Kramer Holcomb Sheik was created on a whim, but since 2012 the general litigation firm has laid a foundation, more than doubled in size, and scored multiple seven-figure settlements.
By Ashley Cullins
Juliane Backmann / Special to the Daily Journal
John Holcomb, Shahrokh Sheik and Daniel Kramer of Kramer Holcomb Sheik LLP in Century City.
Kramer Holcomb Sheik LLP was born over beer and basketball.
Daniel Kramer first pitched the idea of starting a law firm to Shahrokh Sheik while having drinks and watching a Lakers game in early 2012. The idea became more than a passing notion the next week and the Southwestern Law School alumni brought in their classmate John Holcomb Jr.
“It was very important for us to think of it as a startup business,” Sheik said. “Even though we’re all attorneys, what we do is we provide a service to people.”
Getting into the mindset of that of business owners is an obstacle they worked together to overcome.
“Everything is a challenge, frankly, running a business,” Sheik said, adding that their dynamic helps them overcome challenges and disagreements. “If somebody’s really passionate about a certain thing, we hear that person out and then we all get on the same page.”
The trio spent about eight months having weekly partner meetings to determine their business model, practice areas and marketing strategy before launching in Century City in September 2012.
Each of the three partners practices a different area of law and handles a different aspect of the firm’s business: Kramer handles personal injury cases and the firm’s finances; Holcomb’s primary caseload is business litigation, with some employment cases, and he takes care of the firm’s administrative responsibilities; Sheik focuses on entertainment and corporate transactions and is in charge of the firm’s marketing efforts.
As a political science and history major, learning to use QuickBooks to create profit and loss sheets was a challenge for Kramer. He said each of them has done his homework on their new non-legal responsibilities.
“We go to seminars on it. We read books on it,” Kramer said. “It’s been fortunate that we have three partners that can each wear those different hats.”
Each of the partners brings four to five years of experience, Kramer and Holcomb with other Los Angeles firms and Sheik in-house with an entertainment trade association.
“We’ve always been confident about our ability to run a successful firm,” Holcomb said. “The biggest challenge was getting it started. I think so many people have a fear of not having the stability of an established firm and a salary, and I think that really holds a lot of people back.”
Kramer said their combined law school debt made finances a concern, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from moving forward.
“We didn’t have any money really saved up at the time and it was just a really big leap of faith,” Kramer said. “We’ve been fortunate because we’ve gotten some really good referrals.”
In its first three years, the firm has grown from only the founding partners to a team of 10, including two of counsel, two soon-to-be associates, a clerk, an office manager and a paralegal.
“In order to be a successful firm, you have to keep a lean and mean operation,” Sheik said. “We keep our overhead low so we’re able to provide a competitive rate and, at the end of the day, the most value to the client.”
Early success has helped them shape their business to meet their goals, according to Kramer.
“We’ve had multiple seven-figure settlements,” he said, mentioning specifically a CalTrans employee who received about $1.25 million after his work vehicle was sideswiped on the freeway. “It’s really afforded us the opportunity that we don’t have to take on a ton of cases. We can turn a lot away so we can devote attention to our clients.”
While defending personal injury cases for Gilbert, Kelly, Crowley & Jennett LLP, Kramer said he gained valuable experience that helps him now on the plaintiff’s side.
“Whenever I get a case I know how these insurance adjusters, how these defense lawyers are going to move because I used to do it,” Kramer said. “It gives my clients a leg up.”
Holcomb’s experience as a litigator for Baker, Keener & Nahra LLP helped prepare him for taking on corporate litigation clients. He said he enjoys working with business owners to solve problems and identify ways to make the business stronger.
“My goal is to tap the middle-market kind of companies, not really big corporations,” he said, adding that most of the business disputes he has handled for the firm have settled.
“I was on the defense side of a case where it was an $18 million dispute over whether something was an investment or a loan,” Holcomb said. “It settled for about $3 million and they had been asking for over $20 million. I felt pretty happy with that.”
Sheik handles much of the firm’s transactional work, joining from the Independent Film & Television Alliance where he gained experience working closely with entertainment clients.
Sheik’s client Max Ryan co-wrote and is starring in an upcoming film called “The Hunchback” for which they just secured director Chuck Russell.
“Now that we have [Russell] locked up, the financing is pretty much locked up as well,” he said, adding that the film is set to start filming in Serbia early next year.
Sheik said the most fulfilling part of his work is building long-term relationships with clients, an opinion his partners share.
“Our mentality is as they grow then they’re going to need more business and they come back to us,” Sheik said. “So if they grow, we grow.”
“I think we’re always going to remain kind of a tight-knit firm,” Holcomb said, adding that he could see the firm growing to 10 to 20 lawyers someday. “At this point three years in, we’ve definitely had some success and we’ve got a good foundation now and we’re looking to really get a sophisticated clientele and make a name for ourselves as having really good results for our clients.”
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