Client Spotlight: Steven Lefkoff, Lefkoff Law
In our client profile this month, we are pleased to introduce Attorney at Law Steven Lefkoff, of Lefkoff Law, LLC.
Steven has been recognized as a top lawyer in Georgia by his peers, being named a “Super Lawyers Rising Star” by Super Lawyers Magazine and Atlanta Magazine for 2019, 2020, and 2021. Only 2.5% of all lawyers in Georgia are selected as a “Rising Star.” He also has an excellent sense of humor and some terrific advice for fellow business owners, which you will see in our interview below.
Can you tell us a little bit about Lefkoff Law and how you started?
I’ve been practicing law since 2010 here in Georgia. My first job out of law school was with a law firm that did what I call, and I’ve heard really smart people call, “door law,” which is basically if it walks in the door, we did it. That was everything from family law, to criminal defense, business litigation, estates, and tax planning—it ran the gamut. That was a struggle for me right out of law school because they had been practicing for 20-30 years. They had learned all that stuff and I didn’t know any of it. And the law firm community now is not really like the law firms of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, where you just go to the guy in the town and he’s your lawyer or she is the lawyer for whatever. Now, so many lawyers, especially my generation, are specialized. They’re the injury lawyers, the family lawyers, there are the commercial real estate attorneys, but nobody is the guy or girl you just go to. That’s what [the partners I worked for] were.
And the partner I was working under, one of his focuses was in the motor vehicle industry. He had an in with the Georgia Independent Auto Dealers Association here just outside of Atlanta, in Austell. He was able to get a lot of their referral business. So they would have members with issues and they’d refer them to him. And my undergrad degree was in finance, so I enjoyed working on motor vehicles and finance matters.
So I started really drilling down into that niche and doing a lot of work in that niche. And then when I left that firm in 2017 to start my own practice, I was shocked and very fortunate how many of those clients, and new ones, called me up to continue doing that work. It wasn’t something that I promoted that I was leaving, out of respect for the bosses. I just said, “You know what? We’re going to see what happens.” And what happened was they came with me.
So the motor vehicle, small claims, and Fair Business Practices Act practice areas can be quite different, but there’s a synergy between all three because the motor vehicle companies deal with them regularly. And that’s where it really came from. So I started a broad practice representing all of these motor vehicle companies and in representing them there’s a lot of Fair Business Act litigation and a lot of small claims work for $5,000 cases, $8,000 cases, $10,000 cases, that kind of thing.
What got you interested in being a lawyer?
That’s a funny story, too. I wanted nothing to do with it—nothing to do with it. My father is an attorney here in Atlanta. He represents creditors in bankruptcy cases, so he represents banks and credit unions, and other financial institutions when they have members or customers file bankruptcy. It’s a very monotonous, form-driven practice. There’s a lot of filling out forms, negotiating resolutions, and moving on.
And then I was fortunate enough to study abroad in London, England. Towards the end of my study abroad trip, I had exhausted the budget, which is very easy to do there, because everything there is so expensive. And so I had this book—we use the internet now, but back in the day, we had the book that told you all the fun things to do in the foreign cities. And one of the sections was free things. And one of the free things was to go watch a trial at Old Bailey, which is the historic London courthouse that’s hundreds of years old. I was done with all my classes, finished with final exams, had two weeks to mess around, so I decided to go there. I went and sat in the gallery and watched part of a British trial. And I thought, “This is really cool.” I kind of felt the history of the building, the pageantry of it, they’re all wearing robes, it’s nothing like what we do here. But when I was in that moment, I thought, they’re helping people and I think it’s a very honorable profession. It sometimes gets tarnished.
I don’t think everyone feels that way about it, but when I was sitting in that building, in that very, very old courthouse, watching those proceedings, that’s when I said ok, I want to do this.
That’s really interesting. Have you ever written a blog post about that? That would be a really interesting story.
I haven’t. I should do that. I’m going to write that down. I’ve told the story a bunch of times, but I’ve never written it down and posted it.
What is it that you love about what you do?
I particularly love helping business owners. I come at it from two angles. I’m either the fixer when something’s gone wrong or I’m the preventer before it does. Both of them have their pros and cons. I enjoy both, I really do. The preventer is a little bit of a harder hat to wear because it’s a little more difficult to convince clients, “Hey, you should do things this way. It may be more expensive, it might be more of a pain to get these documents signed when you sell a car, but trust me it’s going to pay off in the long run.” That’s a hard sell. The easier sell is, “Oh, wow, you’ve been sued for $2 million. You need to pay me to help you fix that.”
I don’t represent the injured person. I represent the injured business. If you drive down any road in America, you will see businesses lining the road, outside of your neighborhoods. So if you think about all of these businesses, what happens if they’re not in business. Think of all the employees that don’t have jobs, think of the business owners and what they’re doing, think of the customers…
You want to hear something funny? When I tell people I’m a lawyer that represents car dealers, they think, “Oh my gosh, can it get lower?” Right? Talk about the bottom rung of the totem pole! But the people that are buying those cars thank God that they now own a car, that they can get to work, and that they can get to their kids’ school. They can go buy groceries. They can do all of these things. So what do I love the most about my work? I love working with the people that help keep our state, especially, moving. I love that.
you were named “Super Lawyers Rising Star” by Super Lawyers Magazine and Atlanta Magazine for 2019, 2020, and 2021. Only 2.5% of all lawyers in Georgia are selected as a “Rising Star.”
That was an honor. This one is voted on by your peers so it actually is a sign of recognition that I take seriously.
What do you find challenging about what you do?
Steven: Sometimes clients need a lawyer, but don’t have the resources for a lawyer. That’s something that bothers me. It’s part of the reason I started my firm. It’s also the reason I started Gavel, which is an online course to teach people how to do their own small claims cases.
This is a funny story—I was sitting for a car dealer client in small claims court, and that day there may have been 30 cases on the list and we had to wait for our turn. So I’m sitting there watching a case before mine and the plaintiff who is suing the defendant for $6,000—she loaned the defendant $6,000, never got paid back (it was a neighbor or a family friend) and sued her. She started screaming at the defendant. The judge said, “Ma’am you need to keep your cool in my courtroom.” And she started screaming at the judge. She was going off about how this money was her kid’s college money and that he didn’t go to college because of it and since he didn’t go to college, he wasn’t able to get the job he wanted, all because of this. She spent an hour and a half on her case when she told the judge it would take five minutes.
At the end of it all, the judge ruled against her. It was the wrong ruling. I’ll be totally honest with you. I’m sitting there watching in disbelief that she lost that case. But it was because the judge was so irate—I believe this was the reason—I don’t think he could see himself rewarding her, given her behavior in the courtroom.
And I thought, “This is not right. This is not how it should be.” I went to law school, I got on-the-job training for years. I’m used to the way it works. But people walking into the People’s Court that have never been and may never go again, with a case too small to hire an attorney, have a real problem.
So one of my challenges—I brought it upon myself and I’m trying to solve it—is how do we help those people, how do we help the people that have the smaller cases. I have clients like that. Lots of folks have $2,000 cases, or $3,000 cases. You could pay an attorney but I don’t think it makes economic sense to do so. For those cases, you are going to end up paying an attorney more than the case is worth and then what do you have to show for it? You have a red number at the bottom line, and no one wants that.
What advice would you give other small business owners?
There are two rules I live by. One was given to me and one is just my mentality. The one that’s mine is smile. Period, one word. That’s it. Just smile. It’s something I’ve made my kids do in the past. Sometimes kids, they’re like bottle rockets. You light them every morning and you don’t know which way they’re going to fly. There was one morning, my son was four or five years old, and he came downstairs before preschool and he was in one of those moods where you just can’t deal with it. He was dressed, he had his shoes on, the whole nine yards. I told him to go back upstairs, and get in his bed and start over, clothed. So he climbed in his bed with his clothes on. I said, “Do not come down here until you’ve stopped crying and you’re ready to start over, because we start days with a smile. That’s how we start.” Because if you start it with a smile, sure it can only go bad from there, but if you don’t, the alternative is worse. And people like to talk to people who are smiling. You don’t like to talk to people who are upset and we’re all in business to meet people, to grow the business, to make money. You can’t do any of that if people don’t like you. So, smile is number one.
Number two is something someone told me when I was talking to Tyson Mutrux, a mentor of mine. I was telling him about Gavel before I had made it, it was an idea in my head. And he said “Why haven’t you done it yet? I said, “I don’t even know where to start, there’s a lot to do….” All of these excuses—the same reason people don’t hire a virtual assistant when they should, they don’t hire other people when they should and they don’t pay that vendor, and do that thing, because you have “analysis paralysis.”
He said to me, ”Steven, just push the button.” I said, “What?” He said, “Just push the button. Make an announcement on Facebook Live, because then you have to do it. How can you do that, and then not follow through. Just push the button.”
So it’s smile and push the button. Those are my two things. And the button is a metaphor for whatever it is that you’re trying to do, or know you need to do or should do. It’s the Nike slogan, right? Push the button is the 21st century’s, “Just do it.”
How is working with VaVa?
The best! I really mean that. Lauren and Melanie are wonderful people. I have a very top-down mentality of how good businesses operate and if the people at the top are good people, then that permeates through the whole business. They’re great. I went from being incredibly hesitant to hire anybody, to referring them four, five or six clients, because of how great the business is, the people in the business are, and how incredibly helpful they are and have been for me.
I will continue referring business to them and I will continue using them. I’ve only used the same Virtual Assistant since I started, but as I grow, I can see myself going into some of the specialties, into the marketing stuff and into the ads. They run the gamut. Not only that, they know what they’re doing, too.
I could tell from my very first call with my Account Manager (Bre), she knew how they could help me. And for me, that was the hardest part. I’m not somebody who’s going to sit down and write down everything I do for two weeks so I can figure out what somebody else could do for me. I’m not doing that, just not going to do it. And so part of my hesitation was I didn’t know what they could do for me. I knew it was a good idea. People had told me “You need help.” But I didn’t have that list. And talking with Bre for an hour, she had already figured out every single thing. She does this for a living—I’m not VaVa’s only client. She said, “Oh, yeah, we can find somebody who can do this, who can do this, who can do this…”
And I said, “OK, why don’t we start with 20 hours a month,” some really low number, to be on the conservative side. In two weeks I was up to 50 hours a month. That’s how fast I went from “I don’t know how I’m going to use this person” to “I need more VA time, now.”
Also, there are obviously VAs across the world. And you can get a VA across the ocean for pennies on the dollar, for very, very cheap. I did not want that. I didn’t want it for a lot of reasons. Number one, I had a trust issue, personally. I wanted somebody and a service that were both U.S.-based. Because as a lawyer, I have to worry about things like client confidentiality. I have to worry about protecting certain things that other businesses may not—if you’re a vending machine salesman, you don’t really have to worry about a lot of the things that a lawyer has to worry about.
So for me that was more important. I mean, flat out, it’s more expensive. There’s no doubt about it. Nobody would argue that. The VaVa folks will tell you it costs more to have American people.
But they’re also more accountable, the time zones are better, the communication is easier and the company oversight is so much better, the structure is better. If I have an issue or if I need something, I know who to go to and I know how to make it happen. Having my VA close by—I like knowing that these are people that are in my community and that they have a commonality with me.
I am incredibly grateful and thankful that I kind of fell into the VaVa lap, or that VaVa fell into my lap. It’s not only been incredibly helpful for my firm and me professionally, but I appreciate the support they’ve given my firm, and the flip side of that is that I appreciate supporting them. I represent a lot of businesses, that’s what I do. Eighty percent of my clients are businesses and having that partnership in business is critically important. I think it’s very important and I don’t think it’s to be taken for granted. And so anybody who’s looking for a partnership, VaVa Virtual Assistants makes a great partner.
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