The American poet James Russell Lowell once said, “fate loves the fearless.”
Perhaps it’s also true that fate sometimes requires one to tap into his or her own fearlessness, as was the case for Tej Paranjpe, founding partner of Texas-based PMR Law Firm. Had it not been for a series of unexpected occurrences — including a major world event — PMR Law may not exist today.
It was 2009 and the country was in the midst of the Great Recession when Paranjpe graduated from Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He was preparing to begin his first job at a Delaware law firm when the law firm suddenly rescinded the job offer. The recession had been too much; the firm was shutting down.
At that point, Paranjpe was faced with a decision: try to make it work on the East Coast or head back to his family’s home in Houston. Texas won.
“I took the Texas bar exam and passed, but I then learned it was going to take more than that to get a job,” says Paranjpe. “Having been on the East Coast for so long, no one knew who I was or what I could do, so I was going to have to find a way to change that, and quickly.”
As fate would have it, an acquaintance agreed to take Paranjpe on as a law clerk. Clerking turned into bringing in new clients and that turned into the beginning of a small civil practice. But it was the decision to take on criminal defense contract work that really changed everything.
“I became so busy with trial work that I hit the century club, trying more than 100 cases to jury verdict,” says Paranjpe. “It was also at that time that I met a prosecutor named Raj Mahadass. Eventually, he and I put together the firm that stands now.”
And they haven’t looked back.
Lawdragon: In hindsight, are you glad you didn’t get that first job?
Tej Paranjpe: Yes, absolutely. I think all the pieces had to fall into place for me to get where I am and for the firm to get where it is. Everything had to happen the way it did. If I had remained on the East Coast, I’m sure I would have become a cog in another system. Here, I was forced to forge my own path. I was forced to get uncomfortable and be in discomfort for a while. That led to some incredible things.
LD: Was it always your plan to get into personal injury and commercial litigation?
TP: I had no intention on getting into litigation at all. When I was living on the East Coast, I believed I was going to be a transactional attorney, perhaps entertainment law.
When Raj and I started the firm, we had a steady stream of civil cases but it was certainly a struggle. We were working to keep the lights on.
Probably the biggest turning point for our firm was a mass action case regarding a spill of radioactive material by Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc. in Sugar Land, Texas. We poured so much into that case and because we did well, it really changed the trajectory of our practice.
LD: What made that case so impactful?
TP: That case really was a crash course in learning how to navigate the ins and outs of working with multiple plaintiffs. When we first began work on the case, we started with the very first client. One client. But when it was all said and done, the mass action involved a group of more than 140 employees. It was an incredible opportunity, a huge learning experience, and extremely fulfilling having helped these clients.
LD: Why do you like practicing this kind of law?
TP: I think we are in such an interesting position in that we really are able to help those who need it. It is an opportunity to not only assist people who are hurting, suffering or have been wronged, but also to change the course of what is happening in their lives.
A good example of that is an important case we’re working on now -- a class action lawsuit against Enterprise Products, a pipeline company, and Centerpoint Energy for the improper construction of a pipeline near homes in and around Channelview, Texas. Our investigations have revealed that the manner in which the pipeline was constructed caused flooding, structural property damage and may have even decreased home values. Our lawsuit, which alleges more than $250 million in claims, originally involved less than 100 homeowners. It has since grown significantly -- nearly 1,000 homeowners have now joined the suit. And we represent more homeowners with each passing day.
We’re also building a similar case in Jacinto City, Texas, where another pipeline company has done something similar to homeowners there. We believe these companies -- which already make billions in annual revenue -- are taking shortcuts to increase their profits. They pay no mind as they severely damage homes, homeowners and residents around their project. We’re making them pay attention now.
For both these cases, we simply want what is right for these families, and we’re ready and willing to help them fight for it.
LD: What has been your most rewarding case?
TP: The most rewarding case for me would be a cyberbullying lawsuit we handled in 2014. It involved a then 16-year-old girl who had several classmates post photos of her on Instagram. We filed lawsuits against the students and their parents. The case really had an impact on me, not only because it was a significant case that we handled early on in our careers, but also because of the importance of the issue. That case has meant so much to us, we have remained in contact with that client all these years later.
LD: What challenges have you faced having your own firm and how did you overcome them?
TP: In law school, you learn early on about the importance of being a critical thinker, and you spend years working to hone that skill. That, most certainly has served me well in the practice of law, but one thing you don’t learn in law school is how to run a business. That was a challenge early on: learning to find a path forward, a way to make this business work.
And then as we continued to grow and were able to bring in help, it became important to learn to let go of control. It has been an incredible learning experience all the way around, and that is extremely gratifying looking back on it now.
LD: What has it been like working with your partners?
TP: It definitely goes beyond partnership. Yes, we are partners, but really, we’re more like brothers. The greatest thing about working with Raj Mahadass and Ben Ruemke is that at the end of the day, no matter what, you will often find us grabbing a beer (vodka cranberry for Raj) together. Of course, there are times when we may disagree like brothers, but there are no fears of boundaries because we know we will come back together, all for the good of our friendship, and of course, for the good of the firm.
We have also created a system that allows us to meet once a week to discuss any and all aspects of the business. That way, we can spend the rest of our time focusing on our cases and fighting for the best interests of our clients.
LD: What were the biggest challenges you experienced?
TP: As a firm, our biggest challenge came as we were first starting out. Age was definitely a factor. When you are young attorneys, it’s not always easy to get people to pay attention. I can say that we really had to scrape and claw our way through that, to really prove ourselves in order to be taken seriously. Now that we are several years in and have been successful in many significant and impactful cases, we aren’t really experiencing that issue anymore. It has been very satisfying to no longer have that worry.
LD: Are there any legal trends you are seeing now that are different from when you first started practicing?
TP: One trend I have seen and experienced here in Houston began nearly three years ago with Hurricane Harvey. The hurricane caused a backlog of cases in Harris County, and it became difficult to schedule a jury trial. On the plaintiffs’ side, this can make it difficult to get things moving in a case, and because it takes so long, many attorneys and clients may be tempted to accept lower settlement offers. Here at PMR, we are grateful that we have been able to put our firm in a position in which we don’t have to rush. If it is to the benefit of our client, we are not afraid to continue to push for litigation.
LD: We are living in very challenging times now. Are there any legal changes you have seen or experienced in light of the Covid—19 pandemic?
TP: Yes, we have certainly seen some changes. Because of everything going on in our country right now, in some cases, we’ve seen the defense side not wanting to be held accountable now, so they’re offering to resolve the case but only at the lowest cost possible. We, however, have not changed the manner with which we handle our cases. We will not undersell them. Each case will continue to get its full value and if a settlement is not possible, we will move into litigation.
LD: What are your future goals for PMR Law?
TP: Most of our goals right now are centered around growth. What’s fun about where we are now is that we are in constant build mode. We are in the foundational stage of where we want to be. I think as we continue to grow, we can add more attorneys and, much like we did with the Thermo Fisher Scientific case and branching out into commercial litigation, we can begin expanding into different practice areas slowly and organically.
The idea is to be able to expand from a business and a firm sense but still stay very true to our goal of doing things and taking on cases that help people.
LD: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received, or that you’d like to pass on?
TP: One of my mentors, Skip McBride, told me to always plan for disaster because anything can happen. He would say that no matter the situation, no matter the case, always give it everything you have and be prepared and ready to go the distance. You never know what kind of arsenal the other side might have. Never allow yourself to be put in the position to be caught off guard — that’s when you can get into trouble.
It was excellent advice then, and it is excellent advice now. It still serves me well to this day.