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“Starting with Security” w/ Avnish Mangal 242
Categories: Podcast

In today’s podcast episode we joined Avnish Mangal who specializes in Personal Injury and PIP Litigation in Orlando, Florida and is the founder of San Francisco based Hexna Corp. 

In today’s episode we discuss the journey from dropping out of high school to battling cancer to owning a seven figure law firm. 

10:17 surprises when opening a firm
14:05 structuring a firm with software
14:54 developing your own software
19:21 mistakes made in security
21:52 data privacy
24:14 scaling strategies
26:15 baby steps

Jim’s Hack: Be conscious of your email subject lines and video titles – the purpose is to get someone to keep going!

Avnish’s Tip:  Keep pushing when you’re just getting started or going out on your own.

Tyson’s Tip: Do a branded face mask – great marketing!

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Run your law firm the right way.

This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.

Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.

Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.

Welcome to the show.

 

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

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

Jim: Well, Tyson, it’s Tuesday which is the day that we record. And it’s also the day that our episodes release. Today, on the way in, I was listening to ourselves talk to that guy, Daniel, from Scaling Up, from Verne Harnish’s outfit. I have to say, number one, my old school plug-in headphones from my air pod, the plugin ones, sound great. And, number two, it’s a great episode and I am enjoying listening to it once again.

Tyson: I actually didn’t know what to expect whenever we had him on. He came on because we had initially asked to have Verne Harnish on and Becca said, “Well, we’ve got a good alternative.” I didn’t know anything really about Daniel. I think you did. And he was amazing. He’s one of the– at least one of the top 10, maybe one of the top five guests we’ve ever had. It was really good.

Jim: Yeah.

And then, I’m thinking, “Boy, I need to re-read Scaling Up.” And then, I walk out into the hall and there’s the book sitting there waiting for me. So, I think I’m going to check it out again.

Do you want to go ahead and get started?

Tyson: Yeah. So, we have a guest today. Sorry if I’m saying this, but he’s a little nervous. At least, he was yesterday. He’s a little bit better today so it’s good.

It’s Avnish Mangal. He’s a personal injury attorney out of Orlando, Florida. He specializes in personal injury and PIP litigation. There’s a couple of cool things about him. That’s one cool thing. But the other thing is– and I want to get into this a little bit, he’s the founder of San Francisco-based Hexna Corp. I’m sure I said that wrong.

Avnish, welcome to the show, man.

Avnish: Oh, wow. Thank you.

Yeah, I’m happy to get into that but that’s more or less a story of important lessons I learned rather than a success story. So, I don’t know of how much interest that’ll be to us, but I’m happy to talk about it. And thanks for having me.

Jim: Well, it’s great to have you on the show, Avnish. One of the things we wanted to start off with is what we usually start people off with, which is sort of your journey. And I know you had an interesting journey from OSU, to Cornell and beyond. Why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about yourself?

Avnish: Sure. I come from a family of all doctors. And, I suppose, I just wanted to, you know, branch out and do something different. But my interests always sort of actually were in computers and IT. So, I grew up building and taking apart computers, building websites, that sort of thing. Went to college. Decided that, instead of majoring in IT or anything like that, I’d instead learn business, so I did finance, undergrad at OSU. 

And then, yeah, kind of an interesting journey going to Cornell because I wasn’t your typical, awesome GPA student It wasn’t anything like that. It was more or less a strategic assessment of what all I could do with the LSAT. So, there’s kind of a story there, I suppose.

But after that, I went to law school in New York. I practiced in New York City. Then I worked in San Francisco, on Hexna. And then, eventually, moved to Florida. That’s where I am now.

Tyson: All right. So, Avnish, tell us about this biotechnology company that you founded during your second year of law school.

Avnish: Yeah, that was an interesting project.

So, it ties into what I was talking about earlier. Because of my interests growing up, most of my core friends were really in engineering fields. It was sort of self-selecting and, while in law school– I mean, I was always sort of looking at other projects and doing random things with my free time. So, I got into a phone call, randomly, with one of my very close friends and he just told me about this technology that him and his brother had been developing. I had enough of a science background to understand why it was important technology. But, certainly, I mean, I have no technical background, actually, to talk about the science behind the PCR device or anything like that.

I mean, basically, my role was just–

You know, I was talking to them and suggesting that, “Hey, with my background in business, and law, and stuff, instead of you all just open sourcing these plans and throwing them up online and not doing anything with it. Why don’t we see if we can we can make something of it?”

So, my role in that company was mostly administrative and legal, but I learned a lot. I got to become intimately familiar with the patenting process. We worked with Wilmer Hale on that. That’s still going on. We’re still replying to office actions from the PTO, so it was super interesting.

Jim: Avnish, one of my favorite things to talk about are people that left big law to sort of hang their own shingle. What did you learn working for a big firm and how did that translate into that time period when you started your firm?

Avnish: Oh, man. What did I learn?

I learned everything. I mean, I have to admit my experience in big law, to whatever extent I’m a professional today, it came from that. It was really transformative. I mean, you learn a lot of things, for better and for worse. You learn the top down hierarchical nature of big law. You learn that a lot of those stereotypes are actually true. You learn the technologies that they use. You learn about the mentality they have. The mentality is particularly interesting because I think it’s easy when you’re in big law to get too sucked into it.

That’s one of the things I really love about your all’s podcast and I really enjoy about the show and sort of the perspective here is because one thing I can tell you is, coming from big law being a cog in a much bigger system and having a nice, comfortable salary versus trying to hang the shingle out on your own and actually trying to generate business out of nothing. They’re two completely different ball games. It’s like not even close. I mean, in one you’re a glorified detail checker on templates of contracts. And, in the other one, you have to wear so many different hats, all at the same time, and be quite good at wearing those hats for you to even get off the ground, let alone sustain flight.

I mean, yeah, it was really interesting in terms of teaching me how to be professional, but I don’t think it prepared me at all for hanging out a shingle.

Tyson: Well, you eventually did start your firm. So, you hang out your shingle in 2018. So, tell us about that. What encouraged you to take that leap? That’s a big change going from big law to a guy who now is in street law – big law to street law. So, how–

Avnish: Yeah.

Tyson: Why’d you make that leap?

Avnish: So, it’s funny. When I was in San Francisco– so I go from big law, in New York. I go to SF. I’m working on the Hexna stuff and I slowly realized that I’m in a space where it’s clear that, unless you have a core competency in this space, you’re wasting your time and other peoples’ time.

Like, it’s cute and everything for you to have a title of CEO. But the fact is that when you’re in a room with people of substance, everybody knows that you have no clothes. Everyone knows that, at the end of the day, if there’s a technical question that must be asked, you can have the title CEO, but you’re not the point person for those questions. And if you respect that process enough, you know that, if you respect technology enough, you’re kind of holding it back. And so, what that prompted was a re-assessment of whether or not I really wanted to leave law because I understood, at that time, that the longer I stay in this space, outside of law, it’s more or less kind of like letting go of a medical residency. It’s like, if I were to try and re-enter the legal industry when I was like, 35, and I had this huge gap In my employment, and training, and just everything, I could potentially really hurt my ability to get back into the field. And so, I guess, more or less, on a strategic initiative, I decided, “Okay, let me explore law again.” Let me see if I can maybe find someone else to help run Hexna and let me see if I can do that. So, my intent was actually to go back to New York, after SF.

My family happened to move to Florida when I was in college. And so, I took a pitstop here. Basically, long story short, I met my wife and then realized, “Oh, okay, it’s time to actually settle down and do something real.” At that point, I started looking for any attorney positions I could find in Florida. I got talking to some big law firms over here and actually got a couple of offers. That was pretty cool and I was excited.

But I got this one random offer from a small solo personal injury firm in New Port Richey. He put out this posting where he was like, “You know, I’m looking for someone with five to seven years of litigation experience. I’m looking for someone in personal injury, someone who knows how to handle clients and all this stuff.” I kind of replied to the job posting as a joke and was like, “Yeah, sign me up. I can do this. Let’s go. I may not have that experience, but I can bring XYZ to the table.” And he was– so, I guess, it piqued his interest because he was not expecting a joking reply from a candidate. He called me in for an interview. And then, the next thing we knew, we were like, “All right. Well, let’s do this.”

So, he’s just as important in my story as the big law firm that I worked for before because he was a fantastic mentor. He taught me everything I know about personal injury, but that was in New Port Richey. My family’s in Orlando. And so, after I worked with him a year and a half to two years, or however long that was, then yeah– I mean, then, I had to make a choice and, instead of doubling down in New Port, Richey, I decided that I’d want to move closer to home. And then, I just went for it.

Jim: What was the biggest surprise to you or what didn’t you know, when you opened your firm, Avnish?

Avnish: I had a lot of theories on different advantages I might have, when I opened my firm, many of which didn’t exactly play out. Some of which did play out but in ways that were unexpected. 

I mean, okay, the question was like, what was unexpected in opening my firm? I mean, one thing was just that it wasn’t unexpected, everyone told me but, I suppose, I just didn’t appreciate how it would feel. But having to wait a year and a half, to two years, for revenue to start hitting because of the nature of the time it takes for personal injury cases to go from start to finish, was just unbelievable. I mean, it was so stressful. I mean, it still is.

I look back and I realize why there’s such a barrier to entry for people to get into small business. It’s unbelievable the amount of risk you have to take just sitting there and waiting for you to not only generate clients, but then also wait for those cases to play out and to validate that you know what you’re doing. That was definitely the worst part and definitely, you know, maybe not unexpected but– yeah, overwhelming.

Tyson: All right. So, talking about this wedding gift that you received to start your firm. I’m really curious about this.

Avnish: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Well, I was just– when we were talking before, I had just mentioned. Yeah, Servie and I got married and we just– I mean, what I meant was all the wedding gift money that we had received – people instead of giving us things for our house or whatever, we had sort of requested to keep it with funds and stuff. And so, that was really with an intent for me to start my business.

I mean, using the wedding money, combined with any of the savings I had up until that point. There was a month where I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get groceries for us. But then, things start hitting, you know. And personal injury’s also that type of space where one case can be a sizable amount, so it’s been a huge learning experience.

 

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Jim: And so, tell us about your current staffing situation. What’s your firm structure look like?

Avnish: Yeah, the firm structure’s interesting. It’s really just me and Celeste. Just one other person, so my paralegal. We handle everything. Sometimes, we’ll incorporate virtual employees, if we need them.

But, mostly, our practice runs on software that I’ve built. So, we have a proprietary case management system which is where I got to sort of use some of my skills, so to speak. That handles and organizes all of our personal injury and PIP cases. That’s sort of our big thing there.

But yeah, I mean, that’s, obviously, one thing that’s really great about both of your perspectives and sort of your intent is to leverage technology to help firms perform better and deliver better quality to their clients. That really resonates with me. I thought that was awesome.

Tyson: So, this software– that’s actually the next thing I wanted to ask you about, because I’m really intrigued by that. Because I know a lot of lawyers that have talked about building their own software. I’ve even explored the idea of it. I’ve talked to companies and the cost estimates were just ridiculous, but you’ve actually built your own. I mean, how long did that take? I mean, was it before or during the practice? I mean, how did you know what to do? I mean, I’ve got all these different questions about it.

Avnish: Yeah. Sure.

That process probably took about two years, two and a half years. It was just me doing it. I didn’t have any help.

How do I know what to do? I mean, that’s really because my primary passion has always been in software and hardware. So, I mean, I’ve always grown up kind of writing code and stuff. I mean, I used to teach computer science engineering courses in college. I’m a TA for them and that kind of thing. I mean, I already had some kind of background.

But as far as– you know, I think the more interesting discussion here that you’re highlighting is a question of why that’s even necessary. I mean, you look at like the main software players in the space. We’ve got like MyCase. You’ve got like Rocket-something. I mean, I’ve like tried them all. Practice Panther. You’ve got whoever. Invariably, it kind of feels like each one is designed to incorporate as many different practice types as it can, but it’s not really a master of one. The software’s that are out there, that are masters of one, are typically more transactional. They’re not like for personal injury firms. So, yeah, I mean, ultimately, I wouldn’t have done it unless I felt there was a need because, looking back, it was a lot of work. But the advantage of building your own.

Going back to your point about looking at cost estimates and stuff, I don’t think it would be practical to build out a first version, paying someone else to do it.

Now, of course, this is a discussion that we should also revisit later because one revelation I’ve had, as I’ve developed my practice is, a lot of the hesitation I used to have in the beginning about where it’s wise to spend money and where it’s not has shifted dramatically, just based on the firm doing better. So, I have to take everything I say with a grain of salt because maybe I’m not at the level yet where I understand the value of just paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop the software. But, from my perspective, that didn’t make sense, particularly because there’s too much trial and error involved in building a software. I mean, there’s so much complexity to the legal logic, depending on how sophisticated you’re going to make the software, that paying somebody else to do it, and then paying for the inefficiencies that come with that discussion gap or with that information gap. I mean, I think it’d be frustrating.

The beauty of me, being the lawyer and the developer was that (a) every time there was a bug, I immediately fix it and (b) every time there was a feature request, I immediately implemented it, because I was requesting the features.

So, you know, it was it was liberating to have the ability to do it. It took a lot of time but it’s exciting because it’s in use in production. I mean, that is what we use every day. So, it’s living and breathing. I mean, in a sense, it’s like always evolving. And it’s pretty cool.

I mean, what I’ve done is not rocket science, anybody could do it. Even the code itself. I think a lot of people get too wrapped up in trying to write code from scratch. That’s just not where the current best practices are for programming. Right now, it’s well understood like Agile is the way to go. Get things off the ground. Get it moving. Get it working. And then, you can refine and revisit. For example, I use knack.com. That’s the platform on which I sort of built my initial thing. You all can check it out. It’s pretty cool. It’s a great way to sort of provide you with scaffolding to build out the business logic behind software.

At this point, now, what I’ve built, I’m sure I could probably give it to someone else to rebuild it. And it’s in code from scratch and it’d probably be way, way cheaper than if I were paying them from the beginning to help me generate the ideas behind it. 

Jim: That was a great answer. Yeah.

So that brings up an interesting point. Obviously, most of our listeners are not going to be able to build out their own software but, when it comes to software, generally, what advice or what mistakes do you see most law firms making?

Avnish: That’s a great question. That’s a super interesting question, too, because what mistakes do I see most law firms making? Well, to be quite frank, my exposure has only been to the law firm I worked at in New York City, stories I’ve heard from my buddies who work in similar law firms, the PI firm I worked at afterward, and then my own. And then, the rest of it is really what I’ve read online. But what I can tell you about are just general security practices, best practices that people don’t follow. You have your usual low-hanging fruit, talking about email security and how you really shouldn’t put confidential stuff there and things like that. I think there’s a lot of overuse of email in law firm communication. I can also reflect, I guess, on the communications that I’ve received from other law firms, in my own practice and stuff, and mistakes that I’ve seen them make and things like that. Yeah, there’s a lot of confidential information that goes on emails. Emails are sent in plain text. Most people don’t realize that you can read everything in the contents of an email, if you’re inspecting the network on which it’s sent. Obviously, there are caveats to that, but the point is that it’s not nearly as secure as people think.

Another mistake I see people make with software, generally, is using popular public cloud storage solutions. I’m sure Dropbox, and Google Drive, and OneDrive, you know, they work for synchronizing your files. And these companies will all tout the security that they offer. But, ultimately, how secure are you from the company’s own personnel looking through your legal documents, or looking through your files, or having that exposed at some later point due to some kind of bug? So, we host all of our own servers. And I do that out of really respect for the files.

I mean, yeah, I don’t know what kind of mistakes other people make with software. I can tell you like, from broad macro level standpoint, I think a lot of people don’t realize the latent landmines that are there in their tech systems, that that could go off at any moment. They don’t have good backups. They don’t have good redundancies for systems going down, or for internet connections going down and things like that.

But yeah, I mean, I’m happy to talk about anything specific.

Tyson: So, what got you so into data privacy? I mean, you went from big law. I know you’re big into tech and all this. Is it your tech background? I mean, what got you so much into that?

Avnish: Yeah, definitely. It’s through years of watching things kind of blow up in my own face, like there’ll be like an email sitting somewhere, with some password to an account and later, like that account will get hacked or something or there’ll be– I mean, I’m trying to think. I mean, it’s also more from an understanding of what could happen. It comes from a deep-set realization that– 

I think the reason I particularly care is because most of my life is in IT. And I don’t mean that in terms of interests. I mean, my life. Like, I mean, all of my personal information, everything about my day, my schedule, my habits, me tracking my own goals in terms of like weight, in terms of exercise, in terms of anything personal, and my medical records. It’s all in my computer. And to the extent any of that were to be compromised, it’s mind boggling what kind of damage that could have on my life or on anyone else’s life. And so, computers are much like law. I mean, you have to kind of preemptively think about things. You can only remedy so much after it’s happened.

Jim: What does the future hold for your law firm, say, in the next three years? Where are you going to be?

Avnish: I hope to grow. I mean, for sure. That’s one thing. I was actually hoping to talk to both of you about is learning more about how you all scaled up. I saw both of you went to St. Louis University Law School. That’s cool. My aunt went there for law school.

But yeah– but I’m also familiar with like your origin stories, I guess. I mean, like, how did you get to where you’re at because I have both of your websites up. I’ve been looking at everything. I mean, it’s really well done. I don’t think either of you probably wasted your time building these sites yourselves. And I’ve heard many of your discussions talking about best practices for marketing online and things like that. But, I mean, you have just as much of a tech focus as I do but in a slightly different angle. So, how did you get into it?

Tyson: BluShark, baby. That’s who I use.

Jimmy, you used to use BluShark, right?

Jim: Yeah, I do. And, you know, I think, Avnish, it’s been a growth and progress. Like it’s fits and starts. You know, you try this. You try that. I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I think that I don’t have as analytical a mind as you do, but I think that sort of just not being satisfied with the way things are, I think that’s really an important feature for both Tyson and I.

I also think tapping into what I am particularly good at has been really helpful in finding people that support my weaknesses so that I’m not. I’m a big believer in like going all in on what you’re really good at, and then leaving the other stuff to people that they’re really good at. So, I think that you probably have some things that you could turn over to other people that would free you up to do what you’re really best at.

Avnish: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That resonates a lot with me. I’ve heard both of you talk about that before. I mean, it’s definitely consistent with everything I’ve read to, you know what I mean, having the bus driver mentality, level-five leadership type stuff. Making sure you get the best people on your team and equipping them with the tools they need to do the best they can. Totally agreed.

One thing that I found interesting was coming from big law to where I am now, there’s a huge gap between those two levels. I find myself sometimes wanting to implement technologies or practices, things that were used in those big companies that are just not practical for my size. I used to daydream about, “Oh, man. I’m going to have so many employees and this is how the structure’s going to be set up, and the whole tree, and all this stuff.” It was very humbling to realize how difficult it was to get to the point where we could comfortably sustain and employ one, you know. And now, moving to the next level, is very exciting, but I hope to be in a position, to your point, where I can have additional people to help.

Tyson: And I will say this, I’ll add this because what you said is right on. Not everybody can get a car crash your first month of going out, hanging your shingle, and then selling it for $3 million. And then, you can hire a bunch of employees to do whatever. A lot of this is baby steps and you gradually add piece, by piece, by piece. It’s not something you just do overnight. And I think that that’s sometimes people are like, “Oh my gosh, why am I not growing fast enough?” And that’s just not how it works. I mean, it’s a gradual growth process. It’s not something that you just hire 50 employees. You just don’t do that. That’s not how it works.

Avnish, we do at the wrap things up because I know Jimmy’s got to run. Before I do, I want to remind everyone, go to the Facebook group, get involved there. Lots of great information going on and being shared. Also, if you don’t mind, taking a few seconds, give us a five-star review and help spread the love. We would really, really appreciate it. And then, if you have any interest in the Guild, we have members joining regularly. It’s a great group. Go to maximumlawyer.com.

Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?

Tyson: For my hack of the week, it is to be conscious of your memo lines or your titles of things. So, I’ve really been having fun, since we’ve started doing YouTube videos every day and emails every day, of playing with headlines. And it’s unbelievable how important headlines are because, of course, a headline’s only purpose is to get the person to keep going, to do the next thing you want them to do – either open the email or play the video.

I had no idea what to do my videos on this week, last week, when I was doing video. So, I just got out there and said how things work. So, I did one video of how each case type works. And the last one I did was called How Things Really Work at USCIS. People love that shit. They love thinking they’re getting inside information. So, if you’re writing an email, or you’re doing a video, give them a hook. Don’t just throw it out there. Always, give them a little bit of a mini cliffhanger.

I’m laughing because I look at my analytics and YouTube tells me how my video is doing as compared to the last 10 videos. So, this one, from yesterday, with how things really work, it’s 1 out of 10. It has 3700 views in about 20 hours. So, that just goes to show you that having that right title really can make the big difference between people consuming your content or not.

Tyson: Very, very cool. Nice. I like it.

All right, Avnish, we always ask our guests to give a tip or a hack of the week. Do you have one for us?

Avnish: Yeah. I would say just keep pushing. It’s really– that’s where I’m at right now. And the most important thing– I mean, this is more targeted toward anyone who’s just getting in the startup of a firm or is a young lawyer looking to hang out their own shingle. Certainly, you can reach out to me like I can talk to you about it more but don’t get disheartened. There’s no way you’re going to beat the year to two years it takes for the revenue to come which means that you just have to sit there and wait. Yeah. 

Tyson: Very cool.

You know, it’s such simple advice but it’s true. It really is true. Just keep pushing through.

So, this is an interesting one. My tip is to do a branded face mask, no matter what your politics are. Here’s why. So, Marco, in the Guild, he had some new face mask that he got. And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool. Nice little idea,” or whatever. Amy put, the other day, like there was a new ordinance change in Columbia. So, she did a little Canva graphic and put the logo on the mask. It was a black mask. We posted it and people were like, “I want that mask. I want a mask. I want a mask.” And we’re like, “What the hell? Everyone wants a damn mask.”

So, the tip is get some branded masks and give them to your people. I mean, people really want them. It’s a great branding opportunity. So, what we’re doing is, by the time this goes live– except for the Guild people. They’re hearing this now, we will have a landing page and we’re just going to say, “Hey, if you want a mask, go to our landing page, their name and email address, so we can then market to them.” So, it’s a great opportunity to market to people, especially people that are not on your list. 

Avnish, this has been a lot of fun. It’s kind of crazy. You’ve got a crazy background, so it’s great to learn it. Thanks so much for coming on. We really appreciate it.

Avnish: Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, I’m excited to keep learning more from both of you. 

Jim: Thanks, guys. Good stuff.

Tyson: Thanks, guys. See you, Avnish.

 

Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.

To stay in contact with your hosts and to access more content, go to maximumlawyer.com.

Have a great week and catch you next time.

 

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