Evans Agrapidis is an attorney licensed in New Jersey and New York State. He is currently operating two locations located in Jersey City on John F. Kennedy Blvd. and on State Highway Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. He has been a partner in the law firm of Agrapidis & Maroules for 32 years and specializes in personal injury matters. His office has handled more than 12,000 matters varying in size and complexity. He also invests in real estate. Evans graduated Magna cum Laude and Honors from Syracuse University and received his law degree from Seton Hall University.
How did you get started in this business?
I have a law practice, but I have also been involved in real estate development. The law business, which is my main business, is pretty typical. You attend law school, get some experience and start working for a law firm or a law office, and sometimes you are content doing that. But in my case my parents, who are immigrants from Greece, always emphasized getting out there and opening your own business.
After completing a federal judicial clerkship and working for a law firm for 5 years, I met my law partner on a case that I was working on. He was older than me and he asked if I might ever be interested in joining him and starting our own practice. I decided to take a chance and we’ve been working together for more than thirty years. The case that we were working on together was related to real estate development in Hoboken, New Jersey. Fast forward a few years later and we expanded our business interests and started investing in real estate due to our common interest in it. As we sit here today, 30 years later, our law firm is in its 33rd year and our real estate interests continue.
How do you make money?
My law practice is my main business and source of income. My advice is to pay extreme attention to your business which is your main bread and butter. The law business is what I do. That’s where I received my education and training, and that’s really the center of my financial life.
However, as time has gone on, I emphasize diversification. I now also earn income from the various real estate investments that I have become involved in. Additionally, I further diversified to stocks and bonds on a very conservative level, so I’d say there are three buckets in my financial life: My law practice, rental income from real estate, and a stock and bond portfolio. That’s my formula for financial stability.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Well, I’m always very conscious of my expenses and try not to live over my head. I try to live more modestly than maybe my income would dictate, and therefore it didn’t take long to become profitable because we kept our expenses down. We ran our law practice very lean and I would say we were profitable within the first few months of opening.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
There were times where I doubted it would continue because you don’t know where the next client is going to come from. I found that my solution was good old-fashioned hard work. If I had doubts, I’d just work harder. There were times where I really wasn’t taking many weekends off when I was young. I had no problem thinking that I could just outwork my doubts and problems, and in my case it worked. My wife tells the story that we moved into a condominium development and our neighbors would wonder if she was married because they’d never see me. Those were the early days of establishing my business.
Now that I’m later in life, I want to enjoy my kids and my family, and having passive income from real estate investments keeps me diversified and takes the pressure off the law practice. I have younger lawyers in the practice, and as a result, I can distance myself a little bit and know that my expenses are being paid through other investments.
How did you get your first customer?
I’m bilingual in Greek and English, so I was active in the Greek community. It was a real hard-working, blue collar community. My father was in the diner business in Brooklyn, New York. Before becoming a lawyer, I was a waiter myself, as well as a busboy in a restaurant called Windows on the World located in the Twin Towers in New York City. My first customers in my law practice were three immigrant brothers that opened a restaurant and catering hall that hosted cultural dances. I had never done a closing before, but I had a law degree. I represented the three when they purchased their business, and I helped them get their liquor license. I went to several parties at their new place, and it was a success. It helped me find my way to doing more restaurant deals of that kind. That was the early part of my career and my foundation to building my law practice.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
It’s a fairly simple piece of advice, but what I like to do is take most of my lunches at very casual local luncheonettes, pizzerias or diners. When I go to these establishments, after a while the owner or the waitresses becomes familiar with me. I’m never shy about letting someone know what I do. They usually ask and I will pass my business card out at these establishments. I made it a rule that I try not to go to the same place twice during any given week, so that gives me five separate opportunities during five business days – or six if I’m working on a Saturday – to network myself with different restaurants and meet different people. I would suggest you frequent different businesses, and as you meet the owners – because they’re always happy to meet their customers – don’t be shy and lose an opportunity to market yourself. Let them know what you do. You always have an opportunity in the service industry – and that’s what law is – to market yourself. That’s a very simple way to make business.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Because of the COVID pandemic, we needed to make difficult decisions to manage our expenses in a down economy. It was a very difficult thing for us to reduce our payroll in our law practice, and we tried to do it without letting anyone go. We were successful in that we didn’t let anyone go. We kept our same staff and number of attorneys, but we did have to sit with our employees and reduce our payroll in order to get through the difficult months. Once we got through that, we were able to reinstate our full payroll.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
The people skills that my parents helped me develop and my faith in God have made me successful. I try to take a real humble and compassionate approach with my staff and my clients. I always come to work with a smile and try to be fair to both my staff and my clients. Believe it or not, as simple as that sounds, it’s tough to do in a stressful day-to-day business environment. But if you can do that and keep a level head, it makes you a better leader. I try to be a person that you feel comfortable talking to and one that takes the time to discuss all sorts of issues with their clients or their staff.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
There was a time where we became so busy that we actually had five different locations. I was running to each of them in different cities in New Jersey and one in New York. Having those locations and seeing them thrive was a very satisfying moment.
I’d also say the way we’ve navigated our business through COVID this past year. The COVID pandemic is tragic. However, I was proud that we were able to navigate our business and keep everyone employed and our benefits intact during the past year.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We have a very good foundation of clients. We’ve represented more than 12,000 clients over the years. We have a database and that foundation gives us a bright future. We hired for the first time a marketing agency and we’re targeting a multicultural market now, with target marketing, and rebranding with a new logo. I am excited to see how that marketing effort goes. Hopefully, our firm will reap the benefits of their marketing effort.
What business books have inspired you?
I didn’t read many business books. I was more of a business magazine guy through the years. But I have had two books that inspired me. One was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand that was recommended to me by my late uncle who convinced me to peruse an accounting degree at Syracuse University. She’s a popular author and that book discussed the strength of reason and individualism and pointed out the failures of government coercion and socialism. The main characters in that book were real thinkers and true business leaders. I was actually shouting out as I was reading it, saying, “Oh, that’s perfect!” It was one of those books that was really inspirational, the way she wrote the book and the way the characters were thinking as they were making business decisions. A more recent book which is a little bit more philosophical is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which is pretty popular, but that’s more about day-to-day thinking. I think being present and mindful and meditating can greatly assist you during a stressful business day.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It may sound like I’m a risk taker, and I am to a small extent. I’m actually pretty conservative in the way I do business and invest. I’m glad I said yes to a lot of things I said yes to, but my advice to my younger self would be to take more risks and not to be afraid of them early in your life and career.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I have definitely been involved in mentoring over the years. I presently have an intern in my office, a recent college grad who is applying to law school. I’ve mentored many interns and young lawyers. I will continue to be a mentor. I’m very open to receiving questions from students or friends about the law business or business in general, and giving advice when people want it. If anyone has a question for me or my law office, they can reach me by email or a phone call.