Local attorneys rise to the top

by | Sep 23, 2021 | Trending News

Practicing law can be like baking a cake. Both require precise timing and ingredients in exact measure. A dash of restraint goes a long way, too. Just ask attorney Neal Schulwolf who knows the power of pause when a new client reveals his search for a Jewish lawyer.

Lawyers who rise to the top demonstrate a mix of judicious creativity, charisma, emotional intelligence, and expertise. That would be the case for Kaleo founder and lawyer Brian Wainger.

Lawyers also make good memes. (But that’s another story.) Jewish lawyers make good copy.

Neal Schulwolf Attorney, Kalfus & Nachman

Jewish News: How does being Jewish or living Jewishly make life richer and/or more challenging?

Neal Schulwolf: As an attorney who focuses on helping people who have been injured, I always want to know how my client found me or chose me to represent them in their legal matter.

Over my 30 plus years of practicing law, I’ve received numerous responses, including ‘my next-door neighbor referred me;’ ‘I saw your name on the internet;’ ‘another lawyer gave me your name;’ ‘the guy I bought my car from told me to call you.’

The response that sticks, however, is “I chose you because I thought you were a Jewish lawyer.” Huh? This is where the joy and angst of being Jewish collide.

So many thoughts go through my head when I hear this response. Are Jewish lawyers different than Christian, agnostic, or Muslim lawyers? Does this person think all Jewish lawyers are smart? Ok. I can probably live with that mindset. Or does this person think all Jewish lawyers are slick? Do they expect me to work the system and get them more money? I’m never quite sure how to respond because I’m afraid that if they openly say ‘Jews know how to get the money,’ it will create a bias on my part and affect how I represent them. I’m not prepared to respond to an answer couched in an anti-Semitic trope.

I do realize that I could also hear something that makes me feel proud of my Jewish heritage, but I always choose the path of least controversy and move on to the next legal issue connected to their case so I can help them.

In this line of work, it’s sometimes better to not know something about your client than it is to know something. As an American Jewish lawyer, I’m very proud of the brilliant Jewish minds and scholars, and their valuable contributions.

Being a lawyer is good. Being a Jewish lawyer is even better.”

Brian Wainger, Kaleo Legal

In the early aughts, going remote meant flying to Hawaii for a month with limited computer access to or from home and work. Thirteen years and one pandemic later, remote is a mainstream and essential work lifestyle that connects people 24/7, sustaining the flow of business.

In 2008, before laptops were available to the masses, and an essential tool for lawyers, Brian Wainger saw remote work as a partial antidote to the traditional staid practice of law. His idea to go largely virtual and diverge from the universally practiced flawed billable hour fee structure resonated with Tina McRae and Billy Poynter, two successful attorneys who shared his entrepreneurial spirit. Together the three ‘big law’ attorneys conceived and welcomed a new form of legal delivery called Kaleo.

JN: What sparked your innovation? What problem in the legal and business world does Kaleo exist to improve/solve?

Brian Wainger: In 2008, I had just finished serving as a General Counsel for a small public company. Before that I worked at McGuireWoods, one of the 100 biggest firms in the world. I had to decide whether to go back as in-house counsel for a new company or join another large firm. While I enjoyed aspects of both jobs, I didn’t like either option and felt that I could forge a more enjoyable career for myself. In particular, I felt that expensive overhead and hourly billing skewed the incentives of the attorney-client relationship, creating unnecessary professional pressures.

Rather than aligning incentives for clients and attorneys, hourly billing does the opposite. Kaleo was conceived in favor of a more relaxed and productive relationship. Offering a fixed or floating monthly subscription structure based on reduced overhead and virtual work when appropriate, gave it wings.

JN: In what ways has Kaleo Legal been successful in the mission to make legal services a more equitable option? What’s the secret weapon?

BW: Our mission is to make legal services more equitable, predictable and value-based. When you have a monthly subscription, you can budget for it. Like a buffet, you pay a fee and get everything you want. No upcharge. No nickel and diming. This allows our clients to reach out for more interaction without fear of being charged for the “extra’ work. Relationships build naturally and reliably.

Kaleo was a neat idea, but Billy and Tina brought it to life and turned it into something interesting. Lawyers and unicorns don’t usually go together, but that’s our theme. Tina and Billy got the concept right away and have grown it in ways I could never have imagined. They are both extraordinary people with vision and capabilities that are the key to Kaleo’s growth.

JN What kind of clients benefit from Kaleo? Any big surprises?

BW: We represent small startups and public and private multi-billion dollar companies—and everything in between. Our roles vary for each company. A typical mom and pop may need substantial business and legal advice. Larger companies call us for our particular expertise, or for additional bandwidth to add to their internal team. Regardless the size of the company, we are a full business firm that handles typical corporate and commercial issues that arise in the business world, but with a heavy focus on corporate, commercial intellectual property, alcohol regulatory work, and employment. In the early years, we simply managed litigation for our clients, but have now grown to a team of eight seasoned litigators, all of whom previously worked at large traditional firms.

The biggest surprise for me is how all this resonated with our clients. Clients love the subscription arrangement where we act as their counsel, as if we’re sitting next to them like a traditional in-house counsel, but at a fraction of the cost of a fulltime attorney and without variable hourly fees charged by most attorneys. Our work is on par with the most sophisticated firms, but because of lower overhead and virtual remote work, we are able to charge less.

We now have approximately 20 attorneys who previously served at large firms, or as in-house counsel for Fortune 400 Companies, who chose the Kaleo alternative because it’s personal and flexible —and less formal. These are the most extraordinary and talented lawyers I’ve ever met. A combination of a flexible practice model with quality of people is what makes it great.

JN: How did your parents react to such an unconventional career twist?

BW: My parents are very conservative and traditional. They had no idea what to think! When we started Kaleo, I had three little ones. Our twins just turned one and Julia was three.

It’s fair to say we went in a direction that was an unproven method of practicing law. We were early in a world of virtual and remote counsel work at a time when lawyers just went to the office. We didn’t have the software we have today that securely stores and transfers files with great efficiency. Computers weren’t very mobile with slow and clunky laptops that made remote work a grind.

Although I think they’re a bit less concerned today about whether this idea can put food on the table, it’s fair to say they’re still not sure what to think of Kaleo, particularly what my partners and I have managed to create together without compromising our values or families.

-Lisa Richmon