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Executive Voice

Interview with Attorney Jeff Kaliel

Jeff Kaliel

Jeffrey Kaliel is a highly-regarded attorney with more than ten years of experience representing plaintiffs in multimillion-dollar class action lawsuits. He is a partner in the Washington DC-based KalielGold firm that specializes in cases involving overdraft fees and other predatory financial practices, consumer protection, false advertising, bank and insurance fraud, and personal injury. 

Kaliel has taken the lead on many cases that yielded significant damage awards for his clients and against predatory lending practices. One example is Farrell v. Bank of America, 3:16-cv-00492-L-WVG (S.D. Cal.). The case challenged the bank’s practice of charging overdraft fees and then charging additional fees because the bank account was overdrawn. Kaliel’s work resulted in a $66 million settlement.

Kaliel is passionate about defending the rights of consumers, especially those most vulnerable, against the unjust actions of corporations. He accepts cases on a contingency basis, meaning he receives compensation only when clients receive a monetary settlement. He also has worked with several nonprofits to advocate for legislation against predatory lending practices and truth in labeling food and animal products. 

Before attending law school at Yale Law, Jeff Kaliel served in the U.S. Army during the Second Iraqi War, achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant. He also graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He studied philosophy at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom for one year.

After law school, he participated in the Department of Homeland Security Honors Program, working in the agency’s appellate litigation section. He also helped other agencies investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina and served as a special U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of California.

The Super Lawyers Publication chose him as one of the Washington DC Rising Stars 2015.

Jeff Kaliel enjoys exploring Washington, DC, and its suburbs with his family when he isn’t working. 

1. Where did the idea for KalielGold come from?

The most fulfilling aspect of being an attorney is being able to help the “little guy.” I’ve also discovered that my talent for partnering with engineers, economists, and technology experts has enabled me to present compelling cases on behalf of my clients and against financial predators. 

My partner. Sophia Goren Gold is also passionate about advocating for those in need against large corporations. Because we are both committed to this branch of the law, we decided to form a firm that only deals with plaintiffs who are seeking justice because of deception or ill-treatment from these corporations. 

We also understand that low-income people are often victims of predatory and deceptive processes but hesitate to contact an attorney because they don’t believe they can afford one. We decided our KalielGold business model would be to accept cases on a contingency basis only. Both the poor and rich have the same access to our services.

2. What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

Of course, every day differs depending on which stage my cases are in. I fill my days by working with partners, colleagues, and clients to ensure I understand the impact of corporate actions on my clients and can present them clearly to a jury or judge. Much of this work is technical and detailed. Sometimes it involves role-playing with a colleague.

I also file motions, including ones to certify my clients as a class, which means that those who’ve suffered injustices may have their cases decided all at once. Having the cases decided all at once is much faster. Also, grouping the cases into a class action allows more resources to be allocated to winning them. Once a class has been certified, I decide which of the plaintiffs will be the best representatives of the class. Choosing representatives is critical because the judge, jury, and defendant’s counsel will determine the awards based on these representatives’ cases. 

I spend some days in the courtroom litigating cases or arguing against motions from defendants’ attorneys. I spend other days in settlement talks with defendants. 

I’ve been practicing plaintiff’s rights law for more than a decade now, so I know how to accomplish my goals efficiently. I also have an excellent staff of associate attorneys, legal assistants, and paralegals that support my work.

3. How do you bring ideas to life?

In my industry, ideas come to life in the courtroom and settlement talks. I prepare doggedly beforehand so that I can receive the best outcome for my clients once I sit in a court or across the table.

4. What’s one trend that excites you?

I am excited that states are passing more laws against predatory lending, especially predatory small business lending. Small business owners are a critical part of our economy. Forming a small business can also help pull people out of poverty and give them the means to a better life. 

Small businesses need capital to survive and thrive. However, large banks often see small businesses as too big a risk for loans. The juxtaposition of these two factors can set the stage for predatory small business lending. Fortunately, in the past few years, states have begun requiring truth-in-lending practices similar to those that the federal government has mandated for individual loans.

5. What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur? 

I have a habit of carefully researching the effects of each unjust corporate action on my clients and society as a whole. I have also worked to develop an expert-level understanding of financial practices. I make sure I understand each case fully, then work hard to convey the information to judges and jurors in a way that is easy to understand. These habits of careful research and extensive practice are key reasons I’ve won high-dollar settlements and verdicts for my clients.

6. What advice would you give your younger self?

Seeking justice for the most vulnerable is a great service to society. It is also highly personally fulfilling. A large part of the reason I am productive and successful in my business is that I am passionate about it. Passion drives me to strive harder to achieve.

If I’d realized earlier in my life how valuable this service is and how much providing this service is life-giving for me, I would have become a lawyer — and a plaintiff’s lawyer — earlier in my life. However, I have no regrets. All my life experiences have molded me into who I am today, so all are valuable.

7. Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Society sometimes has a stereotype of plaintiff’s lawyers that is less than reputable. We often hear terms like “ambulance chaser,” for example. However, plaintiff lawyers perform a critical role in making the world a better place. Court decisions in favor of the plaintiffs not only redress wrongs done to those in the class action suit. They also often require the defendants to change their policies to benefit everyone.

8. As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

At the end of each case or successful campaign advocating for the rights of others, I review every motion, argument, and presentation to see what we did well and what we could have done better. Striving for perfection should be every entrepreneur’s goal.

9. What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Providing excellent service helped me build a reputation among my peers and through the media. Some of my referrals come from other law firms. Some clients come to our firm directly when they hear through the media that we are working on a particular class action. My reputation for serving clients well is my best marketing tool.

10. What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In my early years as an attorney, I’d sometimes find myself in awe of going up against large companies, such as Bank of America, and their attorneys. Of course, you should respect your opponent, but being in awe of them can be a mistake if it makes you fearful. I’ve overcome that fear by preparing diligently. Also, as I’ve won more cases, I’ve realized that success does not depend on size.

11. What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers? 

I think we need a business that contracts with schools, workplaces, and community colleges to offer financial literacy training. The company must ensure it reaches a diverse population to meet the need fully. I’ve found those who live in disadvantaged economic areas have the greatest need for financial education. Also, participants need to be able to attend the training for free; the schools and workplaces would pay the trainer’s fee.

A financial literacy education business would be profitable and also benefit society. If people improve their financial literacy, they will be better able to discern predatory practices before they significantly impact their lives.

12. What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

When I’m not working, I enjoy exploring the D.C. area with my family. One of the best outings was packing a picnic lunch and renting a pedal boat to go around the Tidal Basin. It was a terrific family activity that relaxed and rejuvenated me to tackle corporate injustice again. The cost of lunch, transportation to the Tidal Basin, and the boat rental totaled a little less than $100.

13. What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I use legal service software that helps me streamline my processes, such as invoicing, accounting, time tracking, and document storage. It also helps synchronize data with email programs and helps me easily assign tasks to associates and paralegals. I think every firm can benefit from software like this. Several companies produce excellent platforms that perform these functions and do so at a reasonable price. I think the best one depends on the specific needs of each firm. 

14. What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss is a good choice for those who want to negotiate better in life and their jobs. Voss was a hostage negotiator for the FBI, where life and death depended on his negotiation abilities. He shares nine effective principles, some counterintuitive, that can help entrepreneurs be more persuasive, regardless of the stakes involved.

15. What is your favorite quote?

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Key Learnings

  • Extensive research and preparation are the keys to successfully bringing your ideas to life. There really are no shortcuts if you want to provide a service or product that others value.
  • Finding your passion is the key to a fulfilling life and a successful business. Passions often correlate with service to others. Finding a passion early in life allows you to spend years developing your product or service; however, all life experiences can be valuable.
  • If you are doing what you truly love, don’t worry if society misunderstands you. If you perform a valuable service or deliver a useful product, society will learn to adjust its stereotypes.
  • Regularly reviewing your performance — and the performance of your firm– is critical to continuing to deliver an excellent product. 
  • Referrals are the lifeblood of most businesses. Providing an excellent product or service will satisfy your customers and impress others in the industry so that you gain referrals. Excellence will also boost your reputation and help your business grow.
  • Entrepreneurs need to spend time in leisure pursuits with friends and family regularly. Leisure activities can rejuvenate you so that you can continue to perform optimally over the long term.


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