Smokeball Blog, January 2011

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I have been running Kalde & Associates for the past 10 years. Before that I worked in some large, small and medium law firms and a large private company. In Kalde & Associates we focus on commercial law, which really means we do everything that our business owner clients need us to do (within reason). I have been writing for Smokeball since 2009. Outside law I have very diverse interests including psychology, bushwalking, cycling, running, snooker, boxing and travel.  Last year I travelled to Holland and Switzerland, arriving back home in early December just as the first snow began falling and Europe started freezing over.

What is your legal background?
Immediately before Kalde & Associates I was working in my dream job. I was employed by a company that had a pre-paid legal advice product. I worked from home a lot. My job was to advise the company’s members over the phone. That’s it. Phone advice only. No letters, no documents. I had lots of free time during the day. I also had the support of head office and a call center, so all I had to do was call clients back.  At the time I was living in Avalon on the Northern beaches so I surfed a lot. The company that employed me eventually went bust. Their business model did not work as well in Australia as it had done in America.  I was heartbroken. The guys who employed me also had a finance company and were kind enough to give me their debt recovery work. ‘Kalde & Associates’ was born from the ashes of my dream job. I’ve been doing ‘real’ legal work again ever since, but I’m not complaining. Before my dream job I had a few regular positions in law firms. Big, small and medium sized firms.

Why did you decide to write for Smokeball?
I was having a very quiet day in the office. A quiet month actually.  It was the start of the GFC before the term ‘GFC’ was invented. I was despondently reading the Law Society Journal and came across the Smokeball ad looking for authors. I had been dreaming of becoming an author for several years already, so I decided to give them a call. The rest as they say, is history.

When you aren’t writing for Smokeball what do you do?
Most of the time I am practising commercial law at Kalde & Associates. Talking to clients, drafting documents. The usual lawyer stuff. When I’m not working I am often reading a book related to psychology, business or marketing. Preferably all three. I also like to be physically active with yoga, tennis, running, bushwalks, cycling and snooker.

You are a commercial lawyer, author, seminar presenter and business owner, what drives you each day to continue for excellence?
Like most people I have bills to pay. If you are not trying to be excellent at what you do, your days in that particular field or occupation are numbered. I also set regular goals for myself that motivate me to get out of bed in the morning. It’s important to plan for a compelling future. That’s what gets me going. It’s something I aim for. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth giving your best shot.

You have a degree in economics with a psychology major, why did you choose to study these fields? 
I have always been fascinated by people who achieve massive success in business. Why do some people become leaders of large successful companies and accumulate huge wealth while many just get by? How do they do it? What makes them different? These questions have always fascinated me and continue to do so. I now have the privilege of having some of these successful entrepreneurs as clients. ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’.

Has the psychology major benefitted you in the legal profession?
Undoubtedly, yes. Being aware of how the human mind can operate helps in understanding human behaviour. The human mind is highly emotional and everyone is affected by this. It means our decisions, motivations and behaviours often have nothing to do with reason. Yet we often use reason to justify our actions. It helps to understand if your client or another solicitor is acting out of fear, is panicking or has some other emotional issue in play. Not for the sake of manipulating the other person but to understand their point of view, and why they are doing things and saying things the way that they are.

You are a member of the International Coaching Federation. How did you become involved in this?
I completed a Certificate in Transformational Coaching last year. Just for fun.  Coaching is a branch of psychology. The newest branch that focuses more on enhancing people’s strengths rather than treating dysfunction. I had been hearing a lot from my clients about ‘business coaches’. A few of my clients had them, and I noticed that they were highly esteemed by my clients and well paid. I ended up enrolling in a course to become a qualified coach. There is actually no specific qualification or licence you need to call yourself a ‘coach’ whether that be a business coach or otherwise. There are a number of professional bodies too. As a profession it is in its infancy, particularly in Australia. The International Coach Federation (ICF) in my view is the most evolved, most respected and best organised of the peak bodies. I joined the ICF for the same sorts of reasons we lawyers join the Law Society. They support the coaching profession with education, networking and lobbying. I am first and foremost a commercial lawyer. Business coaching is something extra I offer my clients.

What does it entail?
The ICF provides education in the form of seminars in exactly the same way that lawyers do Continuing Legal Education (CLE). They also hold networking functions in which members of the coaching industry get together and swap stories, tips and expertise. Members are kept informed of developments in the psychology and practice of coaching. Much of it feeds my thirst for knowledge psychology.

‘Choosing the Right Lawyer,’ is an eBook which you have written and offer for free, how did the idea for the book come about? 
I used to get a lot of calls from people asking ‘how much do you charge’. I found myself explaining over and over that shopping for the cheapest lawyer is a dumb strategy. I wrote the book to inform people about some other things to consider in hiring a lawyer to get them away from thinking about price alone.

This is the first in a series of eBooks, what else do you have to come?
I would like to write something useful about how the lawyer and client relationship works. I find lots of new clients are completely ignorant of how to get the most out of their lawyer once they have hired them. Lawyers can also find the relationship challenging to manage from the other end. I have had a few insights over the years and would like to share them with the public and the profession.

You have had experience in large, medium and small law firms, how different were these working experiences? 
The differences are enormous. In a large firm you get to sit in an office all day and are given lots of work to do. Everything else is done for you. There are also more people within the firm to go to for advice and socialise with.  When I worked in a large firm we even had someone who would fetch lunch. In a small firm you have to do more things for yourself. Sometimes when the printer runs out of toner you have to run across the road to the stationery shop and buy more. You get to meet clients and talk to them directly, go to court and even get your own lunch.

What does it take to establish your own legal practice? 
Nerves of steel! It can be a scary business. There is lots of responsibility and the stakes are high for everyone. If you can get over the fear of what might go wrong, the rest is just about doing the work and being careful.

What sets you apart from other lawyers in your field? 
From what my clients tell me I am approachable and explain things in plain English. I will often hand a client a detailed letter of advice they can read at their leisure and give them the ‘abridged’ version over the phone or in conversation. They usually tell me they appreciate me saving their time like that.

When you started out as a commercial lawyer, what made you want to delve into other things such as becoming an author and seminar presenter? 
One thing led to another. I had been secretly nursing an ambition to become a writer for some time. Becoming a Smokeball author was a way to use what I already knew in a different way. Presenting seminars followed on from that. Once I became an author, I was invited to present seminars. Also, the thought of presenting CLE seminars to my fellow lawyers scared the hell out of me. I saw that as a personal challenge and dared myself to do it.  After the first one, they became easier.

Was there a time in your career when you were ready to give up, and why?
Lots and lots of times. The work can be hard. Clients can be troublesome. When all this hits you at once, when you are having a really bad day, it can make you feel like giving up.

If you could invite anyone to dinner, who would they be?
If I could invite anyone at all, living or dead it would be late Hunter S Thompson, gonzo journalist and author of one of my favourite books ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. He seemed to be a truly troublesome character and much loved by many people. He was also a talented writer who lived an intense, chaotic and turbulent life. Dinner would be at a country house so we could indulge Hunter’s love of guns with some clay pigeon shooting on the lawn with cocktails.

What is an interesting fact or story about yourself that those in your profession don’t know?
Before I was a lawyer I worked as a bar tender in a Wild West themed theatre restaurant. As a child I always wanted to be a cowboy, so it was like fulfilling a dream. I worked there while I was at University.

Also, I can speak Latvian. My parents and grandparents all came from Latvia. I was left in the care of my grandparents a lot and so learned Lativan as my first language. My parents hired an Australian babysitter so I would learn to speak English prior to going to school. The strategy backfired and I ended up teaching her as much Latvian as she taught me English! Once I started attending kindergarten I picked up English pretty quickly.

For our readers who are currently in the legal profession, and looking to advance their career like you have, what should they do?
Take the next step before you think you are ready. The time will never be perfect. If you are asked to go to court, draft a big legal document, attend a board meeting, present a CLE, or something else that scares you, do it. If you want to run your own legal practice or go to the Bar, give it a shot. You will never know you can do it until you try.

Of all your achievements what is your proudest moment?
Attending the Annual Smokeball Authors dinner for the first time in 2009. Until then I hadn’t given much thought to my career and how it had progressed. I had just been busy earning a living.  Being treated to dinner in one of Sydney’s finest restaurants, looking around at all the brilliant people at our table that night made me stop and think. It made me proud to be among them and also made me feel pretty humble as well. I am very thankful to all those lawyers who have bought my products and to Smokeball for promoting me. Seeing my picture in the Law Society Journal last year was pretty cool too.

Looking into the future, what is your ultimate goal?
To further my career as an author, spend more time writing on more diverse topics and more time travelling to top up my inspiration. To write about my experiences in legal practice and things I have learned from acting for entrepreneurs. There are some very interesting characters among the clients whom I have acted for.

Do you have anything in the works at the moment?
I have five new suites of documents in the pipeline for Smokeball. I am also adding to and improving the Commercial Leasing Practice Manual (NSW) all the time. It has just undergone a major structural overhaul and the new edition looks great.

Eric Kalde is also the author of Smokeball’s Commercial Leases Practice Manual.

Link to the article on Smokeball here