Check out links to the podcast and a transcript for Episode 1 of the Evidently Legal podcast with Joe Kramer.
In our first episode of Evidently Legal, we speak with Joe Kramer of Kramer Injury Law LLC.
Listen in as we chat about Joe’s love of personal injury law, his journey to launching his own firm, and how he brings an entrepreneurial mindset to running his law practice.
If you’re running your own firm, or thinking about launching one, you can’t miss this episode!!
Full episode available for download at the following links:
Brian Fitzpatrick, CEO of evident: Alright, Joe. Welcome to the Evidently Legal Podcast. We are thrilled to have you on today.
Joe Kramer, Founding Attorney: Yeah, thanks very much for having me on. I'm really looking forward to this conversation as well.
Brian: Great. So, you know what I thought we'd do is we'll start with a little bit of your background and hear about your practice and the types of clients you work with, the impact your work has on their lives. And then we'll talk a little bit about sort of you as the business owner, the firm owner. You know, what made you make the leap and how you did it and how you're currently running things today.
So why don't we maybe start with you telling folks a little bit about who you are, where you've worked, and the type of work you do.
Joe: Okay. Well, as Brian just said, my name is Joe Kramer. I'm a personal injury attorney based in Chicago. Because of what I've done in my career I'm very comfortable litigating in virtually any jurisdiction in the United States. I know how to coordinate with local counsel and I'm extremely comfortable doing that.
So I'm based in Chicago, but I take cases everywhere. My firm is four years old, so I don't have cases in all 50 states yet. But you have to start somewhere. And so I'll get a little bit more into my background now. I started my career working for a plaintiff's mega-firm in Manhattan, had offices all over the nation.
Firm's name was Napoli Bern Ripka Shkolnik, LLP. I think we had about 90 lawyers. And you know, for people on the defense side, they scoff at a 90 lawyer firm because they have 2,500, you know. But on the plaintiff's side, that's a behemoth. And, we were in really, really big litigation.
I got very lucky. Mark Bern brought me on. And he, Hunter Shkolnik and myself litigated Actos together. I was the discovery guy and you know, I was very good at that. And we were, we ended up being selected as trial counsel on a case. So I got to be part of a trial team in billion-dollar at stake litigation.
That firm actually made some headlines in the New York Post because the owners of that firm, they don't do anything small, including breaking up. And it sort of became clear that it was probably a good idea to find another place to work. And, the state lead counsel for the Actos litigation, Tor Hoerman. I quit my job and not having any idea of where to go, but, he was my first call and he said, ‘Uhh, yeah! We would love to have you aboard. So I went over to Tor’s firm. His firm is TorHoerman Law. National firm, really hardworking boutique, mass tort lead litigation firm.
I mean, they lead litigations. All of the attorneys there are extremely bright, really, really hard working guys. And I was there for two years eight months, got to try a case with Jake Plattenberger there out in California. And then after two years eight months there, my previous boss, Mark Bern called me up and said, ‘Hey, you know, there was this Supreme Court ruling. I have a new firm.’
That Supreme Court ruling, that was Tyrrell, essentially required him to go a little bit more regional than he was. And he said, ‘I need a Chicago office. I wanna bring you on as a partner. What, what do you say about, you know, coming back over here?’
And I called up Tor. Tor said, ‘That's great you know, Great. Good for you. That's a really good opportunity.’
Joe: And so, you know, he said, ‘No bad blood here.’ I jumped over and helped Mark open his Chicago office. And I mean, that was a really fun experience, especially as somebody that always wanted to have his own law firm.
I got to start a firm, you know, basically. It was like a mini portion of the firm. We opened the office here, hired some staff and an attorney and built out a railroad cancer litigation. And then I was asked to chair the firm's opioid litigation. So you know, I drafted our complaints and, and multiple states – I think we had municipal and county clients against the distributors and marketers of distributors, manufacturers of opioid narcotics in Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina. We had a real huge presence there. And so the directive was we wanna keep these in state court.
And so you know, I crafted a complaint that kept cases in state court which is the plaintiff's choice if they wanna strategize that way. And about a year in, despite the fact that, I was really having a good time doing all of that stuff. A former client of mine called me up, and said, ‘Hey, I send a bunch of estate planning work to an attorney who's 67 and just retired.’ He said, ‘Do you have any interest in taking that work?’
I had helped him and his wife get nearly a million dollars in a TBM case, and he said, ‘I know you'll do a good job and I need somebody that's gonna take care of my clients.’ And I thought about it. I sat down with my family and I said, ‘You know what, I really wanna do this, but I need everybody's buy-in.’ You know?
Brian: Yeah, that’s a big move.
Joe: And, and, yeah. Yeah. And, and you know, it was a very supportive conversation. And then I put in my notice. And I kind of felt bad about that. And Mark Bern actually called me and I was sort of like afraid that he was gonna be really angry. Because he gave me a great opportunity.
Joe: And what ended up happening is that I don't think anybody could have understood more than him. And he told me, he said, ‘You know, whenever I was working at the top injury firm in Milwaukee, I decided that I was gonna pack a bag, go to Manhattan and start my own firm. And everybody thought I was insane.’
He said, ‘Well, you know, with the benefit of hindsight, I think it was a pretty good idea for me.’ He's like, ‘So, I totally get it, Joe. You know, if anybody can do it, you can, and good luck. We'll miss you here, but I'm rooting for you.’ And so that's, that's my background. Now I have my own firm. I'm four years into it and loving it. I really love it.
Brian: Yeah, it's an amazing sort of journey to hear. You know, and I think the one thing that struck me hearing you talk about your journey is that, you know, the relationships you've made over time throughout your journey as a lawyer seem to kind of continue to propel you to different and interesting opportunities. You know, was that sort of a conscious thing on your part to develop relationships early on in your career? Or did that just happen organically for you?
Joe: It just happens organically and I think that anybody that's an attorney, especially a litigator that's done time in the trenches with other people, especially during trial, you know. We weren't trying stopped-rear-enders, you know, we weren't trying simple breach of contract cases.
We were like in the Mariana Trench of the deep end of litigation, complex injury litigation. And so these are five week trials. We're talking about incredibly complex fact scenarios involving 20 years of communication within an organization with multiple departments in a global presence. And our expert witnesses are epidemiologists, pharmacologists, you name it. We went really, really deep into heavy scientific issues.
And so you know, five weeks of pining over every tiny little detail and litigation like that. And, and you can't hide who you are. You know, you're, you're, so you forge relationships naturally. It's just the way that it works. And so that's the long answer. The short answer is it just occurred naturally.
Brian: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I've certainly found the same in, in some of those high intense periods in working on a case where, you know, you develop obviously relationships with your own team, but also relationships with folks on the other side of the aisle, right? It's sort of a sense of respect. You all know what you're going through at the same time.
You all know the long hours and the hard work that you're putting in. And, you know, it's always been amazing to me how those relationships can kind of continue on into the future long after you finish that litigation as well.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah. When you say that, you know, there is a specific attorney that comes to mind. Her name is Sherry Knutson, and I gotta hand it to her. I mean, she kicked our butt and in the Actos trial and she was spot on. And if I saw Sherry anywhere, it would be exactly what you said. ‘Oh, hey, how are you doing? How is everything? How's your practice? How's life?’
Joe: You know, you just spent a lot of time in a courtroom with somebody, and we have clients to represent. We are sworn enemies, but you get to know a person. It's just part of it.
Brian: Yeah. No, it's exactly right. I'd love to talk about sort of jumping into your own firm and the types of clients that you deal with. So you were doing PI, big Complex PI cases, and then it sounds to me like you jumped into a new firm starting with estate planning work.
Brian: And then I guess gravitating now back towards personal injury. Tell me about some of the clients and your firm when you first started, the types of clients you did work for and what that looks like now for you.
Joe: So, yeah, when I started my firm, when you start a personal injury firm, unless you have a huge reservoir of cash or the ability to get a line of credit, which is a lot more risk than I was willing to take at, at the start. If you're lucky enough to get your phone ringing on day one, you're probably not gonna see a penny for, for 10 months if things go ideally.
And so the hard part about starting an injury firm is that you need some way to make that gap bridgeable, right? And when, when my former client called me up and he said, ‘I need somebody to help me with estate planning.’ I told him, I said, ‘I am interested, but I'm not gonna do this forever.’
And you know, I did some research on estate planning and what it would be like to be a quick study in that practice area. And I'll be honest I really, really, really did a lot of work to figure out the basics of estate planning. And then there were colleagues and a particular group that I am in, it's called IAIA – Illinois Association of Independent Attorneys.
And there were a few of the estate planning attorneys in that group that really helped me through that initial period. But those clients, I helped maybe six or seven of them before injury cases started resolving. And I had a cushion of cash that I brought into the firm with me and so I was able to make it through that 10 month period.
And then at the end of that 10 month period, the plan was always to transition that work to someone else. And I didn't wanna leave the former client completely stranded. And so the attorney that helped me mostly learn the estate planning area and would take my calls when I had a problem I couldn't solve-
Joe: -she got the business. And, and so you know, they have a very good relationship now and she gets a lot of business from him. And so that's how I started...