Samer Habbas runs his own law firm specializing in all sorts of personal injury cases. He opened his firm fresh out of law school and in the 17 years since it has grown to have more than 55 employees across several offices throughout California. Samer fights for his clients with a passion and is known for never backing down. In this interview he details some of the challenges of running a law firm, which includes not just handling different types of clients and their expectations, but also managing a staff of almost 60 people. Tune into this interview to learn about Samer’s unique definition of success and why it’s so important to give back to the community.
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Ambitious to strike a path of his own, founder Samer Habbas formed The Law Offices of Samer Habbas in 2006, a full service personal injury law firm, on the mantra that the client always comes first; “Our client’s satisfaction is our success,” he says.
Samer and his team work on a variety of personal injury cases from car accidents, medical malpractice, slip and falls, dog bites, elder abuse and more. His office is well known among insurance carriers for not backing down and always fighting to get his clients the best settlement possible.
Samer has earned several awards that reflect his hard work in the field. Due to his aggressive approach, he has resolved numerous cases for seven figures. He recently secured an $11,000,000.00 settlement for a truck accident that left his client with catastrophic injuries. In addition, Samer secured a settlement for $3,450,000.00 for a motorcyclist struck by a motorist.
Outside the office, Samer is a contributing
and involved member of the community. He
is a regular supporter of several non-profit organizations such as the Children’s Hospital of Orange County and Best Buddies.
Please subscribe and listen. Then tell us who you want to hear and what areas of interest you’d like us to cover.
Music: Joel Katz, Seaside Recording, Maui
Tech: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
Audiograms: Paul Roberts
Attorney at Law
Louis Goodman / Samer Habbas - Transcript
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer where we talk to attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today, we welcome Samer Habbas to the podcast. Samer and his team work on a variety of personal injury cases, car accidents, medical malpractice, dog bites and elder abuse to name a few. He's known for not backing down and always fighting for his clients. He recently secured an $11 million settlement for a motor vehicle accident. Samer is an involved contributing member of his community, supporting nonprofits such as Children's Hospital and Best Buddies. Samer Habbas, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Where are you talking to us from right now?
So I'm presently at our headquarter office in Irvine, California.
And can you briefly tell us what kind of practice you have?
So I'm a personal injury attorney who practices in, as you have mentioned, in auto accidents, dog bites, slip and fall premises cases, we also do medical malpractice cases and elder abuse cases. So there's a variety of different professional negligence cases that our office handles as well.
How long you've been doing that sort of work?
I've been an attorney almost 17 years. In July, it'll be 17.
And how long have you had your own practice?
So I've had actually had my own practice immediately coming out of law school, I took an ambitious step of opening my own firm as soon as I was licensed. So that would take us back to July of 2006.
Where are you from originally?
Born in Santa Monica, California.
So that’s where you went to high school?
I grew up in Corona, California, I graduated from Santiago High School, Class of 1998, which was the actual first graduating class of that school.
When you graduated from high school, where'd you go to college?
I actually went to undergrad at UC Irvine as an undergraduate student. And I began actually, as a bio-science major, did not plan on becoming a lawyer when I first started undergrad.
Well, at some point, you decided, obviously, that you're going to be a lawyer. So what was it that prompted you to be a lawyer? And when did you first decide to go to law school?
A few different things. So when I first started an undergrad, I actually took some of my elective courses in political science. A couple of those courses had law emphasis in them, and I found the topics to be enjoyable for at that time period, I began taking additional courses in poli-sci and law courses. And I did begin working at this law office that actually specialized in personal injury. And I found that to be a very interesting job. And it really, at that moment, I just knew that something that I wanted to do in the future. So then I started gearing up for LSATs and somehow found the law school and the rest is history.
So did you take any time off between college and law school to go directly from college to law school?
I went directly to law school, I believe I started law school when I was 21 years old.
Where did you go?
I went to Whittier law school in Costa Mesa at the time.
When you graduated from law school, you said that you immediately opened your own practice. So obviously, you kind of really were pretty focused on what sort of work you wanted to do while you were in school.
I knew I want to do personal injury. And I knew that my long term goal is to open my own law firm, I found and even as a lawyer 17 years out now, one of the hardest things of being an attorney, running your own practices actually is being able to get the clientele through the doors, ended up being the right decision, because it did give me the opportunity to obtain clientele, get good results for those clients, who would then return to me with return business and help branch the office to where it is now.
So how do you get clients?
So we get clients in a variety of ways. I mean, the first way we get our clients, we get a lot of return clients. I currently have 10 lawyers that work with me, including myself, and one of the things that I stress to my attorneys is that the client always comes first. If you have that mentality, you will always see your clients will return to you and clients see that. So they come back and they refer our clientele. We also market ourselves online. We do a variety of SEO and Google advertising and word of mouth. People in the network. We refer our business and that's where most of it comes from.
If a young person were just coming out of school, would you recommend the law as a profession?
I would for those that want to be an attorney. I tell everybody that does not want to be an attorney and even my little kid, my little kid who's seven, I'm already training her the thought process that don't do anything that you don't have your heart set up for. You got to do you, but if it's something thing that you want to go into to say, Hey, I'm an attorney, or you're going to treat it non seriously, and just go through the motions and just do the bare minimum it's definitely not the job for and absolutely would not recommend being a litigating attorney with that mentality, you'll get ran over like a Mack truck.
How has actually practicing law met are different from your expectations about it?
The one thing that I may have underestimated is the manageability of the client. So I get clients with different personalities and different expectations, they just don't teach you that in law school. They teach you black-and-white law, what they don't tell you is that when you're an attorney, you're always going to be serving a client, no matter what practice of law that you're in, you're serving a client, and that client, depending on who it is, has an expectation level, some expectations are extremely high. And beyond what's reasonable, other people's expectations may be easily managed. I didn't expect that when I was first going into law school, they just don't teach you that. Being a business owner is completely not taught in law school, I did not expect to manage a staff that's up to 55 people now, to manage their personalities, being in the courtroom, and being a litigating attorney and having the other side, be adversarial against you. I expected that part. I didn't expect the whole people management, it was more like, Hey, we're going to get this case, and we're going to win it. But there's a lot more to it than just analyzing law.
What about the business of practicing law? I mean, you've obviously grown a very successful, moderately large law firm. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Absolutely. So, just give you a little background. I mean, we started as a two-person shop me, and it's actually my sister. And we grew the firm to what's now 55 employees. And there's a lot of challenges that come with that. I mean, growing the firm and scaling it up, and making sure you have the structure to scale up is important. I mean, we went from just three, four years ago, probably triple the staff amount, I may approach employee A in one fashion, but employee B may need another way to get to the endpoint, we do well in making sure that everybody's treated in a way where they feel that they can be themselves and still accomplish their goal sets.
Tell us about a case that you're really proud of.
It was a few years back was a much, still a much younger attorney and the defense attorney at trial would come to me and make comments such as, hey, when this trial is over, if I taught a trial class, I can make a lot of money off you. And it was very unprofessional. Unfortunately, this is their strategy and taking every blow from them. And then having the jury returned a verdict to me, that was in seven figures was one of the most-- I would say one of the proudest things that I've done an attorney because my client had not only gone through a lot from recovering from an injury, but was the defense was completely trying to obliterate her on the stand to just quit. And they have me quit as well. And both of us to stand there and be resolved and not give up. And the look that lawyer in the face at the end of the trial and tell him, hey, when does that class start that you only sign up for? And have him look at me and say, nice one and points to his belt and says, I've been beat less than the amount of rings in my belt. And now you're one of those one on the belt buckle and that was a very good one, because we put in hundreds of hours on that case just for trial prep. And the trial ran for about a month. And they had two lawyers, and both of them were in terms of years ahead, miles ahead of me. But we told them, hey, we're not going to back down, you're not going to intimidate us. We're not going to give up. We believe in our client, we believe in her story. And she's going to tell that story to a jury. And they're going to pull it behind her because she's an innocent victim. And when the jury delivered that verdict, we felt that look, we got justice here. And that's what that was about and the hard work, it felt like finals week times 50.
What do you think is the best advice you've ever received?
No matter whether you're an attorney, or you're playing sports, there's going to be a winner and a loser in that case or in that game. But at the end of the day, if you win or you lose, did you put forth your best effort possible to get the result? Not everyone's good? Not everyone's going to win the trial, I’ve lost trials that I thought I was going to win. And I've won trials that I thought we weren't going to do as well in. But at the end of the day, the advice that I was getting was like at the end of that trial, you look back and you don't put your head down if you lose, if you lose, then you go back and you say, hey, where did I go wrong? What can I make better the next time? Where can I practice? If I'm playing basketball like, okay, should I try to have a different form on that jump shot? Like what can we do differently? I go back to answer that best advice is always put in your best effort and march forward and work for your client, and results will come and there will be times where you're going to be disappointed. Because you don't get the results that you expect. You can throw yourself on the floor and sit there and cry about it or you can get up and go fight the next day.
Do you think the legal system is fair?
It's pretty vague question. But I believe we as a country have the best system that's possible. I think that, putting the case in the hands of a jury of the peers, of your peers is an excellent system and 12 people hearing the evidence is as good as a system. I mean, there's countries in the world that would die for that type of system to have a judicial system like we have. But do I think it's fair at every level? No, I don't think every level of the laws in the state of California are fair. For example, I don't believe it's fair that a person who is a victim of a medical malpractice case has a cap on their damages. I think that the micro laws are very unfair, if a doctor is negligent and falls below the standard of care, and you're now left with a lifetime injury or you as a family member have lost a loved one. And now your the damage on that is valued by the state of California, I don't believe it's fair that there are any caps.
I'm going to shift gears here a little bit, what's your family life been like? And how is practicing law fit in with that?
So that's, that's where that balance becomes kind of an issue. So I mean, I have three kids, I have a seven year old daughter, a three year old son and a one year old daughter and a wife. And at times, there are time periods where I've had to travel to go to for trial and to sleep in hotel rooms and be away from my family. So in a way that the being a litigation attorney does detract from the family time that you spend with your family. It's definitely a detraction there, I will not dispute that. And as a father, I would like to be if I can, I want to be there with my kids as much as possible. I consider clients like family and I consider my families, my family and I don't want to if I can't do my job 100 for the clients and I'm not in the right position. And I have to also do my job as a parent at that level too. So that's very challenging, the amount of time I have to make for family time.
How about recreational pursuits, anything you enjoy doing that kind of get your mind off of the law?
Sure, I enjoy a few things. I try to make time for is playing recreational basketball. I'm involved in a city recreational league full-court five-on-five basketball. When I can also play pickup at the local gym. I am a very, very serious fantasy football performer and fantasy baseball. I am also a diehard Dodger Laker and Raiders fan. I try to go to as many Dodger games as possible. I grew up as a Dodger fan, my third generation Dodger fan, my grandfather and father grew up down the street from Dodger Stadium right down the hill on Echo Park Boulevard. And I am a very diehard Laker fan, I’m very diehard Kobe Bryant fan when he was playing.
What mistakes do you think lawyers make?
I don't know if it's a mistake or more, just a mindset, is looking at everything from a dollar value. So if you look at it, like I'm only concerned about my attorney fees, and as long as I get paid, and I treat, and I don't care what happens to the client. I think that's a huge mistake. I think a lot of lawyers fail to hone in that being a successful attorney and being a successful entrepreneur, which if you're running your own law firm is necessary is, it's relationship-based. And I see a lot of attorneys, I do get referrals from other attorneys who trust me with their cases to take them on from a pre litigation to proceed through litigation. So I can go back and look at their work product. And a lot of times I just see the mistake that lawyers are making is a lack of care for that particular client.
How do you define success?
So as an attorney or as a person?
Well, it seems to me that if anybody is an attorney and a person combined together, it's you. So how do you see success as a person? How do you see success as an attorney? How do you see success as an attorney who is a very much person?
So is overlapping in that for sure. So as an attorney as a person, success to me is setting a set of objectives and try and doing everything that you can to accomplish them. And what also constitutes success to me is not what I just do for myself, but what I do for others. I considered to be successful, what have you done for society? I mean, if I'm only doing it for me, and not my clientele, or the society or the community that I'm in, I deem that to be a failure, selfish behaviors are not successful. So we do as a firm, as a person I strive to give back to my community as you mentioned, the beginning, we are a supporter of the children's Hospital of Orange County, Best Buddies, during Thanksgiving, we go out and make sure that families in the community have an opportunity to have turkey, we give out a 25 hundred dollar scholarship to undergraduate students, and very importantly, I believe my success is based on the success of those around me at the firm. So if my surrounding support staff is not successful, that I'm not successful. If you're just a taker, not a giver back you're not a successful person.
Let's say you came into some real money, several billion dollars, three or four billion dollars, what if anything, would you do differently in your own life?
I would absolutely find more ways to give. I still probably have, believe it or not, will probably still have the urge to be an attorney. I mean, I actually enjoy the job. So I think I'd be I'd feel a void if I didn't, if I knew being a lawyer. But I would definitely find more ways to give I mean, right now we're giving to the community, we're giving in different ways, but I would find different ways and different methods to help make sure that every kid has an equal opportunity to succeed in life. Unfortunately, a lot of kids that are very intelligent, and want to have goals fall in the wrong tracks just by circumstance. And I would want to fix that.
Let's say you had a magic wand, there was one thing in the world, the legal world or the general world that you could change, what would that be?
I would want to eliminate caps on medical malpractice cases. If I could wave a magic wand, I would eliminate that cap. I am very bothered by that law.
Samer, if someone wants to get in touch with you, what is the best way to do that, say they have a case that they would like you to evaluate or an attorney wanted to talk to you, refer you some business, what's the best way to get in touch?
So the best way to get in touch with us go directly to our website, www.habbaspilaw.com Spelled H-A-B-B-A-S-P-I-L-A-W.com. And on our website, there's a contact form that goes directly to our intake department. And those intakes reach me directly, actually.
Great. Samer, is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven't touched on here, something that you'd like to say?
I appreciate. First of all, I appreciate the time you gave me to speak about my story and my advice to others. I mean, again, what I want to reiterate and to younger attorneys that are out there considering a career of law, we touched upon this, don't go to law school or become an attorney if it's something that doesn't interest you, you have to have a passion for this job. It takes a lot of effort to be a successful attorney and to get results for your clients and justice. Do not just go to law school because it sounds like a great title. Do what's best to what fits you, everybody has a talent. And that talent is different for different types of people. Don't give up something that you may be better at because somebody wanted you to be an attorney or you thought it's just a great title to have. So I definitely want to stress that out. And, again, I appreciate the time and hopefully we've covered a lot of topics that are helpful for people.
Samer Habbas. Thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Thank you very much.
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
And my original plan to go pre-med, I did an audible and started looking at going to law school.