The Enterprising Lawyer: Steve Harhai
Who are these “enterprising lawyers” anyway? Actually, they are easy to spot. Look for the more successful, more engaged and happier lawyers in the crowd. They are deeply invested in the power of the work they do for their clients, but have ample interests beyond the practice of law. And they seem to have more energy than anyone around them for getting things done. You probably know one or two—you may be one yourself! Beyond all that, though, you just know an enterprising lawyer when you meet one, and we’re going to introduce you to a few more. Attorney at Work’s new interview series begins today with Steve Harhai—a matrimonial lawyer who foresaw the marriage between computers and law before IBM was making PCs. That’s him, wakeboarding at Carter Lake, CO.
Stephen J. Harhai
Law Office of Stephen J. Harhai
University of Pennsylvania (BA, 1968)
University of Pennsylvania Law School (JD, 1976)
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
The idea that there are rules that require all of us to act with fairness and consideration of others has always appealed to me. Being able to use those rules to make the system work the way it should is the real privilege of practicing law.
What is the focus of your law practice?
Our practice is 100 percent limited to family law. My typical case involves large assets, trust interests, closely held businesses, professional practices and related financial issues. I’m essentially working on the financial divorce, helping the clients formulate a plan that preserves assets, minimizes disruption to the business or practice and provides a sound financial footing post-divorce.
What is the real reason clients hire you?
As it turns out, there are lots of attorneys who can handle the difficult psychological factors that arise in a divorce and a lot who are good with numbers. For some reason, there aren’t that many who are good at both. I genuinely enjoy helping my clients cope with the stress of divorce as positively as possible and I can happily spend hours creating complex models to test financial solutions. The ability to do both is of huge value to divorce clients.
Who was your most important mentor and, in a sentence, what did they teach you?
I dropped out of law school during the Viet Nam war because it didn’t seem relevant to the larger questions that society was grappling with at the time. I spent part of that time in India studying meditation. One of my teachers there helped me see that even though I couldn’t fix everything, I could acquire the skills to fix some things.
What about practicing law did you learn the hard way?
That controlling expenses is more important than controlling revenue. I hope someone from the Federal government reads this piece and takes the message to heart.
What is your favorite technology tool?
Mindmapping. I have mindmapped multi-week trials, articles, business plans, you name it. It is the single best way I have ever found for visualizing and organizing complex ideas.
What is your favorite non-technology tool?
My Pilot Dr. Grip Gel pen. Love the way it feels and writes.
How would you describe the location and décor of your office?
I bought and renovated a 1920s era Denver Square house in the Uptown neighborhood in the 1980s. It is 10 minutes from the Denver courthouse and my home. It’s been reworked and fine tuned over the years to give us exactly the space we need. It’s simple and comfortable and makes our clients feel at home during a very stressful time.
Why would someone describe you as “enterprising?”
I’ve been looking for better, more efficient ways to practice law from the day I started my practice. I started using computers before the IBM PC existed and have automated virtually every task that is susceptible to automation. We began our paperless client files in the 1990s and completely phased out paper by the turn of the millennium. Our support staff to producer ratios are the lowest in the industry.
What is the first thing you “check” each morning?
The obituaries. If I’m not listed, I consider it a great day. After that I go to email and Twitter. I try not to spend too much time on financial news until later in the day because it disturbs the staff to see me cry.
Where do you think the practice of law is going?
The repetitive work will be commoditized, automated and outsourced. The complex analytical functions will become more and more valuable as critical discrimination and pattern matching skills will be absolutely essential to solve problems in an ever more complex world.
Where are you going?
Always forward. I mostly like practicing law and can find ways to work around or delegate the parts I don’t like, so I’ll probably keep at it for quite a while, God willing and the creek don’t rise. I try to learn something new constantly, both in my professional and personal lives, to keep a fresh perspective.
What are people most surprised to learn about you?
Take your pick:
- I have never played golf.
- I have set foot on one of the most inaccessible spots on the planet: the roof of the White House.
- I have medaled twice in snowboard in the NASTAR National Championships.
What do you use every single day that you could actually easily do without?
Running shoes. Running barefoot is clearly the ergonomically superior option, but I’m a wimp.
What three things must you always have in your brief bag, desk drawer or refrigerator?
- Kindle. I read at any odd opportunity, like sitting at traffic lights.
- Calculator. Love math, hate arithmetic.
- Camera/Music Player/Texting Device/Twitter client/GPS/Netflix player/Internet browser/Photo album/WordPress client/Radio/Email client/Notebook/Map/Game console device that also happens to make phone calls.
Where do you turn when things go really badly?
More About Steve Harhai
Steve Harhai is a family lawyer in Denver, CO, at the Law Office of Stephen J. Harhai. He blogs for clients at RationalDivorce.com and writes the humor blog wordflirt.wordpress.com. Check out his profile at LinkedIn/Steve-Harhai and follow him on Twitter @DivorceZen.