Jordan W. Charness
Senior Partner of Charness, Charness & Charness
Pamela: Hi, my name is Pamela DeNeuve and I’m very pleased that you’ve joined us for “Lawyer of the Week.”
Today we have a special guest. It’s our first guest from Canada and it’s Jordan Charness and he is the senior partner of the law firm of Charness, Charness and Charness. And it was established back in 1925 with offices all across Canada. The firm specializes in creditor rights and has mainly Fortune 500 companies as their clients.
Jordan: Hey Pamela, nice to see you.
Pamela: So glad that you’re our Lawyer of the Week. I’d like to ask you our questions. And our first question is: what made you decide to become a lawyer?
Jordan: Well, since Charness, Charness and Charness was founded by my late Grandfather in 1925, second Charness being my late Father, I was already third generation. So it seemed like an idea at the time. Truth be told though I tried everything not to be a lawyer, just because they were. At the end I really decided I liked the profession and it’s a good thing to do. And now my son is actually going to be joining us as well, he’s writing bar exams this year and I have a daughter who’s thinking of maybe becoming a lawyer as well.
So four generations for sure, maybe four and a half and to top it all off my little sister’s a lawyer with the firm too.
Pamela: Oh great. So you and a sibling are both lawyers?
Pamela: What are some of the things that you decided you might do besides be a lawyer before you finally made the decision?
Jordan: Let’s see, I wanted to be a… I looked into sociologist, I looked at psychology for a little bit. I even looked into excavating, maybe I would go and be an archaeologist and go find old world treasures. Apparently, it’s a lot more exciting in books than real life would have been.
Pamela: So how long have you been practicing now Jordan?
Jordan: I was called to the bar in 1985. So it’s quite a number of years, about 33 years now.
Pamela: OK. That’s great, that’s great. I’m sure both your Father and your Grandfather would be very proud of you to keep the family law firm going.
Jordan: Oh and I had the pleasure of working with them too, so…
Pamela: Oh did you really?
Jordan: — myself, my Father, my Grandfather all worked together for several years. And now my son is still working in the firm, my daughter’s working in the firm as well, we have a whole bunch of other lawyers working for us as well.
Pamela: Wonderful, wonderful. It’s good to hear that. You mentioned that you have offices in different parts of Canada?
Jordan: Yes, we actually provide legal services right across Canada. Although we’re the largest land mass country in the world, population’s only 33 million people. So it’s just a bunch of major cities and we have a presence in all of them.
Pamela: That’s great, that’s great to hear. Now tell me a little bit about your practice and your biggest wins and your biggest challenges?
Jordan: Well the practice itself, the biggest challenges — let’s even start with that — is to continue to push the boundaries and keep getting bigger, growing, while keeping our current clients satisfied and making sure we do provide the same type of representation right across the country. And now we have a new sister firm called Wong Fleming, so we have 17 offices in the States as well where we can provide legal services.
So between the two of us we really have a solid North American coverage, but we have to make sure that that coverage is the same everywhere and that’s the hard part. Because when it was me, my Father and my Grandfather, well we kept each other on our toes. OK, they kept me on my toes to be honest. But nonetheless, now we have so many more people working for us in so many different areas that try and keep that level up, so it’s a question of growing, but you don’t want to get too big too fast.
Pamela: I think that can be a challenge for any law firm. Now what would you say are your biggest wins?
Jordan: The biggest wins really are when we don’t go to court. And as a personal win, you take a look at our firm, we had, up until recently, about 10% of our clients were people and/or companies that we’d sued. So if you think about that, that’s a huge win for any business of any type, right? So to take people that we’d sued… And I actually asked, I said to one of them — “Why? Why would you come to us?” And he said, “Well, number one, you won against my previous lawyers. Number two you’re unfailingly nice to us, at all times.”
I said, “Of course we’re nice, that’s how my Grandfather taught us. We have nothing against the other side. We will do everything we can to protect our clients rights, but I don’t have to be mean to you while doing it.”
And, “Thirdly,” he said, “you actually gave me more information about my case than my own lawyers did.”
I said, “Well sure we don’t have anything to hide. The whole point here is that my clients have a point of view, we believe they’re right. You have a point of view, obviously you believed you’re right — that’s why we have a judge to decide. But nothing has to be nasty, unless, and everybody here knows that I’m the nicest guy in the world right up until you try and screw me over. Well then we know how to do the other stuff too. But even then we’ll throw the book at you with everything that’s in the book, and only what’s in the book. We won’t go any further.”
So when you ask like, what’s the biggest win, yes, those clients that used to be on the other side — that’s a win. We had big cases that we won as well, but that doesn’t count the way I look at business life and being a lawyer.
Pamela: Well that sounds very good Jordan. And you know something that really struck me when you were speaking is that you have a lot of the values that were instilled in you by your Grandfather and your Father, so that’s one of the best things about having a firm with roots going back to 1925. Because you have those really old fashioned beliefs about integrity and being compassionate and kind as a lawyer and taking care of your clients in the best possible way.
Jordan: Absolutely. Just a quick little story on that which really drives that home. For many many years — I’m talking like 70 years — we never had file numbers. Every file was by the client’s name and whatever matter it was. And I went to my Grandfather way back then, I said — you know now they’ve invested computers and we really need to computerize things. And he says, “OK, Jordan, if you think we should computerize things, we’ll do that.”
As I’m walking out, he stops me, which is what he did all the time. He said, “I just have one question for you?” He said, “What’s a computer?”
I said, OK, well as you can imagine the man was 80 years old at the time and been practicing for 60 years. He says, “What’s a computer?”
I explained to him — basically it’s an electronic box that has a terrific memory, we put stuff in it that we need to get out later and it can do all kinds of calculations and machinations for us. And we’re putting all of our files through the computer as well. So, OK, go ahead.
So I’m walking out, he says, “Jordan, one minute. So tell me, so this computer has a great memory, that’s what you’re saying?”
I said, “Correct.”
He says, “So it’ll remember things for a long time?”
I said, “Correct.”
He said, “So your big, strong, electronic box can’t remember our clients names, it only remembers numbers? Jordan, you have to remember, clients are never numbers — it doesn’t matter how big they are or how small they are, they’re not numbers. You can go set up the files any way you like, but never forget, they’re not numbers.”
Cool, eh? Great story and it goes back 30 years and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Pamela: Oh boy, what a great lesson. What a great lesson that… Again, I can see how your Grandfather instilled in you that clients are people with names and families and desires and needs — he was telling you to never forget that, right?
Jordan: Correct. And now, the majority of our practice is Fortune 500 companies. We represent the largest companies in Canada, and even then each one of them it’s a person, right. Because our connection to that company is a person who like you said, has a family, has a life, has a job. He’s counting on us to make him look good in his job, or her look good in her job. That’s really the point. So it could be a giant company, but Rachel or whoever it is that I’m dealing with, she’s got to look good because of the work that we do.
So we’re really careful to keep that in mind, even if you’re a mega corporation which, you know, most of them are.
Pamela: That’s great. And the word that just pops out to me is that you care, you’re a firm that cares.
Jordan: Yes. We do care. The other area that’s been interesting… We’re not a mega firm, there are many, many bigger firms, even in Canada than us. We’re large-ish. But we’ve taken over clients from the mega firms because they’ve come to us and said — well, you’ve been there for three generations going on four, I know there’s always going to be somebody on top somewhere, who’s going to be a Charness taking care of us. And that’s true, because even if you go into any of the mega firms, even the senior senior partners, they leave, without actually giving birth to the next generation, which is what we did.
So it gives us a very strong niche and it’s a very strong selling point to our clients that they can count on it. And even though they may be dealing with one of the lawyers working for me, they always know they can call a Charness, let’s say to give compliments, as opposed to complain.
Pamela: Wonderful, wonderful. So now who would be a perfect referral to your practice?
Jordan: Well since we basically, one of our specialties is creditors rights and the other is transactional law. So we do that regulatory work, etc. So good referrals to us are people who have a lot of accounts to collect, or debts to collect, where they’re owed money. We’re very, very successful at getting people the money that they deserve. Or explaining to them why they don’t deserve it. And we’ll do that for our clients too, because I don’t want to drag anybody into litigation when I can tell them at the beginning — we should settle, this is not right. But if they’re right, we will make sure they get paid.
By the same token, these same clients also have other areas of law that we help them out with to help their companies grow and succeed. So those are the areas that we do. We will start out very often in creditors rights and we end up doing regulatory work, dealing with the government for them, making sure that they get inadvertently fined for doing something that they just didn’t know was wrong.
We have another division that’s actually general counsel for a bunch of companies in retail and other areas, we do product liability matters as well. So all that area again, but it’s back to those same core values — making sure that our clients get what they’re entitled to, no more, but what they are entitled to, and they don’t get into trouble doing it.
So that’s the regulatory work and the transactional work, to make sure all the paperwork is good and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.
On the other hand, if somebody owes you something, sure we’ll get it for you.
Pamela: Good, best of all worlds, really.
Pamela: So what legacy do you want to leave in your law practice?
Jordan: Well I would like it to continue obviously into the fourth and fifth generations, which is something that most law firms can’t say. Fourth one looks pretty secure. Fifth one, my son just got married, I have no idea how that’s going to work out. But I’d like them still to keep the same core values and remembering again, that no matter who your clients are, they’re just not numbers, no matter how big your client is, they’re not numbers. And that makes a very big difference.
A lot of people say they have a personalized approach, we actually do. Even I still keep traveling to go visit clients, just to find out how they’re doing, what’s doing with them and more importantly, to meet other people in the area who are working with them, because people don’t stay working in the same company forever.
So it’s best to know, not just your contact, but to know your contact’s boss, your contact’s friend, your contact’s associates. They all get to know you and then when your contact disappears and goes to a better job, the friends and associates still remember — oh sure, yes, we’re working with Charness.
So when we talk about a legacy, it’s a legacy that people to this day tell me — oh I remember working with your Grandfather and he was such an upright man. Wow, let’s hope they say that about me.
Pamela: Wonderful. Yes, it sounds like you have embodied those qualities and traits and caring. So I’m sure that they will say the same thing about you.
Jordan: I hope.
Pamela: So we’re going to just talk about just a personal thing. This is our last “Lawyer of the Week,” question that we ask everyone. Name something or one thing that you do to manage your stress levels?
Jordan: I fly airplanes.
Jordan: OK. Because I used to actually be a flight instructor and a test pilot. So I learned how to fly when I was young. Now I own a plane and I will go and I will fly. Why? It’s very distracting. That’s to say, even though I know how to do it really well, you still have to concentrate on flying the plane. So I’m not thinking about work and I’m not thinking about stress, I’m not thinking about anything else. You’ve got different levels of stress, like — let’s not kill myself today, but it’s a different area.
So once you’ve moved yourself out of that world into the sky, well now you’re concentrating on the aircraft. You’re concentrating on weather, you’re concentrating on finding that airport you took off from, finding the one you’re looking to get. It’s a whole new different world. So it’s not stress anymore. It’s challenges, but I love challenges, but they’re different.
So yes, that’s what I do to relieve the stress.
Pamela: Oh that’s great. I have had experience because I have taken flying lessons many years when I was in California. And the feeling of being up there in the clouds and having that power behind you is the most exhilarating. Yes, it’s…
Jordan: It really is.
Pamela: — exhilarating and kind of joyful and exciting and peaceful all at the same time.
Jordan: Right and you can actually leave your problems on the ground.
Pamela: Yeah, yeah. So that’s really a great way to relieve stress, I can see that for you.
Jordan: Come fly with me some day Pamela, I’ll be happy to take you, show you Canada from the sky.
Pamela: OK, that would be wonderful. I might take you up on that.
Pamela: OK. Well thank you so much for being our Lawyer of the Week. And to our audience, we hope to see you again next week.
Charness, Charness & Charness Link: http://www.charnesslaw.com
Lawyer & Law Firm Strategist
Peak Performance Consultant – Rainmakers MasterClass
feel free to email me at:
LinkedIn Profile: linkedin.com/in/pameladeneuve
Lawyer of the Week: Link: http://pameladeneuve.com/category/lawyer-of-the-week/