The Enterprising Lawyer: Rocky Dhir
Who are these “enterprising lawyers”? Actually, they are easy to spot. Look for the happier, more engaged lawyers. Deeply invested in the power of the work they do for their clients, they have ample interests beyond the practice of law as well. And they seem to have more energy for getting things done than anyone in the crowd. You probably know one or two—you may even be one yourself!
In this interview, we talk with Rocky Dhir—a global innovator in legal process outsourcing. That’s him in the photos below—in the second photo with a deity of Lord Ganesh (“The Remover of Obstacles”), on his way to a Ganesh festival last fall.
Abhay “Rocky” Dhir
Atlas Legal Research, LP, and Dhir & Associates
The University of Michigan Law School, J.D., 1999
The University of Chicago, B.A. in Public Policy Studies, 1996
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
To be perfectly honest, I went to law school in order to have a “backup plan.” My real dream was to be an entertainer—singer, actor, stand-up comedian and the like. I am pretty good at celebrity impersonations and used to perform a lot when I was younger. I had these grandiose visions of becoming a celeb. Then, once I started working in the law, I found that I really liked it. Today, perhaps more than ever before, the legal profession is changing, making it an exciting environment for disruptors like me.
What is the focus of your law practice?
I founded Atlas Legal in 2000. The idea was to outsource labor-intensive legal work to India. I have been told that Atlas Legal was the first company in the world to do that. At the time, no one knew what to call our practice. Today, it is referred to as “legal process outsourcing.” Who knew we were spawning an entire industry? Atlas no longer outsources strictly to India. We have lawyers both in the United States and in India. We perform legal research, draft trial and appellate briefs, review litigation documents, summarize and manage contracts, summarize depositions, and do just about anything that corporate legal departments and law firms need help with.
In my law practice at Dhir & Associates, I am a business litigator and I assist start-up companies with legal compliance and conflict management. Practicing law makes me more effective in my role at Atlas, and seeing the variety of cases we handle at Atlas makes me a better practicing lawyer. It’s a wonderful symbiosis.
What is the real reason clients hire you?
With Atlas, clients hire the company, not me. I prefer it that way. The focus needs to be on the group, not the individual. Clients initially hire Atlas because they are looking to save money. Atlas has mastered the art of efficient lawyering, and we help other lawyers control their clients’ legal budgets. On the litigation side, we create efficiency, which then helps our clients avoid settling cases solely because of legal costs. We give them what I call “litigation staying power.” On the transactional side, we take a proactive role in trying to make contract-management much more streamlined.
In my law practice, clients hire me for out-of-the-box strategic thinking. I try to apply that not only to the actual substance of the representation, but also to helping clients achieve their business goals while still getting what I hope is top-flight representation.
Who was your most important mentor and, briefly, what did he or she teach you?
My primary mentor in the law was the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, for whom I clerked after law school. He was the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Judge Buchmeyer passed away in 2009 and was heralded as a Texas judicial icon.
Judge Buchmeyer taught me lessons on many levels. He was the smartest lawyer I have ever met; yet he was humble to a fault. I realized that his humility was a big part of his strength. It kept him sharp because he never assumed that he had all the answers; he would always question. As a leader, he had complete faith in his staff. He would review his law clerks’ work product, but he would also take our suggestions very seriously. And he never micro-managed. He trusted us. I have learned over the years that fully trusting another person takes a tremendous amount of strength, and Judge Buchmeyer had that. Finally, he stuck to his beliefs. He was not focused on whether he was reversed or affirmed; he did not care what people thought of him. He ruled based on what the law said and what he felt was right within the parameters of the law. He made several landmark rulings, on issues like public housing and gay rights. Those rulings were often controversial, but he never backed down. Judge Buchmeyer’s memory still reminds me to trust my heart and to do what I know is right, no matter what the world at large says.
What about practicing law did you learn the hard way?
Humility is a lawyer’s greatest shield. And yes, I learned that the hard way. On a few occasions, I became a little proud of my legal knowledge and assumed that a particular case or brief had an obvious answer. In my hubris, I would make silly mistakes and unwarranted assumptions that would come back to bite me. Luckily, I was able to control the damage, but I have learned to stay humble. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to the client.
What is your favorite technology tool?
The iPhone has changed my life, mostly for the better. Before smartphones were invented, I used to be stressed out whenever I left my computer—afraid that some important email was waiting for me. Now, I can at least know what is out there and decide when and how to respond. The drawback is that work is always with me … in my pocket. But at least I can sort of relax when I am out.
What is your favorite non-technology tool?
My favorite non-technology resource is people. This sounds a bit clichéd, but over time I’ve found it to be absolutely true. Technology is wonderful, but there is no greater enabler in the world than truly top-quality people. We have found many at Atlas and are always looking for more.
How would you describe the location and décor of your office?
Our team mostly telecommutes. We have an office that we use when we need meeting space. It’s centrally located in Dallas so that it’s relatively equidistant for everyone. I would describe the décor as refined but understated. My personal workspaces, both at home and at the office, are pretty plain and very frenetic (which is a polite way of saying “messy”). I am usually working on a thousand things at once, going a mile a minute. But it’s all pretty, at least in my head.
Why would someone describe you as “enterprising”?
I am a big proponent of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. In today’s world of constantly changing technologies and business practices, adaptation is becoming not just a competitive advantage, but a survival tool. I always try to look for new ways to practice and to identify unfulfilled client needs. Usually, when I start out with an idea, people call me crazy. If the idea does not pan out, they call me “foolish.” When the idea does work out—like with legal process outsourcing—they call me “enterprising.” I think that to be considered enterprising, you have to be willing to take the risk of failing.
What is the first thing you “check” each morning?
First, I check the time to see whether I should work out first thing in the morning or later in the day. (I prefer mornings whenever possible.) A very close second is email. With an office in India, checking email helps me get caught up on that side of our operations.
Where do you think the practice of law is going?
I think lawyers can learn a great deal from the business world and business literature. Eventually, I bet lawyers will get wise to this and start studying and implementing business principles. Two of my favorite principles are: (1) putting the firm ahead of oneself and (2) entrusting others with key tasks. You often hear corporate clients say, “We hire lawyers, not law firms.” I think that idea is slowly getting turned on its head. Even solo practices will need to think more like enterprises. Lawyers are also notorious for being control freaks. That will have to change as law practice takes on more facets (e.g., technology, financial planning, time efficiency, user-friendliness, etc.).
Where are you going?
A very wise holy man once said to me, “If you want to make God laugh, just tell Him that you have a plan.” While I embrace planning, that statement made me realize that even the most well-thought-out plans can hit roadblocks. I would like to see Atlas Legal grow into a truly large-scale enterprise. Along the way, however, I plan to keep studying what made some large organizations successful while others perished. I hope we can grow Atlas Legal while still retaining its focus on client service and quality. Those two terms are thrown around a lot and given lip service. I want us to truly personify those concepts.
What are people most surprised to learn about you?
People are completely thrown off by the fact that I can do celebrity impersonations. I have even performed as Elvis in front of crowds. (They called me “The Maharajah of Rock.”) In fact, I did impersonations during my interview with Judge Buchmeyer. He asked me to do Kermit the Frog impersonating Ross Perot. I guess he liked the attempt; I got the job.
What do you use every single day that you could actually easily do without?
Television. I watch too much of it. I can get news online and can watch the occasional movie for entertainment. TV is just a time suck, but I can’t seem to break the habit. I would also say coffee is something I could do without, but really, I cannot. It’s essential.
What three things must you always have in your brief bag or desk drawer?
A Moleskine (for writing notes and ideas), a pen (with which to write in the Moleskine) and my laptop (along with a charging cord and iPhone cable). I didn’t include my iPhone in the list because it’s always on me.
Where do you turn when things go really badly?
I turn to my priest for guidance. My wife, Shefali, gives me emotional support. My co-workers inspire me to overcome; I owe it to them.
More about Rocky Dhir
Rocky Dhir is an attorney, entrepreneur and innovator. In 2000, he established Atlas Legal Research, LP. As Atlas’ CEO, Rocky is responsible for working with clients to make sure that Atlas provides them with helpful, high-quality work product and for providing training and feedback to Atlas’ team members. At his law firm, Dhir & Associates, he practices commercial litigation and acts as a legal advisor and outside general counsel to innovative start-up ventures. A published legal author and frequent speaker on legal outsourcing best practices, legal innovation and social media, Rocky was named by his peers as a Texas Rising Star in both 2008 and 2009. He lives in Dallas with his wife.
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