Ex-prosecutor and leader of rapidly expanding plaintiffs’ mass tort firm talks on overcoming fear, taking risks and making the choice to achieve fast-paced growth for his practice.
Fred Olinde, an ex-prosecutor for the New Orleans District Attorney's office, started and quickly built up a thriving plaintiffs' mass tort practice. Recently, I was able to have a conversation with Fred where he uncovered some of his law firm's secrets to success in the mass tort arena and how he was able to achieve rapid growth despite being new to the field.
Read what he had to say...
When did you establish The Olinde Firm and what motivated you to go out on your own?
The Olinde Firm started in approximately 2013. Before then I was with Reasonover & Olinde. Kirk Reasonover and I went to Tulane Law School together and I saw him after Hurricane Katrina at an AAJ seminar. At that point, all my clients were gone because of the storm, so it was time to do something new.
Kirk is a very good commercial litigator and represented a lot of investors against brokerage firms who had been defrauded or mistreated, so we started doing securities work together. The work was very document intensive, which really did not suit me. Also, I really felt like the securities world and FINRA arbitration was run by the industry, for the industry, and for me that system was not fair to the little guy. I did not want to be in that world. I wanted to be in a world that had a more level playing field. I wanted to forge my own direction. That direction was I wanted to start to focus completely on mass torts and transition into that world.
Did you have any fears when making that decision?
Fear is definitely a part of every major decision you make. Whether it is getting married, going out on your own or going away to college, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew I wanted shape my practice the way I wanted to shape it. I wanted to start setting goals and trying to achieve them. I think I am pretty much on track to do that now.
How did you get involved in mass tort litigation?
Most New Orleans lawyers woke up after hurricane Katrina to find that their clients were gone. So, it was not only a good idea but a necessary one that you had to re-invent practice and consequently yourself. Mass torts is more of a national practice, not dependent upon local tragedies or disasters. I started getting interested in mass torts, started to try a learn a lot about it, and that was the genesis of that—really starting with Hurricane Katrina.
Also, I have been a member of AAJ since the late 1990s or early 2000s, so I certainly heard about mass torts over the years. Being someone who has represented victims my entire career—starting as a prosecutor—I was drawn to helping people who were victims of bad, dangerous pharmaceutical drugs, or other mass torts because I tend to sympathize with victims.
What made you decide to obtain financing?
When you decide to go from doing single-event cases to mass torts, like I began to get into mass torts, you cannot do it without financing.
The good thing about single-event cases is that they normally have a quick turnover (relatively speaking). The bad thing is that you have limited growth because it is one duck swimming across the pond at a time. With mass torts, it is a bee hive flying across the pond at a time. To be able to have that many cases and hold them for a long time—you just cannot do it from the receivables you are able to generate from your practice.
The only way to really grow is to obtain financing and get out there and advertise. Today’s personal injury lawyer, if you are not advertising you are going to be eventually working for someone that is. Advertising costs lots and lots of money, and it works.
So, you have a choice. You can grow based upon your own receivables and play it safe, but the down side of that is your growth opportunities are limited, or you can take risk, embrace the fear, and decide to grow much larger than you are now by getting financing and advertising. That is the choice I made. Counsel Financial enabled me to grow at a much, much faster rate than I normally would have been able to grow and I am excited about it.
Why did you choose to finance with Counsel Financial?
Banks simply are unwilling or unable to recognize the real gems of the practitioner’s practice—the contingent fee receivables that we have. Counsel Financial does, which allows you to continue to grow once you start growing.
I want to continue to grow, and to do so, I need a bank that is willing to see the best part of my practice and that is going to assist me along the way. Counsel Financial is doing that for me and has helped me a great deal. I opened up a new office, I have added couple of new employees, my advertising budget has skyrocketed, and my case intake has skyrocketed.
How do you decide which mass torts to handle?
Damages is generally where we start. In a mass tort you generally have clients with a serious injury, and the more serious the injury is the more compelling the mass tort is. And then, obviously, there is the science, liability and causation end of the alleged tort. Also, because I have tried so many jury cases coming up, I like to see the talking points of the litigation and to know the land mines of the litigation. I extrapolate those to see, in my experience, how would a jury view this case. If I believe a jury would view the case favorably given what I know, then I take that leap of faith and go for it.
Certainly, mass torts is a world of being able to act quickly at times on good information. The longer you wait to act, the more expensive every case becomes. Your entry point is a question of case development, cost and risk. If you don’t have access to financing when you are ready to take on the campaign, you are unable to act. Even if you have good cash flow, acquiring and maintaining cases is very expensive. This is why financing is a necessary part of mass torts.
How do you vet your mass tort cases?
Beth Hagan, a registered nurse with over 30 years of experience is such an important part of our team. When we get leads from television, Beth and I both sit down and we talk to our perspective leads. She has a compassionate disposition. Beth is able to evaluate the medical aspects of the case and is helpful in screening cases.
But also, the people we call are impressed that they are talking to a lawyer and a registered nurse at the same time. They understand we care about their case and that we are genuinely interested in learning about the problems they have. I think that really helps us with case conversion. It also helps with case screening because the last thing you want to do is go down the road with a case that is not a case. It is going to cost you lot of money in terms of financial outlay and resources and it is frustrating to the client.
With just one other attorney and a nurse, how do you manage a mass tort caseload?
The answer is making alliances with other firms. We can only get deeply involved in a couple of mass torts. For example, we are joint venturing Onglyza with a firm out of Los Angeles, The Sanders Firm (Sanders, Phillips & Grossman). Our job is acquire cases, to obtain medical records and to have the medical records reviewed and put in order and to ship it to The Sanders Firm for handling. Tim Clark and Rob Mosier out of Los Angeles are the very best lawyers for that litigation, and so we feel like we are doing our clients a service by joint venturing those cases. We have similar campaigns with Michael Lynch out of Orlando and Joe Peiffer out of New Orleans. Like Tim and Rob, these guys are top notch mass torts lawyers. Of course, we do some campaigns completely in house.
We will also have to add more people as we continue to do more campaigns. We have already added two people in the last six months, and we are going to add more people as we continue to build our practice.
Where do you see your firm five years from now?
I see the firm continuing to grow at the pace it is growing because we have no intention of slowing down. Five years from now, I would hope that we are triple the size that we are today.
What would you say has contributed most to your firm’s success?
First, the good people that work for me. Wesley Barr is a very talented and intelligent lawyer who is nearly solely devoted to mass torts. But also, our support staff is intelligent, hard-working and friendly. I have worked in all kinds of environments where fear is used to keep order. I do not do that. When it comes to managing people, I very much want to hire the kind of person that does not need me to stand over their shoulder and tell them what to do. So we have people who are extremely motivated, talented, enjoy their jobs and like one another.
The second thing would be that not many people are able to do what we do simply because they have great concern about failure. They fear going to a bank, paying high interest rates and growing. In a way, I think it is a survival instinct, but it prevents you from growing. So, you have to lose the fear and decide you are going to take the risk and grow your practice.
Outside of law, what interests do you have?
I live in a small town north of New Orleans, and I am very involved in coaching little league teams. I have a 14-year-old son and a 13-year-old step-son and I have been the coaches of their teams coming up. Also, my daughter is in the gifted program, and I am very proud of her. She is great piano player and I enjoy listening to her play. I just like spending time with all of my children. For myself, I used to be a very competitive tennis player—our team went to state three consecutive years—but I kind of stopped doing that to do more coaching for my kids.
What advice would you give to other attorneys looking to start their own practice?
Well if you do not know what you are doing, then you need to get with someone who does.
You should hook up with someone who is able to feed you cases and educate you, as you are always learning as a lawyer. with the ultimate goal of building a foundation for your own practice. When you achieve that foundation and you are ready to go forward, you need to plan and ask yourself, how can I compete with other firms seeking the same business? The answer is you need capital to advertise to acquire cases and grow from within to handle those cases. You need to be able to hold the line for long periods of time. Even if you have good cash flow, you cannot take advantage of opportunities and grow without an enhancing capital partner like Counsel Financial that understands your business.
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