While growing up in Kentucky, John Buckley III set three goals for himself: attend the Air Force Academy, become a fighter pilot and get a law degree from Harvard.
The Colorado Springs-based attorney is batting a perfect three-for-three.
“Where I come from, you don’t get to do that,” the principal of Buckley Law said of any one of his ambitions.
Buckley, who provides estate, business and asset protection planning, arrived in Colorado Springs in 1973 as a first-year cadet. He would spend a decade on active duty before investing 14 additional years as an intelligence officer in the reserves.
When Buckley left active-duty service in 1987, it was to attend Harvard Law School. His first job as an attorney was with one of the largest firms in Michigan.
“I spent 10 months, three weeks, four days, six hours and eight minutes at a big law firm,” Buckley said. “But who’s counting?”
Buckley said, when hired, he was told he would devote half his time to international, transactional law and half his time in litigation.
“The only reason I agreed to do litigation was so in five years I could transition solely to international law,” he said. “Promises were made but not fulfilled. I was doing 99 percent grunt litigation. … In 1990 I was up at 2 in morning reading transcripts. … I was fourth or fifth in rank and learning, but I hated it. I wanted to go do deals.”
To the east
Buckley had built several lasting relationships during his time at Harvard that proved valuable after he’d left his job in Michigan.
“I’d met some prominent Saudis in law school,” he said. “Well, this thing called the Gulf War started and I had two years of Arabic from the Academy and one year studying Islamic law at Harvard. My connections were telling me it was a great opportunity for Americans [to do business in the Middle East].”
Buckley, now self-employed, represented several medical and tech companies looking to set up offshore businesses.
“Kuwait is a country of just over 1 million people, but all these American companies wanted to start something there,” he said. “It was hunting the white buffalo — the big kill.”
Still wet behind the ears, Buckley said it was hubris that led to his success half a world away.
“That [pride] is part of being a fighter pilot,” he said. “But I was also willing to do 15, 18, 20 hours a day to learn as quickly as I could.”
He said he did well for himself, but was constantly away from his first wife and their three children.
“I loved what I was doing but I was gone all the time,” he said. His career was taking a toll on his family, so he decided to invest the money he’d made overseas into opening a small, boutique practice stateside. His wife at the time had family in Colorado Springs, and Buckley made his permanent return to Colorado in the early 1990s.
Keys to his success
Buckley says his firm was built on relationships, a business ethic he learned while in the Middle East.
“Their word is their bond, especially in business,” Buckley said of the Arab world. “Today, when I draft an agreement, I want to do as much as possible to retain relationships, even in the midst of conflict. If I do that, then I’m going to make a difference for my clients. The resolution will be quicker, less expensive and maybe we’ll never do another deal … but we’re not going to hate each other.”
Buckley personally weathered a contentious divorce and said his distaste for probate court grew from that experience. As a result, conflict resolution is part of any contract he drafts.
“No corporate client of mine will ever go to probate court,” he said, “because they’ve signed and agreed to terms of conflict resolution as part of their contract. I learned how to resolve conflict outside of court [while overseas]. Even if you win in a court, it tastes like gravel because the process is not conducive to building a relationship. All contracts are relational.”
Keys to your success
Buckley said a large part of his mission is educating his clients about business law. He said anyone considering starting a business should take into account several factors.
“Firstly, relationship is king,” he said. “If I start from that, then I will build my service or manufacturing ethic with my customers, my vendors and my employees in mind.”
Secondly, Buckley said to create an entity “if you’re going to make $10,000 a year and have more than one half-time employee.” He said to avoid a sole proprietorship in many cases to better mitigate income and self-employment taxes.
Thirdly, Buckley said to start with the end in mind.
“Know how to get out,” he said. “You’ve created this successful business — have an exit strategy.”
Finally, Buckley advised understanding the “rules” of small business:
“Ninety percent of all small businesses fail in three years. … Be patient. Set yourself up for success. … Whether you’re a service business or not, you might do better to reinvest some money into your business. … Be willing to spend money now to make money in the future.”