Behind the Scenes with Ken Levey
Ken, who or what inspired you to become an attorney?
“I was in 8th grade – it was career day. One of the presenters was an attorney in a 3-piece suit. I got into an argument with him about how he could defend people who committed crimes. During this argument, something clicked deep inside me. There was something about being an attorney that appealed to me.”
Now walk me through, step-by-step, the process you went through to get to where you are today.
“When I got out of law school I thought for about a year what I wanted to do. Did I want to work for a firm? For the government? It took about a year for me to ultimately decide I work best being my own boss. I’m pretty stubborn about how I want certain things and felt I’d be happiest and my successful if I basically hung up my own shingle. I read books, spoke to colleagues, had a mentor or two, and started to advertise for my services. I did contract work for the local department of assigned counsel representing parents who had their children taken away from them by the government. Then, I started to do a lot of court room stuff and began getting my first few clients from the newspaper ad.
I moved three times and added staff since beginning practice 28 years ago. Over time I dwindled my practice down to family law because that was what I was passionate about. Each step of the way I’ve made decisions. Some have worked out, some haven’t. I just had to keep making decisions and take some risk. I’ve gotten advice from many people, including consultants and coaches. They don’t teach you the business side of law at law school. I’ve learned by trial and error – no pun intended.”
How do you structure your days?
“My typical weekday – I get up early and exercise because I need to get my mind as clear as possible. Coffee for sure is a must. I’ll check my laptop at home to see what I’ve got going on for the day. I’ll eat a good breakfast, get to work and just start at it.
I’m very focused, at the moment, on being the role of an attorney. I’m a business owner, I manage a business. But right now I’m very focused on representing my clients and putting a lot of time in doing that. So, I will look at my client list and prioritize what I need to work on that day. I’ll have a brief meeting with my receptionist. I’ll have a check-in call with my virtual paralegals. Then I’ll move on to my own work with my client cases.
My day is structured so that I work on client cases most of the day. I try to put meetings and phone calls into the afternoon because I like to preserve the morning for my own production work. For example reviewing materials or drafting. I’m super fresh in the morning so I like to preserve that for myself as best I can. I’ll put management and administration at the end of the day.”
What is your best advice for handling criticism?
“It may first depend who’s delivering the criticism! If it’s a client, I’ll say ‘thank you for the feedback.’ I can always improve on what I’m doing. Even if I don’t think the criticism is warranted, I thank them. They’re probably a little uncomfortable being straight with me and I want to respect them for that. And often times I think that’s actually not a bad thought.
You have to have a thick skin to be an attorney at this level because you are just going to get, at times, criticism. Clients are going to get upset with you. Opposing counsel is going to get upset with you. It’s the nature of the business. You have to handle it with a plum.
The best advice I was ever given on how to handle this is that if I get criticism of any sort, in any manner, I should listen respectfully and provide feedback in the same tone and manner as though I am talking to someone who is asking for directions on the side of the street.”
Let’s say you’re walking down the street and a kid comes up to you and asks your advice about life. You only have a few minutes to give them your best tip. What would it be?
“Do what makes you happy in life as long as it doesn’t bring harm to other people or the planet. Abide by the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be your highest self as often as you can possibly muster.”
What surprising lessons have you learned along your journey?
“Simply being really good at something in and of itself will not bring you fame, fortune or happiness. I need to have a good attitude about what I do and treat very well those people who are helping and supporting me in what I do for a living.
I’ve learned that I do not need to do it all and have control over everything. In fact, when I start giving up control a lot of good things happen.
Just because I think I do outstanding work for a client doesn’t mean the client feels the same.”
How do you balance work and family life?
“It’s not always easy in my industry. I think it’s more difficult because I have to work harder at. I can work extremely long hours – it’s the nature of the beast. In my profession, I deal with a lot of negative emotions from my clients due to their situations. It takes a little bit of a toll. I have to be careful to leave that at the office.
I’m separated from my wife and going through my own divorce. When we were together, I would come home and I was a husband and father. I left the attorney part of me at the office. That wasn’t always easy because I do things at the office that can stay with me.
I really have to have mental discipline and carve out time with my daughter now to make sure I have plans to do things with her. I make an effort to think of things I want to do with her to expose her to the world.
This is a very difficult part of the practice. I really have to be disciplined in how I’m organizing my life. If I know I have a 10-hour day coming up, and I have my daughter that night, I know I need to get up earlier than usual so I can get my work done and still have quality time with her.”
What do you want your legacy to be?
“I want to have touched, in a good way, thousands of lives. Not just hundreds, but thousands. I really would like to have benefited millions of people. Why not make the world a better place? So really, I would like my legacy to be ‘he helped millions of people.'”
Alright Ken, what’s next for you?
“Maybe another cup of coffee, potentially! I’ve been doing this for 28 years. Over the last couple months of last year I significantly reorganized and restructured my firm. I’m poised now to build a firm that firmly embodies my vision of what I want to do with the world and divorce law. This includes the type of people I want working with and for me, the vibe & feel I want in my office. So that’s what’s next. It’s taking a lot of energy and a lot of time. I’ve made this a very singular focus for this year. I’m in a flow right now. It’s really nice.”
What is one thing you want our readers to take away from this?
“You must love what you do almost 100% of the time. If you’re close to that, great. Do what you need to do to get it to 100%. If you don’t wake up excited and can’t wait to get to the office, you need to find something else to do to have that passion. Life is too short not to have that in a career. You sell yourself short when you don’t have that.”
- Name: Ken Levey
- Title: Owner & Attorney
- Employer: The Levey Law Group