Growing Into a Leader – James Helm, the Founder of TopDog Law, Discusses His Personal Journey to Becoming a Leader

Growing Into a Leader – James Helm, the Founder of TopDog Law, Discusses His Personal Journey to Becoming a Leader
James Helm, Founder of TopDog Law

Arguably, no amount of schooling can prepare any entrepreneur for the unique challenges of being a leader.

When James Helm founded his injury law firm TopDog Law in 2019, this Philadelphia-native attorney had to learn the hard way that cultivating the skill set of an effective leader is a trial-and-error process.

“My first year in business was actually a critical leadership moment,” said Helm during a recent video interview. “I remember at one point I had two paralegals resign the same week, and I asked  myself, ‘what am I doing wrong?’”

Helm is better known for the entertaining law-related content he creates for the social media platform Instagram, which has made TopDog Law one of the most recognizable injury law brands in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

After only three years of existence, TopDog Law has grown into a multi-seven-figure law firm with two offices in Philadelphia and one in Baltimore. Today, Helm and his team provide top-quality representation to hundreds of accident victims across Pennsylvania, helping them obtain the maximum compensation.

Before scaling his firm above seven figures, Helm had to undergo the process of transforming into an effective leader. Helm opened TopDog Law a little less than a year after completing his joint graduate degree in law and business at Rutgers University. His firm’s first year in business was a critical learning experience for him in multiple areas, particularly in the art of leading.

In a recent interview back in May, Helm connected via Zoom to talk about the challenges he faced in the early days of TopDog Law and the process of becoming a true leader.

Helm recognizes that he lacked leadership experience when he first opened TopDog law. He acknowledges that this inexperience led him to make multiple mistakes in his early entrepreneurial career. Helm concedes that his main mistake was not knowing how to assign the right workload to his team.

Before opening TopDog Law, “I hadn’t had any experience leading or managing people,” said Helm. Thus, “early on, I made the mistake of hiring $50,000-per-year employees and treating them like $300,000-per-year employees.”

Helm explains that in the early days of TopDog Law, the number of new cases quickly outgrew his legal team. Helm’s background in sales, having worked for a marketing company before opening TopDog Law, allowed him to generate new leads without significant hurdles. Nonetheless, during TopDog Law’s first months in business, before settling the first batch of cases, the firm was on a tight budget that prevented Helm from expanding his team.

“I was very hard on my team, and I mistakenly gave them more work than they could possibly handle,” admitted Helm. “I did that because I generated so many new cases, which required a larger paralegal team, but I didn’t have the money to hire the correct number of paralegals.”

Helm’s inexperience in managing a working team led him to lose some members of his firm in a relatively short timeframe. This loss took a heavy toll on Helm, who at the time could not understand why he was incapable of retaining his employees.

“I remember reaching a point of breaking down, just crying, and asking, ‘what is it about me that makes nobody want to work for me?” recounted Helm.

Helm was later able to identify that work overload was the cause of TopDog Law’s initial high turnover. He humbled himself and recognized that his inexperience as a leader blindfolded him. Yet, he was in time to correct the course of his business.

“With some hindsight, I was able to look back and realize that the problem was that I was overloading them,” said Helm. “It was not so much about them being bad employees as my inexperience. It was just totally unreasonable the amount of work and energy they were putting in, and I couldn’t see it at the time.”

Today, Helm works continuously to provide his employees with a healthy work-life balance. His legal team has been a critical component of the growth of TopDog Law in the past couple of years. With their help, he is confident that TopDog Law will become the most prominent injury law firm in Philadelphia.

In retrospect, Helm views this experience as a necessary lesson he had to learn to become the leader and influential entrepreneur he is today. Nowadays, he understands that leaders must possess an open mind and be willing to learn from their past mistakes.

By Juan Sebastian Restrepo,
With Artistic Initiative Agency