Tarek Saad is having a full-circle moment. The acclaimed and accomplished commercial trial lawyer is known in the industry for rising to meet challenges and raising the bar when he does. He has deftly navigated his career path, consciously considering how to evolve himself and enrich the company he keeps. So now, as he begins a new chapter with an old friend, it’s no surprise that the firm, Reid Collins, already feels like home.

Saad has built a multifaceted practice, one that has crossed borders and defied traditional limitations. From Big Law to boutique, from Denver to Qatar, Saad attributes a certain amount of his success to being in the right place at the right time – but it’s his talent that is unmissable by everyone he works with.

Saad and Bill Reid, the founding partner of Reid Collins, met as “baby lawyers,” as Saad puts it, in their very first private practice jobs in Dallas. Their paths have dovetailed over the years and only now, decades later, are they joining forces at Reid Collins.

Reid speaks highly of the firm’s new addition. “Tarek is a true trial lawyer – he’s quick on his feet and can break down an argument in real time,” said Reid in a press release about Saad joining the firm. “His addition to our team will not only bolster our New York office, but also add to our Firm’s breadth of international work through his strong experience in the Middle East.”

Saad believes strongly in teamwork, in part because he played competitive soccer, and in part because of his love playing and watching ice hockey. “Both sports require a large amount of sacrifice for your teammates – and trust in your teammates – and many times passing and receiving the ball and puck is more valuable to scoring a goal than the final shot," Saad says. “That’s how Bill Reid has created the business model at Reid Collins. You need to have everybody's backs and know they'll have yours.”

Lawdragon: Tell us how you got your start in law.

Tarek Saad: I'm originally from Detroit, and I went to the University of Michigan for undergrad. I went to law school at University of Texas in Austin, which was a big leap for me. I had never been to Texas, and I didn't know anybody, but I soon liked it a lot. When I started at my first job at Hughes & Luce in Dallas, I took advantage of a great opportunity to get on a plaintiff’s financial fraud case with the head of litigation that went to trial within 15 months of me joining. I guess I'd impressed him enough during pre-trial preparation because I was the only lawyer he took into the courtroom with him. We thought it would be a one-week trial, but it lasted five weeks, and the jury ended up giving us three times what we asked for. It was very hard work, but very rewarding, and after that, I was hooked!

LD: A strong start, right from the gate. How long were you there?

TS: After three years, I was definitely loving the firm, but I did not see myself spending my future in the city of Dallas. I am the product of a multi-cultural family and adventurous parents, and at the time Dallas felt more insular than I wanted it to be. I'm a kid from Detroit, right? I didn’t see myself in that environment. It’s not really for me. I had reached the critical three- or four-year mark, and I knew if I went on partnership track it was a commitment to the city. So, I got out the atlas and I said, “Where do I want to live?"

I traveled to several cities by myself and picked Denver – it had the mountains and the weather and it's just a wonderful place to be active. So I worked all day and went to the SMU library at night to grab a table and study for the Colorado bar exam. Once I passed, I just flooded the market with resumes, and Morrison & Forrester ended up being the place. I joined and moved to Denver in ‘95.

We thought it would be a one-week trial, but it lasted five weeks, and the jury ended up giving us three times what we asked for.

LD: And pretty soon after, you found yourself in the courtroom again, right?

TS: Yes, I was lucky many chips fell my way. I mean, my trial experience helped me get assigned to the case. But my path to being an active courtroom advocate, including handling oral arguments on motions in limine to start the whole three-week jury trial, and then presenting our lead witness and an important expert, was almost too crazy to be true. It was a class action involving defective basement floors in this huge development called Highlands Ranch, south of Denver. A big developer from southern California built thousands of houses on expansive soils, and used concrete foundations and floors directly on that soil. Many houses suffered from walls and floors that were heaving and cracking and causing all kinds of damage.

There were engineering reports that recommended other methods, including structural wood floors – where you have a buffer of space to accommodate the possibility the soils will expand. But of course that was going to be much more expensive and affect market pricing. So all these floors start heaving and cracking in all these pricey new homes, and this fancy new development was becoming a nightmare for many families.

LD: What a mess!

TS: So Jim Brosnahan at the firm was hired to try the case. He's in our San Francisco office and he’s big-time. He was famous for being the lead prosecutor in U.S. v. Caspar Weinberger, related to the Iran-Contra affair; successfully defending Oakland in a long jury trial with the Oakland Raiders; and obtaining dismissal terrorism charges against the “American Taliban,” John Walker Lindh. Between Jim and me as a fourth-year associate were two mid-level Denver partners, and a seventh-year associate. That was the team as I entered. I start in the usual way, handling all kinds of document review and discovery motions, and after the class gets certified, I start to get more and more responsibility as things ramp up towards trial. And then the seventh-year gets pregnant. So based on the trial date and her upcoming maternity leave, she’s out.

They decide to add her workload to mine, and remove me from my other cases. We're all working as a Denver team, and Jim starts traveling more frequently from San Francisco, and I start to work more with him, including directly on some things. The case is not settling, and we need to start preparing for the possibility of going to trial. Two weeks before trial, the client moved the entire Denver team down to the Inverness Hotel to be closer to the courtroom.

During preparation, Jim determines we need someone at the hotel during the trial to handle all of the research and writing during the trial day. I assume that is going to be me, but Jim assigns that to one of the partners instead. Then Jim gives me motion in limine, which at the time seemed to everyone to be relatively unimportant to our strategy. But I’m excited because it means I’m in the courtroom, at least at the start. Then the other partner starts to develop a medical condition, and now Jim is giving me even more. The week before trial Jim calls me in for a one-on-one and says, “Are you ready?” And I'm like, “I'm ready.” He gives me two fact witnesses and an expert and tells me he wants me in the courtroom for the entire trial. Now, I'm working 19 hours a day and I'm just not sleeping – I'm going to trial with Jim Brosnahan.

I played an active role in the three-week jury trial, and ultimately, the jury gave the plaintiff class what we had offered in settlement. But what I'll never forget, is my favorite moment that last day while we are waiting for the jury verdict. I'm just exhausted and Jim sits down next to me and he's like, “I'll go to trial with you any day.” It was just one of those moments. Gives me chills even now.

The week before trial Jim calls me in for a one-on-one and says, “Are you ready?” And I'm like, “I'm ready.”

LD: Absolute trial by fire.

TS: Exactly. They gave me a week off and when I got back, my managing partner in Denver called me in and said, “I hope you know, you just made partner.” I’m like, “What?!” He said, “Well no, not now, but you'll be up for it early.” He says, “Just don't fuck it up!”

LD: Ha!

TS: And yeah, I made partner in 2000.

LD: When did you set out on your own?

TS: In June 2009, I started my firm with Andy Schauer and Laurel Jin. Laurel did corporate, Andy did securities and entertainment law, and I was the courtroom and disputes guy. I ended up getting some interesting work through some Middle Eastern connections that I had representing Middle Eastern investors who lost money in investments in the U.S. Meanwhile, Andy's wife is close with Mark Burnett, who's the producer of “Survivor” and other film and TV projects. Then she starts working on a new show, called “The Apprentice.”

We ended up getting hired to be counsel for the show. So we're going up to New York and drafting talent contracts and appearance releases, doing pre-publication review and making sure we blur out people that don't have releases, all these sorts of things. We are super excited to have a credit on the show, and we are building our brand and hiring associates and staff. Then in 2012 – the record stops. Andy is not feeling well. It turns out he has a rare form of kidney cancer. We did all kinds of traditional treatments in the U.S. Then we flew him around the world for alternative treatments. He fought it for a year and passed in the summer of 2013.

LD: I'm so sorry.

TS: It was devastating. You know, we had the cool office, we had the pool table and the bar, we're overlooking the mountains – but then it truly was like the air just came out of the room. It was unbelievable. It was tough to let go, but Laurel and I decided to go our separate ways. I figured, I’ll either start my own thing or find a different home. I ended up going to Patton Boggs. They had four Middle Eastern offices, and I had a friend there who was supremely interested in what I was doing. And she said, “Look, you're going through a tough time. We're a nice soft spot for you to land. We can take care of you with your clients.” I ended up joining them.

I transported all my cases from my firm over there. My biggest one was a Lebanese investor who was the exclusive dealer for Kawasaki products in the Middle East. He had made a lot of money with Kawasaki, and he was such a kind and good person. He felt bad about all the pollution that his products contributed to the environment – especially old tires that end up in landfills. He wanted to do something to remedy that.

So he found this investment called Carbon Green, which was allegedly a tire recycling plant in Cyprus. Before he met me, he did a fair amount of due diligence, saw the paperwork and flew to Cyprus where he saw what appeared to be a tire recycling plant. And he invested $13M in this thing. And it all went kaput because the front man was a guy from Slovakia who lived in Vancouver. He had a Canadian lawyer and a Canadian accountant as accomplices to add authenticity to the deal. He literally paid to rent space in a manufacturing plant in Cyprus and hired people just for the day, to be there for my client’s visit.

It took some time for my associates and I to discover it, because it wasn’t obvious from documents we had – this guy and his cohorts were high-quality shysters.

LD: And it was all just a front?

TS: A whole elaborate scheme. It took some time for my associates and I to discover it, because it wasn’t obvious from documents we had – this guy and his cohorts were high-quality shysters. But we went hard and ended up flipping the lawyer and accountant to be witnesses for us. Because I knew that going after the lawyers and accountants first usually is the best way to start – they do not want a lawsuit on their record, and they certainly do not want to go to trial. We flipped them to testify against the boss, and relentlessly chased the chief bad guy around. Finally took him to trial, won $23M. It was quite the experience; very exhilarating.

LD: What made you take the leap to Reid Collins?

TS: I am passionate about the type of work that Reid Collins is doing. Some of my favorite experiences over my career have been the type of work that Reid Collins does, on the plaintiff side – complex financial issues. That’s my wheelhouse.

LD: How did you and Bill first meet?

TS: We actually met in our very first private practice law jobs. I went straight from law school to a firm called Hughes & Luce in Dallas. It was about 150 lawyers, which back then was a big deal. We had a big litigation department and a very highly respected litigation and trial team there. It’s the reason I joined and probably why Bill joined too, but we met literally learning how to be lawyers.

So last year when my wife decided we’re moving to New York – and believe me, I did not put up a fight – I reached out to Bill. Within an hour, we were kind of looking at each other like, “We should probably work together, huh?” Yeah. So here we are – off to the races.

LD: It’s such a strong firm with an extraordinary cohort of lawyers. How’s your experience been thus far?

TS: Everyone is fantastic. Very collegial, and the environment is quick-witted and intellectual, including the humor. When I went to Austin to meet most of the team, I hung out in the lunchroom and enjoyed the flow and the people I met. I sat in on a pitch that Bill was doing just to get a feel for how he approaches things. I stayed for another day and had meals and activities with a variety of my new colleagues. By the end of it, I was already very comfortable and it felt like a home.

LD: That’s how you know it’s a great fit.

TS: In the first few weeks, I’ve already seen how selectively we hire. And a large majority of people have been here a long time, most of the firm’s 14-year existence. I think that can be attributed to a business model that genuinely and brilliantly incents both entrepreneurship and teamwork at the same time, which is not easy for law firms to pull off. My two favorite sports to play and watch – soccer and ice hockey – are very similar to that approach. Scoring a goal in those sports is not easy nor is frequent, and the best teams have players who can create passes to each other that result in the shots that are most likely to hit the back of the net. These are sports that reward players sacrificing themselves for their teammates, and at the same time trusting in their teammates to have their backs. I get that feel here.

LD: The teamwork connects you to the work in a meaningful way.

TS: Exactly. And of course, the clients benefit from that just as much as the rest of us. It's a smarter structure than what you see at Big Law firms.

I've just started, and I can already see and feel how hard people work and how committed they are to the firm’s success, even without an emphasis on billable hours – or maybe because of the lack of emphasis on the billable hour! I am routinely rising early in the morning and right away thinking about how I can support the team. It’s good. It’s a powerful way to live.