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Personal Injury Law Jobs – Fighting For Ordinary Folks

Personal injury law jobs make for exciting and rewarding law careers for those who like to represent regular people instead of corporations. That’s one of the first things we learn from today’s guest, personal injury attorney Adam Riback of the Levin Riback Law Group in Chicago. Adam shares everything you’ll want to know about personal injury law jobs from a typical day to who makes a good fit for the path to how to break in.

For starters, a personal injury attorney represents people who have sustained significant injuries as a result of the negligence of third parties (like other people or corporations). Being a lawyer in these litigation careers means taking these cases to court and seeking compensation for clients and their families. Check it out:

 
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Today’s Guest

Personal injury lawyer Adam Riback of the Levin Riback Law Group in ChicagoPersonal Injury Lawyer Adam Riback
Title: Partner, Levin Riback Law Group
City: Chicago, IL
Law School: IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in Chicago, IL
College: University of Illinois in Champaign, IL
Other Career: Adam also teaches advanced trial practice and coaches the national mock trial team at Northwestern University Law School.
Videos: Adam’s Career Advice & Personal Injury law

Personal Injury Law Jobs

Adam tells us that one of the best aspects of personal injury law jobs is that you get real courtroom experience – and quickly. He contrasts PI law careers with the BigLaw path (for example: PI law has a lower starting salary with more upside) and addresses the negative stereotype of personal injury attorneys being called “ambulance chasers.”

Thanks to working on contingency, personal injury attorneys help to allow access to the courts for people seeking justice who may not otherwise be able to afford it. Being a lawyer working on “contingency” means that getting paid is dependent upon recovering money for the client. This means the personal injury attorney takes all of the financial risk in representing plaintiffs, but in the case of a recovery through a settlement or a verdict, will take a percentage of that recovery (typically 1/3 of the gross).

Adam is so passionate about his work that if you’re wondering what to do with a law degree, he just might set you on the path to personal injury law jobs.

FULL EPISODE


This is an example of one of our full-length, deep-dive career path exploration videos. Join JD Careers Out There for access to the full career path video library.

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TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S INTERVIEW

This full-length transcript on PI law careers is an example of what you get for every career path video when you join the JDCOT membership.

Luber: Hey everyone, today on JD Careers Out There we’re going to explore careers in Personal Injury Law and we’re talking to one of my best friends since law school, Adam Riback of The Levin Riback Law Group in Chicago.

Adam’s not only a Personal Injury lawyer – but he also teaches advanced trial practice at Northwestern University’s Law School and he coaches their National Mock Trial Team, which he helped lead to being the National Champions for 2011!

You’ll see that Adam shares tons of great advice with us today. He gives a really thorough description of the Personal Injury practice area, and shares why he thinks it’s such a rewarding path, and why it’s one of the best ways in his opinion to get real courtroom experience and he also gives really great tips on how to be aggressive in breaking in to the job you want. This is really great stuff.

If you know me well, you know that I’m a huge Howard Stern fan. And I’ve always felt that being friends with Adam is like having my own personal Howard Stern in my life. So I really hope you guys like this one.

If this is your first time with us, our mission here is to help you have a happy and successful career.

In law school, you learn how to think, read and write like a lawyer. But we’re here to help you enjoy your career – just like our guests do – and they’re all fellow JDs, coming on to share their stories and advice with you – because they want to help you out whether you’re a law student or you’re a practicing lawyer trying to navigate your career; or you’ve decided you want out of the law and you’re wondering “what else can I do with a JD.” You’ve all come to the right place.

I’m Marc Luber, the founder of JDCOT and your host. I’m a JD who’s always enjoyed alternative careers for lawyers – first in the music industry and then in legal recruiting.

It’s really important to me – and to our guests – to help you find a career that fits you and to help you thrive. Life’s too short for anything less. There’s so many things you can do with your JD – and today you’re gonna hear from Adam on why there’s no reason for you to be one of those unhappy lawyers out there. This is gonna be a really great show – so stick around!

[theme song]

OK, we’re back! Adam, welcome to Careers Out There.

Adam Riback: Hey, it’s great to be here! I always thought that we’d be doing this on an internet show reviewing concerts, but I’ll take what I can get!

Luber: Yeah! It’s not exactly Pearl Jam or the Dead, but this will do. Adam, tell us what you do as a personal injury lawyer.

CHAPTERS
What does a personal injury lawyer do
Defending this career path
Most rewarding aspect
Typical day
Lifestyle
Big law vs PI and the quest for hands-on experience
Research to learn about injuries and medical issues
Big law vs PI – 2
Income
Who fits this path
Classes to take
Breaking in
Adam’s story
Growing your career
Breaking in – 2 + Marc’s story
Keys to success

Adam Riback: What do I do for a living? I’m a personal injury attorney. Meaning that I represent people that have sustained injuries as the result of the negligence of others. That would be medical malpractice, injuries on construction sites to construction workers, car accidents, things of that nature, and I help them get justice essentially – whether it be through a settlement or a lawsuit or going eventually to a jury trial.

Luber: So what’s the type of injury that we’re talking about here?

Adam Riback: Well you could be talking about anything as simple as what people may refer to as a soft tissue injury or whiplash, all the way up to, unfortunately, death or paraplegia or quadriplegia. It really runs the spectrum from the smaller case all the way up to massive cases.

Luber: OK, so just so I totally get it, someone gets hurt on a work site, on a construction site, they’re suddenly quadriplegic, they can come to you and sue to recover damages based on what’s happened to them on the worksite as a result of someone else’s negligence.

Adam Riback: Absolutely.

Luber: OK, got it. And what do you think is exciting about this for people? What do you tell people who are considering this career path and maybe they want to follow in your footsteps. What do you think is exciting about this career?

Adam Riback: Well I think that a lot of people that get involved with law picture law like they see it in movies – or they see it in television – which is in the courtroom. You’re never going to see a movie about somebody doing research. Because if you do, there will be 9 people in the theater.

So they picture that – and the nice thing about personal injury law is that if you’re hungry, if you’re someone that’s comfortable speaking in front of people, and you’re willing to put the work in and do that kind of thing, you can get in a courtroom and you can get in a courtroom quickly after law school.

So it’s extremely rewarding, 1: because you’re representing people as opposed to corporations, and 2: because literally, days after you’re sworn in as a lawyer, you could be trying your first case. In fact, I actually argued in front of the appellate court 3 days after I was sworn in.

Luber: As an attorney? You were a brand new attorney, arguing before the appellate court?

Adam Riback: Yeah. And what was nice about it is, 5 minutes before I had to go speak in front of 3 appellate judges, one of the partners in our firm pointed out I had a typo in my brief! So that was really nice!

Luber: Ha! So 2 pairs of underwear later, you went out there and you did a good job.

Adam Riback: Yeah. Well we won the appellate argument, so that was good. But yeah, it’s a great thing because it opens doors very quickly and it allows you to get into the court room quickly.

Luber: So tell me this, because a lot of times people look down on your career path and they call you guys “ambulance chasers.” We all hear about that: “ambulance chasers”. When you hear “personal injury law,” those are the things that come up. What do you say to that?

Adam Riback: I have a lot of things to say to that, some of which I don’t think I would say on the internet, but I think it’s completely incorrect. I think it’s stereotypical and I think it’s an incorrect stereotype.

I would advise anyone that wants to know why what I do is important, to watch the documentary Hot Coffee; it’s been airing on HBO. Because what we ultimately do is protect people that cannot afford to get into a court room. We work on a contingency fee.

So if you’ve sustained an injury as a result of a huge company’s negligence and they can pay for the best lawyers in the country, you’re able to come to my office and be represented by lawyers that have won multimillion dollar verdicts and not have to pay up front, meaning that we work on a contingency fee. And you can have the best legal representation possible for you. That door may not be open to you if it weren’t for my practice.

It’s interesting that people call us ambulance chasers because the same people that say that, are the same people that will call me the minute they’re injured and want my representation and will want a lawyer to represent them because they feel they’ve been wrong.

Luber: Now I just want to go back, you said “contingency fee”. For those people who don’t know what that is, basically you’re saying they don’t have to pay you an hourly rate. Someone who’s injured doesn’t have to come in and cough up $500 an hour to talk to you, right?

Adam Riback: Right, exactly. There’s no charge to meet with me and I hate to sound like a commercial but there’s no charge to meet with me and, in fact, unless I recover money for the client, either through a settlement or a verdict, they don’t ever pay. So I take all of the risk.

I could go to trial on a case and spend, literally, four or five hundred thousand dollars taking the case to trail and if a jury unfortunately came back for the defendant, that’s my problem, it’s not the client’s problem. What we do, I look at as being an amazing process, because we allow the court system to be open to those who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

Luber: Right, right.

Adam Riback: As a perfect example, there’s been a lot of news about the West Memphis Three lately and about how they were just released. One of the things they talked about is how when that case first went to trial, the public defenders in that case were given $1,000 to spend on experts. I can tell you right now with my experience that if you have $1,000 to spend on experts, you’re going to jail.

What we can do for somebody who sustained a horrible injury is we have the means to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars on experts to give them that type of quality representation and put on that case in the courtroom for them to hopefully get them the kind of verdict that will take care of them and their family for the rest of their life.

Luber: I don’t want to get too far into the fee structure – into the financial end now, but right now what you’re saying is you’re fronting the money for the trial with the hopes that you’ll recover on behalf of your client and then you’ll get a piece of that recovery and that’s what funds your firm?

Adam Riback: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Luber: OK.

Adam Riback: We don’t get paid until we get a verdict or a settlement.

Luber: OK. Another topic I want to talk about, now that we’ve covered the ambulance chasing is…

Adam Riback: Thanks for saying that. “Now that we’ve covered ambulance chasing.”

Luber: Haha! We don’t get political here on the site, on Careers Out There but the topic of Tort Reform and Liability Reform is in the news all the time because politicians are always talking about it and they point the finger at your path, at people who do what you do, and say that you drive up the cost of doing business, you drive up the cost for goods and services and screw over everybody.

We don’t get political here but we don’t often hear your side of the scenario, and so I’d like to hear, what do you say in response to that argument?

Adam Riback: I could honestly spend 4 hours arguing this point but it’s an incredible lie that’s told to the public by lobbyists for insurance companies, for large corporations, that’s meant to convince people that verdicts are what’s making companies leave states or making insurance premiums high. Simply not the case.

If you look at the states that have had Tort Reform, what really happens is that, (a) insurance premiums don’t go down. In fact, they go up. And it doesn’t have the effect that these lobbyists are trying to convince the American public that they have.

What it really does, more than anything, is closes the door to those that need representation most. And as an example, if somebody in the state that had Tort Reform, where there’s caps on damages – that’s what we’re really talking about – it’s a cap on non-economic damages, meaning that for pain and suffering, for that type of disability, there is a cap; typically $250,000 or $500,000.

Well the problem there is that in a state that has that, you have a problem in a medical malpractice case finding a lawyer that will actually represent you because the amount of money they could potentially recover is so low and the risk is so high in those cases, – like I said earlier, I spend sometimes two, three, $400,000 on a very big case.

Well if the most you can recover in the case is hypothetically half a million dollars, why would you spend $400,000? The client isn’t going to be happy, the client isn’t going to recover any money, and from a business standpoint, and I hate to be cold about this, from our firm standpoint, it makes no sense to take that risk.

What Tort Reform does is it closes the door to those that need this court system the most. It’s corporation’s way of securing their profits and it’s insurance company’s way of being able to report a larger profit.

If the insurance premium doesn’t change, yet the amount of money they have to pay out to people who’ve been injured is reduced, well they have a larger amount of money that they can report as a profit. So they look good on Wall Street but that doesn’t really help somebody who’s a quadriplegic with three children that can no longer hold a job and cannot afford to put his or her kids through school.

Luber: Right. OK. Thanks for sharing your perspective on that because I think it’s important for people who are considering this as a career path to understand some of the issues that are surrounding that whole path.

I want to get to the most rewarding part; you kind of touched on it earlier when we were talking about who should – what you tell people about the career who may be considering it, but it sounds to me that the most rewarding part is helping the common man. Is that right?

Adam Riback: Oh, without question! Pretty much everyone I’ve ever been able to help, whether it be through a verdict or a settlement, is most likely somebody that, given the amount of money I had to spend on the case, could not have afforded my services or the services of the experts I retained.

But I’m able to do that and able to fight corporations that have caused and been responsible for the negligence that led to this individual’s problems, medical problems and otherwise.

And the thank yous you get from these individuals – my clients have called me 10 years, 15 years after the case is over. The Christmas cards you get, letters from kids who say, “Hey, I’m in college now because of what you were able to do for my mom or my dad. Here’s my picture. I’m at the University of whatever,” that’s extremely rewarding.

I know many people on the defense side of the practice that don’t get letters like that from insurance company adjusters or people like that, because quite frankly, that’s not the way it operates. People care because you actually see the results of what you get.

Luber: So when you’re saying that you help someone – sorry to interrupt. When you’re saying you helped someone’s kid go to college, that’s because the parent was no longer able to work and raise the funds that it would’ve taken for their kid to go to college?

Adam Riback: Absolutely. If you have a 32-year-old male construction worker who sustains an injury that leads to let’s say quadriplegia, well they’re never working construction work again and if their education is limited to a high school education, the likelihood of them being able to obtain a job given their medical condition, that would allow them to provide those opportunities for their children, those doors are closed.

My job is to keep them open by making sure that the people that caused this harm to this individual pay and justifiably compensate that individual for everything that they’re entitled to – whether it be all the wages that they’ve lost, the medical bills both past and future; because oftentimes people that are hurt that badly, it’s not just the medical bills, and surgeries they’ve had up to the date of the trail, it’s the fact that they may have hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills, if not, millions of dollars of medical bills in their future, not to mention the fact that they may need surgeries in the future. I have to be able to protect those interests as well.

The sad thing is, the insurance companies are the first that will cut those people off saying, “Well you have a pre-existing condition.” So that individual no longer can go to an insurance company, a health insurance company and say, “I no longer have health insurance because it ran out once I was injured and I lost my health insurance benefits but I’d really love to get health insurance benefits for my family. By the way, I happen to be quadriplegic.” Insurance companies will reject you if you have heartburn, so quadriplegia is definitely on the rejection list.

It’s important to take care of these people because, you know what? Their lives are affected every day, they live with these injuries every day and unless you’re willing to be able to think about that every day and take that home with you and deal with it, then this isn’t for you.

But if you like the pressure and the responsibility and, more importantly, the gratification of being able to do that for somebody, to know that you’ve put their children through college, to know that they don’t have to worry about medical bills for the rest of their life because of what you did, then this is for you.

Luber: That’s great! I could feel the passion. I could feel it! Tell us a typical day…

Adam Riback: Amen!

Luber: Ha, ha! Whoo! What do you in a typical day?

Adam Riback: Well you give the “Office Space” speech where “I get in at 10:00”. A typical day basically involves getting up early. The morning is spent most times in court for a couple of hours, depositions.

I actually teach as well. So I teach one day a week, I coach the trial team at Northwestern Law School here in Chicago. So that’s something that I do both during the week and then on my the weekends, but my day can change from – depending on what’s going on.

For example, if I’m on trial, my day is literally that trial and it’s that trial 6 weeks before the trial starts, depending on how big a case it is, all the way up through trial. And we’re not talking about 6 to 10 hour days. When you’re getting ready for a trial, you’re talking about 18 to 20 hours days.

So you’d better love what you’re doing because if you don’t, you’re going to be doing it an awful long period of time.

Luber: And what about when there isn’t a trial? What’s the lifestyle like, the hours like when you’re not on trial? Is it different?

Adam Riback: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean you have to pace yourself in this profession. So there are times where if I’m not on trial or if I just got off of trial, I try to set time aside for my family, my friends, like we talked about earlier, to go to concerts even, which has been my love since I was a kid.

So, for instance, this week I’ll be going to Canada for a week to see Pearl Jam. When I get back, I go full throttle. I’ve got a trial coming up in the fall, plus I’ve got two trial competitions with my trial team that are in October and November and we’ll start ramping up for those.

So once I get back a week from now, it’s full throttle all the way up until basically Thanksgiving. So you have to learn when to take your time, relax, but also know when to put the pedal to the mettle.

Luber: So a young person who’s watching this and considering law school, or in law school considering personal injury law, they should know that there is a lot of flexibility and it comes in waves.

If you’re on a trial, it’s crazy and then things calm down a little bit, you get your normal life back and then you gear up for the trial; it’s kind of like that, right?

Adam Riback: Absolutely. Or you’d go completely insane. It does come in waves.

Luber: The stress level for a trial, is it a rough life when you have a trial coming up? Is it just your stomach’s burning?

Adam Riback: It’s stressful but it’s also the most exciting part of the practice. If you can’t get excited for that part of it, that’s like an athlete saying, “I really love practicing but I hate the games.” If you can’t get up for a trial or arguing in front of a jury and you’re not pumped for that, then you shouldn’t be doing this. If that excites you, then you should be.

The students that I coach on trial team, they’re dying to get in front of a jury. Absolutely dying. When we practice, they’re the first to volunteer. They want to go first because they want to get up in front of people and argue.

And so, unless you’re built like that, then this isn’t for you. But if you are, there is really no greater – I mean, in a way, and I hate to say this, there is a certain rock star mentality that goes with it because you have to be willing to get out there, speak to people and really convince them. And you really want to convince that jury and turn them your way just like a rock star would want to have an audience go his or her way.

Luber: Right. For the law students watching and for people who may not know, I spent the better part of the past decade as a headhunter for lawyers and I had a search firm here in L.A.

And so often, I’d be dealing with the people at the big corporate law firms as opposed to a personal injury firm. And many of the young attorneys who are coming out of law school and joining those firms wanting to be litigators, were very often bummed out because it didn’t really play out the way they thought.

They thought they were going to be in the courtroom all the time, really handling things on a hands-on basis and that happens very infrequently at those kinds of firms.

So if you look at something like what Adam does, the odds of you really getting that hands-on experience, like he said earlier, he was diving in on day 3, it’s much more realistic on his path.

So if you’re really looking to get courtroom action and be a litigator, considering his path as opposed to the big corporate firms that do corporate defense for the giant companies: McDonalds, United Airlines, whatever – his path is probably a better fit for you. So keep that mind.

Tell us this, when you’re preparing for trial, I assume that a ton of research has to be necessary, especially if you’re dealing with huge injuries, like quadrupeds – people whose spine has been severed – you’ve got to know something about medicine but you’re not a doctor. So how does that play out? What’s involved there?

Adam Riback: Well, you do a lot of reading. The internet’s been an invaluable tool in terms of that. You meet with your experts. You cannot do enough leg work in terms of learning the medicine. Every case presents its challenges. So if you have a case that has a tough medical issue, you meet with doctors that are specialists in that field and you have them teach you the medicine. You read as much as you can.

I just recently had a case where a crane collapsed. Well I’ve never operated a crane in my life but I learned more about that crane in 4 years, I feel like I could walk out now, find that crane somewhere and actually operate the entire thing because I know the operator’s manual from front to back.

Luber: Right.

Adam Riback: And I learned that a lot from the experts in the case; the engineers I retained, who took me through the manual and taught me what I needed to be looking for, taught me what all of these things meant.

Luber: Got it. So I’m assuming that one of the joys that someone has to feel in your field is the joy of learning new things, because you’re always having to learn new things every time you take on a case, right?

Adam Riback: Oh yeah. My knowledge of medicine is – it’s amazing what I know about medicine now that I didn’t know when I was 22 or 23. It’s amazing what I know about construction now and all of the OSHA rules that pertain to construction sites and the regulations; I never knew that stuff when we were in law school.

I really didn’t know much in law school quite frankly, but I certainly didn’t know any of that. And that’s one of the things that’s amazing about our profession.

I wanted to add one thing; you were talking about people you dealt with as a headhunter, when you were a headhunter. Teaching it to law school where I do, a lot of our students take those jobs, the high paying jobs that initially out of law school you get the $130,000, the $140,000, the $150,000 starting salary, which looks great to mom and dad. “Wow, my son is,” “My daughter just got this huge job.”

I can tell you though that those are the first people in my experience to leave law. They’re not satisfied. Most times they don’t see a courtroom for the first 5 years of their career, and I’ll give you an example.

We had a student who was actually the best trial team member I’ve ever coached. Incredible, incredible student, incredible trial lawyer. He went to one of these big firms – he was a student at Northwestern. Went there for a year and did not like it; did not like being locked in a room reading a thousand pages of documents from some pharmaceutical company.

So he approached myself and my partner who teach at Northwestern and said, “Look, I really would like to do what you do.” We told him, “Look, we cannot pay you what you’re making at your firm. That’s just not how it works in our business. You don’t start at that level.” He said, “I don’t care, I want to come.”

Well, long story short, within 3 or 4 months of coming to our firm, he second chaired a trial with my partner and got an $8.3 million verdict for a man who was a quadriplegic as a result of somebody’s medical malpractice.

Luber: That’s amazing!

Adam Riback: So you want to talk about job satisfaction, you want to talk about telling mom and dad about how good you feel to be a lawyer? Well it’s one thing to say you’re making $130,000 a year, it’s another thing to say, “Hey mom, guess what? I just got an $8.3 million verdict.”

Luber: That is awesome! Yeah, that’s huge. That’s huge. And everyone should know, we aren’t slamming the whole career path of going the corporate law route, but it’s true that it’s very different. It’s a different fit for everybody. It really comes down to what you want. As a headhunter, those unhappy people kept me in business in a big way.

Adam Riback: And you know what? Having gone to law school and dealing with them on the other side, they’re some of my best friends and it’s true. Some people are meant to do that, some people are meant to do what I do.

I have very good friends who are excellent lawyers on the other side of this, who could not do what I do, not because they’re not talented, they just cannot do it in terms of their personality or their political mindset or whatever the case may be. I’m just saying, from my standpoint, I couldn’t do the other side. I’ve said it many times; I would rather do another job entirely than give up what I do.

Luber: You can edit my videos. So you mentioned money. Let’s talk about money.

Adam Riback: I know there’s not a lot of money in editing in your videos, so…

Luber: Ha, ha, ha! Ok, let’s talk about money. You brought up money. I’d love to know, first, how you get paid. You were saying you get a percentage of the overall settlement, I’d like to hear that, and then I’d like to know, what kind of money someone fresh out of law school can make who goes this path today? So first tell us about how – let’s say you win a million dollar verdict or settlement, how does that come to you? What do you get?

Adam Riback: Ok. Well typically we have what’s called, like we said, a contingency fee agreement and our fee agreement says that we get one-third of the gross settlement or verdict. Meaning that on our $1 million example, we would get $333,000 plus whatever expenses we put out.

So let’s say hypothetically the case went to trial and I spent another $50,000 trying the case, I would get as a fee $333,000, my expenses would be another $50,000. So there is a lot of money to be made in this business if you look at it just from a dollars and cents standpoint, but that’s also dictated on that type of case it is, what type of injury it is; smaller cases aren’t going to yield that type of money.

Luber: So it’s a very entrepreneurial path in that sense?

Adam Riback: Absolutely. It’s a huge risk. It’s a huge risk that you’re taking because, quite frankly, depending on how many cases you have, there are periods of time where you don’t have a lot of money coming in because cases aren’t settling and you’re spending a lot of money on experts on other cases and putting a lot of money into your cases. So you have to be willing to ride that wave too, and the wave can be very high and the wave can be very low.

So there are tense moments, there’s stressful moments with that, but again, the reward, not only personally or for what you’ve done for the client, but financially, could be considerable depending on the quality of your work, the type of case and what you’re willing to do with it.

Luber: And so, if I’m graduating law school right now, and I’m starting at your firm or a firm like yours, what is the range of salary that I can hope to make when I’m brand new?

Adam Riback: I can’t speak for every firm; when I started, we both graduated law school one year apart from one another but I started at $30,000 a year. Now I would say that most people coming to our firm or any personal injury firm, are probably starting at anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 their first year, just a guess.

But, having said that, and realizing that’s significantly lower than the person who graduated from a Harvard or a Yale and is starting at $150,000, I’d be willing to bet if that person who loves what they do in terms of personal injury and really goes about making a career out of it and is aggressive and does a great job, you look at that person 5 years down the road and you look at that same person from Harvard 5 years down the road that took the $150,000 a year job, I’ll bet anything that the person who started in personal injury, if they worked hard, if they did all the right things, they’re going to be making far more money than that other person. Because there really is no ceiling.

And a lot of these bigger firms there is a certain ceiling unless you’re a full time equity partner and a huge rainmaker. People go into those firms thinking, “Oh, I’m going to make huge money,” and 5 years down the road they’re making, instead of $140,000, they’re making $175,000 or $200,000 plus a Christmas bonus.

Luber: It is incredibly hard to make partner at those places. Not everybody makes partner just by sticking around; it takes a lot of different factors to come together to make partner.

Adam Riback: Exactly, but in our practice you can make a tremendous amount of money if you’re successful and the ceiling is almost non-existent depending on what you’re willing to do in terms of the work you’re willing to put in, what kind of an entrepreneur you are, how you’re willing to get your name out there, and that’s very important.

The one thing we haven’t talked about is that personal injury is, although it’s extremely rewarding and although there could be a lot of money in it as a career, it’s extremely competitive. These bigger cases that you see on TV, you read about, there are a lot of lawyers out there that want those cases.

And so you really have to be willing to get out there, get your name out there, get it to the point where people who don’t normally know names of lawyers know the name of your firm and think about your firm when something happens.

Or other lawyers – a lot of our cases come from other lawyers that don’t practice personal injury – and so getting your name out to other lawyers who practice in fields such as Worker’s Compensation or Estate Planning or Commercial Litigation. They may not do this type of practice themselves but when they have a client who sustains an injury, they’ll call you.

And so, you want to get your name out there to all those lawyers because you’ll get a lot of business that way.

Luber: So I think, from everything you’ve said so far, people could probably piece together who would be a good fit for this path but just to tie it all together in a brief summary, and we could think about skill-sets, interests and personality characteristics, tie that all together and say who’s the perfect person that’s watching that should really, really take this seriously.

Adam Riback: The perfect person for this job is somebody that cares about individuals, it’s somebody that cares about protecting people that have been injured by a corporation or somebody else, that wants to do that. That’s rule number one.

Forget the money, forget everything else; if you don’t really care about it, you’re not going to put your heart into it. If this is all about money for you, then go work on the stock exchange. Go day trade. You have to care first.

Second, you have to be willing to get up in a courtroom, you have to be willing to not be nervous or worried about how you look in front of a camera, how you look in a courtroom; you have to really enjoy that. I hate to use the term “get off” but you really have to “get off” on that. If you don’t “get off” on that, if you don’t get a charge from that, then this isn’t for you.

Third, you have to be willing to put yourself out there, to really sell yourself to other lawyers and to people out there in the community, that you know what you’re doing. That you’re doing a good job so that those cases come to you so that you can be successful.

But I would tell you this, for that law student out there that maybe didn’t get the perfect LSAT score, that didn’t have great college grades because they spent their time having more fun than maybe they should have – a lot of people have done that and you and I were the victim of that as well I’m sure – but for those people, they’re intelligent, and they fit everything else I’ve said, you can do better in this type of job than you ever could do in any of the other fields of law in my opinion.

Luber: Excellent! So for those people watching who say, “That’s me. This is perfect, it fits me. I’m going to law school or I’m in law school now,” what classes – there’s got to be certain classes they should be focusing on. What would those be?

Adam Riback: Well I think the most important things you need to take in law school if you’re going to be a trial lawyer, first: legal writing. You’ve got to learn to know how to research, how to write.

Two: evidence. You’ve got to know evidence because in a courtroom you’d better know your evidence or the judge is going to just throw you out of there. And you want to know what you’re doing and you need to know and look like in front of the jury you know what you’re doing, because if they think you don’t know what you’re doing, or your client doesn’t think you know what you’re doing, you’re in big trouble.

Three: and maybe even more important than, is to take Trial Advocacy. That’s a class that’s offered in most law schools and it’s an invaluable source because oftentimes it’s taught by practicing attorneys and you can learn how to try a case.

I would tell anyone who’s thinking of doing this: most law schools now have a trial team. Like, for instance, myself and my law partner, Richard Levin, we coach Northwestern’s National Trial team. A lot of law schools have those trial teams.

If you really are serious about this, take the courses I talked about: legal writing, evidence, trial advocacy. Go out for your trial team. If you don’t make it, you don’t make it.

But go out there, because I can tell you this, if you’re not willing to try out for the trial team, if you’re not willing to put it out on the line at that point in college, then this isn’t for you because you’ve already told yourself, “I’m too nervous or I feel uncomfortable in this situation and I don’t want to do it.”

But if you’re willing to put it out there and say, “If I make it, I make it and if I don’t, I don’t but I’m going for it,” then even if you don’t make that trial team, you keep working, you’ll be fine.

If you make the trial team, and you make get that experience – I say this over and over again, the kids that have been on my trial team, the students that have been on my trial team that are national champions and have won other tournaments, can walk in a courtroom today and absolutely whip 95% of the attorneys that I go up against. And I’ll tell you this: whip me in most cases; that’s how good they are.

Luber: That’s awesome! Alright, let’s address the people then who are graduating. Let’s talk about breaking into the path of personal injury law and succeeding once you’re there. What should someone do who wants to get a job? How do you get a job in this field today?

Adam Riback: Here’s what I would advise anyone to do. In addition to what I just said in terms of the classes you should take, trying out for trial team, find out in the area where you’re attending law school what the big name personal injury firms are and get a law clerking job at that firm. That is absolutely crucial.

Luber: So while in school, get a job clerking?

Adam Riback: Yeah. Yeah, I’ll tell you this. Most often those firms are going to want more hours out of you than typical – these big firms that we’re talking about – these jobs that you were dealing with when you were a headhunter – they wine and dine the kids over the summer and the kids get a false impression of what law’s like where it’s like, “Oh, I go to fancy Italian lunches and I go to Cubs games!” And then they go and they join the firm and all of a sudden it’s a nightmare.

If you get a job at a big-time personal injury firm and you clerk, you’ll start learning about these cases, you’ll start learning the law and if you start impressing the lawyers in that firm, you can get a job at one of those firms. That is so crucial.

Even if you don’t get an offer from one of those firms, when you go and interview at other small personal injury law firms and you throw out the names of where you clerked, that’s going to impress people.

Now having said that, a lot of these bigger firms are going to require a lot of hours out of you as a law clerk. It’s not the 15 to 20 hours a week that you hope it would be. You almost have to be willing to make 30 or 40 hours or set aside that amount of time to work for that firm. So do it, because in the long run it’s going to pay off.

Luber: We should tell everybody that you started, where you’re now a named partner, during law school. You were clerking at that same firm.

Adam Riback: Yeah.

Luber: And you’re now a named partner.

Adam Riback: At $8.00 an hour.

Luber: What’s that?

Adam Riback: I was making $8.00 an hour.

Luber: Ha, ha, ha!

Adam Riback: Which I think now is less than minimum wage.

Luber: Yeah.

Adam Riback: I was making $8.00 an hour and quite frankly, I wanted to do this so I adjusted my law school schedule. So I took very early in the morning classes and then evening classes and basically worked like a 10:00 to 4:00 job at my law firm and also worked on the weekends.

I was pulling close to 40 hours, if not 50 hours a week at the law firm while in law school. And the reason being, I knew that’s where I was heading. I didn’t necessarily know I’d be working at my firm but I knew it’s what I wanted to do. If you’re in a city school, which I was and you were too, you have to be willing to do that in order to break in, in order to be successful.

Luber: Yeah, it’s good advice for everybody. Tell us this then, if someone’s out there, they get their start, they get the job out of school or they clerked and now they’ve started that career, what could they do to grow their career? You were saying people have to get out there, get their name out there. Do you have any tips or pointers that you can share that will help people with their networking and business development?

Adam Riback: Sure. As a young lawyer you go to young lawyer – the CBA, for example, in Chicago which is the Chicago Bar Association, has a young lawyer section. Get involved with that. Get involved with different law organizations that are in your community where you can meet and network with other lawyers, very important.

You may meet a Worker’s Compensation attorney or an Estate attorney that has a giant book of business but doesn’t have a personal injury attorney that they can refer their cases too. Well if you impress that person and let’s say you do a great job for them, the next thing you know, all of a sudden, the cases start coming in and all of a sudden, you’ve got a nice book of business yourself. That’s how you do it.

So get involved, get out there, speak, teach if you can. Volunteer to teach at law schools. Speak at seminars, things of that nature; get to know people and get yourself out there, get your name known.

Again, we talked about it before in terms of just being in front of a jury, you have to be confident, and willing to talk to people. You have to be comfortable going out there and saying, “Hi, I’m Adam. I’m a personal injury attorney. I love what I do. I would really like to help your client.”

Luber: Yeah, that’s great, great, networking advice. That’s really helpful to people. So a lot of times you don’t learn this stuff at law school so it helps to hear from someone who’s been out there and done it.

And Adam, people are going to say to me, I’m sure I’m going to get emails saying, “Well this economy sucks. Are there actually jobs out there doing this kind of work at this time?” What do you say to that?

Adam Riback: There’s no doubt that it’s hit our practice too.

For example, construction work. When construction work is down, which it is, less people are getting injured – I hate to put it in that way but it’s true. Less injuries, less cases.

But we are somewhat recession proof in that car accidents happen regardless of the economy, people get injured regardless of the economy and people are negligent regardless of the economy. So we’re not as subject to the whims of the economy as some places, although it can affect jury verdicts because juries tend to get stingier when they’re also out of jobs.

There are jobs out there; we’ve hired people. In fact, we’ve hired multiple attorneys in the last 2 years. So the jobs are out there, you just have to be aggressive and you have to be out there trying to get those jobs. Get your name out there. Walk into the firm. Don’t just send out a resume. I get resumes all the time and other than looking at them and going, “Wow, this paper looks really nice! I’ve never seen this letterhead before.”

If somebody has the guts or the balls to walk into my office and sit in the waiting room and say, “I want to speak to Mr. Riback,” I’ll take that meeting – provided they don’t have a gun, you know! I think that you’ve got to be willing to do that. You’ve got to be willing to do what Charlie Sheen did in Wall Street and really not be afraid to walk right over to a firm and say, “I want to work for you.”

I mean Marc, you’re a perfect example. You wanted to work for Bill Graham and that’s why you even went to law school and after graduation from law school, you got in your car, drove across country, showed up at Bill Graham’s office and said, “I’m here ready to work.” Well if you just sent him a letter, they probably would have throw it in the garbage – but their reaction was instead, “I can’t believe he actually showed up. We have to give him a job.”

Luber: That’s true. That’s true. I called and I said, “I’d like to come work for you guys.” They said, “We don’t have anything.” So yeah, I got in the car and I drove across the country to San Francisco and I said, “Okay, I’m here. You still don’t have anything?” They said, “Wow! Well maybe we do,” and yeah, that’s what happened. Exactly. So you’re right.

There’s a rule in sales. In sales the rule is, “No doesn’t mean No. F-off means no.”

Adam Riback: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s true. And that’s really what I can say to people is, don’t take no for an answer.

If this is what you want, get in the door; if you have a firm you’re dreaming of working for, if you’ve seen some personal injury attorney on TV and you said, “I want to work for him or her,” go to their office, show up there and say, “Hi, I’m so and so. I go to this law school, I’m a second year student and I have dreamed of working for you. I don’t care if you don’t even pay me, I want to clerk for you.” Alright?

Luber: Yeah.

Adam Riback: That will blow those peoples’ minds and I guarantee you, at the very least, they’re going to go back to their office and talk to their partners and go, “You’re not even going to believe this but there’s somebody out there that’s willing to clerk for free,” and they’re going to probably end up hiring you and not for free.

Luber: Right, right.

Adam Riback: OK. So that’s what I would stress to people, is you’ve got to have balls right now, unfortunately, and I hate to use that term. You’ve got to be willing to put them on the line, get out there and sell yourself – because there’s too many people out there looking for jobs. But those jobs are there if you’re willing to do that. They are absolutely there.

Luber: Some people are going to say, “Well, okay you’re saying work for free, law school’s so expensive now. The debt is so huge.”

I would say to those people, “Well yeah, this is the way where you’re going to get your experience. Maybe you have to work for free for a little bit but know what? You were PAYING your law school, NOW you’re going to get to NOT pay and learn – and learn a lot more than you would learn in a classroom by doing this work for free,” if that’s what you have to do to get in like your saying.

Adam Riback: You do whatever you have to do to get in. I started at $30,000 a year, ok. I make a lot more than that today.

I remember saying to my wife at the time when I took the job, “I’m not making much now but if I work really hard, I really believe that one day I’m going to be extremely successful.” And you have to believe.

And in that way, I hate to analogize it to rock and roll, but you can’t listen to others who tell you you’re an ambulance chaser, you can’t listen to your parents saying, “Oh, you’re not working for the big firm and we always thought you would,” you’ve got to listen to your own heart and you’ve got to listen to what you believe in and you just got to go for it.

And if you do that, things are going to turn out the way they should.

Luber: Close us out with a couple summary points, some keys to success for everybody who’s going to go out there and wants to kick butt in this space.

Adam Riback: Get out there, talk to people, take the classes I talked about, meet lawyers, get jobs clerking at the big PI firms in your town, get your name out there and make sure that wherever you’re working, you have a good working relationship with the people you’re with, because that’s really the key to success and happiness.

You could have all the money in the world – or the biggest reputation in the world – but if you’re not happy going to work, if you’re not happy with the people you work with, you’re not going to enjoy your job and you’re not going to enjoy your life.

The bottom line is, you have to love this, you have to love trial work, you have to love speaking, you have to love helping people. If you love all of those things and you’re willing to do all of the things necessary, there’s really no more gratifying career that I can think of in law than personal injury work.

Luber: Wow! Excellent! That’s great, great advice for everybody. I hope this is helpful to all of you. Adam, thanks again for joining us today.

Adam Riback: It was my pleasure.

Luber: Alright – does Personal Injury Law sound like the right fit for you? Did you have fun with this one today?

Let us know! Share your feedback in the comments section below – and if you’re shy you can email me directly. The feedback you share helps us to bring you the content that you want – helpful, useful, actionable advice – to save you research time, and help you enjoy your career and thrive.

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Thanks again for watching everybody – I’m Marc Luber and look forward to seeing you again soon. Take care.

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