Pamela Ellgen 2013-02-01 02:50:31
The old fashioned values are evident from the moment you walk through the front doors of Taylor and Associates. A 1929 Chrysler sits in a prominent position in the lobby, reminding the staff and clients that the firm is not in business to make a quick buck; they’re in it to take care of people, and they’ll be here for the long haul. With a substantial percentage of the workers’ compensation and social security disability cases in the state, Taylor and Associates is the largest firm of its kind in Arizona. But becoming monolithic isn’t the end in and of itself for founder Richard Taylor. “Our size sets us apart because we’re able to spend whatever is necessary on a case. It’s very important for insurance companies to know that they cannot outspend us; they cannot overwhelm us financially,” Richard says, “and that gives our clients a tremendous advantage.” Taylor and Associates handles cases from all around the state, many of which make the firm little or no money. “It’s just the right thing to do when someone needs help,” Richard explains. “And in the long term, word of mouth is the best advertising that you can possibly do.” When the firm is able to help someone get his or her life turned around, when a neighbor, friend or family member needs an attorney, Taylor and Associates becomes a clear choice. Richard sees it as a long-term view of success for the business. The firm receives many referrals from other workers’ compensation attorneys who say, “Oh, I won’t take this small case, but Taylor and Associates will take it, they take anything.” “They think we’re such desperate attorneys, because we’ll take almost any case,” Richard says, laughing. “But it’s actually a well thought-out concept. First of all, it’s a concept of compassion for the person and their problems. Second, we’re going to be around for many years, and we’d like to continue serving the community into the future.” From the cases it accepts to the way the firm treats people, respect and compassion guide the ethos of Taylor and Associates. Richard believes everyone deserves respect, especially his clients. “Some attorneys don’t have the same consideration and respect for people who have less education or wealth. That disrespect comes across to a client very quickly,” Richard says. “We don’t consider ourselves better than our clients.” The firm travels to meet its clients around the state, from the Navajo Reservation to trailer parks in the outskirts of Casa Grande or southern Arizona. Richard believes that making yourself comfortable in another person’s environment communicates respect and develops rapport. Likewise, if you’ve walked the proverbial mile in another person’s shoes, you can easily cultivate compassion. “I grew up thinking we had a middle class family. Now I realize it wasn’t middle class at all; money was always a concern,” he says, recalling the times his mother mixed powdered milk with milk to stretch the grocery budget. “Once you’ve grown up like that, you have more concern for people who are struggling. My father was a steelworker at the old Reynolds Aluminum plant on 35th Avenue and Van Buren, and one year when I was in college, he got me a summer job in the worst area of the plant to remind me of the value of education. I was far more dedicated to school that fall!” Richard recognizes that many of the firm’s clients have been disabled or out of work for years and the consequent problems that dynamic creates within the family and the individual. If a truck driver is injured on the job, for example, he may go from making sixty thousand a year to only one thousand a month, coupling that with several back surgeries, medication and possibly depression. “When a client calls frustrated about a check being late, you have to have empathy for their situation,” Richard says. “Since they don’t have much money coming in, their spouse is angry with them, and their children don’t see them as fulfilling their parental role. It’s a complex situation that requires understanding and patience.” The spirit of kindness and compassion extends to all of Taylor and Associates’ 17 attorneys, many of whom are state bar certified specialists in workers’ compensation. Before hiring anyone or promoting them to a member position, Richard wants to know that their heart is in the right place. “It’s not just about the money,” he says. “I’m good to work for but I’m also demanding. I demand that my attorneys are respectful and patient.” He tries to cultivate a family environment at Taylor and Associates. The members are very conscious of the divergence between the haves and have nots in the United States, and see it as a problem that should not exist within the firm. “We provide every kind of benefit for our employees that human beings have ever heard of,” Richard says, rattling off a list of endless insurance options, memberships, vacation time, even time off to attend yoga class. “We try to treat people in a very idealistic way, not because it’s the best way to make money. If you’re treated well you’re more likely to treat the clients well, and you’re more likely to go the extra mile for the firm too.” Further evidence of the family atmosphere of the firm lounges on chairs in the lobby and saunters down the hallways: cats, and they are not pure breeds either. These are cats that have been rescued. “Sometimes we choose them, and sometimes they choose us,” Richard says. “They will show up on an employee’s doorstep or even here at the office, or one of the members will learn about an animal that needs a home. Taking care of unwanted cats is just part of our character here. It’s the right thing to do.” The ethos of caring extends beyond the firm’s walls. Several years ago, Richard traveled to Malawi and met a young man named George who volunteered his assistance for the entire day without expecting any compensation. It left a lasting impression on Richard. Later, by what seemed random chance, he met a woman in the United States who came from Malawi. She dreamed of one day building a high school in the northern capital of Mzuzu, where options for secondary education were limited. So Richard did the only thing that made sense: he built a school. “One of the things that impresses me most in other countries, particularly developing countries, is how deeply children desire an education. They realize it is their path out of poverty, whereas here, it’s hard to keep kids in school,” he says. When they first opened Mzuzu Academy, some students would walk many miles every day to come to class. They often left their homes before dawn. Now the school has dormitories for boys and girls so they don’t have to walk so far. Today, Mzuzu Academy is a thriving educational resource for Malawian youth. It is presently serving its third class and will soon offer scholarships for some of the brightest students to attend college in America. “I see attorneys who build multi-million dollar homes, and I think that’s so sad,” Richard says. “My million-dollar home is a school in Africa. I want other people to understand that you can make a difference in this world. Instead of just enriching your own financial world, you can enrich others’ lives.” Richard looks to the patience of Nelson Mandela and the open heartedness of the Dalai Lama to inform his social and global perspective, as well as his regular treks abroad. With 53 stamps on his passport, and counting, he has found a novel way to see the world: classic car rallies. From the driver’s seat of a classic car—made before 1969— he enjoys a view that few tourists ever see. Once, while traveling through western Tibet, he arrived at his hotel to find it had been abandoned by its owners. The only occupants were pigs. Lots of them. “Some people stayed inside,” he said, shuddering, “but as you can imagine, it was pretty horrible conditions, so most of us just pitched our tents outside.” On numerous occasions, the rallies have traveled through countries and seen the devastating effects of a recent civil war. And sometimes, they have rewritten their route to avoid a civil war. Once, while in Lhasa, after the Dalai Lama had been exiled, Richard’s group was informed that if they wanted to curry favor with the locals, they could share a postcard of the Dalai Lama they had picked up. The Chinese government forbade it, but that didn’t stop them. On the road, he savors the opportunity to try a wide variety of foods. His favorite meals have been in Paris and Morocco, where of course the stunning scenery makes the meal taste that much better. However, it has not always been so savory. Once, while in Nepal, he and his companions were offered cold, boiled chicken’s feet for breakfast. Needless to say, they passed, saying, “Coffee will be just fine today!” Richard recounts that the best hospitality his group ever received was in Iran. “Our governments may hate each other, but the people get along fine,” he says. “It makes you appreciate the commonality of people around the world. We have common values. Everyone around the world wants education and a life free from strife. It’s inspiring.” From the climate extremes of the Sahara to the base camp of Mt Everest, Richard has seen it all, except of course the next country on his list, which is always his new favorite. “Many people come back from these trips saying they’re grateful for how much we have in America,” he says. “I come back with the realization that we really don’t need much to be happy.” Over the years, Taylor and Associates has grown to accommodate an increasing Spanish-speaking population by hiring bilingual attorneys and staff and translating the firm’s popular newsletter, Cat Tales, into Spanish. With 41 years in business, Richard looks forward to another 41, though he laughs when he thinks about just how old he will be at that time. For now, he anticipates the future with optimism and determination. He hopes to see continued referrals from other attorneys, not just because they know the name and have seen the logo, dotted with felines, but because of what the firm represents: respect, compassion and integrity. His clients concur. Miguel Ortiz came to the firm in 2007 after sustaining serious injuries when he fell off of a roof at work. “I called three law firms [but] I chose Taylor and Associates to represent me because they treated me better than the others,” he says. “The insurance company kept fighting us and together, we kept fighting back. That’s what I like about Taylor and Associates — they don’t give up.” Many attorneys talk about what sets them apart, their certifications, success and of course their record of winning cases. Richard finds that talk useless. “My clients come in expecting me to be in a three-piece suit,” Richard says. “But, I’m not trying to impress anyone. We wouldn’t be the biggest firm if we didn’t win cases. I just don’t like bragging about myself. I find that very uncomfortable. I would much rather brag about the way we treat people.”
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