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146 – Anthony Vessel on Leadership, Empathy, and Professional Development

Lawyers aren’t necessarily great business people, or even good law office managers for that matter. That’s because running a business requires a different type of skill set than the practice of law. However, if you have a firm that is run well, you will have more time to be a good lawyer.

On this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen is joined by Anthony Vessel, a lawyer from Houston, Texas, and a partner at Marc Whitehead & Associates, to talk about how to manage a law firm.

Tune in to hear Michael and Anthony talk about building an empathetic law firm culture, the benefits of an inclusive workforce, the use of behavioral assessments, and book recommendations. You’ll also learn how Anthony went from the nickname “Tony the Hatchet Man,” because he had to fire so many people, to being a respected leader in a firm whose core values are integrity, accountability, compassion, communication, teamwork, customer service, and health and happiness in the workplace.

Don’t miss out! Michael’s book, Big Rig Justice: A Comprehensive Guide to Maximizing Value in Truck Accident Cases is now available!

Featured Guest

Name: Anthony Vessel 

About: Anthony Vessel is a partner at Marc Whitehead & Associates, LLP.  He dedicates his practice to plaintiff’s insurance denials and disability law, specializing in long-term disability insurance denials, social security disability, mass torts, and veteran disability. The firm’s central office is headquartered in Houston, Texas, where Anthony manages a national practice and has successfully litigated disability claims in nearly every state, including the Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico. Anthony leads the firm’s largest department, the Social Security Disability Department. Anthony’s SSD department advocates for the rights of thousands of clients annually.

You may have seen Anthony’s work as an author of the newsletter, “The Successful Barrister–Marketing, Management & Life Skills that Probably Won’t Get You Disbarred.”  He has authored numerous articles and often presents on the topics of law office management, professional development, time management, as well as disability benefit claims, litigation, and negotiation.  Anthony also greatly enjoys mentoring young attorneys and peers.

Anthony is an active member, presents CLE presentations, and holds leadership positions in several professional organizations including the American Association for Justice (AAJ), Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA), Houston Trial Lawyer Association (HTLA), Houston Bar Association (HBA), National Organization for Social Security Claims Representatives (NOSSCR), and National Organization for Veteran’s Advocates (NOVA).    

Anthony is also a certified mediator and mediates across a wide practice area. Visit his website www.vesselmediation.com to book a mediation.

Connect: LinkedIn 

Episode Highlights 

[4:04] Firm background and caseload. Brief background on the Social Security Disability Department that Anthony heads up at Marc Whitehead & Associates and the cases he handles. 

[8:52] Max fee for Social Security Disability. Congress recently raised the maximum fee for Social Security Disability to $7,200. This fee was previously set at $6,000 about 12 years ago.

[9:47] Organizing your team for efficiency. Anthony’s team is organized into pods, each of which handles different tasks starting from case intake through completion. 

[11:04] Choosing the right case management system for your practice. A cloud-based case management system, such as Litify, can help ensure efficiency and timeliness by setting specific tasks. This system is customizable, can be accessed remotely, and is good for a high volume practice.

[12:04] Traction. Making sure that people fit their role helps to ensure success for the individual and the firm. This concept of “right people, right seats,” comes from Gino Wickman’s book, Traction.

[14:37] Empathy over skillset: Hiring candidates who have empathy, rather than a certain niche skill set, has helped improve the firm’s culture. 

[17:11] Setting core values. Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team instructs you to set three core values to work towards. However, it’s ultimately up to each law firm to identify however many core values are important to them, even if it’s more than three. 

[17:58] Book recommendations. For Michael, different books, such as The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the Lencioni books, and Traction, have taught him many things about running a business. Anthony also recommends Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek and Never Split the Difference, a book about negotiating by Chris Voss.

[24:35] Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy about continuous improvement. This philosophy goes along with the premise in the book, Who Moved My Cheese, which states that things are always going to be changing so it’s important to learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   

[26:49] Building and retaining your team. Being intentional about building firm culture and making the workplace the type of place where employees want to be attracts people who bring success to the firm.

[33:00] Workplace assessments. Behavioral assessments such as DISC, which is similar to Myers-Briggs, help identify employees’ strengths, management styles, and where they will best fit into the team. 

[37:46] Employee risk factors and coaching. The Jay Henderson workforce analysis identifies potential employee risk factors as well as provides good fodder for interview questions. A company called Atticus provides individual attorney coaching, guidance, and training so that attorneys can be better leaders. 

[40:22] Building a presence in legal organizations. The firm is active in legal organizations at the city, state, and national levels, including HTLA, TTLA, AAJ, and American Association for Justice. All of the firm’s attorneys have gone through the TTLA lead group, applications for which open up in January.

[42:52] The Flywheel Effect. The concept in The Flywheel Effect was first popularized by Jim Collins, author of the book, Good to Great. The premise is that momentum is built through a series of small but continuous actions. 

[43:55] Continuous improvement. One of the biggest themes in the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is continuing to improve as well as correcting bad habits.

[44:40] Stoic philosophy. Ryan Holiday’s books on Stoicism contain a lot of useful information about working on yourself and building a place you want to be in.

[45:20] Instruction manual for leaders. The 4 Disciplines of Execution instructs teams and organizations on how to achieve their goals and priorities.

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In this popular and award-winning podcast for trial lawyers, noteworthy author, sought-after speaker, and renowned trial lawyer, Michael Cowen explores critical topics distinctive to the legal profession with some of the biggest names in the industry – specifically focused on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.

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