We had the good fortune of connecting with Usman Shaikh and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Usman, what is the most important factor behind your success?
I can say unequivocally that the single most important factor to U.S. Law Group’s success is our unparalleled dedication to client service.
As attorneys, we provide a highly specialized service and, as a service-based profession, our focus should be on client satisfaction. However, many attorneys don’t seem to see it this way; often times attorneys simply don’t show an appreciate for their clients. It’s no secret that the profession has a bad reputation for not returning calls from clients or colleagues, slow response times to emails, not being transparent with clients, and, of course, unscrupulous billing practices.
I started my career at an AM 100 law firm on Wall Street after graduating from UPenn Law School. Even though practicing at “Big Law” was considered the holy grail for many recent law school graduates (especially in the mid-2000s), I couldn’t get passed the many inefficiencies I saw in the business model despite the high-quality of work product we produced. As a junior associate in the corporate department, I was working on some of the biggest and most newsworthy M&A deals of the time. Yet, I had very little client contact and my performance as an attorney was measured primarily by the number of hours I billed per year. (In case you’re wondering, I was billing 2400 hours a year and, in the midst of a time sensitive deal, would bill upwards of 20 hours in a day after sleeping in the office for a few hours).
The law firm where I worked was hardly unique in this respect. Most of Big Law still operates in this manner. This model works well when the clients are multi-billion dollar corporations with millions of dollars budgeted for legal. It does not work, however, for startups or even small- to mid-size businesses.
In the wake of the Great Recession, I recognized a paradigm shift in the legal profession, namely that there was still a need for sharp attorneys and high-quality legal work but clients were no longer willing to accept the traditional model of Big Law in its attitude to client service.
By this time, I had left NYC and headed to the opposite coast where I landed at a top Hollywood talent agency. As an Agent Trainee, I witnessed an extreme form of client services, where talent agents (some of whom were making millions of dollars a year and were in their own right movers and shakers in the industry) succumbed to any and every whim, no matter how capricious, of their biggest talent clients, many of whom were A-list actors, writers, directors and producers in Hollywood. I realized that this dedication to client service is largely due to the fact that the agency’s business model is commission based. It’s also for this reason that these “ten percenters” did not have a need or desire to do unnecessary facetime in the office or unneeded work on behalf of their clients to drive up billable time, the way Big Law does.
When I founded U.S. Law Group (which, by the way, stands for my name and not the United States as many would think), I yearned to combine the sophistication and high-quality work product of Big Law with the client-focused attention provided at a Hollywood talent agency.
Now, almost a decade later, U.S. Law Group is a boutique, bicoastal practice highly specialized in Entertainment, and Intellectual Property legal matters. Our attorneys have experience ranging from Wall Street to Hollywood to Silicon Valley, and are problem solvers with the unique ability to think outside the box in complex business and legal situations, resulting in innovative and efficient responses (both in terms of cost and time) to our clients’ needs and issues.
When I personally train a new hire, whether our newly promoted junior associate or various law clerks, I try to instill the importance of client service, which includes being timely, responsive, and transparent to our clients.
I believe this dedication to client service is the reason U.S. Law Group is consistently named amongst the top boutique law firms in Los Angeles, has clients that are in the top of their respective fields, and has garnered the respect of our colleagues in the legal profession.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I’m the founder and managing attorney of U.S. Law Group, an Entertainment and Intellectual Property law firm in Beverly Hills and NYC.
All my life I have had an immense passion and appreciation for the entertainment industry, and I try to channel this energy in my representation of creative talent, content creators, artists, digital media companies, and others in the business of show.
I’m originally from the NYC area and moved to LA about 15 years ago. I did some theatre in high school and formally studied drama during my undergrad years at Rutgers University. I decided to go to law school, among other reasons, to learn the fundamentals in deal structuring and negotiating, which became the keystones to my career in Hollywood.
After graduating law school from The University of Pennsylvania, where I also completed coursework at The Wharton School, I landed on Wall Street as a corporate lawyer…not because I loved finance, but rather because these are the types of jobs everyone at an Ivy League school strives for.
I eventually became disenchanted with Wall Street and decided to switch gears. I moved to LA and entered the Agent Training Program at one of the top 3 talent agencies in town…not as a lawyer, but as an agent trainee. This meant starting in the mailroom (to get a better idea of this, I recommend reading “The Mailroom” by David Rensin) to working at an agent’s desk in the Motion Picture Talent Department, rolling calls, scheduling auditions, reading scripts for clients, and many long hours for little pay. Regardless, the agency was a great training ground and crash course in the entertainment business.
I started U.S. Law Group as a solo practice with only a handful of clients, mostly from relationships built from my days in the Agent Training Program. Over the years, the law firm has expanded to bicoastal offices with the addition of senior-level attorneys, an associate, and law clerks. I like to think we provide better work quality than our larger competitors while maintaining a hands on, client-focused, boutique practice.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
It’s actually quite common for me to have friends or clients visiting LA from the East Coast, Europe, or the Middle East, and they usually task me with coming up with an itinerary, which I love doing.
I would first recommend checking out the Immersive Van Gogh show produced by our clients, Lighthouse Immersive. It’s visually stunning and very well produced.
That said, I’m a huge fan of Old Hollywood aesthetic (I’m in the process of remodeling my home in classic Hollywood Glam and Mid-Century Modern designs). So I would recommend seeing the many landmark hotels LA has to offer from that era, namely The Beverly Hills Hotel, Sunset Tower, Hotel Bel-Air, Chateau Marmont (when/if it reopens), and the newly renovated Hollywood Roosevelt. I would also recommend The Sunset Marquis because of its legendary rock n’ roll past and the new Edition on Sunset Blvd because it’s of gorgeous contemporary design.
My own itinerary usually involves lunch spots near my office in Beverly Hills, like La Scala (best chopped salad in town), Il Pastaio (great place to see and be seen), and The Palm (a classic). For dinner/drinks, my go-to place is Soho House WeHo (and I’m looking forward to checking out the new Soho Holloway House) because it always has an interesting mix of creatives and people from abroad, with a uniquely European vibe.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I dedicate my shoutout to the amazing team at U.S. Law Group, namely my colleagues Raymond Markovich, Daniel Lopez and John Buckman. They deserve equal credit and recognition for the success of our law firm.