Listen to the latest episode of The How & The Wow Podcast, with our guest, Chris Nace, of the firm Paulson and Nace based in Washington, D. C. In this can’t miss episode, you will hear Chris’s story of how he and his family handled succession planning after losing the firm’s founder, his father.

If you liked this episode, please subscribe to the podcast and give us a review. Thank you so much!

Learn more about Woven Legal:

Book a discovery call with Meg Garavaglia, Founder of Woven Legal:


Meg Garavaglia: Thank you so much, Chris Nace, for joining me on the How and the Wow podcast. And I would like to begin by asking you to share a bit about your practice and where you’re located. 

Chris Nace: Well, first, thanks for having me. This is exciting, a little different for me.

Our law firm is called Paulson and Nace. It’s based in Washington, D. C. We practice in the district, in Maryland, in West Virginia. I’m also licensed in Georgia and Florida and actually practice a little bit in Florida too. We handle predominantly medical malpractice for plaintiffs.

We do all plaintiff’s work and it’s mostly medical. Also some other catastrophic injury work, things like that, but we’re a real trial law firm. We try a couple cases a year, mostly complex medical cases and all over the DMV, as we like to call it here in the DC area. 

Very good. And one thing that I really enjoyed through knowing you is that you shared that there can be challenges associated with business succession and I was always really intrigued by that because I run into a lot of attorneys who are dealing with just that.

So I reached out more recently and you shared news that was so surprising and so sad that your father passed away in the midst of The business succession that the two of you were working on. You were kind enough to call me back and share that you’d be willing to discuss that and the insight that has provided you.

It’s really interesting how life is cyclical in some ways. My dad started this firm with his partner Richard Paulson in 1979. That’s when the firm was founded and the two of them were six years into it or so when Dick Paulson died suddenly.

And I remember like, I, I just have this mental impression like we all do from growing up, but I remember a Christmas one year with my dad being particularly stressed out. I would have been like 10 or 11 years old, something like that. But I remember him being particularly stressed out because his partner was in the hospital dying.

And he must have been in his mid to late 40s and fast forward, you know, 30, 35 years. All of a sudden, you know, it’s me and my dad and my brother Matt, who’s my law partner in practice, and that’s when our father, Barry Mace passed away. So in many ways, it was life repeating itself as far as a partner dying too early in his career. At the time, my dad had just tried three malpractice cases post post COVID.

He had gone through two jury trials and a bench trial in about five months. So he was still very much active, engaged in the business and the practice. 

Meg Garavaglia: I didn’t realize he was that still engaged and wow, that is surprising. So at what point where were the two of you in the process of business succession?

I would love to know more about your dad.

Chris Nace: Yeah. Well, succession in these kind of firms is interesting, right? First of all, I think in the plaintiffs bar, We’re certainly not the only firm that has a parent practicing with a child or multiple children, right?

I mean, our other brother, John, he practiced with us for a while too. So we had the whole family here at one point. The problem is sometimes attorneys don’t… Even lawyers don’t understand the legal ramifications of succession planning, right? I mean, these are IRS events, as I’ve been told. When you move a business, you don’t just hand it over.

And so, that was a little bit tricky to get, to be able to have that conversation. I don’t think it’s any secret that not all lawyers are good business people. Right? Trying to explain and get everybody on board with the idea of a formal succession plan, particularly when it’s your family is tricky.

My dad was a wonderful attorney. He did everything under the sun. He was a president of what was then the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. He was president of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, which does board certification. He represented the Dawbert family in the, in the famous Dawbert case, but a businessman he was not necessarily, and so getting him on board with a succession plan that has a buyout that has a period of time that shows him a path towards retirement and stepping away in some form, or even just stepping back was tricky. That was not something that he was accustomed to. And like I said, he was trying cases to the last day. I don’t think he ever thought he’d really walk away from being a trial lawyer.

Meg Garavaglia: It sounds like then the vision of the eventual succession may not have been really nailed down, nor did you share the vision, you know, the two of you. 

Chris Nace: Yeah, I don’t, you know, I’m not sure that it wasn’t the vision. I think it was a matter of getting paperwork done in some ways. 

First of all, it wasn’t a priority and you know, it requires paperwork, it requires lawyers and, and CPAs so, I don’t know that there was ever really a dispute over the decision. It was more of, when will this kick in, right? And so the can kept getting kicked down the road. He passed before, before things were actually done and wrapped up. 

Meg Garavaglia: My dad owned a hardware store and my brother took over a large portion of that so my dad could retire. And there was a lot of… I mean, we’re big Irish Catholic family. So there was a lot of arguing.

And so yeah, and that is kind of how but it was tense during that time. I’m just wondering, was it something that you guys could dialogue about? Or was it just the end goal? And it was you know, when am I going to see progress because I think that will help listeners. 

Chris Nace: I think honestly, our situation is a little unique, but not just us. But again, I think what almost made it more complicated was the fact that the two people taking over were brothers. So to the extent that there was any friction and there really wasn’t, but that it was more between what does this firm look like after dad? And, who’s running the place and what does that mean if you’re the managing member and, what does that require? So it’s not just buy in from the seller of the firm or the founder of the firm, everybody who’s going to be buying into it, taking it on that you have to have on board. And in some ways I think that’s a little harder almost than getting the agreement from the founding lawyer: the person who’s trying to sell the firm. 

Meg Garavaglia: That is a component that I hadn’t really considered and I think that’s valuable. So looking back, would there be a way for somebody who’s stuck in that situation to have a better process, a clearer process? 

Chris Nace: Yeah, I think, and it’s interesting because I’ve actually tangentially sort of been involved in business disputes where somebody did not have succession plans.

So I’ve seen this as a lawyer. I’ve seen this unfold. Shame on us for not having this worked out, but I think the biggest thing is communication is just being blunt and sort of brutally honest with everybody. 

You want to be candid. You want everyone to understand even before you get to succession planning, you know what has to happen for this lawyer to succeed and have an avenue to own a part of the firm. What do they have to accomplish to own more of the firm at some point? So when you’re talking about, you know, I kind of have a joke that the word partner has become a dirty, a dirty word because it, you know, it has a lot to do with it. You know, people, a lot of things attached to that, right? Like I’m entitled to, you know, I want, I need those sorts of things. And so I think it’s a constant, the more you can do to manage expectations, but not so much manage them as much as have clear expectations, particularly in a family business, right? You really have to work hard in a family business, because there’s so many pros to it. Don’t get me wrong. There are so many pros to working with family and it’s very rewarding and we’re very proud of that here. We’re happy to talk about it. And so we are proud of that. But at the same time, it is a business and sometimes you have to lay down the law or give very clear delineations.

And when you walk through that door. You know, this is a business, we’re here to operate profitably, everybody’s gotta carry their water and pull their own weight to use too many cliches, but it’s true. So I think just that candor and very clear path can be very helpful and again, not just in the family environment, because particularly in small firms, you do become family in some ways that the longer you work, the trials you go through. So the more open from day one, you can be about somebody’s path forward, the easier it’s going to be to institute that, that succession planning down the road. 

Meg Garavaglia: Got it. Was it always in mind that you would be the managing partner when that occurred? 

Chris Nace: Oh, I think so. I, I mean, I have an MBA, so a little bit more business acumen.

I don’t want to pretend I’m really some fabulous business person here that I’m not. But, I sort of took on more of the obligations. When I joined the firm, as far as running the day to day stuff and doing that, so I don’t think there was really any dispute over that. That was sort of natural.

Meg Garavaglia: Are you the older sibling? 

Chris Nace: I am. Yep. I’m the oldest. 

Meg Garavaglia: Great. Okay, yeah. So it’s not like Peaky Blinders where they were usurped. I don’t know if you watch Peaky Blinders. 

Chris Nace: I love Peaky Blinders. Yeah. 

Meg Garavaglia: My gosh, I love it. Peaky Blinders. But anyway. Could you outline the specific steps you took to ensure working towards a smoother transition and how that all came to be?

I’m sure it took some time for things to settle and for the firm to grieve. 

Chris Nace: Yeah, you know, I think that’s a good point. We came out of this mix of Covid where the courts were a mess from a year and a half of backlog, and that’s a no fault of their own, of course, it just things piled up and, and civil cases got delayed , and that, of course, in our particular practice, a trial date is what drives settlements. In a contingent practice, we’re not billing time and getting getting paid regularly.

It was a challenge coming through the 18 months and almost really two years of slowdown in the court system and then you throw on top of that the founder and sort of the icon of the firm passing away. So, it was a lot. I think that a couple things that we’re particularly proud of as a law firm is we never laid anybody off.

We never withdrew from cases or anything like that because of the ability to push them forward. So what we did do though, was we doubled down and committed to the firm. And I say that because what we did was we made some key hires. Maybe some people might have said, wait a minute, you were just coming out of Covid.

You arguably had a little bit of a revenue shortfall. While Covid was happening, I think at the time there was some question about what intakes would look like, because if people weren’t having surgeries and things like that, maybe there’d be a little downturn in intakes, and then you lost your founding partner. Oh, by the way, your dad, and you’re going to start hiring people. Well, that’s what we did. We actually hired a legal administrator. We had the good fortune of finding a very talented young lawyer, younger lawyer experienced in malpractice who joined us. And we just added another young lawyer, more of a newer lawyer, to the firm.

So we doubled down. And we’re committed to seeing the firm through. I think that was important for a lot of reasons. Number one, it was important for our staff to understand that we weren’t going anywhere. Number two, it was important for referral sources. Number three, I think it was important to clients to understand that, we told everybody what was going on here, and we introduced them to new employees when they came in. So in some ways, we never really missed a beat. The day to day went on, but now, We’re trying to figure out what is that next iteration of this law firm look like.

 In the D. C. area, Barry Nace was a big name in malpractice. At the same time, the world has changed a little bit now where with all the marketing that’s done, sometimes being the most successful courtroom lawyer isn’t what drives cases to you. Sometimes it’s who has the best SEO right? 

Meg Garavaglia: Exactly. Or billboards. 

Chris Nace: That’s right. The focus has always been on delivering the best results, but we really did use a buzzword, I guess, a buzz phrase, lean into the firm and stay committed to it even while we were going through these changes.

 I should say, just to get back to the succession planning, in some ways that took an immediate backseat. The firm ownership, without getting into all the nitty gritty of it. When my dad passed, it was transitioned to a trust held by my mother. So, we had to wait for a lot of that sort of stuff to get legally worked out before there can then be put into place.

So we had to switch a little bit the plan and the timing because we had to wait for that kind of stuff to work out. That’s all legal stuff that’s above, above what I do, but it is true. So, you know, in some ways we had to put that on the back burner. Once we realized that we had to wait a little bit. In some ways, it was a little easier because we were able to just focus on the cases we have and the people that we have working here. 

Meg Garavaglia: Yes. I’m making a note to look into adding my Director of Operations to some of the accounts, you know, I mean, yeah, because that would stall.

Chris Nace: Fortunately, we didn’t have that issue. 

Meg Garavaglia: Okay, good. 

Chris Nace: I was really managing the firm at the time that, that my dad passed. So we didn’t have that issue. But I do think something that is really important for law firms to do is to have that you know, it’s, it’s a little, maybe a little too crass, but that hit by the bus document, right? So that if you have one person who knows all the logins and all the passwords and all the bank accounts, well, where does that reside? You really ought to have a spreadsheet or a file somewhere that the partners can access that give you all that information. The keeper of the secrets, right? The keeper of the passwords and that sort of thing. If something were to happen, I mean, look, that’s particularly what we do in our practice. We see tragedy all the time, so we know as well as anybody how one minute you’re there and the next you’re not. Well, what happens if nobody knows the bank accounts?

Believe it or not, I think there’s probably a lot of firms out there that don’t have that information accessible. So it’s a good practice to go through to understand who are your contracts with, where are your bank accounts, what are the passwords, what does the QuickBooks login look like – all that stuff. It can be just one document so that if something happens, you don’t have to worry about those types of things.

Meg Garavaglia: Right. We keep ours, mine, on LastPass, which is one of the digital password keepers. My Director of Operations who I trust explicitly has access to all of that. So you guys use a document with that shared information. Is that what you’re saying?

Chris Nace: Yeah, and we’ve transitioned a little bit in the last year to some of our computer products. So, you know, we have it saved electronically stored safely encrypted and all that stuff but yeah. It’s accessible. 

Meg Garavaglia: What I’m hearing from what you shared is that there’s strong processes that were already established in the firm. Would you say that was pretty true? 

Chris Nace: Yeah, I think so because we have a good employee manual that has a lot of kind of flow sheet stuff in it to help people.

You know, the idea being if we hire someone tomorrow, that at a minimum, we can hand them this binder and have them know the basics of how to accomplish a task here. Now it probably isn’t upgraded or an updated as often as it should be. We also switched our case management system recently. And so it needs to be updated a little bit, but we’re a small firm.

We have a pretty good environment and atmosphere for helping each other out. So between a few documents, a few laminated checklists that we like to use, and a supportive team, we do have some good processes in place so that things can just sort of keep moving along.

Meg Garavaglia: Yeah, I don’t think you could have kept that flow going. That really speaks to the importance of processes. A lot of times, staff are actually the experts that bring the processes to their roles. Would you say that was the case? And then you and your dad and your brothers tweaked them to make suit them to your preferences?

Chris Nace: I think that most of our processes were group efforts, honestly, and we keep it that way. I mean, I always tell the team here, “Look, if you have a different way of doing something, by all means, let’s talk about it.” Now, there may be a reason that we’re not going to do it your way. I’ll explain to you why we don’t do something, but I’m always willing to hear it out and hear if there’s a better, more efficient way to do something.

So I think most of the processes that we have in place really just sort of come around through time and experience and conversations internally. 

Meg Garavaglia: Good response, and I so appreciate that. One thing I remember you and I had spoken about initially was technology and just wanting to update things.

So when I hear you say that you have a new software, are you willing to share what you chose and is that in line and moving towards that goal of updating technology? 

Chris Nace: Yeah, so we’ve been TrialWorks case management users for about 17 years. Okay. And we moved to, to their newer product, which is a web based product called Neos.

 It kind of takes the best of their two products that that company has, TrialWorks and Needles and merged them into a next generation product. I think the reality is that any transition in technology is hard, particularly when you’ve been using one tool for as long as we have, getting buy in is probably the most important thing. Whenever you move 17 years of data. 

Meg Garavaglia: Absolutely. 

Chris Nace: Nothing goes exactly correctly and that’s okay. We knew there would be some hiccups along the way. I think overall, what this will allow us to do is leverage some other softwares too, since we’re not in a server environment, we’re not in a cloud.

Where we’re logging in remotely to another server every day. So, you know, I think we’re still a little bit in . It’s probably been maybe six months that we’ve been using the new tool. And I think everybody’s doing pretty well with it. But it’s a process. And, and I read all the listservs on what’s the best case management, what’s the best, what’s everyone using. You know, I think the reality is that we’re all very particular people in our practices. If you’re not going to write your own program, you’re always going to have some gripe with what’s out there. The question is, what is going to make your staff use it?

What is going to keep you efficient? If you find a product that your staff Really likes and and uses. That’s the best product for you, right? We can argue over what’s the most robust, the best one. I’m very happy with what we have, but you know, whatever your staff, your team is going to buy into and utilize. That’s the best software program for you. 

Meg Garavaglia: Good. I want to ask you, how did you secure buy in from the staff, because we are brought in, oftentimes our paralegals are brought in, and current staff is used to doing things a certain way, and the attorney wants some updated methodologies or technology that our folks may know and be familiar with, and there’s resistance, so I’m curious.

Chris Nace: Yeah. Oh, no, I didn’t have any buy in. I couldn’t get anybody to. No, I’m kidding. I think number one was involving them in seeing it before we, we made the move. 

Meg Garavaglia: Oh, that was good. Yeah. 

Chris Nace: So we showed it to them. I think we got people excited about some of the differences about doing something new, so they knew it was coming. It wasn’t forced at the last minute on anyone. we had quite a bit of training. We’re fortunate that the company in the U. S. is very good about getting on the phone when there are questions and helping work through things. But, you know, I think buy in is important, but also explain to people, this is what we’re doing.

This is happening, okay? This is going to happen, and… You need to be on board with it. I will give credit to our team. There were hiccups, but they put their heads down and worked through them and learned it. And they had a good attitude about everything.

And yeah, we had a couple frustrated moments, I think to be expected, but all in all. They got into it right from the beginning. They were excited about the options and I think pretty much everyone wanted to see it work out. 

Meg Garavaglia: Oh, that’s huge. So jumping back to communication, you referenced that a bit ago.

After your dad passed, how were you communicating? You know, did you have the forethought to think I’ve got to. My earring just jumped. Hopefully, that’s not an indication that the podcast isn’t exciting because it is. So, anyway, how did you communicate both internally and externally with your staff?

How large is your firm? How many people? Can you share that with listeners? 

Chris Nace: Yeah, we’re about 10 people total. Including the lawyers. And so we were probably, I don’t know, eight or nine at the time was surreal. I was actually on a plane coming to Washington, D. C., where our firm is based, and the first thing I did when I learned about it about 10 minutes after takeoff and had about two and a half hours to sit there on a plane. But we brought the whole team into the conference room and it was obviously very hard to do.

 I wish I had a better answer about how we communicated with people. We are, as a firm and a family, pretty tied into our trial lawyer community, our bars, both locally and nationally, and the phone calls were sort of overwhelming. 

But we did. We made phone calls to most of our clients. I don’t know if I was just on auto drive, I guess probably thinking back to it, but I spent about a week just calling clients and talking to them and in certain cases, figuring out who was going to jump into a case, who was going to sit second chair now, or who was going to do whatever in a file.

Again, it was just open and honest communication. I mean, it was raw. It was very raw in a lot of cases, but again, we’re small. Our staff was devastated. It wasn’t just the family, it was the staff too. Everybody came through for us , but again, I think a little bit of it was autopilot in saying, okay, you’ve got deadlines still, very understanding about them, but you can’t ignore them.

You can’t ignore certain things. So, I wish I had a better, more clear answer for you, but I’m sort of thinking back to those days and thinking, boy, what did we do? I think some of it was just moving forward, on instinct and auto drive a little bit. 

Meg Garavaglia: Doing the next right thing by your client and your staff.

Yeah, because I know that that was really important to you. You communicated that really early on. You do seem like a leader who is taking into account the 360 of it all. And it’s a lot. It’s why we do this podcast. I do see oftentimes that attorneys can be isolated in small firms.

You don’t have the opportunity to have the water cooler conversations that you would, at larger firms. So that’s really valuable. Did you have to bring in, or did you choose to bring in experts, certainly attorneys, to help you navigate the documents and things concerning your dad’s passing? Did you bring in additional experts to help with business workflow?

Or how did you handle that? 

Chris Nace: I will say that there were a couple of dear friends of ours in the community who immediately said, if you need us to cover a hearing, if you need us to cover a deposition even, let us know. We were fortunate that we had people. We didn’t have to take anybody up on those offers, but they did come in from a lot of very close friends at what you would call a competitor firm, right?

 We all, in our bar, we know we’re all looking for the same good cases, but we also try and support each other. And we felt that here from our community, we felt a lot of support. I think that as far as bringing people in, it was that recommitment we talked about to go ahead and hire an administrator, to hire another lawyer.

 Pretty much right away to help make sure that we could keep things moving forward. 

Meg Garavaglia: Can you share a little bit about the operational and financial concerns when you’re in that holding pattern? I’d love to hear some words of advice for listeners if they face something like that.

Chris Nace: I think in our field, people will tell you that the most successful lawyers are the ones who are prepared, right? Preparation, preparation, preparation. How do you get ready for a trial? You spend every waking minute you can preparing going into it. And honestly, it’s the same sort of thing with anything you do.

 You don’t want to think about the worst case scenario, but you need to prepare for it. So the reality is that when you have a small firm, you have to spend time on your business and spending time on the business means coaching your staff. It means spending time writing manuals and checklists.

It means doing things like a cash flow analysis on a regular basis and understanding what cases you have in the office and when they might resolve. I think a lot of what got us through, same thing with Covid, quite honestly. Going into Covid, we were fortunate that we were set up to where it was very easy to work remotely. We did not miss a lot of time getting spun up to be able to work remotely. I kind of chuckled at all the people, all the CLEs that were out there on how to take a Zoom deposition because we put video conferencing in our office in 2006. And we were using Zoom beginning in 2017.

This is a reason I know, for instance, in Florida, you have to have a technology CLE, I think now every year, because I think it’s Florida, it’s one of the places where I’m licensed. I have to have a tech CLE every year. And, you know, it’s true because you have to be able to evolve so that if things do happen, you’re prepared. We were in that situation thankfully, where we were able to make payroll because we had planned, we were able to keep the lights on. We were able to get everybody working from home the minute the mayor shut down the city.

Because we had that capability and likewise, when Barry passed, we didn’t have a bunch of files propped up on a desk in his office where we didn’t know what they were. Somebody knew every file. They were all maintained the same way. It’s very important. Getting lawyers to do things someone else’s way is not easy.

But I do believe that without micromanaging everybody, you do have to have ways of storing information and so we all knew the files, even though we may not be intimately involved with the facts, we knew who the experts were. We were able to locate the client phone number and that’s just good business process.

 But, you know, again, I’m not foolish. I know that not every firm works that way. There are people who just have files piled up in their office and it’s worked wonderfully for them. They’ve gotten wonderful results for their clients. Their clients love them. But you do have to be prepared for that day where you’re not allowed to go into your office or something tragic happens and you need to jump in and take over their case.

Meg Garavaglia: That is helpful. I know this is a big question, but I think it’s an important one. Can you think of four or five instances where you were like, “Holy cow. I want to implement so that it’s available or I would have done it differently. You know, I wish we would have done it differently prior to.

Chris Nace: There’s a lot of pitfalls as far as transitioning. I think the pitfalls there I touched on a little before, unclear lines of communication. People not knowing what their role is. People believing that they were going to have authority over X, Y, and Z and others thinking, no, that’s my territory. 

 Generally, I’m not sure that this is going to answer your question precisely, but you know, one constant battle I have with my brother and my law partner is over case intake.

 I’m not sure how to tie this into succession planning other than to say we are still working through the process of how to decide what cases we’re going to take. We sort of have the head honcho so to speak before who could say yes or no. Right? And if the boss said yes or no. I mean, look, Barry was 78 years old when he passed. He had done everything as I mentioned in his career. I’m 47. My brother’s 42. And we’re in this weird situation where we have this very well established law firm with a very fortunate good docket of cases but at 47, I’m still usually the younger lawyer in the courtroom in a malpractice trial.

And so what we’re trying to figure out and we need to work through is it’s almost like, well, what’s the deciding vote? Because we can bang our heads against each other all day long on a case. Okay. Well, that gets to a point where you say that doesn’t help. So we don’t have that third vote.

 So that’s, you know, that’s something that we’re working through. I joke about bashing our heads against each other, but we both play football in high school. So we may actually have bashed our heads against each other. So, you know, that’s kind of something and I guess I’m thinking about this a little out loud now.

I hope I’m not rambling too much, but you know, really that decision making authority. When it comes down to how do you break a tie, and that’s tricky. I don’t know how you implement that. If somebody gives me a call, tell me. 

Meg Garavaglia: I’d love to hear what people have to contribute after the fact, and your third brother is no longer, John is no longer in the firm.

Chris Nace: That’s right. It was too much family for him. And he went on and he’s a very successful tort lawyer and started a firm with his partner and they’re doing great and very happy for him. We still work with him on cases from time to time. So, you know, family can be a lot. I think for him it was, you know, we were disappointed to see him go.

We love to have him here, but it was good for him. 

Meg Garavaglia: I love that and I understand, I mean, I’m the youngest of six and I moved across country and as the youngest. You know, that was tough, but good for my husband and I. And any other pitfalls? Because what you just shared was really valuable. I don’t know if you know it, but it was really valuable.

Chris Nace: I just keep going back to the communication thing. And it’s something that it’s just always been important to me. And so I think we avoided a lot of pitfalls by, by being open and honest. And, you know, we probably had a lot more meetings right at that time than we typically did because we really wanted to make sure nothing was slipping through the cracks.

I mean, look, you can have the best run law firm, but when the founder of it is not there anymore, there’s things that can slip by and we’re all very good at keeping things in our memory that we know we need to get to or we need to follow up on, and maybe we don’t understand the post it notes on everyone’s desk or something like that.

So, I think that we really emphasized over communicating and I think because of that there were a lot of pitfalls, potential pitfalls that we, that we escaped. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of things you have to do as far as withdrawing from a case, notifying the bar. I mean, it wasn’t even that long ago, maybe in the last four months where I got a letter from a bar directed to my father saying your dues are passed. You’re going to be suspended, and I had to write back, and I was like, I didn’t know he was a member of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bar, or whatever it was, so those sorts of things, and of course that goes back to the sort of hit by the bus handbook of, you know, knowing where everybody is licensed.

Meg Garavaglia: That is really helpful. That is something I definitely didn’t take into account, so that was great. And, how has this changed you as a leader?

Chris Nace: Boy, that’s a good question. You know, somebody said to me not too long ago, do you feel like you’re thriving more now because you’re out of your dad’s shadow? And I never felt like I was in his shadow. That wasn’t a feeling. He was a big guy and he cast a big shadow. Literally and figuratively. I never felt like I was in his shadow. As far as being a leader, I don’t know. I always get nervous about that, that word, because I don’t think you can put that label on yourself. But I think that one thing it’s done for our firm is we don’t have the same big dominant presence and in some ways it’s allowed us to be a little more collaborative, I think.

Not that he wasn’t collaborative because, you know, I just said that I never felt like I was in his shadow. I never felt like I couldn’t do certain things or take positions or I always appreciated kicking around ideas with him. But I think that because we are all a little more on the experience level, we’re still all pretty much in the same spot.

The importance of collaboration is maybe a little bit more. I don’t go down to my dad’s office and say, “Hey, what would you do in this situation?” I pull everybody together and say, what do you think we should do in the situation. We lost almost 50 years of experience overnight. So to be able to replicate that, you have to lean on more people. And by the way, I call other lawyers too. I call people outside our firm and we’ll ask for advice from time to time, too. 

Meg Garavaglia: I love that. My dad was an entrepreneur and I do miss having my parents, you know, to ask them, what would you do? My dad would say things like, Megger, it’s not going to matter in the big scheme of things. That had to have had an impression on you too like, what are the things that really matter? Is that a takeaway from losing your dad and the leader of the firm?

Chris Nace: Yeah, I think so for sure. I mean, I also think It helps you talk to clients, too. I’ve represented a couple folks in families since he’s passed who are representing them for losing a parent. It helps you understand what they’re going through. I mean, shared experiences are important to what we do in our career.

Meg Garavaglia: I mean, look, just going back to the collaboration part of it, too, you know, It is called the practice of law, and sometimes you make very thoughtful, strategic decisions that blow up in your face. It’s not necessarily because you were wrong, you know, you’re talking to a jury or a judge, and you don’t know what’s going to hit home, and so, the confidence of thinking, well, you know. My dad and I sat there and went through this for 20 minutes. And now it’s just that confidence is replaced by, I sat there with our whole team for an hour and talk through this. I think that sort of stuff is important as you’re practicing because you’re not going to get it right all the time.

Even when you thought it through and wrestled with an idea or a strategy or type of expert or whatever, and it sometimes blows up in your face and you just have to understand that’s the practice of law, unfortunately. 

Yes, I understand. Well, you have given such great. and, you know, all of these things for people to chew on.

Now, I want you to have as a final parting thought and opportunity to talk about why, because I know we’ve talked about the success that the firm has had. We talked about that long ago and I know you’re just so well thought of in your community and by your clients. So. Share a little bit about why that is, why clients feel like they are so cared for and yeah, have favorable outlook. 

Chris Nace: First of all, you have to believe in your case, in your client’s case to do this kind of work. Because if you don’t believe in the case, the jury will see right through it.

Ultimately, we think about every file that we’re going to be arguing it to a jury. That’s just how we go about looking at a case. I think there is a struggle between being there for your client and being a friend to them. But remembering that you’re really a professional and it’s not your job to be their friend all the time.

You want to support them but you also are there to advise them and to represent them. And so that’s a hard line. It’s something I struggle with is caring about them and letting them know that we care about them, but also being able to say, Hey, look, I can’t take your case.

This is why it’s not a good case. This is what I did to evaluate it. And this is why I don’t think this is a winnable case. I’ve said it over and over today. But honest communication is the best thing you can do. Really that is something that I learned from my dad.

I think if you generally have to care about them to do this work and you have to be there for them in a lot of ways, but also be willing to just say, look, my job is to advise you. And I’m putting on that hat right now and telling you, you need to accept this resolution.

You need to walk away from this now, or we’re going to go and we’re going to take this to a jury and we’re going to fight all the way for you and so that kind of just candor. Knowing how to be a sympathetic shoulder for someone who’s going through a hard time, but also tell them like it is. Tell like it is necessary. That’s that’s what you have to you have to balance. 

Meg Garavaglia: Well, I so have appreciated your candor today and vulnerability. Thank you for being on the show. 

Chris Nace: This was wonderful. I appreciate it.



Comments are closed