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Empathy as a Guiding Force in Law Practice With John Risvold

August 23, 2023   |   Written by Gladiator Law Marketing
John Risvold John RisvoldJohn Risvold is a Partner at The Collins Law Firm, a premier source of legal representation in environmental, personal injury, and business litigation. With a significant focus on personal injury law, John advocates for victims of car accidents, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, and other catastrophic injuries. Prior to his current role, John defended large multinational corporations in multi-million dollar litigation. To date, he has recovered over $5.5 million for his clients. His commitment has earned him numerous awards, including being chosen by his peers as an “Illinois Super Lawyers Rising Star” and named one of the “10 Best Personal Injury Attorneys for Client Satisfaction” in Illinois. An alumnus of the University of Missouri School of Law, John brings a combination of dedication, experience, and insider knowledge to every case he handles.
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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • John Risvold talks about The Collins Law Firm and what they specialize in
  • What makes Collins Law unique as a trial firm?
  • John’s beginnings in the legal industry
  • How has John’s experience as a defense attorney helped him?
  • The mindset shift from competition to persuasion
  • John talks about his first trial
  • How John worked his way from associate attorney to partner
  • Why John believes empathy plays a critical role in the legal profession

In this episode…

The legal industry is stereotyped as cold, analytical, and complex — void of emotion and empathy. Although not common in the industry, it is possible to incorporate humanity into legal business practices. What can you do to prioritize empathizing with your clients? How will your shift in perspective impact your business? John Risvold, a successful lawyer, offers a different perspective on the legal profession. He emphasizes the human side of his work, seeing empathy as a beneficial tool in his legal practice. His insights challenge the traditional view of law and how it intersects with the human experience. In this episode of 15 Minutes, host Chad Franzen talks with John Risvold about the role of empathy in law practice. John shares his unusual path into law, the lessons he learned along the way, and his experiences with influential mentors. He discusses the importance of treating clients as human beings, the value of taking calculated risks, and how he benefits from explaining his cases to his children.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, where we deliver tailor-made services to help you accomplish your objectives and maximize your growth potential. To have a successful marketing campaign and make sure you’re getting the best ROI, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. At Gladiator Law Marketing, we use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com or schedule a free marketing consultation. You can also send an email to adam@gladiatorlawmarketing.com.

Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01   You’re listening to 15 Minutes, where we feature community leaders sharing what the rest of us should know. But likely don’t. Chad Franzen  0:12   Chad Franzen here one of the hosts of Share Your Voice where we talk with top notch law firms and lawyers about what it takes to grow a successful law practice. This episode is brought to you by Gladiator Law Marketing, delivering tailor made services to help your law firm accomplish its objectives and maximize your growth potential to have a successful marketing campaign. And to make sure you’re getting the best return on investment, your firm needs to have a better website and better content. Gladiator Law Marketing uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and decades of experience to outperform the competition. To learn more, go to gladiatorlawmarketing.com where you can schedule a free marketing consultation. John Rivold is a personal injury lawyer in Chicago who represents victims of trucking accidents, nursing home abuse and neglect, medical malpractice, and other catastrophic injuries. He’s a Partner at The Collins Law Firm, and lives in suburban Chicago with his wife and three young kids. John, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you? John Risvold  1:09   I’m great, Chad. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Chad Franzen  1:12   Yeah, thank you. Hey, so tell me a little bit more about Collins Law and what the firm kind of doesn’t specializes in? John Risvold  1:18   Yeah, for sure. So my firm is smaller, personal injury, plaintiffs focused firm we help people that are hurt is the best way to describe it truly, you know, the firm started by my partner, Shawn Collins 30 years ago, and I’m joined by my other law partners, Rob Dawidiuk and Ed Manzke. And those guys have been longtime mentors of mine and sort of showed me the ropes. And I’m thankful to now be with them and have been with them for some time. We focus, like you said, on catastrophic injury cases. You know, and we’re what I like to tell the word trial firm. So when other firms or other lawyers need cases that are actually litigated, they need them brought before juries. That’s what we do. We do it really well. And then the other sort of niche that we’ve carved out is our firm does a lot of environmental, toxic litigation. Kind of like Erin Brockovich groundwater contamination, soil contamination, cancer clusters, those sorts of things, that have been really, really rewarding ways to help communities and help people. So it’s, uh, you know, I tell people, it’s a lot of fun, in a strange way, because I get to work with my mentors. And I know that I get to help people, even though they’re going through something that’s absolutely horrible. Chad Franzen  2:31   What would you say makes Collins Law unique as a trial firm, especially compared to other law firms? John Risvold  2:37   Yeah, I think that it’s a team. We’re not trying cases alone, we’re always trying to faces as a team, we’re always focused on how we can help each other since the moment I walked in here as an associate, it’s been an open door firm that treats everybody on the same level. The paralegals are treated as if they are the same as the partners, the associates are treated with the same deference, the partners are treated. And that was a far cry from where I started my career on the defense side, where there was a very rigid structure and hierarchy. Our firm doesn’t treat it that way. Yet, you know, there are people that are in certain positions that will take lead and things like that, but everybody’s rowing the boat in the same direction. And I think that really makes a huge difference. It’s also a place where there’s no dumb questions. And I know other law firms, there can certainly be dumb questions. But here, it’s, it’s just very, very focused on how we can all worked together to help our clients. Because when our clients succeed, we all succeed. Chad Franzen  3:40   You said you started your career on the defense side, tell me how you kind of broke into the legal industry and kind of how things got rolling for you. John Risvold  3:46   Yeah, so I never saw myself as a lawyer. I come from a family of educators and law enforcement officers and salespeople. And so I thought, I’m good at talking. I’ll end up in sales at some point. And I kind of did, and we can talk about that. But I had a high school debate coach, who I was really into debate in high school, I wasn’t super athletic, they started throwing curveballs. So my baseball career was over pretty quick. And she put it in my head and said, you know, this is something that I think you’d be good at. And there’s no lawyers in my family. So I didn’t have any sort of frame of reference. And when I was, so I ended up going to law school when I was a second year law student, my now wife and I started dating. And she introduced me to a family friend of theirs who was an estate planning lawyer. And I told him sort of what I wanted to do. And he started to help me and mentor me a little bit. And a couple of weeks later, he introduced me to that Manzke, Shawn Collins, who are now my partners, and they became long term mentors, longtime mentors of mine. And I came out of school took a job at an insurance defense firm because nobody was hiring at the time. And sort of cut my teeth working for large insurance companies in A lot of cases, premises cases, those sorts of things. And it’s been nice to be on the plaintiff side now, not only because I help people, but it’s kind of like moving from defense to the quarterback. But I know what the defensive playbook looks like. And I know exactly what they’re going to do. And so I have a little bit of a leg up, because I’ve got their playbook in my back pocket. So that’s been a nice advantage. Chad Franzen  5:25   So your experience so you, you can anticipate the the opposing argument, basically, because of your experience as a defense attorney? John Risvold  5:32   Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, the experience as a defense attorney definitely helped shape the way I look at all of this, it made me more empathetic towards injured people, because I realized I really didn’t enjoy working on that side. Because I felt like I was taking from people I felt like I was preventing people from actually getting justice. I know that that that can sound sort of corny, maybe. But I really do. I, you know, my friends sort of make fun of me, I am a true believer, I really do believe in this system, I really do believe that we’re helping people. And I believe that the you know, access to justice in the courtroom, and a jury of your peers are the best way for people to get justice and even the playing field. Chad Franzen  6:17   Where did you go to law school? John Risvold  6:18   I went to the University of Missouri. So I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and went there for undergraduate was going to go into journalism or business or something. And I ended up with an English degree a degree in a language, so to speak, and then went to law school there, mostly because I knew how expensive law school was, I knew what I wanted to do where I wanted to be, I knew I wanted to be in Chicago, and all the Chicago law schools are great. All of them are great for setting you up to practice here. But they were three or four times more expensive than staying in Missouri was. And so I just worked really hard to network and meet as many people up here as I could while saving a ton of money by staying put. Chad Franzen  7:02   So you said you kind of went into sales? What did you mean by that? John Risvold  7:06   Yeah, so I think lawyers are very hesitant to recognize that this is a sales job, especially my job, I have to sell a Judge Jury that my argument is, first I just tell the judge my arguments worth getting past summary judgment or any motion to dismiss, then I have to tell the jury that my client is somebody who needs to be compensated, and here’s why. But beyond that, this is a very competitive industry, personal injury work at any level, even, you know, fender bender cases, it’s competitive, very competitive, there’s been millions and millions of dollars being spent on advertising. And so you have to convince clients and sell clients that you’re the right choice for them. So you know, your referral sources that you’re the right choice for them. And then you have to back it up with effectively a product and we’re the product, right? And I think that that sort of mindset shift for me has really helped me grow our help grow our practice, and build my practice, understanding that really everything sales, in sales and persuasion. Chad Franzen  8:07   What was your mindset prior to realizing that. John Risvold  8:11   That it was too, too competitive and too cutthroat. And if I did, it didn’t do it the way others had done it? I wasn’t going to get ahead. If I didn’t, you know, put up a billboard or spend money on advertising and net? Well, how am I going to get this? You know, how am I going to get a bank loan or how many get this money or that money to start advertising. And it really doesn’t start that way. It starts with personal connections and actually doing the things that I think very effective salespeople do, which is building trust and rapport, and showing people that, you know, you’re the right person to bet off. Chad Franzen  8:45   Was there a kind of, I don’t know, aha moment that led to that. John Risvold  8:50   I don’t know that it was sort of aha, as much as it was just something that I had been around so much, and it hurts so much. My dad was in sales for 30 plus years, my grandfather as well. And both of them always said, you know, just remember, everybody’s always selling something, and everything is sales. And that sort of just kind of clung in the back of my head for a while and you go to law school, and they tell you to think like a lawyer think like a lawyer, you have to act like a lawyer. No one tells you what that really means. And then you get out in practice, and especially in larger firms, there’s a lot of rigidity. And it’s you know, you don’t need to think like a lawyer and act like a lawyer and do X, Y and Z. And when I came over to the plaintiff side, what I found is that my clients appreciate that I’m not a lawyer, that I’m not talking to them with, you know, $50 words that I am a regular person, that I am like them that I have, you know, come from a background like them, and that I can relate to them as human beings. And that’s really what I think a lot of it is it’s not necessarily one moment, but a lot of interactions with clients and with mentors where I realize it’s not about thinking a certain way or thinking the way everybody else thinks it’s just about being a good human being, and treating other people well, and taking care of them and working hard for them, that really make a huge, huge difference. Chad Franzen  10:12   At what point relative to going to law school at what point was your first ever trial, you were kinda like the lead attorney in? John Risvold  10:20   And yeah, probably about, I’m trying to think four years, four or five years into my career, I try to slip and fall case and just fell flat on my face lost. The I still, you know, I remember telling somebody this the other day, I remember all of the cases that I’ve lost vividly. And the cases that I’ve won are much more blurry. And I, it’s just the way my brain works, I am very motivated by not wanting to let my clients down. And so I remember, you know, the client’s name was Vanessa. And I remember distinctly, just the look of disappointment on her face from jury came back with a not guilty, it motivates you a lot to work that much harder. But I had that opportunity about four, four years or so into my career. Great opportunity. And I’m thankful for it, you learn so much by trying so much more by trying cases than you do reading or practicing or anything else. So I’m thankful for it. But I still vividly remember the look on her face and the feeling of losing the first one out of the gate. Chad Franzen  11:29   Yeah, I’ve heard, like, my favorite basketball team was the Denver Nuggets, their coach, their former coach used to always say like, losing stays losing is painful, and it stays with the winning is just temporary relief. I don’t know if that’s the same for you. John Risvold  11:43   That’s exactly how it feels. I like that a lot. You know, it’s exactly exactly like that I win a case. And then I have this sort of brief like, that’s awesome. I feel great. And then there’s also because every one of my clients is sort of a one and done. I don’t have the institutional clients that I built. There’s also a moment of panic that sets in like, Oh, my God, where is the next case coming from? Or when’s the next one start over? I gotta go, you know, work on this and work on that. And I don’t, my wife gets in trouble about it all the time. I don’t really take time to celebrate wins. But I I definitely use the losses as fuel for sure. Chad Franzen  12:20   What was your kind of when you when you did that first trial case? What was the most? I don’t know if intimidating is the right word nerve racking, like was it going up against another seasoned attorney? Actually speaking before a real judge? John Risvold  12:33   What was it? No, I’ve been I’m really comfortable with all that stuff. My week. My weakness, I think is writing. So arguing motions, eliminate, I felt good arguing them. But I wasn’t really confident in what I had written and what I agreed. And then I think anytime you start, I still do it. Anytime you start jury selection, that first sort of quiet moment when you get up, and everybody’s staring at you, and nobody wants to be there. And nobody wants to talk to you. And then you have to start sort of convincing this group of people, hey, please talk to me. Please tell me what you think and what your opinions are, and why you will or won’t be the right person for this job. As a juror, that moment feels like an eternity until somebody speaks up. Once they do. It’s great. And you’re sort of rolling. But I think my biggest sort of anxiety is the anticipation. Chad Franzen  13:31   Yeah, I would imagine. So you came on to Collins Law as an associate what kind of take me through the path toward becoming a partner? John Risvold  13:39   Yeah, I came on, actually two weeks after my middle son was born. So I came home and very sleep deprived. And the deal was that, you know, we have a model here where it’s a little bit of eat what you kill. And for me, that also was like sales, it’s like working on a condition. And so that was really motivating for me. And the part of the path from where I started to where I am started with just doing everything in my power to bring in business, and to make connections in the community, with other lawyers, doctors, anybody that I thought could be somebody who might be able to send me a case. And and really think about it is what can you do for me as much as trying to focus on how I can help them or what I could do for them. And that paid a lot of dividends. And so it was it built pretty quickly. We have a firm that doesn’t struggle to generate work on its own, so I wouldn’t have had to do this. But I knew that these guys are my mentors. And I knew that I wanted to be here and I knew that once I got my foot in the door, this is where I wanted to stay. And I told them from day one, this is what I want. This is what I want to have happen. And they truly worked just I think Joe just as hard as I did to help me make that happen, they gave me all the resources, all the opportunity, everything else. And so it’s it’s a credit to them as much as it is to anything that I did. I just thought if I work really hard, and I do a good job for these these clients and do a good job for people, everything will fall into place. And over time it did. And they made me a partner a week and six days ago for seven days book. So a year, a year in seven days ago, I’m sorry, a year in seven days. Chad Franzen  15:31   Okay. Yeah, well, very, very nice. Very nice. Did you have to actively take the mindset that you’re there to help other people rather than what they can do for you? Or were you just that big of a believer in what you were doing? And that’s that was your attitude. John Risvold  15:48   A little bit of both? I think that when you’re in that, that build mode, where you’re trying to really start to generate work, it’s really easy to sort of panic, like, oh, it’s not coming. It hasn’t happen yet. It’s not no one’s sending me anything. No one’s referred me anything. But it’s, again, it’s a lot of building trust and rapport. And so I it understanding that it’s going to take a long time. I’m not naturally patient person. But thankfully, I’m surrounded by people that are and people that reinforced me, especially my partner, Ed reinforced to me, it’s going to happen, it just it takes time is a certainty, not a question. And because of the work I was putting in and what I was doing, what I continue to do to market our firm in our practice, and everything else. And it’s true, you know, we’re six years, almost seven years later, and we have really, really great referral partners and CO counsel partners and all that that I didn’t have seven years ago, that in the last three years or so, are very consistently working with us. And he’s right, it just takes time. So it’s a matter of just being persistent, not giving up, not waiting when you think you should have good. And it works out. Chad Franzen  17:17   You mentioned that these guys that you work with have been your mentors, and are your mentors. Is there anything specific that you that they have given you in terms of advice, or that you have learned from them just from working with them and observing them? John Risvold  17:30   I think that the number one thing I learned from them was how to treat our clients, as human beings and the humanity that they expressed towards our clients and the empathy and the kindness. It’s not something that they really talk about in law school, or that I really saw when you’re working with corporate clients, or large insurance carriers and those sorts of things. It’s not something that you do, it’s a business, on the defense side. And it’s very sort of regimented in law school, I think it’s law school is very focused on churning out lawyers that will do very well and large law firms or in the government. But the majority of us don’t practice in large law firms or the government. And so I learned I learned a lot of that from them. I learned a lot of you know how to take smart, calculated risks from them as well, which you have to do in order to get ahead. And then they gave me just opportunities beyond belief I was here I was at the firm about a year and I tried an environmental case with Shawn Collins. And it was about two days before our big expert was going to go on and he turned to me, we were at the hotel. It was out of town. And he turned to me said if you ever put on an expert at trial and done direct exam of an expert, and I hadn’t, and I said No, I haven’t good, you’re gonna hear and gave me all the tools and opportunity worked with me for a couple of days to make that happen. And it was an experience that I you know, I don’t think a lot of lawyers get unless the senior lawyers to them are willing to give those opportunities. And so I’ve tried to sort of pass that on to there’s lawyers that are younger than me in our firm, or even those that we co counsel with. Because it’s, it’s a really good way to pay it forward. It’s not a thing that happens often in our profession. And it was huge for my development, and huge for my growth as a lawyer, for sure. Chad Franzen  19:26   Yeah, I would imagine, I would imagine that would be very, very valuable. Hey, I have one more question for you. But first, tell me how people can find out more about Collins Law. John Risvold  19:36   Yeah, so you can find us on the internet, everywhere. Our websites collinslaw.com It’s C-O-L-L-I-N-Slaw.com You can find me mostly most of where I am. And most of where I make a lot of my connections with other lawyers is on social media, primarily through Instagram. I found that if you actually use social media in the way that it’s intended to actually be social with other people, and this was my silver lining for COVID. If you use it to be social with other people, it actually works. And it’s not just a, you know, terrible highlight reel of people’s lives. And so you can find me there as rizinjurylawyer, it’s R I Z injurylawyer and connect with me there. Let’s let me learn a little bit more about you know, what you do your practice and how we can help. Chad Franzen  20:24   Sounds great. Hey, last question for you. Are there any kind of daily rituals that you find particularly important? John Risvold  20:32   Yeah, I think for me, the biggest daily ritual that I found to be important is me driving my kids to school, I try to drive them to school every day, the benefit of having caught by Zoom is that I get to most days, and they’re really my daughter’s eight, and my son is six. And then we’ve got the little guy who just turned two, so I’m not driving him as much, really anywhere. But the older two, they’re starting to understand what we do. And they’re starting to ask questions. And it’s wonderful to see how their brains work and how they’re starting to grow. And it just gives me a lot of perspective, it’s also a good opportunity to turn them on to buy music, and really good music. And the other sort of selfish thing when it comes to work is, I find that if you can explain your cases to an eight year old, and the eight year old gets it, or you can explain your argument to an eight year old and a eight year old goes Oh, yeah, no, that makes sense, then it’s a winning argument. And if you can’t explain it to him, go back to the drawing board. And so that, for me has been my favorite daily ritual, is that sort of 15, 15 minutes where I get to spend with them in the car, either listening to music or working through their problems, or learning more about them. And I’m excited for that to continue until they’re teenagers and then they don’t want to hang out anymore. Whatever it is, right? Chad Franzen  21:53   Yeah, sounds good. Hey, what? What kind of music are you really hoping that they’ve, they come to appreciate. John Risvold  22:00   So far, they are big Beatles fans. And so I’m really happy about that. It started at two in the morning, rocking my daughter to sleep and the only song I could remember all the words to was Rocky Raccoon. And since then, it’s been sort of off to the races with you know, that great classic rock music and But primarily, I’m a big Beatles fan. So I’m happy that they like the Beatles. But you know, anything that I can turn them on to that’s not bubblegum pop, or radio pop is fine, by me, for sure. Chad Franzen  22:32   Very nice. Hey, John, it’s been great to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your stories. John Risvold  22:38   Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it’s great to talk with Chad Franzen  22:41   You as well. So long, everybody. Outro  22:45   Thanks for listening to 15 Minutes, be sure to subscribe and we’ll see you next time.

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