If you ask the average person on the street to define digital litigation services, most would be at a loss. That is, unless you ask Nick Bruno. Not only is he an expert on the topic, he has also carved a strong niche in an industry that did not exist 40 years ago.
As the founder and Managing Member of Barrister Digital Solutions, Bruno provides the vital service of helping law firms manage the volumes of data and documents involved in large-scale legal proceedings. “We take away the burden of our clients having to sift through all those documents,” Bruno describes. “Litigation produces tons of material and documents, especially if the business involved is in an industry that is highly regulated by the U.S. Government.”
Barrister works hand-in-hand with in-house departments within law firms. They are involved from the discovery process where both sides need to disclose certain information to each other, all the way through to document review where the attorneys are actually looking for evidence to bolster their legal position. “We provide an electronic platform for our clients to review and mark up their documents, separate them and determine exactly which documents they need to look at. Then they choose which documents they will use in court.”
Bruno describes one of his most memorable projects, “It was at the U.S. Army Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, MD. We literally brought in copy machines to do the duplication because the documents were from the 1940’s. Many were typewritten on delicate, tissue-thin onion skin paper. That was quite interesting,” reflected Bruno.
Barrister opened its doors on Sept 10, 2001, one day before 9/11. “It was a pretty sobering time to start a business,” Bruno recalls.
Despite the unfortunate timing, the company grew from those three original employees to its current 35, operating three shifts to get their client’s needs met as quickly as possible. Currently, there are two locations in the DC Metro area, one the hub for their web-hosting platform and the other serving as the production facility where copies are scanned and documents on disk are converted to hard copies. Their facilities are high security, with a biometric entry system that is perfectly suited for handling sensitive client information.
Bruno, who grew up in Northern Virginia, shares that he did not do well in high school academically, but loved the social aspect and the sports. He played football, wrestled, and competed in gymnastics. At 15 years of age, Bruno’s first job was at People’s Drug Store. After high school, he worked three jobs in order to help support his family.
“My first ‘real’ job was at National Hospital as an entry-level inventory control clerk. That was in the mid 80’s when I first got to use computers and heard about the World Wide Web.”
When Bruno was 23, a friend convinced him to come to Tampa, Florida. He waited on tables at The Centre Club, which was a prestige private club with locations across the country.
“I was there for 6 months and it was awful,” Bruno recalls. He requested a transfer to their Washington, DC location. Once there, he worked his way up from busboy to waiter to captain and was in-line for a maitre d’ position. “I was seriously considering managing my own restaurant for Club Corporation of America.”
It was at the City Club in DC that Bruno met Shane Gastineau and John Davenport, Sr., managing partners of Capital Legal Copies. Through a series of unlikely events, Bruno was offered a position as customer service representative at the company.
Bruno’s then girlfriend, now his wife, encouraged him to take on the challenge and he sensed a real opportunity to learn something new. It was a tough decision because he enjoyed the restaurant business and held a long-term goal to own his own restaurant, but fate had a different path in store for Bruno.
“When the industry was first introduced to me, I thought it sounded crazy, ‘A business that makes copies?’ I wanted to understand the business and began to do some research. I found out that Nightrider was the first company to get started in document management. Before that, most attorneys went to local copy shops for their duplication needs.” As a customer service representative, Bruno would be responsible for the pickup and delivery of documents. “It was very physical work. I loved it and I loved meeting the clients. When I started out we were making hard copies. Today, much of that process is electronic.”
Four months after starting with Capital, Bruno’s supervisor resigned in order to start his own company in Kansas City. He and Bruno had forged a great bond during those four months. “He showed me the ropes; how to do the business, how to sell the business, he showed me everything. I learned quickly”.
This unexpected turn-of-events presented an exceptional opportunity for Bruno, who was promoted to a full-fledged sales representative and took over many of his predecessor’s sales accounts.
“I was very successful in sales and was one of the top producers every month. In DC alone, I held the number one position for 12 months out of a two-year stretch”. Bruno was ecstatic to be making more money than he ever thought he would make, but over time the daily sales grind was getting to him.
“I felt like I wanted to mentor people to sell better and to sell more,” he confides. So he moved up to the position of sales manager. That was the top position at Capital, and after four years there, Bruno decided to break out on his own.
After leaving Capital Legal Copies, Bruno went on to manage a number of businesses. The first was a start-up print shop where he worked with family. He also helped secure print accounts with local firms, including City Club, where he previously worked.
Bruno next partnered with a Houston firm who brought him on board to open a location in DC. They heard about him and knew that he had a substantial book of contacts in the area. “I got that business up and running and profitable, recruited and trained all the sales people, and recruited all the operators, basically starting it from scratch.”
Around that time, Dan Foil, Bruno’s previous supervisor at Capital Legal Copies called and asked him to open a document management location in DC. Bruno accepted the offer and started again from scratch, hiring operators, training salespeople and calling on many of his old clients. Within ten months the business was profitable.
Shortly thereafter, the company was purchased by FYI, intended to be their entrée into the litigation support arena. Bruno struggled with the company’s decision to change his role to one solely played behind a desk. That didn’t work for Bruno and he parted ways with the company.
“My wife was pregnant with our second child and we had just purchased a house. It was a rough period for us but luckily we had squirreled away some money”.
Within four months, Bruno got a phone call from Lex Reprographics asking him to manage their Tyson’s Corner location, which he accepted. “I had started two other businesses from scratch, but this was my first time trying to turn-around an existing business.”
And turn it around he did, taking sales from $30,000 to over $100,000, expanding and hiring more staff. “But I knew that eventually I was going to go back downtown to start my own business. It was on my heart every single day.” He didn’t have a plan, but the Tyson’s Corner experience convinced Bruno that he could do it on his own.
Bruno’s wife has also been a key force. “In looking back at who I would not want to let down, it’s primarily my wife.” She has been a sounding board for Bruno, especially when he was first planning his business strategy. “She helped me to define and refine my plans for the business and she brought up points I hadn’t even considered.”
The willingness to listen to and act upon feedback from those around him is clearly evident in Bruno’s leadership style. “I like to give our employees opportunities to be creative, opportunities to make decisions on behalf of the company, and the opportunity to make their own way. I like to make it safe for them to come to me and say ‘Listen this is what I think we need to be doing’ or ‘How about we do it this way?’”
Bruno’s management style has paid off with a strong staff that is willing to take the initiative in developing a greater vision for the firm. “If it were based on the vision that I had for the business when we started, we’d still be making copies. There would be no scanning service or electronic discovery or web hosting. Our employee’s drove the company to what it is today.”
Like many other businesses, the economic decline in 2008 had a serious impact on Barrister’s bottom line. “We went from $5.8 million to $3.8 million in one year. It was devastating, but we’re back on track now at $6 million because we cut a lot of costs and became more efficient. It was humbling.”
For Bruno, sustaining the business over the last two years was the most challenging and, in the end, most rewarding. He is rightfully proud of the fact that they were able to persevere without incurring any debt or bank loans. “That’s a pretty good achievement,” he responds. Managing the business finances conservatively over the years is what enabled Barrister Digital Solutions to weather the storm. “I’m proud of that and of my staff for the difficult conversations that had to occur during that time.”
Bruno’s faith has played a fundamental role in his growth as a person and as a business owner. “I believe that God blessed me with a servant’s heart. I am a Christ follower and I believe God has a purpose for my life. His intention is for me to serve people in some capacity. For me, the biggest kick is to please a client. When a client writes a letter that says ‘you guys really came through for us’, that’s a real win. This is what it’s all about”
“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. I’m not an analytical thinker. I’m not a numbers cruncher. I prefer to build relationships with people. Instead of sharpening pencils and looking at the numbers to reach a mark, I’d rather go out onto the production floor and talk to my employees about what’s going on in their lives. That’s the kind of guy I am. That’s how God made me.”
Often asked to advise others on getting ahead in their career, Bruno’s counsel is threefold. “First, have something in your mind that you really want to do and that you’re passionate about. Second, be humble. Don’t think that you are owed something. You need to sell yourself to your employer. Ask ‘what can I do for you?’ and let them know that you’ll give whatever it takes. And third, don’t be afraid to start at the bottom. If you aren’t willing to put the time and effort into it, you’re wasting your time.”
Crediting his own success to several factors, Bruno relays, “I’m competitive. I like to compete. I like to win. And I started from the bottom and worked my way up.” He also shares that he is motivated by a desire to prove himself.
With an unwavering faith, and a heart to serve, Nick Bruno has successfully combined hard work, competitive drive and an honest desire to be in relationship with others. An influencer of people and a positive reflection of his own beliefs, Nick Bruno is a man on a mission. A mission that he has fulfilled.