Search results for: sonia rodriguez

134 – Sonia Rodriguez – Cracking the Expert Witness Code: Getting the Best from Your Retained Experts

“The relationship between the expert and the lawyer is a lot like a horse and a rider. I don’t want you to lead me in a dangerous situation, and I don’t want to lead you in a dangerous situation.”

On this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, host Michael Cowen is joined by his partner Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion on the dos and don’ts of working with retained expert witnesses. Sonia and Michael discuss the importance of consistent communication with your expert and remembering that while they may be the expert in their field, you’re the expert in the courtroom. Experts are equipped with technical knowledge, but when it comes to getting a jury to believe your story, it’s best to keep things simple. Just like a rider guides a horse, lawyers must guide their experts–the expert must know why they’ve been hired and how the lawyer sees them fitting in the case.

Featured Guest

Name: Sonia Rodriguez

About: Sonia Rodriguez, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is a partner at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock. Sonia has represented only plaintiffs for nearly 20 years, and she practices in the areas of personal injury trial and appellate law. Beyond the practice of law, Sonia has provided unwavering support to a number of important civic and community causes, including the Young Women’s Leadership Academy and the SAISD Foundation.

Company: Cowen Rodriguez Peacock

Connect: LinkedIn

Episode Highlights 

[2:07] The frustration of experts who don’t cite their sources: Retained experts may refuse to back up their opinions with authorities and publications, however, it’s vital that juries hear those citations. The best kinds of experts are natural teachers who want to back up their opinions with data. 

[5:42] Dealing with unwieldy experts: When faced with an expert who doesn’t want to anchor their opinions, Sonia reminds the expert that she is trying to protect them because Daubert motions are a real risk. 

[7:37] Ensuring nothing is missed: In order to keep everyone on schedule, Sonia communicates with her experts early and often, and always provides a “fake” deadline that builds in plenty of room for flexibility. Sonia also tells experts what they will be using to tell their story to the jury, so they can craft their trial testimony accordingly. 

[14:00] When one expert relies on another: Sometimes experts rely on the opinions of another testifying expert to craft their report, so Sonia recommends connecting experts and coordinating schedules as early as possible.

[19:42] How to ensure testimony is cohesive and persuasive: Sonia suggests figuring out where the expert’s opinion fits into your larger story at trial to utilize their testimony most effectively. Keeping the opinions in plain English is always a must.

[24:45] “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” Experts: Sometimes experts can be charming and forthcoming on direct examination, but completely turn into another person on cross-examination, becoming defensive and argumentative. That’s when you know it’s time to stop using those experts!

[26:53] Pitfalls of listserv recommendations: While Sonia praises fellow members of the plaintiff’s bar for providing expert recommendations on the listserv, Michael cautions that you must always take these recommendations with a grain of salt and consider the source.

[30:20] Sonia’s final advice on experts: Don’t rely on staff to handle communications with experts; managing experts yourself minimizes the risk of miscommunications. Next, don’t forget to provide experts with key discovery materials as they are uncovered. Finally, build a personal relationship with experts.

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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.

Produced and Sponsored by LawPods.

119 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Balancing Act: Running A Law Firm And Practicing Law

Two of the most difficult career paths are running your own business and practicing as a trial lawyer. They both take time, energy, commitment, and exceptional ability in your craft. However, when running your own law firm, you’re tasked with doing both. It can be easy to mismanage the business side or let your abilities as an attorney waiver when one takes control of the other. So how do you balance the two for an exceptional law practice?

In episode 119, Michael Cowen speaks with Sonia Rodriguez, his fellow Partner & Trial Lawyer at Cowen, Rodriguez and Peacock PC about how they run their law firm. On this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael and Sonia discuss balancing being great lawyers and running a great firm, hiring and coaching decisions, how team building can impact the success of your efforts, taking the right cases at the right time, and much more.

Featured Guest

Name: Sonia Rodriguez

About: Sonia Rodriguez is a native of San Antonio. She graduated from Burbank High School then completed undergraduate studies at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. In 1999, Sonia received a Juris Doctorate degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law, in San Antonio, Texas, where she served as an editor and a co-founder of The Scholar: St. Mary’s Law Review on Minority Issues. Since then, Sonia has represented individuals and families who have been injured or have lost loved ones due to the negligence of others. Sonia’s commitment to serving her community through honest and fair legal representation was inspired by her father, a passionate labor organizer and her mother, a hard-working and loyal former paralegal.

Company: Partner And Trial Lawyer, Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock

Connect: Linkedin

Key Points

Top takeaways from this episode 

  • Your law firm is a business. Is it healthy? Reminder that a law firm is a business. It’s important that you periodically gauge where your firm stands on its goals for growth, quality, income, and other goals you may have set to ensure it’s running the way you envision it.
  • How to manage your new team members from the business and law sides of the firm. Managing a team is a skill. It’s imperative that you hire team members from both the business and law side of the firm that fit your firm’s culture, quality, and vision. That also means that as the firm grows, your team members may not grow with it whether from their decision or yours. You must communicate the past, present, and future of your firm to your team so that you can all work together as smoothly as possible.
  • How to balance running a law firm and practicing law by hiring exceptional team members. You’re not going to enjoy or thrive in every section of running a law firm. The key to balancing the things you enjoy and the things you don’t is hiring exceptional team members to handle things like marketing, advertising, human resources, etc.

Episode Highlights 

[02:19] Evaluate Your Business Health: Keep an eye on what works and what does not in your law firm

[09:15] Creating Systems Of Accountability In Your Business: As you are looking to manage your business health, also gauge your personal and team accountability. 

[13:56] Keeping up with a drastically changing job market: How Michael and Sonia have kept up with their team’s needs with a changing job market.

[26:49] Managing your team, especially with new lawyers: When working with a team, learning to adjust behaviors and expectations is imperative for a healthy team culture.

[38:09] How to balance being an exceptional lawyer with an exceptional law practice: Although your time is eaten up by running a law firm business, there are many methods and practices that you can apply to balance the law firm with practicing law yourself.

[42:24] Best practices for coaching team members: It can be difficult telling a team member you don’t like what they do, but by using radical candor you can help a team member be better for them and for the rest of the team. 

[40:32] Hiring for the things you don’t want to do: One of the keys to balance is to hire a great team to handle the business side of a law firm so you can focus on the practice side.

Connect with Trial Lawyer Nation

☑️ Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn.

☑️ Subscribe to Trial Lawyer Nation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or YouTube.

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.

Produced and Sponsored by LawPods.

99 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Pursuit of Happiness: Building the Attorney-Client Alliance

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by his law partner Sonia Rodriguez to discuss a topic sure to resonate with every plaintiff lawyer listening; What can we do to keep our clients happy?

The pair begins the episode with a look at why we want to keep our clients happy. While some of the benefits seem obvious, such as not having a grievance filed against you, getting positive reviews online, and gaining future business through their referrals, Michael and Sonia discuss this in more detail. Michael shares why you want your client to take your advice. And for them to do that, they need to trust you. Sonia agrees and adds that lawyers have a fairly low reputation in the eye of the general public. Clients come to you with this in the back of their minds, so it’s crucial to be upfront, honest, and transparent.

“If you have a client that trusts you, you can go forward with the case strategy as a team.” – Sonia Rodriguez

This leads them to discuss what makes clients unhappy with their lawyer. Sonia explains how the client is initially unhappy when they don’t know how the lawyer is getting paid. To alleviate this strain, Sonia makes a point to have a very frank conversation about the contingency fee and how it works during her first meeting with the client. In this conversation, she also makes it clear that case expenses are separate from the fee. Repeating this throughout the life of the case and making it nonchalant goes very far in building trust with the client.

Michael agrees and adds how crucial it is to fix your own relationship with money to have these conversations. He used to cut his fees all the time, without the client even asking. Sonia shares something that helps with her mindset – that the attorney’s fee isn’t all going into her pocket. It also pays paralegals, investigators, employee health care, etc. It comes down to valuing yourself and your services.

Michael and Sonia’s next topic of conversation is one of the most commonly filed grievances against lawyers – a lack of communication with the client about what’s going on with their case. To nip this issue in the bud, they’ve developed a system which requires a meaningful client contact at least once every 30 days (discussed in more detail in this fan-favorite episode with Malorie Peacock). In this phone call, typically conducted by the paralegal, the client is asked a series of meaningful questions and provided with an update on their case. It not only keeps the client informed, but it also helps the firm know when the client is struggling to keep up with his or her medical appointments. This helps move the case forward, adds value to the case, and helps ensure the client is happy.

After briefly discussing the commonly held belief that the attorney only cares about the money and how to combat it, Sonia asserts a powerful point; attorneys should not put themselves in the position of needing to make the client happy. With a personal injury claim can come a lot of anxiety and depression, and sometimes you can never make a client truly happy. If that is your goal, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

This leads them to talk about managing expectations with clients. Michael and Sonia both agree that bringing up any issues with the case early leads to a happier client in the end. Sonia frames it as not having a “crystal ball.” She will not tell a client early on what she thinks the case is worth. Instead, she tells the client what she “imagines the insurance company wants to pay them.” This is a great way to point out any issues in the case, while diffusing any potential rift between herself and the client and uniting them against the insurance company on the other side.

Michael adds that if the client thinks you need the money, they will doubt you when you advise them to settle. He then shares the powerful explanation that he gives to clients in this situation, where he makes it clear that he is able to take on the risk of going to trial but shares the downsides of doing so for the client.

While there can be a real, scary financial risk for young lawyers with a lot of money invested into a case, Michael shares his personal experience of losing his first $100,000 and his shocking reaction looking back on that experience. At the end of the day, choosing to settle on your advice or not is the client’s decision, and when you make that clear from the start, you don’t need to lose sleep over it.

“It hurts, but when you survive it… it’s a very liberating thing.” – Michael Cowen

Having to be the bearer of bad news comes with the territory of being a lawyer. Michael and Sonia’s next talking point explores the different ways they handle delivering this bad news without damaging the attorney-client relationship. Sonia shares why telling them in person immediately or, if possible, in advance goes a long way to salvaging and potentially even strengthening your trust with the client. She then shares a recent example where her client refused to answer a question in a deposition. Sonia pulled her aside and explained the risks. When the client chose to move forward, she understood a motion to compel could be filed; but it was a decision the client made, and Sonia supported her.

The pair wraps up the episode with Michael sharing a philosophy he learned from his New Mexico office partner, Alex Begum. At the end of the day, personal injury clients don’t usually know if the lawyer is doing a good job or not; but what they do know is how they feel when they interact with your office. Things like offering them a beverage, giving them a gift package, and not making them wait for a long time when they come to see you go a long way. And while the strategies mentioned in this episode won’t make everything perfect all the time, implementing them at your firm will help maximize client happiness over time.

“When you make people feel more respected dealing with your office than anywhere else in their lives, then they will like you.” – Michael Cowen

This podcast episode also covers why online reviews are so important and when you should ask a client for a review, why client happiness is more important in personal injury than most other practices, how to show a client you care about them and not just the money, and much more.

 

90 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Trials of War: Tactics, Strategy & Mindset

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock partner and attorney, Sonia Rodriguez, to discuss Sonia’s rediscovered inspiration and lessons from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” and the strategies and tactics trial lawyers can utilize from it while still dealing with a pandemic.

Michael opens the episode by telling Sonia about his feelings of frustration about his upcoming case (which is less than a week away at the time of recording) being canceled due to Covid concerns. Sonia responds to this by saying this trend of “getting the rug pulled out from under you,” seems to be the “new normal” for trial lawyers during the pandemic.

The two then begin to discuss how this impacts your case outside of the courtroom, specifically having to invest time and money into a case multiple times due to cancellations, the need to find flexible experts, and the pandemic’s “giant wrench” in your damage evaluations.

“We all know that, even in non-pandemic times, the certainty of a trial date was never really that certain. But now, the prospect of having to prepare multiple times for the trial setting is going to multiply the cost.” – Sonia Rodriguez

The conversation then shifts to what trial lawyers can do in times like these to maximize the value of their cases. Sonia begins by discussing her re-reading of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and its impact on her successes in 2021.

“I’ve been practicing law for almost 25 years, and I’ve never made more money in a one-year period than I have during this pandemic,” Sonia says leading into her first citation from the book (with a notable twist for trial lawyers); “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without [a trial].” This, she notes, is similar to the modern-day strategy, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Sonia then delves deeper into this concept by discussing how she prepares for war, or in this case trial, by hiring and preparing our experts, paying for exhibits, and (probably most important) laying plans and evaluating her cases strengths and weaknesses.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”– Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Building on the subject of the importance of evaluating your case, Sonia presents one of her touchstones for case valuation: Remember torts 101, negligence has two parts. She presents that it’s easy to fall into the rut of evaluating your case based on your client’s damage model. However, if you look at your case carefully, based on liability factors you believe, and go to battle fairly evaluating both components, you will add value. Michael agrees with this, adding that if the defense did something really bad, you’re more likely to get a bigger result.

The two continue this conversation with Sonia explaining how mediators only want to talk about low property damage and pre-existing conditions; subjects to which she responds, “I spit on that!” Instead, she wants to talk about this trucking company, how they have no training protocols, how they’ve had the same types of crashes for the last 3 years, and so on; ultimately aiming to change the framework of the conversation to focus on liability.

“No one really knows what a case is worth. There is no magic formula … . If we, in our heart of hearts, believe it’s worth more, we can get more.”– Michael Cowen

Sonia then shifts the conversation to “attacking by fire,” or, in other words, always coming from a position of strength, even if you have weaknesses in a case. Regarding the weaknesses of the defense, however, Michael adds, “you always want conflict in the other room.” We want to add pressure to the other side to the point that they want out. Adding a final point to the subject of “attacking by fire,” Sonia hones in on her “fun” way to strategize; namely finding the pressure point of the defense and exploiting that weakness.

Moving on to discussing and evaluating the actions of the defense, Sonia cites Chapter 9 of “The Art of War,” entitled “Assessing Strategy Based on the Actions of Your Opponent.” Here, Michael and Sonia discuss how noticing aggression, “frenetic” activity, or threatening motions from the defense are clear signs of fear and, more importantly, weakness. “Especially when you respond with calm,” Michael says, “There’s nothing like that calm, quiet confidence.”

On that note of quiet confidence and taking power from the defense, Michael begins to take the conversation in a different route, breaking down his feelings about the results of cases and how that relates to his self-worth as a trial lawyer.

“It’s not that I don’t care about the result, it’s that my self-worth is detached from the result.”– Michael Cowen

This prompts the closing topic of conversation for the episode, mental health in the practice of law. Michael and Sonia discuss the trials and tribulations of their profession including starting and ending trials, letting go of trials (win or lose), the discipline required to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and being compassionate to yourself. “I think perfectionism is something a lot of lawyers struggle with,” Sonia says, “The struggle holds us back.” The two end the episode by sharing their own strategies for coping with the struggles of practicing law and close with a positive note of constantly seeking to be better in their cases, mental health, business, and practice.

This episode also discusses finding the weaknesses in your case and how to overcome them, the importance of obtaining key information during the initial client meeting, and trusting your intuition.

63 – Sonia Rodriguez – “You Got Me”: Discrediting Defense Paid Opinion Witnesses

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Sonia Rodriguez for an overview of deconstructing defense-paid opinion witnesses. They highlight many of their favorite strategies to use when dealing with a witness who won’t answer your questions, their favorite unexpected “gifts” from witnesses, and the importance of why someone becomes a defense-paid opinion witness in the first place. This episode is full of shocking real-life examples you don’t want to miss.

Michael begins the episode by highlighting the defense strategy to hire someone to discredit their client. He asks Sonia, “What do you do to deal with this?” Sonia describes the first action she takes, which is reviewing what organizations they show they are affiliated with on their CV (curriculum vitae). Most professional organizations have ethical guidelines which these witnesses must abide by. She’s found success in displaying these guidelines to the witness during the deposition and using them to prevent the witness from stating biased information.

Michael then describes the common narrative these witnesses all portray which every plaintiff attorney listening is sure to relate to. Any injury from the crash goes away in 6-12 weeks, but any injury from 10 years ago is most certainly the cause of everything today, even if they haven’t been to a doctor for it in 9 years. Sonia has combatted this in medical witnesses by focusing heavily on the client’s description of pain. Most doctors will admit that the patient’s description of pain is a very important part of the diagnosis. She uses this information to put the witness in a position of saying, “the records aren’t adequate,” which does not play well with the jury.

The conversation then shifts to the difficult but highly effective strategy of turning the defense paid opinion witness into your witness. Sonia explains why this is so difficult to do successfully, but has maneuvered these difficulties by focusing her depos on what she knows she can get from them. She shares an example of this where she was able to build up the witness’s credibility, then use it to get some simple, clear concessions.

On the other hand, Michael says his primary goal in every defense paid opinion witness depo is to make them his witness. Instead of fighting with them in an area where he does not have credibility, he spends his time researching the witness, reading prior depositions, and trying to find what they will give you based off those prior experiences.

Michael elaborates further on the importance of reading past testimonies by sharing a shocking example with a biomechanical engineer who claimed his client could not possibly have a herniated disc from the crash. Before trial, Michael read several of his previous depositions and went through all of the literature the witness cited in the case. He then shares an example of how he used those prior depos to discredit the witness, how his voir dire helped him do this while also relating to the jury, and why reading the literature can help your case.

Sonia wholeheartedly agrees and gives her real world experience using the literature to your advantage. She shares an example where a neurosurgeon used a study about the prevalence of herniated discs to claim her client’s pain wasn’t caused by the crash. After reading the article, Sonia found that it only referred to a specific type of herniated disc, which was not the type her client had. After revealing this, all the witness could say was, “You got me.”

Another all too familiar roadblock is the witness who just won’t answer your questions. While Sonia and Michael both agree this will always be a barrier, they both share insightful techniques on how you can overcome this. Sonia does this by always recording the testimony, so she can show the jury the witness was refusing to cooperate or concede to basic things. Michael then offers another strategy he employs with uncooperative witnesses – using basic, fair questions in a true or false format. While you may still need to ask the same question 10 times to get a response, you can always cut out the first 9 asks. The key to this is to never appear mad or frustrated because it doesn’t present well to the jury. Sonia agrees with this strategy and points out how well-suited it is for a Zoom deposition.

On a lighter note, Michael and Sonia share their favorite unexpected “gifts” they’ve received from paid opinion witnesses. Sonia details her experience of utilizing past testimony to prove an orthopedic surgeon was simply touting lies for money and highlights the importance of sharing information with other members of the plaintiff’s bar. Michael’s favorite “gift” was an ex-sheriff providing testimony on a drunk driving case, who made an incredibly racist statement in his deposition. The judge insisted the case not be made about race, which Michael had no issuing agreeing to. But when Michael asked the sheriff the same question at trial (assuming the witness had been prepped not to make the same mistake), he made the SAME racist statement he made in the deposition.

While these unexpected “gifts” are a huge blessing, they’re hard to come by on most cases. Sonia and Michael conclude the conversation by exploring why people become paid opinion witnesses in the first place. He accurately states, “This isn’t why people want to become doctors or engineers.” Michael explains how many of them either just weren’t good at their jobs or experienced an injury that rendered them unable to perform surgery.

This podcast also covers using before and after witnesses, focusing on the symptoms instead of the diagnosis, whether or not to “go in for the kill” in a deposition, verifying the qualifications of a witness, and so much more.