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EP 60 | Richard Chen on Legal Matters to Consider Before Starting an RIA Firm

09.01.21 | 0 Market Scale

Richard Chen is the Founder and Managing Partner of Richard L. Chen PLLC. Through his law firm, Richard provides practical legal advice to financial advisors, investment managers, and other financial institutions, helping them focus on serving their clients better. Richard completed his undergraduate degree in Government, with honors, at Harvard University and received his Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. Richard is a person with blindness, but his visual disability only fuels his passion for serving others - whether it’s through motivational speaking, mentoring other people with disabilities, or providing free legal counsel to the underserved. 

Richard joins me today to discuss why it’s vital for financial advisors to seek legal counsel when starting their own independent financial advisory firm. He explains the different provisions a financial advisor may need to agree with before leaving their current employer and starting their own business.  He describes many strategic and legal points a financial advisor will need to consider in succession planning. He also shares his advice on running a small business for the entrepreneurial financial advisor and highlights how his faith and desire to help others have inspired him to achieve great things in life.

 

“It’s important to get legal counsel when navigating these transitions. Depending on where the financial advisor is coming from, transitions can require some coordination.” - Richard Chen

 

This week on The Model FA Podcast: 

        Legal matters financial advisors should consider before starting an independent firm

        Confidentiality, non-solicitation, and other legal obligations financial advisors may need to agree to before going independent

        Why financial advisors need to enlist the help of legal counsel when starting their own business

        What constitutes trade secrets and understanding the parameters of disclosure

        The Broker Protocol and how non-solicitation provisions vary in different states

        What counts for a violation of non-solicitation restrictions

        Strategic and legal considerations for succession planning

        The E-Myth, why it was impactful for Richard, and how to avoid getting overwhelmed as an entrepreneur

        Where Richard found the motivation to accomplish great things despite blindness

        Facing discrimination and proving doubters wrong

        The importance of taking things one step at a time

 

Resources Mentioned: 

        Book: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

 

Our Favorite Quotes:

        “When a financial advisor is considering a transition from the broker-dealer space to the independent space, seeking legal counsel is the first step to take.” - David DeCelle

        “Being an entrepreneur means understanding the importance of working on the business as well as in it. Otherwise, it’s just another job.” - Richard Chen

        “Focusing on our higher purpose makes whatever we’re going through tiny compared to what we’re called to do.” - David DeCelle

 

Connect with Richard Chen: 

        Richard L. Chen Website

        Email: [email protected]

        Richard Chen on LinkedIn 

 

About the Model FA Podcast

 

The Model FA podcast is a show for fiduciary financial advisors. In each episode, our host David DeCelle sits down with industry experts, strategic thinkers, and advisors to explore what it takes  to build a successful practice — and have an abundant life in the process. We believe in continuous learning, tactical advice, and strategies that work — no “gotchas” or BS. Join us to hear stories from successful financial advisors, get actionable ideas from experts, and re-discover your drive to build the practice of your dreams.

 

Did you like this conversation? Then leave us a rating and a review in whatever podcast player you use. We would love your feedback, and your ratings help us reach more advisors with ideas for growing their practices, attracting great clients, and achieving a better quality of life. While you are there, feel free to share your ideas about future podcast guests or topics you’d love to see covered.

 

Our Team:

President of Model FA, David DeCelle

 

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

Richard Chen  0:07

If we talk about the legal components, just to walk folks through it, typically, it's going to involve some sort of agreement, whether it's an asset purchase agreement, or a purchase of interest in the entity of the buying of interest in the business itself, and then especially if it's an external transaction, there's going to be elements of due diligence, making sure that there's a good match both from a strategic standpoint, as well as thinking about, do our tech stacks matchup? Are there any disciplinary issues that we should be aware of or complaints? Or is there any litigation or red flags that we need to think about? So that's part of the process, once folks get further down the road.

 

David DeCelle  0:55

Welcome Model FA's, I am very excited to spend some time with our guests today, Richard Chen, who is the managing partner over at Richard Chen PLLC, essentially helps with everything that you need from a legal standpoint, ranging from starting your practice to compliance to cybersecurity and all things in between. So we're going to spend some time; actually a little bit of a different format today. So typically, we'll start off with our guest’s background and their story, head into what they do professionally and how they're serving advisors, head into their favorite book. And of course, one of my favorites is the after-hours portion of the show. Well we're gonna flip this around a little bit. So what we're going to do is we're going to focus on Richard's profession and how he adds value to advisors, what advisors should be looking out for from a legal standpoint. So I’ve got some questions prepared for Richard. Then we'll head into his favorite book, talk about that, and then we're gonna get into his backstory. And I think part of the reason why I want to wait for this is because Richard's backstory is phenomenal. And I think a lot of advisors struggle with excuses throughout their business and throughout their life. And I think Richard’s story is one that kind of gets rid of all your excuses, quite frankly, based on what he's been able to accomplish, especially with some of the things that he's dealt with in his life that could be interpreted as the perfect excuse to not do anything. But in reality, he's accomplished a lot, man he’s overcome some of those things. So we're going to spend a lot of time on that. I think this is one of my — I think I can speak for this before we even get into the podcast — but this is going to be one of my favorite shows unpacking your story, Richard. So, I appreciate your openness and willingness to be on the show. I appreciate Brad Wales, one of our prior guests, making an introduction to you, and very excited to learn more about your story. So Richard, thank you for joining the show.

 

Richard Chen  2:51

Thanks for having me, David. It's great to be here.

 

David DeCelle  2:54

Awesome. So you are in the legal space for our industry. So to give you some context about me specifically, because I want to ask some questions for people who may be in a similar seat as I was. I come from the broker dealer space where a lot of the stuff that you do was handled at the broker dealer level. So I never really had experience with folks like you, when I went into consulting, I stopped being an advisor, and therefore I didn't open up an independent practice. So I'm somewhat new to your role as it relates to helping advisors kind of get into business on their own. So I'm going to ask some questions that would be relevant for those folks, as well as some questions around them transitioning, and once they do get to the point of pure independence, what are the things that they should be considering from a legal standpoint. So I guess my first question would be, Richard, when someone's considering making a transition from the broker dealer space over to the independent space, there's a multitude of things that they need to consider. They need to consider are they going out on their own or are they joining a larger firm? They're considering their tech stack. How are they going to deliver a great client experience and planning process? They're considering names and logos and marketing and coaching and things like that. But specifically, from a legal standpoint, what are things that advisors need to make sure that they're aware of during that transition specifically as it relates to the legal component of that process?

 

Richard Chen  4:23

That's a great question, David. And I think there's three general buckets of things that we want to consider. The first relates to what are the obligations that are owed to the advisor’s current employer; because oftentimes, advisors will be required to sign on to employment agreements that contain certain restrictions on what they can do once they leave. Non-solicitation of client and non-solicitation of employees are very common restrictions. And so it's important to understand what those restrictions are. Now there are definitely certain parameters around how advisors can leave depending on whether their firm is involved in say the broker protocol, whether or not. But it's important to understand what those restrictions are upfront. The second thing to consider is the fact that there are oftentimes confidentiality obligations that are owed to the firm and preservation of those trade secrets. So important to understand what those are and what an advisor can and can't take with them. And the third thing is there are privacy considerations that relate to the advisor’s clients as they are with the current employer, and because there are certain regulatory obligations that flow from the need to preserve that confidentiality. But it's important to take stock of all of those things, and important to get some counsel in terms of how to navigate these transitions, because depending on where the advisor is coming from, it can require some coordination.

 

David DeCelle  5:41

Cool. So let's walk through each of those in a little bit more depth. I'm going to go somewhat out of order, so the middle one first. So you mentioned something to the effect of trade secrets, and certain firms wanting to make sure that you're not sharing those with others and things like that. Can you give me some examples of what some of those trade secrets may be that advisors need to be mindful of?

 

Richard Chen  6:05

Yeah, well, they can include methods in terms of how a firm does its work, as well as even the list of clients, or the way that the firm prospects for clients or things like that. Those can constitute trade secrets. Oftentimes, just the way in which a firm does things or even the documents that it has in place to work with the client can be protectable.

 

David DeCelle  6:26

So I feel like, my non-legal self, I feel like there's a potential of a lot of gray area with that point, specifically. So let's say hypothetically, I learned a particular prospecting strategy with the firm that I used to be with; and perhaps that prospecting strategy, maybe they have documents and PDFs and videos, and things like that, that share with you how to actually execute that. So I think it's fairly obvious that things like that you can't download on your computer and keep them for yourself. However, if I've already learned that strategy, it's tough to unlearn that. So am I expected to not use what I've already learned that may not be truly proprietary? Or what's the expectation there? Because I feel like there's room for some gray area and interpretation with that point.

 

Richard Chen  7:20

It can get very complex very quickly. I mean, I think the first thing to understand is what are the actual obligations that are imposed in the confidentiality provisions in the various agreements that the advisor signs. But oftentimes, especially to the extent that they are more widely known, I think there's a relatively good way of thinking about this is that the more widely known, it seems to be there’s less of a protectable interest. But again, the really important thing is to understand what are the parameters of the restrictions on disclosure and use, because they are both often covered in confidentiality provisions that advisors sign on to employment agreements, or they can be in policies and procedures that they agreed to abide by; so they can find their way in a variety of circumstances. And I think this is where it's important to really talk with counsel and look through the specific types of scenarios in terms of what you're thinking about doing. Yeah, unfortunately, it is very facts and circumstances specific.

 

David DeCelle  8:17

Gotcha. Now, specifically as it relates to the third point that you made, which is privacy, a quick yes or no question. I'm guessing that you're talking one of those line items could perhaps be client data contact information, things like that. Is that accurate?

 

Richard Chen  8:31

Yes. Yes. So there's a regulation called Regulation SP that governs financial firms that protects that data, and especially from, including with respect to, folks who are leaving the firm. So there need to be certain protections in place with respect to making sure that clients is not being misappropriated by the parting advisor. Now, oftentimes, because its transitions are coordinated, part of the coordination is making sure that those privacy laws are not violated.

David DeCelle  9:01

I think the juiciest point that you made, which is with the transition, non-solicit agreements, as you mentioned. So let's say I'm an advisor, I have $100 million in assets under management and I have some sort of non-solicit agreement with the firm that I was with prior that in writing prevents me from bringing over those clients. Or some firms, I don't know if they also include non competes where they expect you if you leave to do something totally different in a different industry, but I've heard a lot of , conflicting stories in the past. So I've heard things like yeah, there's a non-solicit but there's ways around it and they don't really hold up per se if it were to go to court. I've heard things like nope, I literally am not allowed to do so and they'll get sued. I’ve heard of companies using some scare tactics with a bunch of legal paperwork when they leave, kind of scare tactics if you will. So if I'm someone who has 100 million bucks in assets and I want to transition, how do I make a living if I have a non-solicit? Is there a way to still transition clients without potentially getting sued by that prior firm? What are you seeing in the industry?

 

Richard Chen  10:17

Yeah, so that's a great question. And unfortunately, the answer is it really depends, and it's very facts and circumstances specific. So, there's a couple of things to think about. First is that the laws that apply with respect to an agreement, oftentimes are spelled out in the agreement, and they are often state specific. So states have different parameters as to the enforceability of provisions related to non-competition and non-solicitation of clients and employees. And so oftentimes, it does require analysis of the state specific laws, and what's the court likely to do in those circumstances. You know, sometimes those provisions may be considered overly broad. Sometimes there are certain states like California where non-competition, non-solicitation provisions have been seen as in less favorable light in terms of enforceability, but it really is state specific. But there is also another consideration, which is whether or not the firm that the advisor is departing from is part of what's called the broker protocol, which is a reciprocal agreement whereby the parties who are signatories to the protocol have agreed to facilitate transition, because sometimes they are on the receiving end of advisors who are coming in, sometimes they're on the departing side where the advisors are leaving. And so instead of going back and forth, constant litigation, with respect to these restrictive covenants, the parties who agreed to the to be signatories to the protocol agree that the advisor can, under certain specified conditions, take basic information related to the client, including contact information. But definitely much more detailed information they're not supposed to take relating to the clients’ files. So that is designed to facilitate transition, and that can definitely make it much more palatable and easier for an advisor to leave a firm that is a signatory to the protocol. If the advisors not, it definitely involves much more detailed understanding of what the restrictions are in the agreement, and looking at the state laws and sort of how the states have interpreted similar types of provisions in the past.

 

David DeCelle  12:36

Now is my understanding correct that when you leave, if a client reaches out to you directly, and says, I want to still work with you, that that circumvents any sort of non-solicit that was in place, if the client is the one making that request? Or am I thinking about that wrong?

 

Richard Chen  12:55

No, no, just because the client reaches out to you directly does not mean that you will not have violated the provision. It can still potentially be seen as a violation of the restriction.

 

David DeCelle  13:06

So in theory, there could be situations to where someone's transition is a non-issue and they bring their 100 million dollars with them. Depending on the contract that they signed, there could be a scenario to where if clients call them that's okay, some situations that may not be okay. And then the worst-case scenario, have you seen, within your time practicing and working with the financial services industry, have you ever seen someone with a good-sized book of business, call it $100 million, to where they're literally starting from scratch if they go out on their own? Or is that not typically the case?

 

Richard Chen  13:45

It's definitely possible, depending on what happens, but usually it's not the case. And so yeah, but it is a possibility.

 

David DeCelle  13:53

Okay, cool. So let's go to the other end of the spectrum. So we were just talking about how if someone's transitioning from a large organization to opening up shop on their own, things that they should be considering as it relates to privacy, trade secrets, and non-solicit, non-compete sort of scenarios, and I feel like you did a good job unpacking that. And unfortunately, one of my biggest frustrations is always hearing the “it depends” answer. And obviously, I know every situation is different, and I think it just kind of highlights the importance of seeking counsel before you even take the — like that should be the first step before you’re thinking about your logo or any of those things. Because if you're stuck in a pretty tight scenario, you want to know that before you actually make that transition. So I think it exemplifies the fact that you’ve got to seek counsel before you're making this transition. Because I know for me when I started at my firm, I was 20 years old, I was signing contracts without even reading it. So looking back, it was definitely something that I should not have done. I should have read those contracts before but I was just excited about my first legit job. So, seeking counsel, I think, is of the utmost importance before you even begin to consider the other aspects of a transition like tech stack, marketing, things like that. So going on the other end of the spectrum, let's say you're an advisor, you got a $500 million book of business, whatever the size is, doesn't really matter. And I say, hey, I'm in my 60s, I've had enough, I want to ride into the sunset, and I want to sell my business, I either want to sell that to just any buyer out there who wants it, or perhaps, sell it internally to the advisors or employees on my team. So what I'm talking about here, of course, is succession planning. So I know that you have a big focus on that within your practice. So similar question, before I even consider the other components of a succession plan from a legal perspective, what are things that should be on my radar throughout my decision-making process?

 

Richard Chen  15:54

So I think, oftentimes, succession is not so much driven by legal consideration. I think what's really important in my experience, seeing what advisors are looking for, is to really understand the goals. And that's ultimately what matters to advisors. Is it monetization? Is it trying to — and they can often be many goals, right? Making sure your clients are taken care of; how about the employees? Do you want it to be an internal succession? Or do you feel like it's better to have someone come in to take over the practice and perhaps grow it? It's important to understand what is important to you as an advisor. And the good part now is that there are so many options out there, in terms of firms that are willing to take on, in terms of succession, there are tons of financing strategies to make things happen to facilitate those transactions. But ultimately, the first thing is what's important to the advisor.

 

David DeCelle  16:48

Understood, so it's more so, for my understanding of what you just said, it’s more so like a strategic sort of conversation, more so than is a legal conversation? And where the legal component comes in is the actual manufacturing of the deal, once they identify the type of deal that they're looking for.

 

Richard Chen  17:05

Yeah, well, so if we talk about the legal component, just to walk folks through it, typically, it's going to involve some sort of agreement, whether it's an asset purchase agreement, or purchase of interest in the entity of the buying of the interest in the business itself. And then, especially if it's an external transaction, there's going to be elements of due diligence, making sure that there's a good match, both from a strategic standpoint, as well as thinking about, do our tech stacks match up? Are there any disciplinary issues that we should be aware of, or complaints? Is there any litigation or red flags that we need to think about? So that's part of the process once folks get further down the road. And then ultimately, one of the things at the end oftentimes is, especially of advisors handing off clients to another advisor, is provisions relating to whether or not those client agreements, how they can be assigned over to the new advisor, if that's, in fact, what's going to happen. And typically, that requires a bit of a choreographing of how those assignments would take place, depending on whether a client's have to affirmatively or negatively considered whether they can just consent by non-responsiveness; that does take time. So those are some of the legal considerations.

 

David DeCelle  18:22

Okay, and then I'm sure the answer to my next question is going to be it depends. But, but I will, I'm going to ask it anyway. So I want to get a sense of as to what you typically see the majority of the time. So if I'm looking to transition, are you seeing that folks who transition tend to do so like once they make the decision, they sell it, and they're out? They wipe their hands clean and ride into the distance? Or, do you find that they try and transition those clients over perhaps a one-, two-, or three-year period, get them comfortable with that advisor who's buying the book, and perhaps stay on board with a retainer for a period of time to help with some of those things? What do you find is most typical with the transitions themselves?

 

Richard Chen  19:10

Yeah, so more often than not, I find that it's both in the seller’s and the buyer’s interest to have the seller involved in the transition process for a period of time. And sometimes the economics are built in that way, if there are earn outs or price adjustments based on how many clients are transitioned over. Typically, a buyer will want to make sure that the bulk of the clients move over to the new firm and that they're able to maintain those assets on their platform. So oftentimes, you'll see selling advisors becoming an employee or contractor for the buying advisor for a period of time before they transition off and do whatever else they do once they leave the firm.

 

David DeCelle  19:52

Well, awesome. I think that's super helpful for those two categories of folks. The theme would be transitions; are you transitioning into independence or are you transitioning towards the sunset, so to speak, and getting out of the business and empowering someone else in line. So I think that was super helpful. I do want to transition slightly to your favorite book, which I also happened to read as well a little while ago. So as a reminder to everyone listening, really, I want to promote learning in our industry, both in our industry, but also outside of our industry; because I feel as if there's so many good nuggets in other industries and through other people's stories that we can then take and apply to our industry here. So the book that you had made a note of, Richard, is The E Myth, or I think specifically The E Myth Revisited. So if that's the actual title, I think I read The E Myth. But if there's a second book to it, or a revision, I have not read that. But tell us a little bit about The E Myth and why it was impactful for you specifically.

 

Richard Chen  20:49

I really identify with a lot of my clients as advisors, because we're all entrepreneurs at the end of the day. The question is whether or not we all understand what that means when we go in. And this book was very helpful because, at least for lawyers, oftentimes they start their practice because they want to work for themselves. But ultimately, they believe that just being a good lawyer will help them succeed. And that's, nothing could be further from the truth. But there are so many other elements to being a good entrepreneur, right. And it's important to understand that it's important to work on the business, as well as in it; because frankly, if you just work in it, it's just another job. And you'd beholden to all the other things which can sneak up on you over time if you don't understand what else is involved in operating the business; for instance, taking care of the financial controls and operations and marketing, human resources; all of these things are important. And so, as an entrepreneur, it's important to understand how to make sure that all these things get taken care of without becoming overwhelmed. And this is where The E Myth says that it's important to understand how to put in place systems. Systems, whereby you can bring on people and have them run the parts of the business that you delegate for them to run, while allowing you to focus on what you really want to focus on in the business; whether that's being the practitioner advisor, or whether you want to be focusing on business development, or whatever. But what this book really opened my eyes to is the need to understand all these roles. And then that, as a matter of fact, it said, one of the good exercises is to write down a job description for each of the roles that you would think you need to fulfill and then sign the contract. Initially, we have to take care of all this stuff. Question is, how do we get a lot of these tasks out of our hands and into someone else's hands. And the important thing is to build in processes, so that someone else can take care of these things in a very systematic way without micromanaging. And that will make, I think, being an entrepreneur a not lot more pleasant. I mean, initially — so I've just celebrated my second anniversary of my firm. It's a process, it takes a lot of time, and it's an ongoing effort. But I think about it in terms of not only enjoyment, hopefully down the road, but productivity, efficiency, and risk mitigation. All these things can happen if we think about all the functions that need to take place and put systems in place to make sure that they happen.

 

Patrick Brewer  23:26

Hey, Model FAs, I know you're enjoying this conversation, but I wanted to take a quick break to talk to you about the Model FA Accelerator. This is a unique collaboration between us and you, where we help you build a financial advising practice that you can be proud of. We focus on the foundational concepts around how to pick a niche or a specialization, how to price your services, how to construct an offer that people are going to buy, and then how to market it and sell it in a way that will get people to sign on the dotted line and become clients of your firm, all while giving you the information to scale and set up workflows and operational processes that will allow you to reclaim your time and build a practice that doesn't run you. So if you'd like to hear more about that go to www.ModelFA.com/accelerator or www.ModelFA.com. Hover over Work With Us and click on Accelerator. Hope to see in the program.

 

David DeCelle  24:16

I believe in that too. You mentioned something about where that entrepreneur or other folks on the team should be spending their time, and we believe that folks should be doing things that gives them energy, quite frankly. So we have something called an “energy audit” that we bring our clients through which ranges from your zone of genius to your zone of competence. So things that you're great at and you love doing, things that you're good at and you like doing, things that you're good at but you don't like doing, and things that you don't like doing and you're not good at; and spending the majority of your time, if not ideally all of your time, in that top left quadrant of your zone of genius, and then empowering other people in your organization or utilizing technology to empower you to delegate, automate, or quite frankly, delete some of the stuff that's on your plate that may not be relevant. So for those of you who are listening, if you think that energy audit may be helpful for you and your business, if you haven't gone through an exercise like that before, go ahead and shoot me an email at [email protected], and in the subject line, just say “energy audit” and I'll go ahead and I'll reply with that PDF that you can fill out. And as an additional thank you for reaching out, I'll spend some time with you on the phone to debrief that and give you some insight as to how you can go about delegating, automating, or deleting some of the things that were in the other three quadrants. So I did listen to that book, some similar takeaways as you, and I'm glad that you spent a few minutes sharing that.

 

Richard Chen  25:45

Yeah, and I agree with you completely, I think deleting tasks is really critical, because there's way more than we can accomplish on our plates, typically, and just really knocking out the things that are unnecessary is so helpful.

 

David DeCelle  26:00

And it's not, we'll say too that it's not just deleting; I guess there's a fourth one if I think about delegating, deleting, or automated, which is postponing. So oftentimes, we have a never-ending list of things that we need to do and it can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, we keep those things in our head, so it occupies our mind. And if we can just get them down on paper, or a digital list or something like that, that'll help give you a breath of fresh air. But also, I would imagine most things on that list, if not everything on that list, is important. Some things, however, just may not be urgent. So if you can status things appropriately that say, Hey, I'm going to accomplish this in Q4 later this year, or this is a 2022 play as opposed to a current year play. Then just status-ing them appropriately, it can help reduce the noise in your mind by writing it down and status-ing it, and help you kind of realign your focus to the things that are actually urgent that will move the needle faster for you then some of those outstanding projects that tend to just always stay on your list. So just postponing them, kicking them down the road. And then of course, once you get there, following through with that plan that you have to do that in Q4, in that example. So yeah, I agree with you a lot. So Richard, I want to get into a little bit about your backstory, and I want to kind of tee it up before doing so. So for everyone listening, I'm really excited about this, because I feel like most everyone I work with, quite frankly, including myself, too, it's easy to make excuses as to why we're not doing what we should be doing or what we potentially could be doing. It ranges from I'm busy with my family, or I'm busy with meetings or, physically I'm unable to do that, or I'm depressed about this, or I'm anxious about that. And although I think it's important to share what some of those excuses are to vent a little bit, at the end of the day, they're excuses, and they're holding us back from living our true potential. So I try and focus a lot on my coaching calls and through content, helping people push through those limiting beliefs. So Richard, you are an entrepreneur, have your own business, you have a beautiful family, you went to Harvard for your undergrad, you went to Harvard for your JD. I'll go as far as to say against, all odds, because one thing that we have not mentioned yet is the fact that you've done all this and built a successful business and have served your clients and have been able to raise a family and have been able to graduate from one of the most pristine universities in the country, all while being blind.

Richard Chen

That's right.

 

David DeCelle

So if anyone has an excuse, Richard, it is you and you've accomplished more than the majority of people out there who can see. So what I'd like you to talk about, I guess, first question, and this is more of a reminder for me as well as some context for the audience. Were you born blind? Or is it something that happened at a different stage in your life, just so we have kind of a starting point of that.

 

Richard Chen  28:58

So I was born with almost no sight. I had extremely, extremely limited sight; could see large objects, still bumped into things when I was a kid, but it was a very, very limited sight. And I used machines to read with that would blow up print, like 20 times. So that might give an idea of sort of my limitation in terms of sight. About 10 years ago, I started noticing that the limited sight I had was deteriorating. So probably in the last three years, I lost the rest of the sight. And that was a challenge as well. But, it's also the time when I started the practice, right after that.

 

David DeCelle  29:33

So how did you — so I just think about myself in that scenario, and I feel like a lot of people would potentially have the woe is me mentality and well, that's it, not going to be able to accomplish much — and you've done the total opposite. So I'm going to keep this question open ended and I'll ask some more specific questions as we go along, but where do you find your motivation to keep going and to accomplish great things when everyone would understand and empathize with your excuse, if you decided to use that card? Where do you get your motivation from? Even from the early stages at Harvard, all the way to your current business now?

 

Richard Chen  30:15

Yeah, that's a great question. So I think of it probably in three phases. One is, when I was a very young child, my parents always encouraged and pushed us, and my brother's actually completely blind too. So, they pushed us to learn and without excuses; they expected the same of us, as a matter of fact, perhaps more than other people. I was taking piano lessons at three. So, as early as five, my parents were like, you will be an attorney. So I think initially, it was, you just want to please your parents, right. But then as I went through school, you started experiencing resistance and certainly forms of, I'll call it inadvertent discrimination, where people didn't have the same expectations, didn't give you the same opportunities, or didn't give us the same opportunities. And so at that point, it kind of became a matter of proving to people that I could do it. And in the course of doing that, I think I also realized that I enjoy a lot of things. I enjoy learning, I enjoy music, I enjoy languages; later on, learned I enjoy traveling. And so that fueled me, I think that fueled me a long time, until early in my career, well past Harvard and Harvard Law School. And then I started out working at a number of large multinational law firms in New York. And I think during that early period, I think I was still trying to prove it to myself, as well as others, that I could do it. At some point, though, I think it stopped. I got older, I realized, Oh, the real key that motivates is the desire to make an impact; make an impact on my family, my church, my clients, and just whoever I can to motivate and encourage them. And that takes different forms in terms of what I do, but I really, really enjoy that. Because I feel like it helps to encourage people now to see that they can accomplish great things, and also just not to believe the doubters. I mean, we as entrepreneurs know that there are plenty of doubters out there, and I have kind of adopted a mentality over time that thinking about what others think of me is really not that important to me.

 

David DeCelle  32:25

So what are some of the things, Richard, that you have to do, I guess, in business and in life, that someone else wouldn't even have to consider doing just to get around and run the business? So, as an example, I email you and you email me back right away. Is it dictated to you and you dictate back? Do you have an associate that's helping? I'm just kind of like walking around life, like, I want to give our listeners a sense of some of the things that you are required to go through on a daily basis just to live that normal life, so that they can see that they don't have to worry about that. And if you can accomplish what you've accomplished, what the heck is holding them back? So what are some of those things that someone like me wouldn't even have to consider thinking about that you need to do on a daily basis just to be able to manage your life and your business?

 

Richard Chen  33:16

Yeah. So it's a great question. This is where I've advocated technology, not only from a basic functioning perspective, for my sake, but just in terms of the productivity gains that it can give a lot of folks over time. When I was in high school and college, the technology wasn't nearly as good as it is today. But in my practice, a large amount of it is done online. And I have software built into my computer. It's called text-to-speech software. And so basically, what it'll do is it'll replicate written text into a spoken word, so you can hear it, and let me see if I can play it for you a little bit. So you can hear, you might be able to hear in the background. So that's my computer talking to me. So it'll tell me what I am reading, it'll tell me what I'm typing, and that helps a lot. So I can do my emails, I can draft my documents and my agreements, I can do my legal research and things like that. So in it's huge; my practice is in the cloud, which is great now, but there are challenges still. Hard copy documents, which sometimes I have to use certain types of technology to convert them into optical character recognition so I can scan it in and read it. And there are still inaccessible websites out there where no matter what my text-to-speech output software says, it still can't read it. So it's a constant game of cat and mouse. But, I think that what I've realized over time is, the key is not to dwell in frustration, but to try to solve problems, and that's what I try to do for my clients. I give legal advice, but ultimately, I see myself as a problem solver for people.

 

David DeCelle

So it sounds like I really liked what you said at the end. I feel like most people are really good at finding problems and either complaining about them and not doing anything about it, or just using that as their excuses to why they're not where they want to be. And what you're saying is no, no, identify the problem, but frickin’ do something about it. And make sure that you're doing everything in your power and leveraging tools that are out there to be able to help facilitate a normal way of life, regardless of your circumstances. I could be wrong, Richard, I will say, so I don't want this to be too assumptive. But I would imagine that you're a normal person like the rest of us, specifically as it relates to having good days and bad days. I'd be shocked if every single day that you've had, especially with some of the challenges that you've experienced, that you've been happy-go-lucky 100% of the time. So what I'd like you to talk about, if you don't mind, is what have been some of the darkest moments that you've had? And specifically, how did it affect you and how did you get out of that? How'd you reframe your mindset to have a more positive perspective when you were in some of those, those challenging times?

 

Richard Chen  36:10

Yeah, that's a great question. And so I think, definitely had a lot of challenges when the rest of my sight started to disappear. I mean, as limited as my sight was before, you know, it was still usable sight, right. And the fact of being older in my 40s, and trying to figure out new ways of doing things; frankly, realizing that there are certain things I can’t experience now that I used to, which is hard. But I think, over time, I do believe a big portion of it is my faith. I believe in God, and I believe that there's a plan for me, and that plan is to continue to make an impact for people. And, yes, it happened. And it's hard, because when you have to let go to certain things that you enjoy, it's hard, right? I can't watch — I love sports — so I can't watch games on TV anymore. But there's so many things I can do. And so it's really a matter, I mean, part of it was just making sure that I could continue to do what I had to do, and to adapt to new ways of doing things. And part of it is taking it step by step. You can't eat an elephant all at once, right? One bite at a time, it really does help, because I think it's so daunting sometimes to think where and how will it be; when, if we just tried to do things one step at a time, consult other people who have faced these things and succeeded, do research, figure out ways to solve problems. I think it's helpful, but it's daunting if we think of it as like a huge mountain to move. And so it is a process because I don't think about those things nearly as much as I used to, partly because I'm busy, but because I really do enjoy where I am now and the ability to impact others and encourage others.

 

David DeCelle  38:01

That's awesome. I'm hearing kind of three main themes with that, that I want to articulate to everyone listening. So number one, I heard that it's helpful if you, the listener, and you, Richard, and me, myself, is constantly focused on that higher purpose. Why are we here? What type of impact are we looking to have? Because that makes whatever we're going through tiny compared to what we're called to do. So having that higher purpose would be number one. Number two, is oftentimes people focus on what they can't do. And you're saying, Well, no, no, like, if you do that, you're gonna, you're gonna be miserable. So you might as well focus on what you can do and having that positive outlook. And then to kind of wrap that all up, it's, don't try and tackle everything at once. Just take one step at a time, right, the elephant example, one bite at a time; and just take that baby step forward, and just make sure that you're maintaining momentum, and you're not stopping. Because if you stop, it's probably because you're focusing on the negative stuff, the I cant’s in your life as opposed to the I cans, and you're certainly not living your higher purpose if you're not moving forward. So all those three things combined, put a bow on it, I feel like is great advice. And again, I think I'd be hard pressed to believe that there's folks that have better, quote unquote, excuses than then you could certainly use; and those three things, higher purpose, positive mindset, and one step at a time, is applicable to anyone regardless of their circumstances.

 

Richard Chen

You said it better than me.

 

David DeCelle

I appreciate that. I think it's impressive what you've built. I do want to hear some more stories. I'm sure we've talked about some of the rewarding stories and things that you've overcome, but I’d imagine with being blind, you’ve got some funny stories as well. So I definitely want to ask you some of those questions in our after-hours portion, but before we do so, Richard, if people want to hear more about your story, more about your services, if they're thinking about a transition, if they're thinking about a succession, if they're thinking about compliance, if they're thinking about cybersecurity, or any other component of their business that requires some general counsel, where can they find you?

 

Richard Chen  40:17

Yeah, absolutely. You know, always can email me at RichardLChen.com. We also have a website, if you're more interested in the services, www.RichardLChen.com. Or connect with me on LinkedIn. I just enjoyed talking with people, whether they're clients or not, I figure, whoever wants to reach out to me, if I can be an encouragement to you or I can be helpful to you, I enjoy doing that.

 

David DeCelle  40:43

Awesome. And, I will say too, on both Richard's website, and on his LinkedIn, he has a fantastic video about his story. Whoever you had for a videographer and person who edited it did a fantastic job. So I think that does a great job of capturing your story, capturing what you're passionate about, and capturing how you can serve other folks, and really what's important to you. So feel free to go take a look at that. And actually, our show notes company is listening to this recording right now. So I'll ask them to go to Richard's website, or his LinkedIn, and pull that video down and include that link in the show notes as well. That way you guys have easy access to that while you're listening to the podcast. But with that being said, we appreciate everyone's time, we're going to head into the after-hours portion here in a second, we'll get some laughs in there. And then also, if you would be so kind as to share this episode with someone that you know that either may be in some sort of transitional moment in their life, where there's legal counsel involved, or perhaps someone who you're sick of hearing their excuses, and you want to say, Hey, listen to what this guy did. Focus on your higher purpose, focus on the positive stuff, and take a baby step in the right direction, feel free to share that. I'd really appreciate that, and I'm sure Richard would, as well. And then on top of that, if you would be so kind as to leave a review for us on iTunes, that will help, certainly, with our listenership and increasing the amount of folks that get access to the podcast. And if you do so, just simply screenshot that review, shoot me a text 978-228-2338; you'll get an automated reply that will have you put in your name and information, just so you're added to my contacts. And then beyond that, you're going to be texting with me; it's just the initial kind of upfront portion of it is automated. And if you send that and just do so with Richard Chen, the name, included as well, that way I know what episode it is. And like I said, we'll appreciate that, and we'll also give you access to some referral methodology within our digital course that can help you get some more referrals for your business. So I imagine everyone listening to this would love to continue to grow their business so this would be a great resource for you. So go ahead and shoot me that text message with that review, and I'll give you access to that right away. So with that, Richard, I appreciate your time, and we are going to head into the after-hours portion.

 

 

After-Hours

 

David DeCelle

That was really cool, man. I appreciate obviously, the professional aspect, but also utilizing your story, quite frankly, to empower others and remind them that your purpose is of the utmost importance, your mindset is of the utmost importance. And just taking steps in the right direction is important, regardless of what you're going through. It could be someone like you who's blind, it can be someone who just lost a family member, it could be someone going through a divorce, like I did a few years back. It could really be anything, and I think those three principles, purpose, positivity, and moving in the right direction is applicable to any one of those scenarios. So I really appreciate you being open to talking and sharing your story.

 

Richard Chen  43:55

Absolutely. Oh, my pleasure. I love doing it. You know, we could all use more encouragement. I mean, it's crazy, because we need more positivity. It seems like so many things, and commentaries are negative these days. I think we all need positive encouragement.

 

David DeCelle  44:12

For sure. So you mentioned that you have a brother who's also blind. Any other siblings or just you two?

 

Richard Chen

Just us two. Yeah.

 

David DeCelle

Cool. So growing up, what was that like? Your parents had their hands full.

 

Richard Chen  44:25

I think it was really challenging. They sacrificed a lot. They had to move from a successful job in a restaurant that they owned in New Orleans to move to Houston. My brother and I were entering kindergarten so that we could find schooling that would be able to take care of our needs at the time, because, back then, this is early 80s. There wasn't much in the way of mainstreaming for folks with disabilities into classrooms. And so there were some schools, particularly in Houston, that were particularly helpful and so they sacrificed a lot, and I think that really setting sample for me to terms of how I live life. But it was a challenge. There's a lot of hard points because it looks great now, but it comes with a lot of heartache, when you realize it, and frustrations, things don't always go the way that that you expect.

 

David DeCelle  45:16

What's a lesson or two from your folks that you learned early on that has not just stuck with you, but also that you've shared with your kids as well? Because you have what? Two kids? Three kids?

 

Richard Chen  45:29

Two kids, yeah. I’ve got a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son.

 

David DeCelle  45:32

Awesome. So what are some of the lessons that you've held on to from your folks that you've either already or plan to pass down to your kids as well?

 

Richard Chen  45:42

Yeah, so my parents were immigrants from Taiwan; came over in search of better life. And so, they worked very hard, and oftentimes, my brother and I were left at home because they were both working out when we would come home from school; so they had to work very hard. And that really did stick with me. You realize how critical it is to put whatever you have into making sure, that really meant a lot to me. And then the other thing, which I mentioned before, is high expectations. So hopefully, they'll appreciate this at some point. But, like my parents that, we want our kids to explore and to know that we have high expectations of them. We don't want to push them in areas that they don't want to go in, but we want to give them exposure to a lot of things. And if they pick something, we expect them to be the best that they can be. And I think a lot of that is part of our role as parents, just encourage them and to make sure to not give them excuses for not doing better when we know they can.

 

David DeCelle  46:43

Awesome. Now I picture — or I would imagine, I should say, could be wrong — but I imagine that going through your life, the way that you've, I think, have been gifted to go through life, because I would imagine that you have a different outlook and perspective than most people. And I would imagine that you've really practiced gratitude throughout your life; again, things that can do, as opposed to focusing on things that you can't do. But I would imagine that you need to sprinkle in a sense of humor along the way, as well. So I'm curious to know, whether it was a kid or recently or somewhere in between, what's the funniest story that you have going through your life that's related to you being blind? And did you laugh about it at the time, or was it more of a reflective laugh, when you thought back to it?

 

Richard Chen  47:30

That’s a good question. Ah, I do agree that sense of humor is important. And I'm one of the folks, and I understand that different people are different in terms of their sensitivity with respect to it. I'm always quite open about this, and I encouraged conversation about it. No, in terms of funny stuff, friends, oh, I guess there is one story where my friends in high school insisted that I learned to drive. So they put me in a car in a parking lot and they were insisting that I drive; so that was, that was pretty fun.

 

David DeCelle

How’d it go?

 

Richard Chen

It went about as long as you could expect. It was fine. Let's just say that it's good that there was a lot of space.

 

David DeCelle  48:19

So that's funny. Well, I view your friends in high school being supportive, but also making sure that they were getting a chuckle out of it as well, but also being inclusive and at least giving you that experience nonetheless.

Richard Chen  48:32

They're, they're great friends. Yeah. And it's amazing, boy, you go over time and you realize you've known these folks for so long, and it's just a blessing to have those relationships.

 

David DeCelle  48:41

Awesome, man. Well, Richard, I really appreciate it. For those of you who stuck around for the after-hours portion, hopefully, you learned a lesson or two from Richard’s folks, as it relates to hard work and sacrifice. I got a chuckle out of the driving story, so hopefully, you did as well. I would’ve loved to be a fly on the car during that experience. So I could also fly off, in case I had to. But appreciate you spending some time, very much impressed with your story, grateful that you got to share it with me and the folks who are listening, and glad to have you in our industry as well. So, with that, Richard, I appreciate it and looking forward to chatting soon and see how we may be able to elevate one another moving forward.

 

Richard Chen  49:25

I'm looking forward to it, David. Thanks again for having me. It's been great.

 

David DeCelle

Awesome.