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15 – Phillip Miller – Understanding the Minds of the Jury

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with author, trial consultant, and lawyer Phillip Miller from Nashville, TN.

Oddly enough, Phillip never planned on being a lawyer, being raised as a “military brat” traveling the country with his family that had a background in medicine in the military. It was actually the misfortune of dealing with attorneys in the wake of his father’s unfortunate passing, and subsequently his mother passing 11 months later, which led him to want to go to law school at night while working during the day as a systems analyst. His practice started from humble beginnings to the point where he was paying overhead with no cases and not really knowing anyone in the field. However, his first case, which happened to be a car wreck, helped him to see his future in personal injury law.

Phillip credits his path to early success to his emphasis on education and taking as many CLE courses as possible. So much so that he began to have as much knowledge as those who were teaching the courses and soon after found himself invited to be on faculty with ATLA, which propelled his learning even more. Phillip notes that you don’t just get invited and start teaching. You first start out by writing a paper on the subject matter, which led to him reading more and becoming exposed to other great lawyers, and the cycle continued to help make him a better lawyer too. Michael also recalls a similar feeling of learning more from doing research and writing papers than from going to lectures to hear others speak on a topic.

Phillip discusses his views on learning from others and says that if you only talk with those who are practicing the same things in the same area, you’ll likely turn out to be just like them. Whereas he has sought to talk and learn from people from all over the world, just to get a different perspective on how others try those very same cases and continues to work cases from all four corners of the country and everywhere in between.

When asked by Michael about his approach to cases when he gets brought in, Phillip sites having worked with and picked up methodologies from Rodney Jew, like becoming an expert in taking depositions and the strategy behind them. As a great example of this, Phillip talks through the idea of “jury proof,” which goes beyond just the duty of breach, duty of causation, and damages line of questions and instead delves into other questions that, if aren’t explored, result in a jury filling in their own answers. In other words, thinking beyond the obvious questions and answers that will help to win your case and looking at the case through the lens of a defense juror. Phillip goes on to say that these techniques are great for finding the “land mines” which could potentially damage a case. Then taking it a step further to use focus groups to help prioritize those detrimental pieces of jury proof, which helps to set up cases to be tried in an order geared towards a jury.

Phillip continues to talk through these “land mines” and the idea of working through the “bad” facts of a case to make them irrelevant or immaterial to the case, which sometimes includes just accepting them and moving on. He also notes that this does not always come easy to plaintiff’s lawyers who are used to fighting for their client.  Michael also points out (from something Phillip mentioned earlier in the day) that juries tend to make the trials about what you take time to make them about; so when the defense has something bad for your case and you spend time fighting about it, you end up making the focal point of the case more about that item.

The episode concludes with a discussion of the 5 things Phillip has learned about focus groups and juries and their significance to every case. He even gives some great insights on a product liability case involving talcum powder he worked on recently that really drives one of those jury lessons home.

14 – Steven Gursten – Remarkable Customer Service = Extraordinary Law Practice (and Life)

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Michigan trial lawyer and owner of Michigan Auto Law, along with 3 other law firms, Steven Gursten. As an early adopter of internet legal marketing, Steven has built his firm to become extremely successful in Michigan and is recognized as having the TOP verdict in the state 8 out of the last 12 years, as well as success throughout the country.

Steven recalls in the first 10 years of his practice making it a goal to be a great trial lawyer and have attorneys all over the state refer him cases. To get there, he still recommends lawyers set aside 30 minutes to an hour every day to read and study some area of law. IE: Mondays would be opening statements, Tuesdays might be cross examining, Wednesdays – closings, Thursdays – medicine, and Fridays he wanted to become an expert on the Michigan no-fault law. Even now, Steven utilizes the massive amounts of information he’s accumulated, learned from, and still references. Similarly, Michael recalls and shares a story about learning through the process of proofreading a book another attorney in his office was writing and both agree the continuation of learning after passing the bar is extremely important.

Fast forwarding from 4 attorneys in his first practice to now having 20 attorneys across 4 diverse practices, Michael and Steven discuss the two very different disciplines of running a law firm vs. trying cases, both of which they do very successfully. He also goes into detail on some of the systems he has put in place as a solid foundation, in order to handle the hundreds of cases coming through his different practices, and how much he has embraced different technologies throughout the years. Steven also brings up a great point that in today’s online society, good lawyers will now more than ever be rewarded and bad lawyers will be punished because of Google reviews, Avvo, and other similar review sites, which makes customer service even more important. Meanwhile, those same systems are the ones which help great law firms stay on top of their cases and communicate with their clients to avoid the potential pitfalls easily avoided through systematic communication. Topics such as discussing what not to post on social media or making sure the client is going to their doctors’ appointments can have hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of impact on a case when communication is stagnant. Steven goes on to say that the same type of communication can also have a huge impact when it comes to keeping referring attorneys in the loop on shared cases, citing a recent case he referred to Michael in which he was extremely impressed with the follow up.

The conversation shifts when Michael asks Steven how he’s able to have the other 19 attorneys in his office use all of the systems he has in place. Without hesitation, Steven points to the culture of his firm which has guided everyone in the same direction, keeping them on the same page, regarding the inner workings of the practices. He is also quick to point out that establishing this type of culture starts with the ownership of a firm, and regardless of tenure no attorney should ever be above talking with their clients, which is something he tries to instill in each of his attorneys. Steven also shares some of the small things they do to build the culture, such as whenever they receive a great review, they send it out to everyone in the firm to further demonstrate its importance to the firm as a whole and praise those who are walking the talk.

So many great insights on running a successful firm (too many to list in this brief description) come from Steven and Michael throughout this episode, even down to the psychological testing Steven does with everyone in his firm which helps shed light on their ability to deliver a quality customer experience. Steven also shares several thoughts for those who are trying to build their practices, which any attorney can leverage to not only work in their practice but also on their practice.

The conversation transitions to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to which Steven again delivers a mountain’s worth of information in rapid succession. Steven is gracious enough to lay out not only the basics of how TBI cases are identified but also the more intricate and subtle ways clients who’ve suffered from a TBI are not only identified but also misunderstood, as Michael asks him questions to bridge the gap between customer service and delicate TBI cases. Steven’s view of customer service is engrained so deeply in him that even during this part of his conversation with Michael, he can’t help but note its importance when working with those who have suffered a TBI.  Things like displaying a positive image online in order to be seen as approachable, being cognizant of the tremendous diplomacy it takes to work with clients who have had a TBI, and doing everything in your power to genuinely make things as easy as possible on the them. Perhaps THAT is why he doesn’t encounter many of the problems or issues other attorneys do.

Background on Steven Gursten
Steven Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious auto accident injury and wrongful death cases, and No-Fault insurance litigation. He is head of Michigan Auto Law, the state’s largest law firm handling car, truck and motorcycle accident cases for more than 50 years.

Steven has recovered top-reported verdicts and settlements for car and truck accidents for multiple years, including a $34 million truck accident settlement in 2014 with Ohio co-counsel.   In this capacity, Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Lawyer of the Year,” after recovering one of the largest truck accident settlements in Michigan history, as well four other top-reported trial verdicts in previous years.

Steven frequently lectures at legal seminars throughout the country on trial advocacy, trucking litigation, and traumatic brain injury cases.  He is the annual moderator and speaker at the “Advanced Motor Vehicle Litigation Seminar,” offered through 360 Advocacy.   He is the current President of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and a Past Chair of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation Group.  Steven is also the chair-elect of the AAJ Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group.

In addition, he serves on the executive boards of the Melvin M. Belli Society and represents the state of Michigan in the Taos Trial Lawyers Society, an invitation-only group of distinguished trial attorneys from around the country.

For more info on Steven Gursten visit:
https://www.michiganautolaw.com/firm_profile/attorney-steven-gursten/

13 – Ben Glass – Great Legal Marketing

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with the great legal marketing mind and Owner of Great Legal Marketing, LLC, Ben Glass. As an attorney and owner of his own law firm, Ben Glass Law, Ben shares a unique insider’s perspective on what marketing works and what doesn’t in the legal industry that many attorneys can appreciate.

 

Having started his legal career like most young attorneys do, by working in someone else’s firm, Ben recalls that first big step when he ventured out and started his own firm, remembering that he was good at trying cases but suffered, as most do when they start a firm of their own, in bringing on new cases. This led him to start thinking about how to attract clients without breaking the bank, noting that of course you can throw all kinds of money at your marketing, but he knew there had to be a better way. At that point, Ben began to study the impacts of marketing on legal firms and more specifically, looking outside of the lawyer world to what other successful businesses where doing and ultimately finding that achieving results didn’t require being the highest spender.

 

Michael and Ben discuss the critical stages of legal marketing, not only deciding what kind of practice you want for yourself, but conversely, what type of cases you don’t want and getting over the mental hurtle of turning those cases away. The views from both Michael and Ben, looking back at their own implementation of these steps, are surprisingly similar and fortunately not as “scary” as either of them may have thought they were initially. Ben also tends to remind the attorneys he works with that there is no need to succumb to any peer pressure on the types of cases they need take on. Similarly, Michael adds his own unique perspective on his firm’s transition to becoming one that only accepts the larger cases that they can add value to in that suddenly (along with his experience as an attorney) he became the one other attorneys now refer those larger cases to consistently, versus the smaller fender bender cases, just by the acknowledgement of the types of cases he will and will not accept. Furthermore, Ben explains, having a referral relationship with someone who specializes and loves taking on the types of cases you don’t, can also be highly beneficial to your practice as well as to the clients that are seeking your expertise in helping their case. Essentially creating a win-win-win marketing strategy by setting the standard on the cases that come into your firm and having a plan to guide the rest of the cases in the right direction toward those who are better equipped to provide value to them.

 

In digging a little deeper into legal marketing, Ben points out that many clients have never really given a thought about finding a lawyer prior to actually needing one – usually no real knowledge of what might constitute the best attorney for their situation, no experience in dealing with claims adjusters, etc… Many times, life is just moving along happily until that disaster strikes, totally disrupting their life, and thrusting them toward suddenly needing an attorney but, when that times comes, they don’t necessarily care (in Ben’s opinion) how many years you’ve been practicing law, or how many awards you’ve had, but rather the fact that they have a problem to solve – doctors are calling, insurance adjustors are calling, their family is giving advice on what to do, and they don’t know what to do. THIS is where Ben’s informational marketing comes into play, by providing useful information to help those people with what they need to know now, versus the other attorneys who are basically shouting “hire me” and “look at all my awards.” This dissemination of useful info, along with MANY other legal marketing topics Ben discusses with Michael, helps to build a trust with you and your firm when trying to appeal to prospective clients in their unexpected time of need. Michael also relates this tactic to his own firm’s dissemination of valuable information to other lawyers through presentations well beyond the local bar association meetings others might be waiting to get invited to.

 

Michael wraps up the interview with a brief discussion on the tools and resources Ben offers through Great Legal Marketing, which Ben admits, no matter where you are with your practice, getting more leads and getting more cases is frankly not that hard or expensive once you know what to do. Ben is truly a talented resource to the legal community and his impact spreads far and wide to all those we are all passionate about serving.

 

Background on Ben Glass

Ben has spent his career practicing law in the courtrooms throughout Northern Virginia. He is a nationally-recognized, board-certified personal injury, medical malpractice, and disability insurance attorney in Fairfax, Virginia. He graduated from George Mason University School of Law in 1983 and has devoted his career to representing individuals against the insurance companies.

 

Through Ben’s experience in testing various marketing techniques for his own firm, he has discovered what truly works and has implemented his knowledge into the creation of Great Legal Marketing in 2005. Hundreds of lawyers in the United States and Canada have already joined Great Legal Marketing and are watching their practices take off.

 

For more info on Ben Glass visit:

https://www.greatlegalmarketing.com/bio/ben-glass1.cfm

12 – Eric Penn – $89M Worth of Experience

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Founding Partner at The Penn Law Firm, Eric Penn. To start things off, Eric describes his decision to focus on trucking cases and how it came from the simple fact that we can all relate to them. In fact, everyone (including attorneys) share the road with 18 wheelers. Eric goes on to point out that the general view point of “cases never looking better than when you first work them up,” while true at times, seems to go the other way with trucking cases where they get consistently better the more you roll up your sleeves and dig into them.

 

Speaking of rolling up sleeves and digging in … Michael and Eric pull back the curtain on what turned out to be an $89.6M verdict for the bulk of this podcast, which in and of itself is enlightening, educational, and impactful.

 

The brief synopsis of the case would likely have many attorneys passing on the case from the very start considering how things looked on the surface – A mother with 3 children in the car, running errands on a Texas highway, hit a patch of black ice, loses control of their vehicle sending them through the median into oncoming traffic and is struck by an 18 wheeler, and the police report indicating that there was no fault to be placed. Michael suggests that more than 98% of personal injury attorneys in the state would likely not take on such a case and the others might even look at it and see a $1-2M settlement, which obviously wouldn’t be enough once you hear the unfortunate circumstances the victims faced moving forward. But not Eric!

 

Eric’s reasoning behind taking the case stemmed from getting to know the case on a deeper level, understanding that the injuries were dramatic, and having an in-depth knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (the green book) and CDL Manual’s Safety Rules that are in place to protect all of us who share the road with 18 wheelers, citing one of the chapter’s intent is literally to “prevent crashes and save lives.” One might think that this type of case would revolve around the approximate 3 second sequence of the crash itself, but Eric’s explanation of how their focus became everything but those 3 seconds really shed a light on how this type of case can quickly grow to a much more substantial and just verdict. Spoiler Alert: Eric notes that EVERY case he has come into has 100% of the time been about the company behind the truck driver and how that company operates its fleet, making them much more responsible than they may like to admit. The compassion Eric demonstrates in describing his mental process in the decision to take on a case like this is palpable.

 

The details surrounding this case that Michael and Eric discuss are apt to be a significant learning tool from which any attorney can stand to learn.

 

Background on Eric Penn

Eric T. Penn believes that in order to keep our families and communities safe, we have to hold people or corporations who choose to violate safety rules accountable for the injuries and conditions they create. That is why he has been an outspoken advocate for seriously injured people for more than seventeen (17) years. He represents people who have been permanently and seriously injured through no fault of their own.

Eric is a born and raised Texan. He is a 1998 graduate of Baylor University. He received his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Baylor University School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Texas and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in 2001.

A Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) graduate, Eric is a frequent lecturer on Trucking litigation throughout the country. He is a member of American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation section, Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG), Academy of Trucking Accident Attorneys (ATAA) and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA).

For more info on Eric Penn visit:

https://thepennlawfirm.com/about-the-firm/our-attorneys/

11 – Morgan Matson – A 360˚ Look at Legal Industry Recruiting

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with licensed attorney and founder of Preferred Counsel, Morgan Matson. Morgan specializes in connecting job seekers with great firms and vice versa for law firms and legal departments in companies of all sizes who are look for legal talent.

Starting as a litigator doing mass pharma defense work, then moving on to work for a smaller boutique firm handling medical defense litigation, Morgan found his purpose to be more of a “connector” than a “divider” which then drove him to start working for a recruiter and ultimately owning his own recruiting firm since 2007. He notes his enjoyment for working with small to mid-sized law firms mainly due to finding that “all the boxes that need to be checked” when those firms are looking for a candidate, become amplified when the office dynamics are much more close-knit than in a larger firm.

 

In a world that has taken “digital” job searches to seemingly every corner of the globe, Morgan is not only happy to be a legal “headhunter” but explains that his localized, relationship-driven recruiting tactics actually have an even greater competitive advantage in this day and age. Morgan leverages his experience as a litigator to find the needle in the hay stack for law firms, oftentimes finding the people who are NOT actually looking to make a move to be the best candidates as they are happily working … until Morgan calls with a very unique opportunity. Michael also points out from his own experience the troubles that come with having to sift through hundreds of resumes and find many with exaggerated qualifications.

 

For those who are looking to break into the legal industry, Morgan sites that recruiters can be an extremely good resource along with professional social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. Morgan elaborates on LinkedIn as being a fairly under-utilized resource in that there are many groups you can join and ways you can find commonalities with others who are doing what you want to be doing, at which point you can connect with them and find out if there is an opportunity foreshadowing or being hired at their firm. Michael and Morgan also discuss the need to get involved and start having conversations with those who you aspire to work with, whether that’s through attending CLE courses and starting conversations, or by simply picking up the phone and politely pursuing those who are either in the position you want to be in or who may have the ability to hire you. All of this contact, of course, should be done with respect and in search of understanding what it may take to achieve your career goals.

 

Morgan reveals several other tips for candidates and those looking to hire talented legal professionals throughout the podcast and ends with a striking description of his firm’s fee structure, for both candidates and employers, which is likely not how you think … remember, “relationship-driven.”  Michael also uncovers a particularly beneficial reason to utilize a recruiter which ALL law firm partners can certainly relate to. All in all, Morgan is the type of recruiting resource any candidate can appreciate and any sensible law industry employer needs.

 

Background on Morgan Matson

Morgan is a 1999 graduate of The University of Texas School of Law. From there, he worked as a litigation associate with Fulbright & Jaworski (n/k/a Norton Rose) and later Ball & Weed, a litigation boutique where his practice focused on the defense of healthcare professionals in civil litigation matters and before the state licensing boards. In 2007, he founded Preferred Counsel, a legal recruiting firm focusing on the placement of lawyers and support staff in law firms and corporate legal departments throughout Texas on a direct hire, contract, and part-time basis.

 

For more info on Morgan Matson visit:

www.preferredcounsel.net

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