Can you do good work in the community and still run a profitable, wealth-generating law firm? Katherine Mazaheri Franze has proven the answer is “yes.” In fact, a passion for service is a requirement to work at her law firm, as is compassion for those the firm serves, individuals seeking divorce or representation in employment discrimination cases.
But, make no mistake: Mazaheri Franze is not operating a charity. Far from it. She’s running a successful, woman-owned, all-female-attorney-staffed law firm that’s taking Oklahoma City by storm.
Tune in to learn how she does it as well as…
- How she combines contingency cases with a retainer practice for steady cash flow
- A unique way to incentivize and pay employees – and play to their strengths and values
- Why she believes that you can do “good” and still make money
- The reason hiring employees with strengths similar to your own is self-sabotage
- How having a team as passionate and dedicated to your cause as you are can exponentially boost growth and success
Mentioned in this episode:
Davina Frederick: Hello and welcome to the Solo to CEO Podcast where we provide a mix of powerful thought-provoking and practical information to assist you in your transformation from solo to CEO of a high-impact wealth-generating business. I’m your host, Davina Frederick, and I’m here today with Katherine Mazaheri Franze, attorney and CEO of the Mazaheri Law Firm. Mazaheri Law Firm is located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is focused on providing family and employment law services and general civil litigation. Welcome, Katherine. It’s so good to have you here as our guest on the Solo to CEO Podcast.
Katherine Mazaheri Franze: Well thank you for having me.
Davina: So you and I have known each other for a little while now and I’m so glad to have you here to tell us about your law practice. You have a really interesting mix of services. And I’d love to hear more about that. Because a lot of times when I talk with family lawyers, you’ll hear them talk about doing family law, and maybe estate planning. But you actually do family law and employment law services and a lot of general sort of civil litigation. So tell me about your law practice and the clients you serve and kind of why you chose this interesting mix for your practice.
All About Mazaheri Law Firm
Katherine: When I first started at my practice, I just kind of, you know, I wanted to start doing general civil litigation and of course, there’s always a need for family lawyers and I did start out taking on a lot of family law cases right on. And then I realized that there was this need in the community and I had done an internship in Washington DC while I was in law school for DC Employment Justice Center.
And what I realized is that there just wasn’t a whole lot of layers in the community that we’re taking on plaintiff employment law cases here in Oklahoma City. And so I saw that there was a need, and there was an interest on my part of being able to help kind of an underrepresented community here in the city. So that just kind of flourished. And so that’s probably why you see that kind of interesting combination of those two practice areas. And really, I went where the demand was,
Davina: Right. Is that a challenging area of practice? I mean, I know that so often when I see attorneys take on that area of practice, they tend to gravitate to representing employers. And I know that you represent plaintiffs. So tell me about that. What’s that like for you?
Katherine: So, I really like representing plaintiffs. It is challenging in the sense that you are taking the cases on a contingency basis. But I think the exciting part about practicing law is really being able to help people at the worst time in their life. And really, some of the worst times of our lives are not just divorce and you know, child custody issues and that kind of, that goes with the family law practice, but in this case, it would be when you’ve lost your job and you’ve lost your job, due to an unlawful action, and that might mean discrimination that might mean sexual harassment.
That might mean some unfair practices going on in the workplace. It’s exciting to me. It is challenging to be able to help someone out. Of course, we have to interview each of our clients before we take them. Because that is a risk every time you take a case on a contingency or percentage basis, but the reward, not just the monetary reward, it’s also helping people and feeling like you’re making a difference at the end of the day.
Davina: Right, right. So there’s a couple of, couple different directions I want to go here. And so we’re going to come back to the different areas that you cover in this type of work. But I want to talk about the business model, and how that, how effective that’s been for you because you’ve also got have set yourself up here with a really good business model with this having contingency practice married to a, you know, in combination with a retainer practice.
Katherine: Right, right. So Exactly. I did that intentionally. I definitely did that intentionally. I recognize that the family law practice has to, it’s more of a cash flow business. When you’re doing hourly work it’s depending on the time that you’re working, but you also have to have a way to pay for the time that it’s going to take for you to settle some of these contingency cases. So yeah, it’s intentional that I kind of set up the practice that way.
And I also look at when I take those contingency cases, you know, I look at how quickly I think the turnaround might be. And, you know, we risk assess it. And that helps us and kind of weighing whether or not one we take on, let’s say we take on, you know, a big employer, or how long do we think it’s going to take? Or do we think this is going to be heavily litigated? Or do we see that there’s enough evidence that this might lead to a quicker settlement? So it’s just about kind of really vetting out the clients that you choose, and also about making sure that you can finance those cases as you’re moving forward.
Davina: Right, right. And I had so many different questions going on in my head at the same time. So you’re like, Oh, I want to ask this. I want to ask that. And then they all just kind of stick together. I think that, you know, a lot of attorneys when they’re thinking of kind of coming up with this idea of having a retainer and a contingency they think, Oh, you know, family law and personal injury, right? And so it’s really a smart way to go to think this type of practice with family law. So tell, give us an idea of how successful it’s been for you. How you know, how large is your firm? How many attorneys do you have working with you?
Katherine: So currently, we have four attorneys including myself, and we have a support staff as well. And so what, it has been good for us in the way that we have been able to slowly and steadily grow. I really feel like as far as being able to take on kind of cases that I feel like at the end of the day are making a difference. It has helped us in that way because little by little, I can see, okay, we have this kind of cash flow or we might need to hire a few more attorneys to be building in this particular area.
And that way, we’re able to take on some of these other cases as well. It’s also about incentivizing your employees too. I mean, one of the ways that I’ve set up my particular practice is I have some attorneys that just bill hourly, and then I have some attorneys that bill hourly but also may collect a percentage on some of those contingency cases as well. So, you know, there’s a different way of setting up even how your employees are paid and incentivize.
Davina: And so you have, and so your attorneys, you kind of tailor it to their interest and what they’re interested, the type of law they’re interested in practicing and then you tie their compensation based on that right?
Katherine: Yeah, and I think a lot of this and you helped me out actually a lot with this was really when I went to hire these particular people, putting it out there that I needed employees that had a heart for social justice, that had similar values or goals in their own lives, maybe they have a willingness or need to make a difference.
They also see that there’s a need for, you know, compassionate attorneys that are giving straightforward advice. They carry those similar values. And so when I went to hire people, I started looking for those particular qualities in the attorneys that I hired. And it’s really led to having a really good cohesive team and so yeah. I’m happy to see how it’s growing moving forward.
Davina: But you know what’s been very interesting is it doesn’t mean that you don’t make money. Because it’s so interesting. I was seeing a thread today where there was a discussion about sort of this social justice, let’s use that term. They weren’t using that term, but using the terms kind of giving back kind of thing. And so many attorneys believe it’s an either-or, like, they can’t do good work in the world unless they’re suffering in the pocketbook. But that’s really not the case. You just have to set it up in such a way that you can keep the cash flow going until you get your money on the back end.
Katherine: That’s exactly right.
Davina: So you have to have good used, to have good business principles in place, you know, to be able to do, to get fairly compensated, you know?
Katherine: Right. And I think it’s also about how you’re delivering the service as well. Like if there’s something, if there’s something that you just really don’t like to do, but you know how to communicate with the client, you can make a difference and well, hell you can make a difference in the way that you serve a burger or, you know, you do any kind of customer service.
And so, really having a team and a staff that has a really good attitude and knows that every single person that walks in the store, they are making a difference in their life, whether it’s their worst day or it might be a happy day, the next day, but just to have those kind of like-minded people around you on a daily basis, even if it’s not your best day, you’re still reminding each other that, you know, there’s a better one down the, you know, down the line.
And so, yeah, I think you can do, I think it’s about having a good environment with people like a team that supports each other and also feeling like you’re giving back in some way. And then, and really yeah, you can still be successful and making money and being somewhat you know, compassionate as well.
Davina: Right. Right. So, we’ve been talking a lot about your team and you have you do have a really great, you have some really great lawyers and staff now, but it wasn’t always that way. You did have, you know, had some bumps in the road along the journey getting where you are. So, what are some things that you have done differently? And things you wish you’d maybe done differently earlier, you know, that have helped you to get to kind of this super team that you have now.
How Katherine Managed to Get Such a Great Team
Katherine: Right. So, I’d say, definitely in the beginning, I don’t think I was as purposeful about the people that I needed for the particular positions, that I needed. I don’t think that I wasn’t as strategic in even my job posting frankly.
I felt like I instead of putting out a very specific ad as to the type of person that I needed, I was just very general and I would get all different types of people and I’d waste a lot of time interviewing because it was not geared toward the type of person I was looking for. I mean, frankly, there are some people out there that are going to get really turned off if you put in your ad, I need someone with a heart for social justice. And in being able to put out, put that out in the world and essentially say this is the type of person I’m looking for.
This type of like-minded person in this particular space that is going to have a heart for helping out plaintiffs, that is going to have a heart for helping out people in crisis, at that point, It really helped me hone in on one, having a more limited pool to hire from and to just being able to just attract the right people. And yeah, I didn’t always do that. And I think, you know, that can lead to a lot of issues where people don’t have job satisfaction, or maybe people just, you know, they don’t click as a team member with the other people on your team, or they just don’t really like that area of law. Maybe they just needed a job.
Davina: Right? We underestimate how important it is to, you know, you sometimes we think, oh, we just need a warm body or we just need somebody who has the technical skills to be able to do the job, but we underestimate how important it is for people to share the same values, you know, and to share the, to fit into the culture and be on the same page with the work that we’re doing here, you know, with whatever that is, right?
What is that shared commitment to work that we’re doing-especially when, as attorneys, when what you’re doing when somebody’s livelihood or their life in some cases is on the line, right? It’s so important to have people who are drawn to a particular type of work.
Katherine: Not just drawn to it, but also have the commitment to communicate with the clients. To really give a, you know, an excellent service to the people that come here and trust us with their problems. So I feel like what I’ve done at this point is been a lot more strategic about my interviews. I think we talked about the good cop, bad cop scenario where, you know, I might go in an interview and then I’ll have at least one attorney on my team also interview on the back end.
And essentially, there’s always a two interview process. And that really helps out in kind of being able to see different perspectives of that same person. And, you know, sometimes people go through two interviews, and by the second one, they realize that they don’t want the job. But, you know, you don’t want someone that’s not committed either, you know, you need to know that that person,
Davina: That’s going to be a good fit for them too. It’s got to be good for them too. Well, and, you know, there’s nothing worse than, you know, I have hired attorneys, as well as being an attorney I’m hiring attorneys. And there’s nothing worse than hiring an attorney and feeling like that attorney is not, doesn’t really care about your situation and your case. That they’re just there. They just care about your money.
And so knowing that you’re hiring people who will make your clients, that will be that extension for you and make sure that your clients feel like that they care about what their case and their matter and that’s important, you know? I think it’s interesting, your good cop bad cop scenario just to be clear on that. So you have this situation where you interview them and then you have another attorney who has a very different personality from you interview them.
Katherine: She’s almost my opposite.
Davina: Yeah. And so because you may, you’re a very nice person. And you’re to people who, when you’re sitting there interviewing them, you’ll make them feel very comfortable and they’ll feel like, you know, they’ve been bathed in sugar or whatever when you’re talking to them. And then this other person who’s a bit more direct, will interview them and what the people you’re interviewing don’t realize is that you also are a very, a taskmaster, you know? And so, you know, she knows that about you and she knows that you’re going to hold them to a very high standard.
So she’s really doing that reconnaissance for you to find out, and also letting them know that you’re really that, are going to have that expectation. So, your to interview process really reveals, helps to reveal whether that person is going to, you know, actually fit in that kind of environment with those high expectations, which is excellent. It’s excellent to have people with different types of personalities as part of your interview process because it is common for people to interview, you know, it’s just human nature for us to interview and try to hire people who are like us, right? Who we like, who are like us.
How a Different Outlook Can Change Your Business Process
Katherine: I think it’s so important in having your own practice to have someone that thinks very differently than you and to really take those things into consideration. You know, as lawyers, you need the creative out of the box thinker. And you also need the very procedural role-driven person as well. You know, need, and that doesn’t mean, you know, the out of the box thinker doesn’t follow the rules, but it does mean that they can be a lot more creative. And so think that those perspectives are so important.
And one of the things that I really like about owning my own practice and having a firm is that we bounce these cases off of each other. If we run into an issue or we need another perspective, then you know, each of us feels very free about, you know, coming to the table, you know, Hey, can you give me another point of view on this? Or what would you do in this particular case? We do a lot of one on one meetings where, in particular with our employment law cases, we’ll meet and talk about those cases.
And, you know, what do you think the next step should be? Or, you know, this is a particular situation we’ve run into, and, you know, this is what I was thinking. What are you, you know, what’s your perspective on it? So, we’re always, I wouldn’t say we work together on every single case, but I think we’re just in an environment where we really appreciate each other’s opinions and we respect each other. You need that.
Davina: Right. So I want to, and I want to dig into this a little bit more. You are a, right now you’re an all-female firm, correct?
Katherine: Right. That was not purposeful, but it is how it is. Yeah
Davina: It just evolved that way. And so what’s interesting to me is you have been, lately you have been really getting into this, a lot of sexual harassment type work where you are sexual harassment cases, and speaking on the topic of sexual harassment and going and educating organizations and companies on sexual harassment in the workplace.
And you know, what kinds of, and it’s interesting being an all-female firm it’s probably not something that you’re, that you guys are having to deal with. But what kinds of experiences are you having as you’re going out and you’re talking about this? You’re in Oklahoma. Pretty conservative part of the world out there, correct?
Katherine: Right. It is a red state. But I would say you know, you’re going to encounter sexual harassment. I have done plaintiffs work with sexual harassment, you know, throughout the time that I’ve had my practice. One of the reasons I feel so passionately about this is just from my own hiring experience when I moved back home to Oklahoma City, and one of the contributing factors to me starting my practice was I was going on interviews with potential employers, and one employer in particular told me that he thought I would be really good at my job because sex sells. And I thought to myself well, thanks?
You know, as a typical female, you kind of smile and you think, Okay, do I want the job that bad that I can put up with this statement and what the environment is probably going to be like? So needless to say, I mean that was off-putting but I went, I talked to my father about this particular statement and he is an entrepreneur in Oklahoma City.
And I told him about what had just occurred at this particular interview, and he told me, you know, basically screw them. You’re going to start your own business and just kind of lit the fire. And that’s how I came to starting my own practice. So when I see that this is still going on in the workplace, and I have a particular personal passion behind helping out both females and males from having to put up with this in the workplace.
And so yeah, we have done the seminar, and it’s this training with employees, where we essentially talk about what can be the consequences? What is sexual harassment? What are the consequences? What are your rights? How do you recognize it? How do you respond to it? And then, inevitably, how do you report it? And we’ve done this with the local tribes and we’re going to be doing it with some private businesses. So it’s been an exciting kind of labor of love, I guess you could say.
Davina: Right, right. It is. It is amazing to me how ongoing and pervasive it still is. I mean, I’ve been, you know, I’m in my mid-50s. And which is shocking to me, quite frankly. But so I’ve been in the professional workplace for a long time. And I look back on my career and all of the, you know, experiences I’ve had, it was very common in the 80s and 90s for men to say things to women that were, you know, that would get you fired and sued right now in a heartbeat.
And, but it amazes me I see in a lot of the social media discussions now women attorneys talking about the things that are said to them in courtrooms by judges and lawyers on a daily basis. That is just, it’s just appalling to me. These are people who should know better. I mean, lawyers and judges. If lawyers and judges can’t get it right, I mean, it just really blows my mind. And so there’s a huge need out there for sure.
Katherine: Yeah, it’s disappointing to see that it still goes on. That being said, in particular cultures, it’s accepted still. So, I mean, that’s why this training is needed. And that’s why we’re going out and talking to people that may not even realize that they’re violating the law or they’re creating a hostile work environment. It’s become so common practice to make comments or, you know, do it the way that the good old boys have always done it, that they don’t see the error in their ways.
And so that’s why I think this training is needed. It’s really timely. And we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback too. Particularly with women that have come and said, this is so needed or, you know, was eye-opening. Even a lot of men that we’ve done training for have said, Well, now I know I need to watch myself. So, I mean, a lot of it is just recognizing those behaviors that maybe you haven’t even thought of.
Davina: Right. It’d be interesting to see if it’s, the impact that it has. If you’ll start seeing it reflected in your work, you know, that you’ll start seeing the cases as a result of going out and doing this speaking if you’ll start seeing women coming forward. More women coming forward and saying I want to sue my employer on sexual, you know, for sexual harassment because a lot of the cases that you’re doing now, in your employment law are related to what? What kinds of cases do you get?
Mazaheri Law Firm’s Typical Case Load
Katherine: So employment law, we take a lot of discrimination cases. I’d say the things that I might see most often are like ADA and disability cases. Occasionally, actually, probably more recently than ever. I’ve seen a lot of race cases. Things like nooses, you know, slurs, you know, I don’t know if it’s due to political environment or not, but I am seeing more of those.
But the sexual harassment where I am seeing it hit the most is a lot in particular industries here that we have in Oklahoma like the oil and gas industry Or I also see it in, I just see it in some small businesses that they don’t realize how they are being inappropriate, or let’s just say like sending things that they don’t think are going to get out. So for example, you might see texts or pictures or emails that are being forwarded or people that are looking at pornography on their work computers in front of everyone else.
You know, situations where there is unwelcome conduct that is offensive. And I’m, you know, I speak about females a lot in this particular situation, but, I mean, it does affect males and I have seen cases where, you know, there’s even male on male harassment. So it’s not just limited females, it’s just the majority of the clients that I tend to see tend to be female.
Davina: And so what you know, as employers, what are some of the things we can do, you know, a lot of the people listening to this are women, law firm owners, women business owners. So from a policy standpoint, kinds of things, you should be looking for, putting things in are policy manuals.
Katherine: Right, you definitely want to have a policy, a written harassment policy. And so I would model it after Title Seven, I would make sure that you have also any state law in there because there are certain state laws that are more protective than what federal law allows for. And then I would set up a system for how you are going to approach a situation. If you get confronted with someone that says, Look, I’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace. So it’s like an investigative process. What are you going to do as a business owner? And you need to act promptly.
And so I think those kinds of things are really important. But along with that, training. Training, specifically of your supervisors and management. I mean, there’s somebody that is in a capacity to be able to hire, fire, or discipline one of your employees, then you’ve got to do some training of those management personnel that are going to be able to essentially hold your company liable.
So you’ve got to, you know, whether it’s a harassment training or it’s somebody, or you just go ahead and say you need to do an investigative report anytime that there is this type of harassment or there’s even the accusation of it. So I think having those things in place is so important. It can just help employers to have a defense. You can’t really, you can’t control your employees, but you want to be able to defend yourself if you do get sued, and having those things in place, it just will. It will help to show also your employees that you do care about having a work environment that’s free of harassment.
Davina: Right, like we just did a training on this, people. Right, right. Yeah, you know, with social media being what it is and workplace relationships and things like that there’s, you know, so many of those kinds of things, particularly as firms get bigger and bigger, you know?
So back to your business because we are running out of time here today, I do want to get in a little bit more discussion about your business and just some of the, before we wrap up, some of the lessons that you think that you have learned along the way and growing your practice. You’ve been in practice for how long now in owning your own firm for how long? How long, have you owned your own firm?
Katherine: It’s over 10 years, I think it’s 11 this year, I don’t know. I lost count now.
Davina: A decade. Now you could say decade. So what do you think are some of the key lessons for somebody who’s on that solo to CEO journey behind you, what are some of the lessons that you think you’ve learned that they could benefit from your experience that you could share?
Katherine: I think one of the things that you, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur period, is you have to wake up every day, and be ready to seize whatever opportunity is in front of you. You’ve got to have a good attitude for the most part. I think, you know, even on your worst days, I mean, it doesn’t mean you have to be happy all the time, but you’ve got to have some kind of hustle in you. Because there are highs and there are lows when you own your own business. And so I would say that you have to, you just have to know that you’re in it for, it’s a marathon.
It’s not going to, there’s going to be unforeseen circumstances that are going to come up and you are going to be able to see what you’re made of at that point. But I’d say you know, be prepared to work hard. Don’t get discouraged by the learning curve because particularly when you first start your practice, there is going to be a learning curve. You are going to be, you probably should be banking on working a lot of hours in the beginning, if you know you’re not already.
Anything that comes up, I mean, any challenges that come up, try to find a way to find some, you know, silver lining or some kind of excitement in it, and try to not take any one loss too hard. That was really difficult for me when I first started out my practice, and I thought, well, I’m going to help everyone and I’m going to find the solution for everybody that walks in here. And, you know, you can have a heart that wants to help.
But you also have the limitations of the law. And I think that that’s one of those things that you have to know that there’s so many different variables that go to until each case. You know, try not to carry that weight home with you. Be able to leave it at the office, and then recognize when you need a mental health day. I know I need a day off, I need a day off. I’m going to just take this day I need to recharge.
And, you know, we’ll go back at the battle tomorrow, right? And but I think, you know, that’s one of the things that I would say that I’ve learned after all of this time is, look, it’s not going to be, you know, a straight road to success. There’s going to be some dips in it, but just know that you’re in it for the long haul and there’s the silver lining and even in any bad situation, there’s so many things that you can learn from it. Right? And it’s going to make you better and then
Davina: Speaking you that, you are what is your silver lining in all of this? What is your, what is the thing you love most about having your own firm?
Flexibility and Control are Key
Katherine: Well, for one, I like that I get to be around the people that I want to be around every day because I get to select those people. I also just, I like the flexibility. I like being in control of my own destiny and the excitement that comes with, you know, trying to get more clients and seeing your business grow. You know, same with having that flexibility there’s also downsides. Sometimes, you know, you are without staff for whatever reason, maternity leave, you know, someone was sick or someone had a relative pass or whatever. And you might have to work longer hours or more.
And all of that weighs on you. You have to be willing to take that responsibility on but at the same time for me, it’s been really rewarding in the fact that I can kind of set my schedule. I have small children so I can go and be available to pick them up from school every day. And then put them to bed and you know, feed them, put them to bed and be able to, you know, pick up again when I go home. If I finish something up, then I have that flexibility. And I don’t have to, you know, conform to a particular schedule of hours. So, I think those are the things that I like the most.
Davina: Yeah, I know that was a huge decision for you. And particularly in the last couple of years to, you made an intentional decision to make a shift in your firm so that you could be available more for your kids and spend more time with your family. But you didn’t want the firm to suffer. You wanted it to grow, in fact, and you were able to write that.
You were able to grow the firm, keep it growing, and also have some more time with your family. So and the decision that you probably wouldn’t have been able to, use something that you wouldn’t have been able to have as much control over probably had you been working with a firm, somebody else’s firm, you know?
Katherine: Right. Definitely. And that was a huge priority for me. I mean it was also a really big shift in how I worked because I was, I, you know, my first baby was this business, so it was really hard for me to give up being here as much and give up that what felt like, control, right? Like being here feels like I’m in control of everything.
Davina: So the way you were thinking about it.
Katherine: Right, right. I totally had to adjust it and now, I really think when you hire the right people and they have the same passion and they have the same and you feel like you can trust them, then you know you have a certain level of freedom to say, Okay, well, I’m leaving this in good hands. And, you know, I’ll be able to adjust my schedule accordingly and know that my clients are being taken care of.
Davina: Right, right. Well, Katherine, thanks so much for being here and talking with me today. I think this has been A really great episode and anybody listening to it is going to learn so much. So I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing with us.
Katherine : Well, thanks for having me.
Davina: Tell us where we can find out more about your law firm on the internet.
Katherine: Okay, so we have a webpage, mazaherilawfirm.com and we have a Facebook page Mazaheri, facebook.com./mazaherilaw. We have a Twitter page under Mazaheri Law Firm. We also have an Instagram page under Mazaheri Law Firm. So if you like us, yes, we’re active marketers. So if you like us, you can follow our posts and see what we’re up to and see how we’re growing.
Davina: Great. Great. Thanks so much. I really appreciate you being here. And it took me a while to get you on the podcast but I’m really glad that I did.
Katherine: Yeah. Yeah. I’m happy we did too.