In an era in which most law entrepreneurs typically gain experience working for other firms before venturing into opening their own, James Helm, the founder of TopDog Law, opted to defy this unwritten norm after graduating from law school in 2018.
Helm acquired an acute business savviness as he completed his joint graduate degree in law and business at Rutgers University. During his time at Rutgers, this Philadelphia-native attorney worked on the side selling marketing services for law firms.
Less than a year after earning his Juris Doctor degree, Helm decided to turn down a full-time offer from a prestigious law firm and used his knowledge in marketing and law to build his own practice, TopDog Law.
“At one point, I thought, ‘hey, I know how to do the marketing for law firms, and I have my license to be a lawyer,’” said Helm during a recent interview. “‘What if I just combine these skills and start marketing for my own law firm.”
Today, with two offices in Philadelphia and one in Baltimore, TopDog Law has grown into a highly renowned injury law brand. For almost three years, Helm and his legal team have provided top representation to injury victims across Pennsylvania, recovering millions of dollars for their clients.
Before becoming the owner of a thriving multi-seven-figure law firm, Helm struggled with prescription-painkiller dependence during part of his early adulthood. For him, building TopDog Law was also a self-discovery and personal growth process.
In a recent video interview, Helm connected via Zoom to discuss what motivated him to open TopDog Law right after graduating from Rutgers University. During this interview, Helm shared the significance of this decision in his personal battle against drug dependence.
Helm expresses that 2018 was a critical year in his rehabilitation process. Having struggled with substances during his college career, graduating from law school was a significant triumph in Helm’s years-long battle against painkiller dependence. At this point, he faced the conundrum of deciding where he wanted to direct the next chapter of his life.
“I went through a transformation in 2018,” narrated Helm. “I had gotten sober in 2016, and going through that process helped me rediscover who I was and what I wanted in my life.”
After finishing his joint graduate degree at Rutgers, Helm’s career options diverged into two paths.
“I had accepted a job to work at a big law firm that offered me a lot of money, plus all the prestige associated with it,” recounted Helm. “Meanwhile, I had been selling marketing for lawyers on the side, and I was starting to make good money through commissions.”
Helm’s marketing job presented itself as the most tentative option. He had developed a close relationship with the agency’s owner, helping him scale the company exponentially over the previous year. Additionally, this position granted him the freedom to live in Miami, Florida, while closing sales over the phone.
Thus, Helm turned down the prestige of working at a top-tier law firm and asked the marketing company’s owner to add him as a partner. However, the owner’s reply was not what Helm expected.
“I decided I would not work for that big fancy law firm,” said Helm. “But what happened was that I asked the owner of the marketing company if he would bring me on as an owner, to what he said, ‘no.’”
Helm recognizes that the owner’s rejection was disappointing. Nonetheless, this episode became a turning point in his career, forcing him to reevaluate his life goals.
Before starting his rehabilitation process, Helm’s notion of success centered on becoming a lawyer, working for a recognized firm, and earning the status that this position entails. Now, he decided that he wanted to pursue his own path and build a firm of his own.
In 2019, just a year after graduating from Rutgers University Law School, Helm launched TopDog Law. Without having worked at another firm and despite his limited experience in law firm management, Helm’s entrepreneurial and marketing skills allowed him to enter this new realm with firm steps.
Against all odds, “I was able to immediately generate new businesses for myself when I started my new law firm,” said Helm.
Helm feels fortunate that he encountered mentors within the industry during the early stages of TopDog Law. These new mentors assisted him with complex injury cases and walked him through the legal aspects of running a law firm.
“It was a win-win,” explained Helm. “I would refer the most difficult cases to [my mentors] while I acquired experience in personal injury, not as an associate but as the owner of my own law firm.”
In only three years, TopDog Law grew into a multi-seven-figure law firm with three locations in two different cities. Helm’s entrepreneurial skills, his expertise in marketing, and the support of his mentors became critical assets for the success of his practice.
Six years after starting his rehabilitation process, Helm feels fortunate for having found a renewed sense of purpose. Today, he and his team at TopDog Law provide top legal representation to accident victims across Philadelphia, helping them obtain the maximum compensation.
By Juan Sebastian Restrepo,
With Artistic Initiative Agency