As part of its annual Franchise Legal Players issue, 1851 profiled the top franchise attorneys in the field to shine a spotlight on the work they do for the franchise industry.
1851: Tell us about your background and your firm.
Ambika Sapra, Partner at Sapra & Navarra LLP: My name is Ambika Sapra. I am a board-certified workers' compensation specialist and the senior and co-founding partner at Sapra & Navarra, LLP, an award-winning law firm.
I grew up in India, in a beautiful little town called Shimla in the midst of the Himalayas. Picture Switzerland without the lakes; in fact, many a Bollywood film has been filmed in Shimla. Shimla was also the summer capital of the British during the British rule of India, as they escaped the summer heat in Calcutta and Delhi. I studied in a convent school run by Irish nuns and eventually earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and political science. I speak several languages and I am widely traveled; many people born in Shimla eventually leave after completing their education so that they can flourish elsewhere.
From Shimla, I came to the United States, started and co-owned a fine-dining restaurant. I did everything that was required in the restaurant including busing tables, waiting on tables, bartending, laundry, washing dishes and even janitorial work. The restaurant was one of the finest in the area. Due to personal adversity, I put myself through law school, became a California attorney, and I am now a board-certified specialist in California workers' compensation. I also love art and own a fashion company that I started.
My partner, Mr. Albert Navarra, and I started our firm from scratch in 2006—one room, one computer, and no cases. Since then we have been blessed to grow and our firm is 100 percent devoted to representing self-insured employers, carriers, third-party administrators, and even captive employers. In fact, one of our major clients is a restaurant franchise captive consisting of various franchise owners. In 2013, a Fortune 500 carrier gave us an award based on our trademarked litigation strategy and the positive impact on the carrier’s bottom line.
1851: What are some must-ask questions when franchisors and franchisees are vetting potential franchise attorneys?
Sapra: The bottom line for business owners is reducing workers’ compensation costs so they can increase profits. Business owners work very hard to start and grow their businesses and they deserve measurable results from their workers’ compensation programs. The WCIRB reports that the average California indemnity case costs $85,000 (medical, indemnity, ALE) and lasts three years. These are exorbitant numbers for franchisors and franchisees and nobody should blithely dismiss them as the “cost of doing business.” So, the most important question to vet a defense attorney is how do they intend to reduce the average numbers of $85,000 and three years per indemnity case? Savvy marketing talk won’t cut it. Data must be reviewed for at least the past three years of the firm's average cycle time and cost per case on all their cases, including ‘outliers’ such as death cases and catastrophic injuries. Only data can give employers a fair picture of what the defense attorney can really deliver.
1851: In broad terms, do you have a particular case that stands out to you as an industry learning experience?
Sapra: I will give you a real ‘30,000 feet’ perspective to this question as I am literally flying 30,000 feet high in an airplane while composing my answers. To be fair, my entire practice stands out. In 2011 we developed our trademarked legal strategy, and it reduces average cycle time and total cost per case significantly compared to statewide averages. Savings like that necessarily encompass hundreds of ‘stand out’ cases. So eventually, ‘stand out’ cases cease to stand out and instead become routine. And that’s a good thing. For example, the WCIRB recently reported in “The World of Cumulative Trauma Claims” that CT claim rates have grown 50 percent during the last decade; they incur significantly more lien and medical-legal costs than specific injuries; they stay open longer; and they involve more body parts than specific injuries. But using our litigation strategy, they close significantly faster and cost significantly less compared to statewide averages.
1851: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Sapra: I feel rewarded when my clients are rewarded. When my clients see their workers’ compensation costs drop and their profits rise, I feel immense happiness and motivation to do even more for them.
1851: What are your top concerns for the franchise industry in the next year?
Sapra: There is a plethora of challenges that the franchise industry faces: recent adverse legal decisions such as Kite (‘adding’ impairment instead of ‘combining’), Hikida (limiting non-industrial apportionment), Hanus and Hennessey (reviving Ogilvie after SB 863); increased rate of cumulative trauma claims; rising minimum wages in California; and the small profit-margin the franchisors and franchisees have in their businesses. These and other factors will have a significant detrimental effect on business owners unless a serious and strategic change is made to reduce their workers' compensation costs. Legislative changes are merely hopes and dreams; changing litigation strategy brings real results.
1851: What are you most optimistic about in the franchise industry in the next year?
Sapra: If our legal strategy is applied on a broad and consistent basis, I’m optimistic the franchise industry will reduce its overall workers’ compensation costs and thereby increase profit margins on a long-term and sustained basis.