Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with California personal injury attorney Eliot M. Houman, the founding partner of The Accident Guys, to discuss his career.
AALM: What made you choose a career in law?
EMH: Early on, the OJ Simpson trial in 1995 got me curious about the legal field. It was very interesting to me how that trial captivated the attention of an entire nation. From there, I started participating on my high school mock trial team, which was an amazing experience. Arguing in front of a (fake) jury, examining witnesses, making closing arguments was exhilarating.
AALM: What inspired you to open your own practice?
EMH: After having worked at a large law firm for a few years after law school, I realized working for someone else, especially a big corporation was not for me. I enjoy being around and working with people. At the large law firm, my clients were larger corporations and their client representatives hated talking to me because they knew they were getting billed by the hour. Now, my clients love talking to me because I do not bill them and we only get paid if we win their case at the end. On top of that, the people I’m helping now, are every day, salt-of-the-earth people, who really need my help. I’m making a big difference in their lives, in a relatively short period of time. It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s the reason I became a lawyer in the first place.
AALM: How much has your firm grown in the past few years?
EMH: I’m proud to say our firm has grown considerably in the past few years. And not just in the number of staff and attorneys, or the number of clients we represent, but our team has also grown professionally, becoming better advocates for our clients to provide the best possible results. The reason for our growth is simple — our clients always come first. It is our job to be there whenever they call, email or text to help answer all their questions, to put them at ease and make them feel confident that they are in the best possible hands, and of course, to get them the best possible result. Our growth and success has always been, and will always be, centered around providing the best possible client service.
AALM: What qualities do you look for when hiring a lawyer?
EMH: We go up against the mighty insurance industry every day, so we look for people who relish the role of being a David vs. a Goliath. A hungry wolf always hunts best — and that’s something I think separates good lawyers from great lawyers. On top of that, our attorneys must be compassionate and sympathetic toward their clients, while at the same time fierce and unrelenting against the insurance companies. This job is not for everyone, in fact, it’s not for most lawyers, but for people whose passion is fighting for the little guy, this job is incredibly rewarding.
AALM: How would you describe the culture at your firm?
EMH: The culture of our office is very collegial. Although we work hard, we also like to play hard. Prior to COVID we regularly had firm events, including happy hours and trips to Dodgers games. During COVID, while we are all working from home, we continue to have monthly virtual pizza days and other outdoor events that keep our team engaged.
Professionally the firm’s culture revolves around putting our clients first. Every team member knows this and works toward 100% client satisfaction and getting them the best result possible. We recently ordered each member a copy of the late Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness.” The book does a great job of showing how Tony instilled and engrained a “customer always comes first” culture at Zappos.
AALM: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own practice?
EMH: Personally for me, I think having a good partner and co-founder is very important to starting any business. I recently was listening to a “How I Build This” podcast and was interested to learn that a very prominent Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm only lends money to startups that have two or more founders — the logic being that companies with more than more than one founder have a better chance of success. I could not agree with this more. I’m lucky to have Omid as a partner. He brings so much to the table in terms of knowledge about personal injury and how to run a successful law practice.
In addition, a more than healthy dose of persistence goes a long way. When starting any business, you are going to be faced with countless setbacks and failure, some of which were in your control, but many of which were not. Having the persistence, energy, and desire to continue to fight on, despite the setbacks, is paramount. I have seen it time and time again in our practice — setbacks and failure will happen, and the best know how to take these and turn them into gold and come out of a failure strong, smarter, and better than they were before.
I think coming out of COVID we are going to see many companies fail, but we are also going to see many companies with great leadership (and luck) come out stronger, better and smarter.
AALM: What are you most proud of professionally?
EMH: I am proud of all the firm’s happy clients. Personal Injury law does not have the best reputation, perhaps for good reason. Omid and I, as well as our team, are incredibly proud that every day we have an opportunity to change this perception. And it’s important not get complacent; just because we were great today, does not automatically mean we will be great tomorrow. It’s a practice that we must continue to work at and improve.
AALM: Tell us about a case that impacted you professionally?
EMH: One of our very first cases was referred to us by another personal injury lawyer. That specific lawyer, for whatever reason, was not able to settle the case for the client as the insurance company was denying liability. The lawyer referred the case to us thinking all hope was lost. Within a month we were able to turn the case around and get the client the maximum settlement amount under the insurance policy. The client was so happy and relieved. This early case showed me how much and how fast you can make a difference in someone’s life through personal injury law.
AALM: Tell us about your life outside the office.
EMH: My wife and I have an 18 month old baby girl who keeps us busy. Recently we started taking her to the local parks and it’s been really fun watching her go down slides and play on the swing. It makes her so happy. Watching her grow up during COVID has been a joy.
AALM: If you had the opportunity to start your career over what would you do differently?
EMH: It’s hard to say what I would do differently. Sometimes I think I should have left the large law firm earlier, but if I did, it’s quite likely that I would not appreciate my current position as much. Thankfully it’s hard for me to think of things I would have done differently, hopefully it stays that way!