In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael talks with one of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Mikal Watts about his pursuit of the goals he established at a very young age which forced him to make some tough decisions early on in his career. Fear, exhilaration, and even his wife thinking he was crazy couldn’t keep Mikal from doing what had to be done before it was too late in his career.
Mikal describes the choices that were made when he initially started his own practice and their unlikely, yet practical, reasoning. Mikal also recalls his first big solo case and how literally moving some furniture around helped him put his best foot forward and became a pivotal moment for his practice. Mikal offers advice on the do’s and doesn’t for those looking to start their own firm, in addition to some of the sacrifices and deferred gratification that comes with the territory.
While there have been many to date, Mikal shares with Michael some of the verdicts that he has been most proud of thus far, such as his first case against Chrysler, and how those cases have added to the value of his practice beyond just the dollars and cents. Mikal delivers practical keys to success for the courtroom and how to truly connect with the jurors in the room, which by the way, have become keenly proficient in detecting BS (both factual and unscrupulous).
At the same time, both Michael and Mikal recognize and discuss the absolute need to break subjects down into their simplest terms (Mikal’s metaphor for tire tread is simply priceless). Humility and modesty shine through as Mikal describes his firm’s ethos and attitude for sharing with other lawyers, not unlike Michael and his firm, and the inherent benefits that come with such an inclusive environment, for both the firm and more importantly the clients they serve.
This podcast concludes with an important discussion of the biggest threats to the legal industry to which Mikal’s thoughts may surprise even the most seasoned attorney.
Background on Mikal Watts:
Mikal Carter Watts is the founding Partner of Watts Guerra LLP. He was born in Corpus Christi, TX in 1967. Mikal attended The University of Texas in Austin where he completed his undergraduate degree in two years. He then went on to the UT School of Law, where he also graduated in two years at the age of twenty-one. Following college, Mikal accepted a position working for The Honorable Thomas R. Phillips, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, as a briefing attorney from 1989-1990. In 1997 Mikal opened his own law firm in his hometown and in 2006 he relocated to San Antonio.
Mikal was married in 1993 to his lovely wife Tammy. Together they have three children, Taylor, Hailey and Brandon as well as two grandsons, Caleb and Austin. His interests include spending time with his family, attending church, Spurs basketball games, and Longhorn football games.
For more information on Mikal Watts visit http://www.wattsguerra.com/lawyers/mikal-c-watts
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By Michael Cowen — 9 months ago
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cynthia Rando, a Certified Human Factors Professional who also operates as an expert witness on human factors in the courtroom.
Knowing she always wanted to run her own business, Cynthia started her career at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas as a human factors engineer, working with the space station program where some of her work is still flying in space, assisting the crew it their missions. Michael notes the space station as an environment where the margin of error is small, and the consequence of error is huge to which Cynthia describes them as one of the most hostile environments you could ever have to design for and in the most stressful safety type environment.
Digging right in, Michael asks the question which is likely to be on most listeners minds – what exactly is “human factors?” Cynthia describes human factors as an extremely broad science that deals with how people interact and perceive their environment, the things they use in that environment, and also how they interact in work with other people. She goes on to boil it down to two things: 1. helping people optimize what they do well, whether it’s through design or understanding of human behavior, and also your physical body shape and limitations and, 2. mitigate what we don’t do well to avoid risk of injury or human error. For example, she describes driving perception, where a lot of people have issues on the roadway taking turns, so it is considered a very high cognitive load task. The human factors look at the process and procedure that the person took in taking a turn, the visibility of oncoming traffic, what that person or reasonable driver could have been able to see, and if all conditions were perfect, did they take the right steps.
Michael and Cynthia continue to explore examples and how they determine these scenarios retrospectively. It’s interesting to hear how her firm, Sophic Synergistics, doesn’t do accident reconstruction, but rather often works extremely close with the accident reconstructionist on the case. Cynthia describes her process of going out to conduct a site visit in order to look at the environment, the design of the roadway, where the vehicles were, and the vantage points for all the drivers or entities involved, including pedestrians, which establishes what everybody could see from their vantage point in a reasonable fashion. From there, she’s looking for the best line of facts which line up in corroboration with each other and which make the most sense in terms of probability based on what you know as human factors. Examples of this would be whether there is a question of reaction time, perception, performance, or if speed was involved or not. She describes it as dissecting the actions, behaviors, as well as the cognitive processes, to know what was possible or what wasn’t, based off the actual physical environment. In other words, it leads to understanding what the facts are telling you, and where they align and where they don’t.
To understand more on how this might work in other types of cases, Cynthia describes a product liability case which involved a consumer product marketed to adults but ended up being used by children. She describes the product’s design as having been so attractive to little children that the children ended up becoming the primary users despite all the company’s efforts to say this product isn’t for kids. She goes on to describe how labeling is also hard to use as a strong enough warning because we, as human beings, are bad at seeing risk and how it pertains to us, making it very difficult to convince people via labeling. A great example Michael brings up of how those risks impact our behaviors is wearing your seatbelt, because there have always been consequence of dying, looming among us all if we don’t wear our seatbelt, but it wasn’t until laws were passed which extended the consequence to something as simple as getting a $200 ticket became associated with it, sparking more people to relate to it. Cynthia goes on to explain why this example worked saying “you need to believe the consequence, and if the consequence has never happened to you or you’ve never known someone to experience it, then you don’t really think it will happen to you.” IE: Perhaps you might not know someone who has died from not wearing their seatbelt, but you likely have experienced being pulled over, or know someone who has been, making the $200 ticket a more “real” potential consequence.
Michael and Cynthia continue to explore several other examples of human factors and how they become introduced in courtroom cases, as well as the many other areas Cynthia’s full-service human factors consulting firm works with using human factors in a wide variety of other industries. The detail to which they discuss human factors in this episode goes well beyond the surface and provides a great understanding in how they play a seemingly granular role with potentially momentous impacts … not unlike how they pertain to space stations.
Cynthia Rando is the Founder/CEO of Sophic Synergistics, LLC, a Human Factors consulting firm that is focused on optimizing human performance and experience in any environment- Building Better Businesses by Design.TM. Cynthia introduced the SOPHIC Conceptual model to the field, a model that utilizes human factors/human centered design as a profitable business model and strategy.
She has spent 17+ years in the field of Human Factors Design including 12 years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. During this time, she provided extensive leadership to the organization addressing several critical areas in Human Factors and Human Centered design including: user interface design, ergonomics, safety and risk mitigation strategies, usability and user experience, accident investigation and root cause analysis activities. During this time, she was instrumental in spearheading several culture change initiatives and innovative solutions for the agency including: the U.S. Governments’ first use of crowdsourcing as a disruptive business model and the development of the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation and the NASA Human Health and Performance Center.
Cynthia is a Certified Human Factors Professional and the Vice President of the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Human Factors Engineering from Clemson University and an MBA from Northeastern University. She has served as an associate professor at University of Houston Clearlake providing instruction in Human Factors and Ergonomics course material. Currently, she provides Human Factors consultation to the Texas Medical Center Innovation Incubator assisting medical device and software startup companies. She also serves on the board of advisors to ORintel for Human Factors and Ergonomics.Post Views: 2,278
By Michael Cowen — 2 months ago
In this episode, Michael sits down with disability attorney and business coach Marc Whitehead. The two discuss disability law, running a firm using systems, marketing strategies, case selection, building a great team, finding opportunity in chaos, and how to run a “lifestyle law firm” that works for you.
Michael and Marc begin by discussing disability law, which Marc defines as representing disabled workers and veterans for disability benefit claims. Marc began as a PI lawyer and decided to make the switch to disability law after referring out a lot of disability cases. He realized how much he enjoyed disability law and stopped taking PI cases altogether. Marc’s “5-Star” cases are disability insurance claims for dentists and doctors, but he notes how veterans seeking retroactive benefits can be very lucrative as well. He also refers to social security claims as his “bread and butter” because of their quantity. And he encourages personal injury lawyers to be mindful of clients who will have continued medical issues, as those clients may have a disability case and need additional legal help. Marc sums up his goals in disability law by stating, “If you haven’t been hugged by your client this week, you’re not doing your job.”
The conversation then shifts its focus to business management and running a law firm, which Marc coaches other lawyers on. Marc shares a story sure to resonate with many young lawyers, describing a cycle of winning a large verdict, then going broke again three months later. After stepping back and evaluating his business, he decided “The practice should serve me, I shouldn’t be serving the practice.” Marc believes you have a duty to yourself and your clients to be profitable so you can do your best work for them.
On the note of profitability, Michael asks Marc what he did to make his firm profitable. Marc emphasizes the importance of time management, which he refers to as “focus management.” Marc chooses to live in his calendar instead of living in his inbox, which lets him dictate his own day instead of “constantly putting out fires.” Doing this allows you to focus your productivity and prioritize the best use of your time as a business owner.
Marc then shares his experience of learning to delegate tasks to other people. While Michael and Marc both agree this can be difficult at times, Marc insists learning to do this will allow you to spend your time where it’s most valuable. Marc practices delegation in his firm by developing checklists and flow charts for every task. This implements consistency throughout his firm and allows Marc to spend his time where it adds the most value.
Besides his law firm management and coaching prowess, Marc is well-known for his newsletter “The Successful Barrister.” Marc’s strategy is not to advertise his firm or bore lawyers with updates on disability law. Instead, he aims to provide a funny (he and his lawyers are shown as caricatures), informative resource lawyers will actually read and enjoy. Marc sends the newsletter to a list of 4,000 lawyers and has found great success in this, which leads Michael to share his experience sending a magazine to 1,600 lawyers and the challenge of accurately identifying its ROI. Michael and Marc discuss other successful marketing strategies and how to tailor your marketing approach to a high-volume firm vs. a “high-end, niche” firm.
Choosing to accept or reject a case is a complicated process. Marc has streamlined this process by establishing a separate intake department and removing lawyers and paralegals from the process. This intake team uses a set of checklists and flow charts to determine acceptance or denial of most cases, so Marc only has his hand in dictating the most difficult decisions. Michael agrees with this strategy and finds if he is involved in all the decisions, he will take on cases he shouldn’t because he knows he could find a way to win the case. Upon more reflection, Michael has found accepting these cases leads to unhappy clients and disappointed referral partners. Marc and Michael discuss letting go of the “hero mentality” and not accepting every case they could win. Marc now only accepts strong cases which work with his systems and workflow and refers out many winnable cases to other attorneys. Michael agrees with this strategy, saying, “All the time you’re working on that case, you’re not working on another case where you could add real value.”
Michael then asks Marc how he manages time between running a practice and coaching. Marc describes how he’s built a high-quality team to run his systems, which grants him the time to focus on marketing the firm and coaching. To build this team, Marc invests money into his hiring process. He utilizes an extensive interview process and two personality tests – the DISC Assessment and the Hiring MRI. While searching for the perfect candidate, Marc uses temp agencies to fill the vacant positions and strongly believes in the “hire slow and fire fast” mentality. Even though temps will cost him more money in the short term, Marc says it’s worth it to find the right candidate in the long run.
This transitions Michael and Marc into a discussion of COVID-19 adaptation. While many firms are laying off employees, this gives other law firms an excellent opportunity to hire previously unavailable, top talent. Marc describes COVID-19 as a great pressure test for your firm’s systems. This will expose any weaknesses and allow you to fix systems that are not working. And he firmly believes, “Where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity.”
Marc has put together numerous resources for business and marketing in a way that builds a law firm that serves your life. He offers all of them for free because, as stated so many times on Trial Lawyer Nation, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” To receive a free copy of Marc’s marketing plan template or subscribe to “The Successful Barrister,” email him at email@example.com.
This episode also covers case management software, the differences between a high-volume firm and a niche firm, running a more efficient intake department, book writing, and so much more.
ABOUT THE GUEST
Marc Whitehead is double board certified in both Personal Injury Trial Law and Social Security Disability Law. He dedicates his practice to disability law, specializing in long-term disability insurance denials, Social Security Disability and Veterans Disability. He has authored multiple books on the topic of disability benefit claims and litigation. Based in Houston, Texas, Marc runs a national practice and has successfully litigated disability claims in 44 states and counting plus Puerto Rico.
Marc is the editor and publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter, “The Successful Barrister–Marketing, Management & Life Skills that Probably Won’t Get You Disbarred.” Marc is an adjunct practice advisor for Atticus, through which he advises and coaches other lawyers on running successful practices.
Mr. Whitehead is a past president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA), and a member of the Board of Directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA). He is actively involved in the American Association for Justice (AAJ) where he was a past chair of the Insurance Law Section. He was also a member of AAJ’s Marketing and Practice Development Committee among many others. Mr. Whitehead generously donates to AAJ as a PAC Eagle and his firm is an AAJ Leaders Forum member.Post Views: 968
By Michael Cowen — 1 year ago(3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, host Michael Cowen sits down with a brilliant trial lawyer, national speaker/lecturer, and author, Michael Leizerman. Cowen has learned an enormous number of methods and approaches over the years from Leizerman who takes mindfulness to a whole new level in and out of the courtroom.
The discussion begins with an in-depth look at the “beginner’s mind” and understanding how it adds to a case, and life, infinitely. Leizerman uses the example of the hierarchy of karate, where becoming a “black belt” is commonly misconstrued as becoming a “master,” when it simply means you are at the first level of Dan, meaning you are now a beginner once again. He also points out that he takes it upon himself to know when he feels like he has mastered anything, he needs to remind himself he is just a “beginner,” otherwise the jury will, his wife will, or life, in general, will remind him. As the discussion progresses, Leizerman and Cowen discuss the idea that in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, whereas, in the master’s mind, there are few. Leizerman likes to bring this mindset to many aspects of his work and discusses how he uses it in depositions, saying, “There’s a feeling like I’ve never done one before” while holding confidence about himself knowing exactly what he wants to get out of the time.
In each case Leizerman approaches, he works to become mindful of what he calls “the 5 core truths,” which are also the basis of his book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, as well as an essential part of the workshops he puts on with Joshua Karton [link to his episode] and Jay Rinsen Weik. He describes the mindfulness around the 5 core truths (Physical, Emotional, Logical, Motivational, and Zen) as being seen as simultaneous truths in every case and with the understanding that each core starts with the lawyer and their own understanding and experience. Leizerman talks through examples of each core including a powerful example where emotional truth was used in a case to show where a father’s simple love for his son led them to put the case on the line and not ask any questions of a witness. He also reveals how he used the 5 cores in a case which led to a record wrongful death verdict in Ohio and also why he believes lawyers don’t get large verdicts or are disappointed in verdicts. Hint, hint, it’s all based on these core truths.
Cowen and Leizerman agree sometimes trial lawyers forget that jurors, in general, want to see good done and want to help people and these core truths can motivate jurors to see their way to the best outcome based on their own truths. Leizerman also talks through the “curse of knowledge” we, as trial lawyers, have when we’re in front of a jury and it sometimes goes over the jury’s heads to where they feel “submerged” or lost in all the details.
Leizerman recalls coming to the conclusion after dissecting a case post-trial: we tend to bring the anger of a case to the courtroom without allowing the jury to experience it. Having a beginner’s mindset allows him to be the one who is grounded and the one who people look to for guidance vs. seeing him as the angry attorney who gets mad when things don’t go as planned. He finds that allowing the jury to experience the frustration for themselves when a defendant tells different stories that are contradictory instead of the lawyer pointing it out and calling them a liar, can become the lynchpin in a case. It comes down to letting the jury experience it for themselves vs. the jury trying to experience it through the upset lawyer. He makes note that when you get angry, it takes away the anger from the other party, even in many other significant relationships. In other words, if you get angry in the courtroom, often times it takes the anger away from the jury, the individuals you really want to experience the anger. He also points out if we were just analyzing the facts of the case, we could use a computer for that. We’re in the courtroom to live through the case and be the case that gets decided by the jury.
Cowen extracts many more nuggets of mindful wisdom from Leizerman throughout their conversation, including a hint to a possible addition to Leizerman’s authorship with a book on transformational storytelling, as well as how listeners can learn firsthand from him at the various workshops he holds throughout the year. This was definitely an exceptionally insightful interview with Leizerman and we look forward to learning more from him in the near future.
Michael Jay Leizerman is the co-founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). He concentrates his practice in select catastrophic injury truck collision cases across the country.
Michael is the author of the Thomson West/AAJ three-volume treatise, Litigating Truck Accident Cases. He was the first Chair of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group. Michael attended truck driving school and obtaining his Commercial Driver’s License while managing his law practice.
He has taken 14 truck and bus cases to trial in the last decade. He has received record-breaking truck accident settlements and verdicts across the country, including multiple verdicts with punitive damages. He has received over thirty multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts, including six settlements and verdicts in excess of $10 million.
Michael is the author of the Trial Guides book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, published in 2018. He puts on a series of workshops teaching his Core Method, including meditation, Aikido and theater skills for lawyers (along with co-teachers Jay Rinsen Weik and Joshua Karton).
Learn more at his website www.TruckAccidents.com.Post Views: 5,117