Law Firm Delegation, Strategies, and Challenges w/ Marc Karlin 387


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In today’s episode, Jim and Tyson chat with a fellow Guild member, immigration, and medical malpractice attorney, Marc Karlin! They dive into the journey of delegating tasks, and some of the challenges firms face over the years. If you’ve been thinking about starting the delegation process and learning about some of the challenges firms might be up against, this episode is for you.

Marc Karlin practices primarily personal injury and medical malpractice in Southern California. In the mid-1990s, after working at various insurance defense firms for approximately 5 years, he joined his late father, Philip, to form Karlin & Karlin. Marc’s father was a certified immigration specialist, and he practiced in that field for most of his career. When he and Marc worked together, Philip handled immigration, and Marc handled all the non-immigration work.

When his father died in 2017, he assumed his immigration practice, which continues to this day. Marc’s dad died three days after they had moved out of their office of 23 years to their current location. Their main office is in Glendale, CA, which is adjacent to the Los Angeles city limits. In the summer of 2020, they opened a satellite office 50 miles to the east, in Corona, which is in Riverside County, halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. 

4:40 money in files

8:00 learning as you go

11:37 strategize

13:29 two different practice areas

15:24 bottlenecks

19:32 losing your law partner

22:50 delegation

Jim’s Hack: Check out The Everyday Hero Manifesto by Robin Sharma.

Marc’s Tip: During anxious or worrisome times, think back to the clients you’ve helped and what they’ve told you. As you get older, you learn to appreciate these things, so stay in a positive mindset.

Tyson’s Tip: Don’t buy another book until you’ve read the ones you’ve got and want to read.

Watch the podcast here.

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Jim:                  Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I'm Jim Hacking.

Tyson:             And I'm Tyson Mutrux. What's up, Jimmy?

Jim:                  Oh, Tyson. It's a good day. We're going out to celebrate my brother‑in‑law's birthday by going to see the new Spider-Man movie. My one son, Yusuf, this will be the fourth time he's seen it in about five days. I mean, he said he's going to watch me watch Spider-Man. But I'm excited to see it.

Tyson:             Okay. So, don't ruin anything for me but is it that good or is he just a Spider-Man fanatic?

Jim:                  Oh, I've seen a lot of people say it's the best Marvel movie ever so. I mean, I have high hopes.

Tyson:             Oh, wow. Okay, now I've got plans to do something this week.

Okay. Wow. That's awesome.

Well, let's get started with our guest. I'm pretty excited. Do you want to introduce our guest? I almost said his name. Do you want to introduce our guest?

Jim:                  Well, I'm really excited. And it's funny, when he introduced us, at the top of the show, that's the first time we've done it that way. And, of course, he nailed it. His name is Marc Karlin. He is an immigration and personal injury lawyer out in Los Angeles.

Marc, welcome to the show.

Marc:              Thank you very much for having me.

Tyson:             He's also a fellow Guild-ian which is the new term. I can't-- who came up with that term? Someone came up with that term.

Jim:                  Erick Widman.

Tyson:             Erick Widman. I love it. So, a fellow Guild‑ian.

So, Marc, tell us about your journey and how you got to where you are now.

Marc:              Sure. I'm probably one of the older members of The Guild. I'm practicing law for over 30 years. My dad didn't become-- my dad was my partner for 20 years and I'll get to that in a second. But my dad went to law school later in life and he became a lawyer when I was a freshman in high school.

When I went to-- you know, I went to college, I went to law school. And then, when I got out, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to move out of LA. I went to school here at Loyola Law School in LA. So, I got a job working in insurance defense in San Diego. I went to the University of California, San Diego for undergrad. And I worked in San Diego for insurance defense for a couple of years.

Then, I got engaged to be married. And my fiancée, now wife of 30 years, Cindy, lived in LA. So, then, I moved back to LA, worked for another insurance defense firm. And about five years of working for an insurance defense firm, I had that moment that many people have, who went on their own and have small firms, I was like, “What am I doing? Why am I working so hard for somebody else?” So, I approached my dad about joining forces.

And, at that time, my dad, which he was, for the remainder of his career, was a certified immigration specialist. And he said to me, “Why don't you come on board?” because, as an immigration attorney, especially my clients, you know, who are not native to the United States, think that I do everything. So, I have all these opportunities that come my way.” And he said to me, “There's money sitting in files at my office. Why don't you come help me to work with me?”

So, I joined forces with my dad in the 1990s. He did almost entirely immigration. He did some other things. I did everything else. And over time I built up a pretty successful personal injury and medical malpractice work.

And then, in about 2013, my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer which had metastasized when it was diagnosed and we all know what that meant. My cousin is an oncologist with the Mayo Clinic, so we all knew what we were facing. And my dad survived for four years. But, in 2017, he passed away.

One of the issues was, because he's my father and I'm his son, we didn't really look at each other as business partners, we looked at each other as father and son so we didn't plan. You know, we planned but we didn't really have an objective plan in place what would happen to the firm when he passed away. And, coincidentally, we moved to our current office here in Glendale, California, just outside the LA City Limits. We had been in our office in Central LA for about 20 years and it was time to move. Our lease was up. And we moved here to this office and my dad passed away three days later.

So, a lot of changes in 2017. I take over the entire firm. And it was a struggle because we had two distinct and very successful lines of business and I don't want to give up either one. But it took me quite a while as the sole firm owner to make some pretty tough personnel changes, make some pretty tough hires.

And we were just getting our sea legs around, you know, the beginning of 2020 and COVID hits. So, it's been quite a journey. But things have definitely steadied. And here we are looking forward to going, you know, doing well and scaling up in the future. And one of the best things about COVID is someone told me about Max Law. And I think I joined-- I looked the other day. I think I joined The Guild last week of March 2020, right, when the shutdown began. So, that's how we got here today.

Jim:                  Well, we've loved having you in the Guild. And you're a very supportive member of everybody else. And it's great having you there.

Marc:              Thank you.

Jim:                  And having just gone through the death of my father--

Marc:              I'm sorry to hear that, by the way. I'm very sorry.

Jim:                  Yeah. No, I appreciate all the support.

And I know that dealing with that, just on the personal side, is hard. I can't imagine if the firm had been started by my father, how I would juggle both the emotions of a grieving son and the tough inheritance--

Marc:              Yes.

Jim:                  [inaudible 00:07:04] that were-- specifically, the inheritance of a whole practice area that you didn't go into. Do you want to talk about that?

Marc:              Sure.

Well, first of all, it was difficult because a lot of our clients didn't know my dad passed away. And, you know, Jim, as an immigration attorney, you have clients for life. They do have their siblings, and their children, and their grandchildren. So, for two years, people would come in, before COVID. “So, how’s your dad? I heard he wasn't feeling well.” And I have to tell ‘em, “He passed away.” That was really tough but, you know, I just embraced it that this firm was going to survive. I was going to survive. We were going to go forward. I didn't want to lose the immigration practice.

So, you know, I had been studying before my-- you know, in the years, my dad was sick, about immigration. But until you get actually in and do it, several cases, and learn the nooks and crannies, and, you know, Jim, the ever‑changing law that is immigration. So, it just was learning on the go while also then, you know, on the other hand, keeping up a pretty successful and busy PI med malpractice. So, it wasn't easy, but I just was a quick study. And, you know, if you're going to be successful, in anything in life, you have to be a forever learner.

And, this morning, I was looking at some, you know, intricate, very rare occurrence in immigration law just to educate myself so I could consult the client properly. So, just keep moving forward and keep learning.

Tyson:             Marc, what's your advice to other, you know, parent‑child firm relationships out there because you're not the only one, especially in the legal profession, there's a lot that bring in their children to work for the firm.

Marc:              Right.

Tyson:             You're in a unique situation because, it's interesting, there isn't that big of a gap between whenever you started practicing and your dad because of just whenever he started.

Marc:              Right.

Tyson:             So, what is your advice to firm owners that are in a similar situation that you were in?

Marc:              You have to have those difficult talks. And the difficult talk is, “What do we do If you're not here? How are we going to divide things?” And my dad and I did come to understanding, before he passed, but it was definitely not something I think that I would relish to discuss. But you really want to set out, almost in writing like a contract, like “this is what's going to happen.”

And, you know, what would’ve happened if, let's say, the parent retires or passes away, what do you do with his/her share? You know, how do you evaluate that? So, you have to have those tough discussions. And perhaps it'd be better to bring a third‑party - an accountant-- you know, a trusted family advisor. We didn't do that. And that's looking back with something maybe we should’ve done. But these are difficult-- you know, it because it's the personal and the business and the personal sometimes wins out because, you know, I love my father and I was with him every-- you know, the blessing was I was with him every day for 20‑plus years as an adult and most kids don't get that opportunity with their father.

Jim:                  All right. So, here you are, the young turk, insurance defense, personal injury guy and your dad says, “There's money sitting in files in my office--

Marc:              Yes.

Jim:                  So, how do you go about growing a personal injury practice from inside an immigration practice?

Marc:              Well, what happened was I had some success - early success because he had a few immigration clients who had personal injury matters. And so, it took a couple of years. But, after a while, I got to be known, like, “Oh, Karlin & Karlin also does personal injury. Oh, Marc, the son, does personal injury law.” So, it happened organically. I didn't market. You know, back then-- this is, you know, 20 years ago, digital advertising wasn't anything. So, it's really word of mouth with our clients, doing a good job with the clients and also, you know, my dad's peers and my peers, who started referring cases to me.

And then, my mom, who’s a registered nurse for many years. And, while she was working, underwent a gallbladder operation and malpractice occurred during her operation and she was injured. And the operation was conducted by her employer. So, I kind of got thrown in when I was second chair to my first medical malpractice case with my mom. But then word gets out that we practiced medical malpractice as well. And so, it really happened organically but it took a while.

Tyson:             Marc, I wonder, you're in the middle of your career and you've made some monumental shifts over the last few years--

Marc:              Right.

Tyson:             What does the future hold? Like, what is your endgame because--

Marc:              Sure.

Tyson:             --you're-- I mean, you're not-- it's not 30 years ago, right? You're in the middle of things. So, what is your plan going forward?

Marc:              I think about that. You know, that's something that happens every day that I think about. My endgame would be to take a step back from being-- you know, my wife's a lawyer. I'm a lawyer. Endgame is to take more of a CEO role. And I think you mentioned this one time, Tyson. You like to stra-- I like to strategize. I like to think about business but I--

For example, you know, I worked out a huge case. Two defendants. Both dropped motions for summary judgment on me yesterday. I expected it, but I was really jazzed about, “Okay. Let's map out how we're going to attack this and how we're going to defeat it.” But my role would be is to have the firm work without my day‑to‑day involvement, and step back, and have other accounts, other attorneys, and have everything systematized. And, you know, maybe, at the end of the day, I sell my interest of the firm to someone else. I'm not sure. But, definitely, I want to step back and not be involved. This is something we talk about in the Guild all the time, and all of the day‑to‑day operations at the firm. Unfortunately, I still am involved in all of the day‑to‑day operations. But that's my goal is to get a position where I could step back and really take a management role.


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Jim:                  You're listening in the Maximum Lawyer Podcast. Our guest today is Marc Karlin. He's a personal injury and immigration lawyer out in Los Angeles. And we're happy to have him.

Marc, tell us about your teams. I know you have-- it’s sort of set up in different divisions of your firm because of the two different practice areas. Talk to us about how that works.

Marc:              Sure.

We have some staff that is just dedicated to immigration, both the intake and fulfillment of applications and paperwork, some staff that works primarily with me on personal injury and medical malpractice. I do use independent‑contractor attorneys for certain task appearances. And you know, also, given the last 19‑20 months, most of my court appearances have been from this chair, here in my office, so that has helped quite a bit.

So, you know, all the staff has to be pretty well versed in immigration, at least the basics, even if they work primarily a personal injury because, if they take turns answering the phone or someone is unavailable, that they are out, and they have to do, you know, an intake. So, all the staff has to have an overview of immigration, but we are divided into teams.

Tyson:             When it comes to the different teams - you've got the immigration, the PI, how do you market? I'm not sure we talked about that. Like, how do you-- because that's not easy, right?

Marc:              [inaudible 00:14:29]

Tyson:             So, how do you market things?

Marc:              Real good question. Primarily, I've marketed, for the last couple of years, on PI only because of my dad's, you know, 40‑year plus career and our reputation. Most of our immigration was from, you know, current and former clients - most of our immigration referrals.

Going into 2020, I really want to scale up our immigration practice, especially, you know, what we call, Jim, you know, family unification or family reunification applications. And so, we are going to start marketing primarily in Spanish language media for immigration.

You know, but, Tyson, we've been fortunate enough that we didn't need to or I didn't have-- I didn't have the bandwidth myself to handle more immigration work. But I think that we had-- you know, we find our office operations where, going into 2020, I definitely want to scale up our immigration practice.

Jim:                  What bottlenecks do you find, Marc, in your firm? What's holding your firm back, if any?

Marc:              You're looking at him and listening to him, the number one bottleneck. And my issue is delegation. And it's not what you think maybe that I think I can do it better than anyone else. No one can do it my way. No. My problem is-- and I think Craig Goldenfarb spoke about this at MaxLawCon is that to properly delegate, you know, a task that would take me 10 minutes is going to take me now an hour because I have to train someone. I have to systematize it. I have to record it. And I'm just hesitant to go through that uncomfortable period to properly delegate.

You know, it's kind of like when you're starting on a long hike, or maybe you're getting on a spin bike to go through a class and like the first five minutes, you're like, “Oh, there's no way I can do this. This is way too uncomfortable.” But after a while, you know, if you're hiking on your spin class, you get warmed up and go through it.

So, my biggest problem and one of my goals for next year is how to delegate, is to get over my anxiety about the workout that will be entailed with delegating and really get down and spend the time. I think Craig said it great, again, MaxLawCon. It’s like-- he said, “You know, it's like three or four hours of a lot of work, and many years delegation, and, you know, scaling up.”

Tyson:             I wonder if you've had any experience lately with hiring because I know that a lot of people have been struggling with hiring lately. Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. I'm just curious if you have and what your experience has been with it lately.

Marc:              We've had a tremendous problem, the hiring. And this is for support staff. I wanted to get one or two more support members in place before looking for an attorney. And we have used even a recruiter and we have not yet found someone who we believe, you know, up to our standards, at our price point. There are some people out there who, you know, in my view, are too expensive for the skills they would bring to our firm.

So, this has definitely been a struggle, I'd say, for the last four to five months and something I'm hearing universally. We keep looking but we're definitely having issues getting support staff. So, we do you have an immigration VA, who's actually in the US but is in Michigan, who we send a lot of overflow work to.

And, you know, next year, perhaps we look towards out‑of‑US VAs. But, yeah, we are having a lot of issues. We are having a lot of problems because there's not many qualified candidates on the market who were looking to leave. And now, with the upturn in COVID, again, you know, it just brings more uncertainty in the marketplace. So, I'm not sure what we're going to find the next 90 to 180 days in the job market.

Tyson:             So, I want to follow up on that, Jim.

So, Marc, the reason why I ask is because I think it's a problem that everyone is dealing with right now.

Marc:              Right.

Tyson:             And so, your experience with a recruiter. I've personally never hired a recruiter, but I know that that's been the suggestion by a lot of people like, “Hey, you're going to have to go out and find these people.” What's your experience with that recruiter been like?

Marc:              It's been okay. I think they also are stymied by the limitations in the market. So, they have found us some candidates that they will pre‑interview before even they get to us to consider. But it's helped, but it hasn't solved the problem, if that makes sense.

Tyson:             Yeah.

Marc:              You know, I think it's brought us more candidates but still having issues.

For example, several months ago, we had several candidates and we said, “Oh, that's great.” You know, we've had like the first round of interviews. “Here's a skills test. Would you mind taking a skills test?” Several ghosted us after that. Several just wouldn't do it. And then several who did do it - I'm glad they did because their skill level wasn't really what we were looking for. So, we wouldn't have thought sitting here, this time last year, that a simple skills test which is pretty much standard would scare people off or they’d be hesitant to do it. So, you know, the recruiters help get a bigger pool but still we haven't found that person or persons that we want to bring on board.

Jim:                  I don't know if you caught this but, earlier this week, in the big Facebook group for Maximum Lawyer, which people should join, if they haven't already, in there, there was a discussion by an attorney who was a solo and he said, “If I ever shut down this firm, it's not going to be because of revenue or because of frustrations. It's going to be because of isolation.” So, I'm just thinking about, you know, you had a great mentor and partner for 20 years.

Marc:              Right.

Jim:                  Talk to us a little bit about-- not so much the sadness of your dad passing away but also like losing your law partner.

Marc:              Yeah. No, that was difficult. For the first-- it's still difficult. So, something you really never get over. But it was very difficult because I didn't have that person to go to who understood what I was going through. And, you know, I'm active here in the Southern California Plaintiffs Bar and also the immigration bar. And I do have some very close friends that we will bounce off, much like people in The Guild, but it's tough. You know, one of the ironic things about COVID is that it brought me actually closer to people because we had more time and we could Zoom, instead of making an arrangement to have lunch or meet in person, but it definitely took a while. And I still haven't found-- you know, my wife helps, but she doesn't quite have the-- you know, the institutional knowledge that my dad had so it's difficult. But groups like The Guild or other local bar groups have been a tremendous help in that department, Jim. Tremendous.

Tyson:             I've got a question for you, Marc. How do you maintain-- I've never seen you in a bad mood. I've never seen you seem like you've had a bad day. What is it? Like what trick did you learn that allows you to maintain that just steady level Marc Karlin that we know?

Marc:              I can't wait till my staff, and my family, and my wife hear that because I think last night, or maybe early this morning, I wasn't displaying the best behavior. And, you know, as I said I had a computer glitch right before we started.

You know, I think it's I'm the oldest of four kids. And I think it becomes for being the oldest and kind of having to be a little more steady. And maybe, on the inside, I'm not feeling that way but, on the outside, it's just something that you feel you have to go through. And now being, you know, the sole employer of five people and one remote person, you've got to keep, you know, a steady demeanor. But, trust me, I have my moments just like everyone else. I try. I try.

Jim:                  I haven't seen him either. I agree with Tyson.

For my last question. So, it's interesting, you have a personal injury and an immigration lawyer standing in front of you, on the Zoom. What don't we know about each other's practice areas that we should know?

Marc:              Hmm, what don't you know?

At one time, as a spin off immigration, I was doing federal criminal defense, a couple of cases that were major narcotics cases that came to our firm. I don't really do that much anymore but that was something back - cases out of Washington, D.C., cases out of Florida, cases out of New York, all spinning out of activities that occurred here-- you know, emanated here from Southern California. So, that was something that I don't talk about much because I don't do it as much. My sister is the chief deputy public defender, a federal public defender from Southern California. So, that was something about my practice that you don't know about. But I think that's it. I don't know anything really, you know, I do car accidents, medical malpractice, dog bites.

As far as immigration, we do some corporate immigration but, generally, it's family based, and it always has been, and primarily from Latin America, Central America, and Mexico. We do have other nationalities that we assist with. But, you know, that's it. Other than my brief foray into major federal criminal law, not much of a mystery here.

Tyson:             So, I'm going to sneak in a quick question before we wrap up. I want you to think about 2022 and what it's going to mean for you. And I want you to give us one word for 2022. What's it going to mean for you in one word?

Marc:              Delegation. Just like I talked about, delegation, because that's going to free me up. It's going to free up my headspace. It's going to free up a lot of things. It's going to allow me to scale, step back. Delegation, delegation, delegation.

Tyson:             I love it. That's great.

Okay, we're going to wrap things up, I want to remind everyone to join us in the big group, if you've not done so already. Check out our sister referral group Maximum Lawyer Referrals Group. If you want to refer people cases, you can join that group separately. There's a lot of great referrals going on there. If you’ve not joined that, go ahead and join that.

If you want a more high level conversation, join us in The Guild at

Remember to get your tickets for next year's conference, It's in June of next year so make sure you get those now. The prices will go up by the end of the year so make sure you get them now.

And while you're listening to the rest of this episode, please give us a five‑star review. It would help spread the love. So, please do so.

Jimmy, what's your hack of the week?

Jim:                  So, my hack is a book. It's called The Everyday Hero Manifesto. It's by Robin Sharma. It's like he's consolidated all of his best learnings and teachings into one book. I read the book right before that which is called The 5AM Club which was pretty woowoo and Amany hated it. But this one's very practical. You could read just a chapter and get a lot out of it. It's a great book. I listened to it on the treadmill while I was reading it in the physical book. It was a great way to pick up a lot of the information and there's a lot of good stuff in there.

Tyson:             You're going to love my tip whenever I get to it, Jim. Very good.

All right. Marc, you know the routine. What is your tip or hack of the week?

Marc:              My hack is a mindset hack. And, you know, as small firm owners, we tend-- you know, we-- and I think someone showed it/displayed it. It’s either on the big group or in The Guild. It was on Facebook. There was a cartoon. What it's like to be a small firm owner where he went from “I'm king of the world” to “Oh, my god. I can't believe-- I'll never do this” to, you know, up and down, up and down, up and down.

And what I do, when I get anxious and nervous is I think back to the people I've helped and what they've told me. And the people have thanked me for getting them out of a jam or really thanked me for assisting them, you know, the settlement on a case because, you know, as lawyers, we can become really cynical and anxious and you really should go back and think about the time your clients showed their appreciation and thank you because, a lot of times, all think, “Well, thank you for saying these nice things to me but, you know, any lawyer could have done what I did, or it wasn't that big of a deal.” No. It was a big deal. And it's something, as I get older, that I do appreciate. And I do go to that well, when I'm feeling down or feeling, you know, worried about something is that, yes, we do impact people's lives. Don't forget that. And the positive impact we have on people's lives. And we take it for granted. We shouldn't.

Anyway, that's my hack is how to get back into a positive mind space or mindset.

Tyson:             Love it. Very good.

Jim, guess how many unread books that I have in my Apple library. Just guess.

Jim:                  Mmm, 40.

Tyson:             Oh, not that high. It's 26. I just counted ‘em. 26 that I have not even read yet, right? So, my tip is to don't buy another damn book until you’ve read the ones that you've wanted to read, the ones that are on your list. I'm just going to stop buying. I know. I'm just going to stop buying ’em. This is the year-- my word for next year, Marc, is no. It’s just “stop it.”

Marc:              Love it.

Tyson:             Stop or no, one of the two.

I just keep adding to my list. And I'm just going to stop listening every time someone has a new suggestion. I'm like go through the ones that I've got. I'm going to catch up. And then, I'll buy another one. So, that is my tip of the week.

Marc, thank you so much for coming on. It's been way too long trying to get you on here, so thank you so much for coming on.

Marc:              Thanks, guys.

Tyson:             Appreciate it.

Marc:              Thank you.

Jim:                  Thanks, Marc.

Tyson:             See you, Marc.

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