00) - I'd love to. Yes. My family decided that we would move to Madrid for the spring of 2022, so we left December 20th, 2021, and stayed until July 1st, 2022, and lived in Madrid in the neighborhood called Salamanca, or in a neighbor called Recoleta and had a wonderful, wonderful time. We still have at that time a 14 year old daughter. We pulled her out of school, moved to Madrid with six suitcases and three carry ons, and the three of us rented an apartment, enrolled her in an international school in Madrid and live the dream.

John Day (00:13:40) - It was fantastic.

Tyson Mutrux (00:13:42) - So talk to us a little bit about how you interacted with clients. How did you manage that part of the work? Were any clients or attorneys sort of demanding that you meet them at the office? How did you deal with things like that?

John Day (00:13:55) - Well, a couple of things. Number one, remember, this was still when Covid was hot and heavy. And people in Spain really paid attention to call the Tennessee a large number of Tennesseans who didn't think it was real. Right. So but in Spain, it was real. We were still wearing masks in public places. Some people were wearing masks on the street. You certainly were wearing masks on the metro. So I say all that to say nobody expected to see me in the office at that time. I mean, you could get away with not being present. Number two, I didn't tell anybody I was leaving. When you are at that time, I was, I guess, 65. Would you were 65. If you tell somebody you're going to be gone for six months, they think you're either retiring, you're in rehab or you're very sick.

John Day (00:14:46) - Right. So I didn't tell anybody. I didn't even tell my partners until three months before we left. We did not tell a soul. In fact, I had one friend in Nashville that I told and I told him. The week before I left. So and I didn't tell the people at my office until the firm Christmas party one week before we left. We just decided to do it and make it work. So it was a little scary. But we we found a way to make it work. I'd be happy to provide more details if you'd like them.

Jim Hacking (00:15:18) - Let's get into that. What surprised you about what was easy? What was hard, What tools you used to maintain know? Obviously you're still involved in your cases and running the firm. What can you tell us?

John Day (00:15:28) - Well, I've been an active blogger for 15, 17 years, so I continued to blog. I've got almost 3000 posts up on my main blog, so I continued to do that. I continue to write I write a column for the State Bar Journal.

John Day (00:15:45) - I continued to do that. I continue to interact on the trial lawyers listserv as necessary. So all those things made it look as if I was still in town. And then I set aside between 10:00 and noon every day in Nashville, which was 5 to 7 in Madrid for phone calls I had to take. So somebody called the office and they could not be diverted to some other lawyer. Then the receptionist would say, John, is it available right now? But he can be available at ten or he could be available at 1015 tomorrow, whatever it was. And I would have then I could look at my calendar in Madrid and know that I needed to be in my apartment between 5 and 7, and I needed to be able to take phone calls during that period. And some days there were no calls. Some days there were several calls, but I was available and most people are perfectly happy if they can talk to you within 24 hours. So we were able to accommodate people with no problem. But to get to that point, I need to emphasize that there's been at least a 5 or 10 year process of getting me out of the day to day work on lots and lots of cases.

John Day (00:17:00) - We have an excellent team here. I've got one lawyer who's been with me 20 years and another one's been with me 17. They are fully capable of doing what I do, and so I work on relatively few cases at any one time, very few, quite frankly. What I largely do on case work is answer questions for which there is no answer. In other words, if my folks have a tough question or a strategy question, I try to give them the benefit of my experience and we work through it together. And that occupies a large portion of my day. But that can be done from anywhere.

Tyson Mutrux (00:17:42) - So, John, let me ask you about your relationships with your leadership team and your employees. How do you maintain that? Because that can't be the easiest thing whenever you're not around them on a regular basis.

John Day (00:17:52) - You know, there's just a whole lot of trust there going both ways mean I trust them implicitly and I think they trust me and it just works. I'm just a very fortunate person to have that kind of relationship with my coworkers and it just works.

John Day (00:18:10) - They know I'm there if they need me. It sounds a little crazy, but it just happens to work and it's been built over, As I said, with one lawyer 20 years. My nurse has been with me for 30 years. My assistant's been with me for 17 or 18 years. My intake manager has been with me for 12. Our paralegal has been with me 17 or 18 years. So we have a real solid long standing team and everybody knows what everybody else can do.

Jim Hacking (00:18:38) - One of the great things about having this podcast is I get to ask questions about things that are happening over here at Hacking Immigration Law. And one of those things is our first remote employee was a guy who started with us as an intern from WashU, then worked with us here in Saint Louis, and then his wife got a tenure track position at the University of Wisconsin. So they were going to move to Madison. And so we set up everything for him to work in Wisconsin, and that's worked out well. And now he's floated the idea his wife has a one year sabbatical from the university about him living in France for a year and helping us as an immigration attorney from France.

Jim Hacking (00:19:15) - I'm just wondering if you have any thoughts on that or any suggestions on how we could make that work Best.

John Day (00:19:19) - Well, the hardest part about accomplishing that is the time zone difference. You know, depending on where you are in France is either 6 or 7 hours. I believe there's part of France that is on London's time zone, if my memory serves me correctly, that can be a problem. I mean, I did have some telephone calls at 11 p.m. in Madrid because in a professional organization I'm very active in had 4:00 meetings once a month. So I was taking those at 11 p.m. you would face some of those same difficulties. But if you trust the person, there's no reason why it can't work. It may require him to accommodate his normal work schedule to work later to. The needs of clients, but it just works. Just a matter of communication. I bet you would agree with me. Most of the world's problems are related to lack of communication. Either someone's that speaking clearly or somebody's not listening.

John Day (00:20:11) - It's responsible for most of the wars and all of the problems and open, honest and direct communication solves a lot of problems.

Tyson Mutrux (00:20:19) - It's a very good point. I wonder what advice you would have given yourself before you started this, Maybe some mistakes that you would have made, maybe some things you would have done a little bit differently. What would you told yourself when you started this to do a little bit differently?

John Day (00:20:31) - You know, I would have remarried my wife because she's the one who did all the logistics. I must tell you, I still as I tell people, I work half time, only 12 hours a day. So somebody else has to take care of everything else for me. And my wife is the one that got the visa. My wife is the one that found the apartment. My wife is the one who identified the school and set up the interview so that my daughter could get admitted to this school. My wife is the one who got permission from our local school to pull our daughter out, which is no small feat.

John Day (00:21:08) - So, you know, my wife did an excellent job doing all the things that needed to be done to get this to go smoothly. Now, there quite frankly, there wasn't anything that went wrong. The only thing that went wrong. The only thing I would do differently, number one, I wouldn't have been as scared as I was because I was very, very nervous about it that last week. I mean, my wife and I would be in bed at night and and we would say, this is getting real. I mean, we're packing up a three foot Christmas tree. My wife wanted to have a Christmas tree in Madrid, you know, and we're putting it in a suitcase and everything that we think we're going to need for six months is going to go in six bags. And I'm walking away from a law firm where we got a lot of people who depend in part upon what I do, and we're just going to go. So I was scared and I was scared unnecessarily. But number two, I wish I would have spent more time learning Spanish.

John Day (00:22:03) - I did my wife speak Spanish. She's taught herself, my daughter speak Spanish and advanced significantly. We were there, but I did not take the time to learn Spanish. I did learn Dos proper force so I can get two more drinks at any bar in Madrid. But other than that and a few other things around restaurants and casual conversation, there's not much Spanish. And I didn't take the time to do that. Everything else was worked as smooth as it possibly could.

Jim Hacking (00:22:31) - Awesome. Well, I think we're going to wrap here in just a second. Tyson will wrap. But I did want to mention John had said, Tyson, before you got on and I wanted to thank him that he's referred 50 people to the podcast. So we're very appreciative of the support, John, that you've shown us. And then, of course, that you showed me helping me get admitted to the Middle District of Tennessee.

Tyson Mutrux (00:22:48) - Yes, Thank you so much, John. That's awesome.

John Day (00:22:51) - You guys have done so much for the profession.

John Day (00:22:53) - I mean, I joined Maximum Blogger think when there was around a thousand lawyers, maybe 1200 and you've grown substantially. And this is the type of thing I'm talking about what you two have done in terms of giving back to the profession and fellow lawyers. This is exactly what we need to do to help one another. And I'm proud of you and thankful for both of you.

Jim Hacking (00:23:14) - Well, thanks, John.

Tyson Mutrux (00:23:14) - Thank you so much, John. All right. So we are going to wrap things up. We do want to be respectful of your time. And I'm getting looks from a couple police officers because I'm at the courthouse and they're about to start a murder trial and they need the room. So but we are going to ask everyone, if you will give us a five star review, if you like this podcast. Hopefully you are you listening to this? You prove that you've gotten something from it. And if you want to join us in the Guild, go to Max Law We'd really appreciate it.

Tyson Mutrux (00:23:42) - Jimmy what's your.

Jim Hacking (00:23:43) - So I was talking to Jason Silk the other day and he was talking to me as he often does about not respecting channel capacity both in myself and with the team thrown too much at them, asked them to do too much. And so in doing so, he also mentioned that we don't manage expectations well, and he quoted Stephen Covey on that for me. And it reminded me that I hadn't read the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People since I first started Practicing Law. So I remember listening to it on a Walkman on cassette tape. So now I'm re-engaging with the material and it's just so solid. It's just so solid. It's all principle based stuff. I'm really enjoying getting into it again.

Tyson Mutrux (00:24:22) - Love it. That's great advice from Jason for sure. John As you know, we always ask our guests to give a tip or hack of the week, so you've got several years of wisdom. So which got for us.

John Day (00:24:31) - Well, I would suggest that people consider doing a lot of speaking and writing to fellow lawyers.

John Day (00:24:37) - You know, you could take that knowledge that you've developed for a particular motion or a brief or whatever it was, and convert that into an article or to a speech and share it with other people. It helps you. It forces you to do a little bit more than you might otherwise do because you don't want to embarrass yourself in the community. It helps other lawyers. And I really believe a rising tide. It's all boats. It's a great way to accomplish lots of other things. So share what you know.

Tyson Mutrux (00:25:03) - I love that 100%. Nick Reilly wrote an article two years ago, and it's about trying cases and helping other lawyers try case. And I just thought it was a great article that actually I take that article and I mail it to attorneys every once in a while that are younger to you got to stay in the courtroom. But it's things like that that definitely help the profession. So I think that's great advice. My tip of the week is I've got my own success log that I fill out.

Tyson Mutrux (00:25:24) - It's something that Jason helps me fill out. It's an electronic version. I wanted something to write down in gratitude, and so I found this on Amazon. It's really cool. It's called it's by the Productivity Store. It's called the Daily Gratitude Journal. And you write in some things that you're grateful for, but it's got a few other things too, that are pretty cool about it. When it comes to your affirmation, the positivity and things you did for the day. So it's pretty cool. So if you're into journaling, I recommend it's cool. I'm about a weekend now. I've really enjoyed it to this point, so really good stuff. John, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and thank you for everything you've done for the profession.

Jim Hacking (00:25:59) - Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

John Day (00:26:00) - Very much. See you later. Have fun, gentlemen.

Jim Hacking (00:26:02) - Bye, buddy.

Speaker 1 (00:26:04) - Thanks for listening to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Stay in contact with your hosts and to access more content. Go to maximum

Speaker 1 (00:26:16) - Have a great week and catch you next time.

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