Charles Gluckstein, Partner and Lawyer of Gluckstein Lawyers

1 May, 2020

Erik Bermudez

Erik Bermudez


 


Charles Gluckstein is managing partner at Gluckstein Lawyers in Toronto, Canada, a law firm specializing in civil litigation. He joins us today to discuss his varied background in and detailed knowledge of the practice of law, and exactly how he has gotten to where he is now. Learn about his work habits, his outlook on running law firms as a business, and even his favorite brand of coffee in our debut episode of Taking the Stand.

Full Transcript


Erik Bermudez:

Hello everyone, and welcome to today's edition of Taking the Stand where our mission is to inspire you by inviting VIP guests to learn the success principles they've used to launch towards greater achievement. My name is Erik Bermudez alongside my cohost, Logan McCloud. We hope you enjoy today's show.


Charles, thank you so much, and welcome everyone to today's edition of our show. We're really blessed, and it's our pleasure to have Charles Gluckstein with us today. And so, Charles, why don't we just go ahead and dive in and do a little bit of background. And I actually did a little bit of background checking myself on you. And so, you're the president, obviously, of Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers out of Canada. And I noticed you've been practicing for over 20 years, is that right? And I'm interested just to get your take on what made you go into law?

Charles Gluckstein:

Thanks for having me on this podcast. It's always exciting for me to talk technology, especially legal technology. And yeah, so I've been practicing for over 20 years in personal injury. My dad is a personal injury lawyer. He's turning 84. And he started practicing, I guess, in 1960. And he gave me a passion for helping people with disability quite early on. And I've taken that through and taken over the firm and brought in what I could do to make the firm stronger and better and take it in a better direction in terms of technology, which has been a lot of fun.


Yeah, so one of the things that made me passionate about it was early on my dad used to take me out to the disabled games in Canada. And my dad's also a photographer and passed me that talent. And I took pictures at this place called Variety Village in near Toronto, which runs almost like an Olympics for people with disability.


And my dad's been promoting disability in sport continuously. And he still is one of the founding directors of a company called ParaSport Ontario, which is the largest disabled sports entity in the world, and they lead to athletics in the Paralympics. And he's gone to most of the Paralympics. So, I have a huge passion for that. Of course, once becoming a lawyer, I participate in a lot of disability events dealing with brain injury, spinal cord injury, and now cerebral palsy issues.

Erik Bermudez:

Got it. Okay, okay. So, it's obvious you have a passion for it, and that's great. As I did a little bit more of digging in your background, I couldn't even list the amounts of awards and publishings that you've done. So, you're obviously really good at what you do. In fact, some of the ones, just to name a couple, you're the past president of Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, Best Lawyers International Canada since 2014, Lexpert Zenith Award, amongst others. And according to your site, you've also authored a couple of publishings around legal and legal operations and law in general. Is there an award that you're most proud of amongst those that you've earned over the course of your career?

Charles Gluckstein:

You know what? Thank you. And I think awards are a little overrated. I'm more obviously the clients and the cases that I've been involved in. I've been very fortunate to be in this field. It gives you great pleasure when you're able to assist an individual who has a serious disability and help plan their future. The awards are nice recognition. It's nice that our peers, and a lot of them come from peers, so other lawyers voting, and that's always great to be recognized that way.


Obviously, 2013 was a big year when I became the president of the Ontario Trial Lawyer Association. I would say that was a big thing for me. I had worked in that organization for over 10 years as a director and eventually through their executive, and had a difficult year as their president. It was challenging times for our industry.


Auto insurance is always under attack by government. And just like you'd probably see in the U.S. through lobbies of corporations, we face lobbies from the Insurance Bureau of Canada continuously. So, we had a very successful year of, of clawing back some of the changes and dealing with other corporate challenges. So, it was a very memorable year, and I made some important contacts.

Erik Bermudez:

Well, look, we just are thrilled to have you on the show. Obviously, a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and background. So, really do appreciate you taking a few minutes out of your day to share some of your success tips with us and the rest of the group that's listening, so appreciate it.

Charles Gluckstein:

Thank you.

Logan McCloud:

Now, Charles, you and I, we go back pretty far. I think it's probably two, three years now that you and I have been in contact and conversing. And obviously it's always a pleasure to get to work with you and rub shoulders where we can. But we wanted to bring you on the show today and have you tell us a success story or something that you've done at your firm that has been really been impactful for you guys in what you've done.


So, I wanted to open that, and just understand a little bit on what motivates you each and every day to wake up, go to the law firm. You obviously referenced a few things earlier on, the good charity work that you guys are doing and stuff like that. But what motivates you? What gets you out of bed each morning?

Charles Gluckstein:

You know what? Thanks, Logan. And Logan, you've been a big part of the success of our launch with Filevine. You were introduced to us as the Domo champion. And I'll tell you, Domo is a big motivator for me in what I love about Filevine, which I'll get into. But I think the best part, on the other side of a 20-year career, a lot of people think that's the halfway point. A lot of people look for becoming a judge after 20 years. And I still love practicing law. I still get very excited and motivated to take our firm into interesting times where there is so many challenges.


I think what I get excited about is all the different opportunities that our firm has by the position we are in the industry. We've been mostly a motor vehicle firm for the first, say, 10 years of my career, where we did actually both sides. So, a lot of Canadian lawyers will do both plaintiff and defense side. I know that's unusual in the U.S. We are now only plaintiff personal injury.


But what I did around 10 years ago is I started looking at other areas that would intrigue us such as medical malpractice, which is a very complex area in Canada,. It's much different than it is in the U.S. It's not insurer backed. So, we have to go against the doctor and their reputations, and it's a government funded system that protects them. So, it's a much, much more challenging case than what you see in the U.S. where there are private insurers negotiating.


So, that has been really, really exciting because I love the science. I love using technology, of course, to improve the firm's functions and look for ways. I know I push you all the time, both of you, Erik and Logan, to do more efficiencies for our firm. And I look at other technologies that I can integrate to make everyone more productive. I love that part of it.


So, I love the diversity of the practice. I love the technology. There's a business side of the practice that I really love. So, obviously you heard about the client side first. That's the first motivator. But these other motivators make my job really, really interesting because there's so many parts to it that I can move around the day and tap into different aspects that keep me cognitively stimulating and excited about the next opportunity.

Logan McCloud:

Right, yeah. No, I would totally agree. Obviously, my professional career is very young, but couldn't agree more about finding those things that are stimulating for your mind and give you that sense of self fulfillment. So, couldn't agree more there. In relation to that, though, what's the most proud moment you've had either as a business or an individual, a good story that you've had while running your firm?

Charles Gluckstein:

That's a good discussion point. On the business side, let's talk about the business side, because Filevine has a lot to do with the business success, and I think it's important to highlight that. Even though I've only been with Filevine for I think three-and-a-half years, it's really helped me streamline my practice.


So, my dad ran the firm for a long time. I came into practice in 1996 where I was working with him. And by about 2003 or '04, I started digitizing and going into a paperless office. And we had new space, and I took over the management of the firm. And so, I used a strategic advisor that helped me understand the business side of law.


A lot of lawyers go into the practice, they're overwhelmed with caseload, and they don't really want to deal with management, HR, technology. All that stuff's delegated out. And I think it's very important for lawyers to get that business sense. And so for me, it wasn't until I would say about 10 years ago where I started to get lessons on the finance side of the business and how to manage the practice and really look at where we could improve things.


And so, that's why I was doing this with spreadsheets and with data that I pulled from antiquated programs. And so, when I met you, Logan, you were like a breath of fresh air as what you showed me what we could do with Domo. And I know I've got 25 or 30 Domo reports that you're working on for me. But I believe that if someone were to ask me anything about my business, I have that answer.


And it's because of what you've done with the data and Filevine and showing it through Domo that I can at a moment's notice drill down and see my referral sources, see the revenue stream, see how the lawyers' productivity is, see how the staff productivity is. I can really challenge my staff on issues that I would've had no idea about.


So, my epiphany came when I could take the files and rank them in fee categories and drill down and look at my inventory and see, okay, what are we working on? Are we working on files that are generating revenue for us? Are we spinning our wheels and working on files that we're losing money on? And so, by ranking these files in, say, three categories, large fee, moderate fee, or a small fee, I was able to really focus the lawyers and make them more productive on the files that really mattered.


And I did that maybe seven, eight years ago, and our revenue has doubled, tripled over that time. We've been able to buy other practices. We've been able to take on more staff, be more productive, more work, and really, really focus on the work that generates the best opportunities for us.

Logan McCloud:

Right. And when you implemented that change, how did your staff take it? I mean, obviously coming in from a large practice that has obviously I've done things right in the past, that's probably a big change. How did they receive that?

Charles Gluckstein:

So, there's been a lot of technology introduced by myself. The first technology, probably back in 2003, when we went paperless. I brought in a document management system, which put everything into PDFs, et cetera. And that actually went really well because now we didn't have to pull these large banker boxes around, and we didn't have to worry about looking for medical reports. So, going paperless was a pretty easy adapter.


Case management software was a struggle. So, the first CRM that we brought in was like an elixir of spreadsheets that was not user-friendly. And I won't name names, but that was pulling teeth to get people to put data from their client contact, from all their information to digitize it and put that in instead of using notes and hiding them in PDF somewhere. Going to case management software was a struggle.

Charles Gluckstein:

Now switching from that CRM to Filevine was a pleasure. Really, really welcomed addition, very user-friendly. Now that we're in these COVID days, I've been running webinars. I got one tomorrow for my staff on Filevine skills, and they're maximizing what they can do in the program. When we were in our previous program, we did the absolute minimum of data entry. And so, now there is so much data going into Filevine that I'm just trying to think, okay, where can we go next? What else can we use? We're probably utilizing such a big portion of the program, and it's very exciting.


So, I think the staff have embraced it. Certainly I'm hearing right now during COVID that thank God you did what you did, because a lot of our competitors are handcuffed. They can't do half of what we're doing in terms of efficiencies, and that's because of how we've implemented Filevine and the technologies like that.

Erik Bermudez:

That's something super important, in fact. I spent 10 years in healthcare technology before coming over to where I'm at today. And I'll tell you, Charles, I mean, that's one of the biggest impediments to adoption is just that element of change management. How do you get an entire workforce... Whether it's a process, whether it's a technology, regardless, changing is tough. And so, hey, kudos to you and your team for being able to introduce and thoroughly adopt all these new items that you've been a part of.

Charles Gluckstein:

And my advice to others, Erik, is that it's very important that you as the leader embrace it first. So, if you go back and you look at all the Filevine implementations and migrations that we've done from just taking our original Word created documents to now our PDFs from our other document management service, I've been the Guinea pig.


So, I show the staff and my team around me, like they're maybe not so happy because I'm the one who goes through all the bumps and the bugs of working out how we want it to look. But if I do it as the leader, and I show them, listen, we're better than you were in the previous domain, everyone wants in. Right? Because now they're all like, oh, well, when do we get our chance to launch our Filevine integration? And so, that's how it worked.


And I think that's important because a lot of business a lot of the firm owners may not run their case loads. I think that may be harder to crack the whip and tell people. It's almost like you're delegating it to someone else to say, "You run the IT, you run the HR." You have to have a bit of your foot into it and go through the bumps with everyone else.


And that way I'm the best person to teach the staff how to use Filevine because I'm deep into it. I know how to customize stuff. I mean, it helps that I'm an enthusiast. Right? I love it. So, I love what you guys have done and that's why I embrace it, and I'm passionate to explain it to others.

Logan McCloud:

Right, right. Now you mentioned something earlier that I wanted to touch on just because I think you're going to have a really interesting take, probably more than anybody else, as you mentioned unique problems that the legal industry is facing right now. Tell us about that. What are some of the challenges that you guys have had to overcome that these unique problems or new problems that are bringing up?

Charles Gluckstein:

Yeah. So, I don't know if they're new. But most personal injury lawyers in Canada, I would say mostly Ontario and BC, are practicing motor vehicle as their dominant practice. Because unlike in the U.S., we have very high insurance coverage. So, for instance, a motor vehicle case has mostly a million dollar policy behind it. And, for instance, in the U.S. it may have $40,000 if you're lucky. So, you need deep pockets to sue someone for a motor vehicle accident, whereas we don't. There's always an insurance policy to cover it.


So, motor vehicle has been the bread and butter practice, and I think the U.S. equivalent is your medical malpractice. Our medical malpractice has been extremely a steep, steep learning curve, and a very difficult outcome. Very, very few cases get proceeded on, and the success rate is less than 25%. So, it's a very, very different field.


So, government regulates insurance provincially. So, your state would regulate insurance. And they're constantly in a struggle with stabilizing the cost of insurance, which is expensive because it's a very... you get a million dollar coverage. So, it may cost $1,500 to insure a vehicle in Ontario, but you get a million dollar coverage.


The drivers want the insurance rates down, and the government as a quid pro quo will ask the insurance industry how to do that. And the insurance industry will say, "Well, we could bring in a threshold for pain and suffering. We could bring in caps. We could bring in deductibles." And they bring in everything. And so, they've cut our policies in half. We have deductibles. Our juries don't like these cases with invisible injuries. Most of these cases go to juries. There's a lot of shutouts with invisible injury cases. So, we have lots of challenges.


And on the medical negligence side, doctors are given a huge deference for their intelligence and what they do to society. So, to get a judge to say they made a mistake is actually quite hard. And these cases often will go to trial because they know the doctors will get that deference. So, it's almost like they're held to a different standard of care than any other individual who makes a mistake.


So, there are lots of challenges. It's hard for firms to finance themselves. We have five big banks that are internationally known. There's not a lot of secondary lenders. So, to get a chartered bank to give you a big line of credit to finance your files is difficult. So, personal injury firms have a tough time to especially run medical malpractice cases because they can cost a hundred thousand and more to finance, whereas motor vehicle cases may be $20,000, $30,000 each to run. So, it's hard. It's hard to manage a personal injury practice in this day and age. And I think to newcomers, they're less likely to take the risk.

Logan McCloud:

Yeah, that's what I really wanted to ask is what kind of resilience for somebody that's breaking into this right now, what do they need to come to the table with if they're going to be successful like you?

Charles Gluckstein:

Yeah. You need to be a rainmaker. Right? So, you need to be strong in the marketing side. You need to be a good lawyer. You need to get good results because you can't afford to fail, especially if you're doing medical malpractice. But as a young lawyer coming into the area, there's a lot of things you can do with technology to keep yourself efficient. Filevine and other technologies, we use Zoom obviously, has made us extremely efficient.


You don't have to rely on staff to do intakes. I do an intake from start to finish on my own. I can draft the retainer through document generation. I can get all that out. And my staff can be working on other projects instead of being tied up with the same one. So, there is a way with the day and age that we're in for someone to run a firm on the cheap with using technology.


And I think it's important that if they're getting into high risk cases that they team up with the right experts and the right... There's lots of council arrangements. We counsel lots of smaller firms to assist them with their medical files and auto files that are too expensive for them to run.

Logan McCloud:

Interesting, interesting. Well, in that thread then, if you could go back 10 years and give yourself a piece of advice, what would you tell yourself?

Charles Gluckstein:

Yeah, that's interesting. So, I think if I was 10 years ago and I knew what I knew today, I would embrace technology early. Obviously, I think everyone's kicking themselves in the COVID days that they didn't do that upgrade or that migration earlier, because the ones who have the technology are running quite well right now and the other ones are slower.


So, I think I did what I wanted to do technology wise. I mean, there wasn't many more options there. I'm glad I did what I did. That would be the advice, though, is to follow that path. If you are passionate about taking the plunge and investing in technology, you should do so.v

But the business side of law is very important. It's important that you do take a day away maybe every couple of weeks at first, and it may turn into a day every week, where you get to think about your business as a whole. There's a marketing aspect, there's the HR aspect, there's the IT side of it, but there is also the finance part of it. You got to have the finance side to run this business, and you've got to understand your pipeline.


Luckily, most of us in personal injury have about a three-year pipeline of work, but what's happening in year four? And are you going to be overstaffed, understaffed? What are the opportunities? What are the threats, the strengths, the weaknesses, all of that, that you learn in the business world. I would embrace that early.


A lot of us don't have MBAs. But join a business group, and do that early on. As a strategic coach, I get a one-on-one through these business networks, and they really, really help me to understand my business and to think about law in a way that you need to in order to be successful. It's great to have the clients and love the work, but that is only one aspect of it, and you've got to have those other aspects to keep you going. Otherwise, you'll burn out. You can't just do trial after trial and expect your firm to survive.

Erik Bermudez:

That's great advice. And I think that's so applicable in so many different verticals and industries where going into something at first glance at the onset, you may think, oh, this is it. I'm just going to practice law, or I'm just going to be a dentist, or I'm just going to be a physician. When especially if you're going on your own, and there's so much more business elements that are wrapped around that core item that you have to be savvy on, otherwise you won't survive. So, that makes complete sense.

Erik Bermudez:

So, Charles, we're going to jump into the last segment here. And we're going to do a segment that's fun for us. It's the rapid fire questions. And the intent is to get your first gut reaction response, but it allows us and others to unpack how you think and get a little bit deeper and know you a little bit more. So, a couple of these are obviously pretty laughable. So, let's go ahead and jump into these.

Charles Gluckstein:

Okay.

Erik Bermudez:

Dog or cat?

Charles Gluckstein:

Dog.

Erik Bermudez:

Ice cream...

Charles Gluckstein:

I have two dogs behind me.

Erik Bermudez:

Yeah, that was about to say

Charles Gluckstein:

One's sitting on the floor there snoring.

Erik Bermudez:v
Okay. Ice cream or snow cone?

Charles Gluckstein:

Ice cream.

Erik Bermudez:

Okay. Tim Hortons or Dunkin Donuts?

Charles Gluckstein:

Tim Hortons, of course.

Logan McCloud:v
No brainer, right?

Erik Bermudez:v
There we go. There we go.

Logan McCloud:v
What's your go-to at Tim Horton's?

Charles Gluckstein:

I don't put anything in my coffee, so it's just a regular black. Yeah.

Erik Bermudez:

Got it. Okay.

Charles Gluckstein:

Pretty straight. Pretty boring.

Logan McCloud:

Yeah, it's all right.

Charles Gluckstein:

But Tim Horton's is, by far, the leader, yeah.

Erik Bermudez:

Seinfeld or Friends?

Charles Gluckstein:

Seinfeld, although my son is now watching all of the old Friends reruns on Netflix.

Erik Bermudez:

There you go. Okay.

Charles Gluckstein:

Going through all 15 seasons or how many there are. It is funny to see them again. Really dates me. You guys are a bit younger.

Erik Bermudez:

Coke or Pepsi?

Charles Gluckstein:

I'm a soda water guy.

Erik Bermudez:

Oh, no kidding. Okay.

Charles Gluckstein:

Yeah, no flavored soda for me.

Erik Bermudez:

Okay. There you go.

Charles Gluckstein:

It's all just sparkling water. And I use the SodaStream, and I put it in my thing every day.

Erik Bermudez:

Every day. Nice.

Logan McCloud:

Yeah, nice.

Charles Gluckstein:

Yeah, so I'm a neutral on that one.

Erik Bermudez:v
And either which company or person do you admire most?

Charles Gluckstein:v
Which company or person? Probably Elon Musk.

Logan McCloud:

Yeah, there we go.

Erik Bermudez:

Okay.

Charles Gluckstein:

I know there's a lot of controversy. But I do have a Model 3, and I subscribed to a newsletter called Electric which covers all the tech news in the EV world and solar world. He's far ahead of what others have done and he's quite a visionary.

Erik Bermudez:

Absolutely.

Logan McCloud:

So, have you put your deposit in for your Cybertruck?

Charles Gluckstein:

You know what? I'm not into the big trucks. I would get a Model Y as a second one and then put my Model 3 into their taxi fleet, because my dogs don't go into my Model 3 because there's no hatchback. So then it's a bit of a mess take them to... We have a lot of crappy weather here, so they come muddy from the park, and I don't really want to put them on the leather seats in the back. So, I need a hatchback. And the Model Y came... It's only coming out now. But no, I don't think I get a Cybertruck, but I love it, love the idea of it. I love the Model X. My neighbor has one of those. Beautiful, beautiful car.

Logan McCloud:

Yep, couldn't agree more.

Charles Gluckstein:

My bike fits perfectly. I'm a road cyclist. I do triathlons and Ironman. Actually was supposed to do an Ironman in Santa Rosa, closer to you than me, and that's the end of July. Fingers crossed that that somehow still goes off, but I doubt it. But my road bike fits perfectly in the Model 3 with the seats down.

Logan McCloud:

Nice.

Charles Gluckstein:

So, that was the qualifier for that car.

Logan McCloud:

These are nice cars.

Charles Gluckstein:

Yeah.

Erik Bermudez:

Well, look, we really appreciate your time, Charles. It's been a blast talking about how you think about law, how you think about business today. It's been a pleasure. So, thank you so much for dedicating some time with us today.

Charles Gluckstein:

Well, thanks for going easy on me.

Erik Bermudez:

You bet.

Logan McCloud:

We'll bring you on for an update here in a couple of months, and we'll really start drilling in and get you really decisive questions.

Charles Gluckstein:

Oh, it was a lot of fun. I hope it's good stuff for you guys.