It was January of 2020 in Birmingham, Alabama. Jeremy woke to a noise in the middle of the night and went outside to investigate. He could see three men coming out of the woods behind his house. One of the men had something in his arms. Jeremy told them to stop, an altercation ensued, the man dropped what he was carrying and all three ran off. Jeremy walked to the edge of the woods to see what the man had left behind. It was a horse, a small foal. When Jeremy got closer, he realized the foal had wings. Today on the podcast, Mark sits down with Jeremy Richter, insurance defense lawyer, author, and host of the Lawyerpreneur podcast, to discuss his writing, the importance of attorney wellness, following your dreams, and some of his own stranger-than-fiction stories.

 

Transcript:

MARK BASSINGTHWAIGHTE:

Okay. Hello. I’m Mark Bassingthwaighte and welcome to ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I’m very pleased to have join us today on the podcast, Jeremy Richter, and he is an attorney, a shareholder in fact, with Webster Henry at their Birmingham, Alabama location. So Jeremy, first off, welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you join us.

JEREMY RICHTER:

Well, thanks. I’m really happy to be here.

MARK:

My interest, folks, in having Jeremy join us today is not so much in terms of what he’s doing with his practice in Alabama. It’s what he’s doing in addition to his practice. And, boy, is there a lot of stuff that this guy has got going on. I mean, it’s just… So, Jeremy, before we jump into some of this, I’d love to have you just take a few moments and share a little bit about yourself. What do people want to know? What would you like us to know, perhaps?

JEREMY:

Well, let me tell you how we got to where I am as far as all the things outside of my daily billing that I do. So I’m an insurance defense lawyer here in Birmingham, and I started practicing in 2012. I’ve been at the same firm the whole time. In 2016 I had about four years under my belt, and my mentor, who I was hired to work with, and it’s almost exclusively who I worked with, he had always involved me in his marketing efforts, but he was a very extroverted, gregarious person who loved going to conferences and in talking to tons of people, and that’s not me. And so I realized fairly early on that that did not play to my strengths and I needed to figure out how to be able to market myself in a way that was achievable over the long-term, and something that I could just continue to pour time and effort into that wouldn’t deplete my reserves of energy.

And so, I have always been a writer and I started a law blog where at the outset I blogged about appellate decisions in Alabama that affected my little insurance defense world. After about six months of that, I started wanting to write about other topics, and I had one particular idea that I guess was the catalyst for everything that came afterwards, about three things that associates can do to be better associates. And so I wrote about that. And after that, I started writing a lot about practice management ideas and case management and relationships with clients, and it was all coming from a perspective of, “Look, I’m only four years in.” Five years in at that point. “These are the things I’m learning along the way.”

I’m not positioning myself as some guru because there’s lots of folks who have been doing this a lot longer than me, but I wanted to help the people who are coming behind me to maybe graduate that learning curve a little bit more than what I had. And so that’s what I started doing, and then I formed a relationship with some folks at the ABA Journal and wrote for them. And then the ABA published my first book and since then I’ve published two more books, one in each year in 2018, ’19 and ’20. And I started a podcast this year. And then actually this will be totally new to anybody, I guess, that’s not immediate family, I am one chapter away from finishing the first draft of my first novel that I wrote.

MARK:

Awesome. And what is the topic of the novel? Is it law-based or is it completely different? I love it.

JEREMY:

Actually I don’t read legal thrillers. I mean, I have, in the past, and there are some real titans who have built their names in that.

MARK:

Right.

JEREMY:

But, no, it’s totally off… It’s a contemporary fantasy book that takes place in Birmingham, and it’s about this little family who lives south of Birmingham and the dad, as far as he knows, is living in a normal world as the rest of us know it.

MARK:

Uh-huh (affirmative).

JEREMY:

And then some really weird things happen and he figures out there’s a whole bunch of things that exist in the world around him that he had never known existed. And it all got started on this really bizarre dream that I had one night and wrote it down and it kind of went from there.

MARK:

I have to come back to this. I find this inspiring in some ways. It’s very interesting. You and I have a lot more in common than I would have guessed initially. It’s great. But you started out talking about moving in this direction, in terms of blogging and then evolving a bit here, initially, just to market yourself.

JEREMY:

Yeah.

MARK:

Was that successful? Did you have the results that you looked for or hoped for?

JEREMY:

It was successful, but not in the way that I expected. When I started writing about appellate decisions in Alabama, I thought, “Well, this will be a way for clients to find me and my firm and for us to establish our expertise.”

MARK:

Yes.

JEREMY:

And while that was true, and it did that, my insurance clients weren’t my readers as it turned out. It was other lawyers who were coming across these things and dealing with them. And even folks in my own firm would say, “Hey, I was looking up this topic and I came across your blog. Let’s talk about this random thing.” And so, in that way, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be from the outset. But what it did do is allow me to get more involved in industry organizations like CLM and DRI and present at conferences.

It gave me the confidence in my practice areas to make those presentations and also to reach out to people who were attending those conferences and say, “Hey, we don’t know each other really, but we’re going to be at this place, and if you are looking for additional counsel in Alabama, I’d love to get together and meet.” And so between that and other relationships that I’ve formed in communities that I’ve become a part of, I can say with certainty that I have business relationships now and have obtained clients that wouldn’t have been the case without it. So it formed differently than I expected, but it absolutely had the result that I wanted.

MARK:

Okay. And then what took you into becoming an author in terms of writing the books? And share the… I think you have three out, right, in terms of law-

JEREMY:

Yeah. I do.

MARK:

Feel free to share the names and just a little bit about the books and…

JEREMY:

Okay. So the first book that I wrote that the ABA published is called Building a Better Law Practice, and both it and the second book I have thought of, from their inception, as almost like a devotional for lawyers. The topics are fairly short. Most of them are somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 words. They can be read in five to 10 minutes a day, and it’s really practical, grounded ideas, suggestions, advice for lawyers. And I think it’s particularly useful for younger lawyers about managing your clients and your caseload and your practice itself, and growing those things so that you establish your expertise, you can handle your work better, more productively, more efficiently, and get more out of your day. And so, the first book is Building a Better Law Practice. The second book is called Stop Putting Out Fires.

And then this year I wrote a book called Level Up Your Law Practice, and about 40% of the book focuses a lot on mindset. It’s not something that I was particularly comfortable with because it put me in a place to have to be more vulnerable in writing and on paper than I really cared to be. But I thought that it was an important topic because we deal with… And look, when I wrote most of it in 2019 and early 2020, I had no idea what 2020 was going to be.

MARK:

Yeah, right.

JEREMY:

But we deal with so much adversity on a daily basis that if we don’t focus some attention on making sure that we have mental and emotional health, then we aren’t going to be able to do the work that we do over the course of 30 years without having to come apart.

MARK:

Yeah. Yeah. You are preaching to the choir on this one. I absolutely agree with you. This whole attorney wellness movement is so, so critical. And again, the pandemic has really underscored just how important this is. Did the act of becoming an author… Again, did you accomplish what you had hoped to accomplish with this? How did it impact your practice? I mean, I find for instance that as I… I’ve been writing for, oh, gosh, 25 years now, and it’s just, the more you do it, I find it enhances me. I learn a lot and it makes me just better at what I do, but I’d be curious about, again, the experience of writing. Again, did it accomplish what you had hoped it would? How did it impact your career?

JEREMY:

I think that the answer is, yes, it has helped me. There’s a lot of times that I don’t really know what I think about something until I have taken the time and energy to write about it. And so it has helped me become more focused on efficiency and productivity, which is something that is important to my clients that I do well since they’re paying me by the hour. And also, with my firm, they certainly want me to be productive. And then all of the… I’ve done so much writing about client relationships that it’s really… I’ve had to live it.

MARK:

Yes. Right.

JEREMY:

And so, I’ve had to focus and learn about what do my clients want so that we can have a better relationship, not just for this one particular case, because things might go well or poorly on one individual case. But how can we have a relationship that can withstand any adversity and that we’re communicating effectively enough, both about the good things and the bad things, that there’s a trusting relationship that hopefully is going to last a career. And so the writing has helped me be a better lawyer because it’s helped me focus on the things that I need to do to be successful.

MARK:

Very good. Before I get to your non-legal writing for a moment, I did note, too, that you’re involved in a book for children, moving in this other direction. Can you fill us in a little bit about this whole project?

JEREMY:

All right. So, in March I posted on LinkedIn, because I’d seen… It was probably late March when I posted this because I’d seen that people have been locked down for a few weeks and there were a lot of really interesting, innovative things that I was seeing lawyers do on LinkedIn to help, whether it’s communicate with clients. At that point Zoom was still pretty novel. I think in a lot of ways, we’re all really well acquainted with it now, but at that point, most of us hadn’t engaged with that medium before. And so I just saw a lot of things, and so I posted, “Hey, if you’re doing anything interesting, let’s share it and encourage each other.” And a lawyer that I knew, Becky Lee, she’s an intellectual property lawyer in Atlanta, we’re a part of an online lawyer community called Lawyer Slack, LawyerSmack.

MARK:

Yes.

JEREMY:

And so, she posted that she had just written a children’s book idea. And so I reached out to her directly and said, “Hey, I want to hear more about this. Have you got a publisher?” Like just curiosity at this point. And she said, “No. All I’ve done is written the text for it.” And I said, “I want to publish this through my publishing imprint that I use for my own books,” because after that first book with the ABA, and we had a good relationship and I really enjoyed it, but I realized that I wanted to have a lot more control over the final product than-

MARK:

Yeah.

JEREMY:

… what is able to be done through a traditional publisher. And so I formed my own publishing company. And so she and I talked about it and she was interested in doing that. And so the book that she wrote is called, Do You Draw Pictures? And it’s a picture book for kids who are basically four to eight-years-old, introducing them to what intellectual property is, what are patents and trademarks and copyrights, because there’s so much misinformation [crosstalk] in pop culture-

MARK:

Oh, absolutely.

JEREMY:

… that she realized there’s a need for just a basic introduction into what these things are. And so it uses really fun illustrations to just introduce these ideas, and now we’ve got more ideas for a whole series of books that she plans to write. And then the illustrator is somebody that she’s known for years and years, and they were in a band together back in their 20s and he’s a cartoonist. And so we have a whole series of books that we want to do for kids that talk about whether it’s contracts or first amendment stuff, or just introducing them to ideas that they are going to engage with as they get older.

MARK:

What I love about this, and I want to comment on it more here in a little bit, you’re an example of something that I have been sharing in terms of a personal story in our podcasts. It’s a two-part series right now and I will probably add to it over time. I just refer to it as Listening To Your Life. And there’s a lot that I hear happening here that you do very, very well in terms of listening. And so I want to come back to that in a moment. The non-law related book, is this a continuation of the evolution of your writing? I mean, what took you in this direction?

JEREMY:

The answer to the first part is, I’m not really sure yet, but I have written creatively ever since really I was in high school. I was one of those dark, brooding, angsty teenagers, and so I wrote a lot of poetry back then, and then that kind of fell off in my 20s. And then I didn’t write any fictional stuff for a long time. And then a few years ago, I learned about this really messy part of my family history several generations ago that nobody ever talked about, and I thought about it and did some research about it and started writing a novelized form of it that occurs in the 1940s, or I guess in 1940, where my grandfather who grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas, which is a mid-sized town out in about two hours northwest of Dallas.

It was the midst of the depression. There was no jobs, and so he goes to work for one of the Civilian Conservation Corps camps up in Colorado, where a lot of young men who couldn’t find work, the government, the Works Progress Administration under Roosevelt was hiring them to build state parks and national parks. And so he goes to do that. While he’s gone, his father kills his stepmother and then himself. And it was just… Nobody ever talked about it. I didn’t learn it until well into adulthood, but I thought that there could be a historical fiction novel. Like, this is that sort of thing. So I started writing that and it got real heavy and I’ve kind of laid it by the wayside for almost a year-and-a-half now and haven’t touched it. Then I had another idea for a novel that I wrote a quarter of, and that kind of fell off.

But then I just had this dream back in January of 2020 that was really weird. I’ll go ahead… The story is, it was me in the dream, certainly, heard a noise in the middle of the night and went outside to check it out. And there were these three guys coming out of the woods from behind my house, and one of them was carrying something in its arms and I couldn’t quite tell what it was. And so I told them to stop and they did, and there ended up being an altercation and what they were carrying was this Pegasus, a winged horse.

MARK:

Right. Right. Yeah.

JEREMY:

And so, then, they run off and there’s this horse laying in my driveway that has wings. And so I take it into the woods to find its mother. And so I had that dream and I wrote all of that down and I had some other ideas that popped up over the next several months and I would write those down. And then in mid August, I figured out, “I can tie all these things together and this can be a novel.” So, in August I just started writing and I’ve been writing almost every single day ever since, writing this story out. And I’ve just had as much fun doing it as anything else I’ve ever written, which isn’t to say it’s been easy. It certainly hasn’t, but it’s been just really rewarding and fun, and I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed the process.

And I want to do more fiction writing like it, so we’ll see. But I also have more non-fiction stuff that I want to write. My podcast that we’ve mentioned is called Lawyerpreneur, and it’s about lawyers who are doing interesting and innovative things, some within the practice of law, others who are doing it in maybe a legal tech or things that are related to law. And then some people who have gotten out of law altogether and just have their own businesses and are doing interesting things.

That Was a book idea before it was the podcast idea and I knew that I was going to have to do all of these interviews to be able to get what I wanted. I was having a hard time making myself do the interviews because I just don’t like reaching out to folks like that. So I thought, “Well, if I start a podcast, I have to do it.” And so, here we are. I started it at the end of March, been doing it for about eight months now. I’ve done over 30 interviews with lawyers, and it’s been really interesting and rewarding. And if for no one else, it’s certainly been rewarding for me to talk to all of these folks who are just pursuing dreams and ideas that are really… It’s really cool.

MARK:

Let me respond to some of this. I hear all kinds of things that I just underscore why I wanted to spend a little time together. You talk about the writing being hard but very fulfilling, and trying to do the podcast and the difficulty of reaching out. I get that. But to me, I like to say, and I’ve said this to my kids over the years, life begins once you push beyond your comfort zone. A lot of people don’t want to do things because it’s too uncomfortable and they never really challenge and grow. And in my mind, life begins the exciting, rewarding stuff when we take those risks. And you’re a great example of how you have continued to grow with this. I also like the fact, referring to listeners back to this, listening to your life podcast topic that I’ve been doing, I also hear that you do, in my mind, as I see it, listen to your life.

You have these things, these opportunities. You’re on LinkedIn and you see… Here’s an opportunity. I think so many people have these opportunities, whether they’re small, large, and they don’t even take the time to recognize or think about, “What can I do with this?” And it certainly seems like your practice is, we’re successful. That you’re a better attorney. I mean, that’s what I’m hearing, that you have improved your skillset, lecturing, writing, intake, all these kinds of things. But the big takeaway for me, just spending a little time together, it’s circling back to this wellness thing. It seems to me you’re a very well-rounded individual and happier and healthier as a result of pursuing these other interests. It’s a full life.

I have worked with so many lawyers over the years, literally. I’ve worked literally with thousands of lawyers, but the number of them that do nothing other than just focus on law and never have what I would call a full life. The excuse I hear at times, they’ll say, “Law is a jealous mistress,” and that becomes a limiting thing. So, to those of you listening out there, I love Jeremy’s story and it seems like, Jeremy, there’s so many exciting things ahead of you. I’m excited to see where all this goes. Before I sign us off on this, do you have any final thoughts? Anything else you’d like to share? And I’ll just give you a minute. I mean…

JEREMY:

Yes, sure. Something I thought of while you were talking there, is that all of this is a choice. If you want to pursue other things and have a more fulfilling life than just work, you have to make the choice, but then you have to continue making the choice.

MARK:

Exactly.

JEREMY:

All my writing, I have done basically between the hours of 5:00 AM and 6:30 every day. And that’s when I could make the time to fit it, because it’s not going to just happen. You’re not going to have the time. If you don’t choose it every day, then it’s not going to be there. And so whether it’s hobbies that you’ve put to the side, or whether it’s something else that you want to pursue and see what you can create, you’ve got to make a conscious decision and continue to make it to cause those things to happen.

MARK:

Yeah. Yeah. Very, very good. Well, it’s been a pleasure. To all of you listening, again, I hope you found something of value today listening to Jeremy’s story. I want to leave you with the thought again, because I so firmly believe it. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. You’ll take risks, folks. It’s worth it. I really believe that deeply.

So, again, thanks for joining us. If you have additional topics or some feedback, questions, concerns on risk management, ethics, you don’t have to be an ALPS insured to visit with me. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. My email address is mbass, M-B-A-S-S, @alpsinsurance.com. Thanks for listening folks. And again, Jeremy, it indeed has been a pleasure and I look forward to seeing what other things come out. I want to take a look at that non-lawyer book when it’s published. That sounds quite interesting, so, thanks again.

JEREMY:

Well, thanks so much for having me on.

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