In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen talks with Vista Consulting’s Owner, Tim McKey, who has been consulting on operational matters with successful plaintiff law firms since 2008.
Tim’s CPA background steers his focus toward numbers and metrics but he concedes that there is a lot more that goes into running a successful practice such as culture and human resources, which allows him to approach firms from a holistic stance. As a client of Vista, Michael shares that he has a personal appreciation for Vista’s value to plaintiff firms, which he also acknowledges has allowed him to sleep better at night knowing the firm runs smoother than ever.
Michael explores with Tim his launching point in working with plaintiff firms; and discovers the strategic decision Tim made after owning his own CPA firm, which drove him to work with attorneys in a big way. Tim also describes his passion for helping firms define success and desire to help CHANGE the score instead of just KEEPING the score as a substantial motivation. During his transition to the consulting world, Tim lightheartedly recalls how similar the process turned out to be for his first two clients; those being a plaintiff’s attorney and business at the polar opposite end of the spectrum (tune in to hear what the other business was). The process Tim uses to examine and analyze a firm is noted to work regardless of years in practice and focuses specifically on tightening up potential deficiencies within the firm and its client acquisition practices.
While being empathetic to the fact that attorneys, in general, are not introduced to business practices before setting out to run their own law practice, Michael recalls his early days in another law firm where trial and error was the modus operandi of their operations, long before he was introduced to Vista’s techniques. The difference between effective and efficient systems and processes are the cornerstone to what Tim advises throughout this episode as he offers listeners insights into breaking down their firm’s data to a dashboard view of the practice and what to do next.
This podcast concludes with Tim explaining things a step further to amplify the importance of having a project point person throughout the process of using what he calls the “public restroom theory.” It’s a wild analogy, but it hits home tremendously to anyone who tends to have lists of 100 “great ideas” being worked on by the firm. And for anyone who has felt the pain of turnover in their office, Tim talks about the mentality of “hire slow and fire fast,” along with the tools, training, and expectations being a key part in the onboarding process to set an employee up for success.
Background on Tim McKey
Tim co-founded Vista Consulting in 2009 with a vision to help plaintiff law firm owners reach their full potential. Tim has traditional CPA experience with local, regional, and national CPA firms. However, it is through Tim’s prior consulting practice that he found his passion. He has worked with many business owners assisting them with defining and attaining success in their business and personal lives.
Tim’s experience and interest allow him to assist Vista clients with developing a realistic vision of their firm into the future, creating a strategic plan to achieve that vision while working with firm owners in designing their desired lifestyle. Tim assists his clients in reviewing firm tax entity structure and accounting systems analysis, and financial reporting.
For more info on Tim McKey visit https://www.vistact.com/meet-the-team/tim-mckey.
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By Michael Cowen — 5 months ago(6 votes, average: 4.83 out of 5)
In this Table Talk episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, to answer the questions of our listeners. This show focuses on how to prove your client’s harms and losses at trial.
The first listener question is regarding the idea of whether 3X the medical bills is typically what you use to determine damages or does that only apply in certain cases? Michael recalls being taught the 3X “rule of thumb” back when he was first starting as a trial lawyer, but since then, no longer does for several reasons. First and foremost, times have changed along with insurance company practices. If an insurance company or defense attorney does start to talk to you about 3X medical bills, it’s likely because your case is worth a lot more than that. Instead, Michael focuses on what a jury might do when they look at each element of damage (pain, mental anguish, impairment, or whatever the measure of damage is in a particular state) individually and determine what they feel compelled to put in each blank. That, paired with what Michael calls “piss off factors” based on things the defense might do to compel a juror to give full justice for, becomes a number he’d like to keep as high as possible. Of course, he also takes into account whether his client is for some reason not likable or the defense is super likable, which can also affect the jury’s motivation in an adverse way for his case. Malorie also brings up another important note on the effects of jurors taking into consideration the percentage of fault even though they are instructed not to do so. To which Michael elaborates a little more on how to potentially work the messaging of that to the jury.
The next question by our listeners is how do you work up damages, especially in a smaller case that doesn’t warrant bringing in experts or producing lots of exhibits? Michael starts to answer this question by clarifying that experts generally do not help work up damages, but rather help to prove calculations on future medical expenses or a vocational loss. Having said that, with regard to the human and non-economic damages, he believes people who come in and talk about your client, how they were before, what they went through, and what they are like now can have the biggest impact. This also doesn’t cost any money toward the case. It does, however, take a lot of time in order to visit with these people to talk through what they know of the client before, during, and after, as well as collect photos or videos showing the client in a different state prior to suffering damages, etc. Michael discusses how this approach, even by taking the time to meet with people and learning your client’s story better, will make you more authentic in the courtroom which can have a profound impact on your case. Malorie sums this point up reminding us that all of our clients are more than just their injuries.
The next question they explore is regarding a wrongful death case without economic damages, which Malorie takes the reins on and starts with conveying just how hard it is to put a number on life when no amount of money will ever replace someone’s loved one. She goes on to elaborate that although you can do focus groups, they are not truly predictive. It will always boil down to the 12 jurors you get on any specific day in court who will ultimately put that number on a case. Michael adds that liability is what really tends to drive the number in wrongful death cases and it sometimes becomes very hard to have a conversation with the surviving family member(s) on the difference in the value of life versus the value of a case. He also shares how going to trial in a death case is extremely tough for the family as they relive one of the most painful events in their lives, which places a real responsibility on us as lawyers to make sure we are doing the right thing. Whether that means turning down an offer that is not sufficient to go to trial to fight for more and making an informed choice while understanding upfront the process and pain that will likely come with going through the details all over again. Malorie also describes the importance of knowing your client (a common theme throughout this episode) and understanding their goals, hopes, and struggles for their future to be able to help guide them through the conversation about money.
Proving grief is another topic Michael and Malorie explore with the belief from some jurors that everyone dies at some point. They both agree that there is a definite difference between dying when it’s time and dying when it’s not your time because of a tragic incident. Michael also points out the balancing act that occurs when you don’t want to “torture” your client and make them cry by bringing up all the pain and suffering they encounter now that their loved one is no longer here vs. focusing on the hopes that were and the plans for the future that have now changed because of the actions of someone else. He also points out that this is a good time to utilize experts like grief counselors and let them talk about the pain and suffering your client is, and will, experience due to the loss as well as the grieving process and the natural cycle of grieving to help paint an appropriate picture for the jury. They also give several other examples of ways to express the pain and loss without having to pull tears out of the surviving family members directly.
Michael and Malorie continue their abundance mentality by sharing so much great information in this episode on topics like when to submit and when not to submit a medical bill toward damages; avoiding the status quo and navigating a case to motivate a jury to give your client the justice they deserve; where do your client’s harms and losses fit into the greater story of the trial; an ideal “3 act” trial story through the juror’s eyes; how not to present your client’s harms and losses in a vacuum; how to get your client’s actual story (hint – it’s not what you might think); tips on utilizing psychodramatic methods; expediting the process of spending time with your client to understand their story; how Pareto’s Law can be applied to your docket; and so much more.
These Table Talk episodes could not happen without the interaction and questions that are submitted by our listeners. We are eternally grateful for and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with all of you.
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By Michael Cowen — 2 months ago
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with a special guest, Dr. David Ball. David is a trial consultant, speaker, and one of the “fathers” of the book “The Reptile in the MIST.” His name and his books have been mentioned on numerous episodes not only Michael Cowen, but many of our Trial Lawyer Nation guests. With several books of David’s to choose from, Michael can’t help but note how “David Ball on Damages 3” has been very useful in helping him craft opening statements and serving as an outline for many trials. He also highly recommends all trial lawyers have this book within arms-reach of their desk (more on this later in the episode). And for those trial lawyers who don’t know David personally, it is important to also note he has probably done more good for trial lawyers than anyone else in the industry.
Having started down his path many years ago, David’s mission of trying to help trial attorneys make complicated things clear, originally came from his background in theatre, where much of what he had learned in theatre has been extremely useful for trial lawyers. In fact, working with a more classical repertoire theatre with works from Shakespeare, he wondered how he could make those plays crystal clear for the audience who is listening to it and how it might relate to the legal industry. His conclusion? “I realized lawyers have 2 problems: 1. They’re boring as hell and 2. They’re not very clear about what they’re talking about.” Today David describes what he does as helping to strategize cases to maximize the principles of what we’ve learned in the neurosciences and apply it to how people really make conclusions, how decisions are made, how we know things, and how logic has very little to do with any of it. Essentially, working as a bridge between the neurosciences and the courtroom.
So, how do we get jurors to see things the way we want them to? Logic doesn’t deal with the law school version of tell them your case, they’ll understand your case, and if you’re in the right, they’ll give your client a just verdict. Justice has nothing to do with how people make decisions. How do we translate that into things you’re allowed to do in trial and in a way that will motivate jurors to do what we want them to do? David says, people don’t make their decisions on the basis of “justice,” but rather justice is simply the result of something you think you want. He goes on to explain why trial lawyers need to look at what they’ve got and then put this “stew” together into something someone REALLY wants, for it to end the way we want it to. The whole process of trial, as David describes it, is an alignment.
David continues to describe this alignment by combining solid research along with all the things he’s learned in theatre about what real storytelling is. The fundamental thing about The Reptile, he describes, is by getting the jurors to want themselves to be safe and live in a safe world, that becomes their want. He also points out that in order to get their want, he also needs to get his client’s “want,” which is money. Michael adds to this by stating the only power the jury has in the courtroom is to give or deny money in the case. David goes on to say that if the attorney is presenting their case well, jurors will understand if they give a good verdict it will make their world safer, but also giving a bad verdict will make their world a more dangerous place than it is now. In other words, once the jurors walk into the courtroom, they will be walking out with either a safer world or a more dangerous world, but it will never be the same way as when they walked in. Furthermore, David explains when you ask a client why they are doing the case, not only will they say it’s because they need the money (compensation) but they also want to make sure this won’t happen to anyone else. To expand on his point, David shares an example from his early years watching the trial of a case involving a wealthy woman in North Carolina, who was rear-ended and clearly didn’t need the compensation from the case. The answer the woman gave him when he asked her why she was going through with the case, even though it was painful, is priceless. And it helps us understand why even the smallest cases are important in making the world a safer place. David also talks about the points he describes to the jurors regarding their potential complicities in what they allow the defense to get away with and the affects it will have on others who face the same situations in the future.
Which leads Michael to pose the question, “how do we figure out what the jurors want?” David goes through a laundry list of things we know about what jurors want, including through focus groups and the neurosciences what motivates us to want something. Boiled down to its core, David explains this with a great example of teenage boys as jurors, which will shock you and make complete sense. And he wraps up with describing the fundamental drives that keep us alive, as well as the impact of disrespect and humiliation.
The topic shifts at one point to talk about when the other side brings in what they call an “independent medical examiner,” three lies in one person’s title, David jokes (sort of). Rather than disagreeing with their conclusion, David proposes you show what they did wrong in their methodology, to show they purposely arrived at the wrong conclusion. He goes on to show how the right types of questions posed to your own experts can further point out the flaws in their conclusions without the need to call the defense’s independent expert a liar. Michael also adds how it can be very effective to discuss the idea of a defense’s witness as “independent,” when they’ve been picked and paid for by the defense, in helping the jury not feel like their intelligence is being disrespected. David continues to talk about the difference between describing the defense as someone who may lie in order to protect themselves vs. someone who is disrespecting the jury by insulting their intelligence and the impact this can have on a jury. He goes on to point out how it is analogous to the difference between a doctor lying to a patient, where the patient might be being disrespected but the juror is not vs. a doctor getting on the witness stand and deliberately misleads the jury, and as such, disrespecting them.
One of the things David describes as loving about what he’s been able to do, is when he started writing his first theatre for trial book, there was nothing. Nobody was doing anything in the way of teaching major overall strategy and there were certainly no books on damages or doing it. He’d like to think that the Damages book helped give rise to this whole other industry. In one hand he should hate it, he created all his own competitors, and on the other hand it is the greatest feeling in the world for him.
David also suggests for every attorney to page through their Damages 3 book on a consistent basis to examine it through the lens of the case you’re working on currently, in order to see things you never saw before. He suggests this, mainly because so much information is lost after seminars and reading other books, because the only things you likely retain are the things which pertain to the case you’re working on right now.
Michael and David move on to the topic of the principles of persuasion and how David has brought his theatre experience into the courtroom. Revisiting the idea of “real storytelling,” David talks through the actual history of storytelling and how it has evolved over time. He points out why you have to make people want to hear the next part of the story, AKA “narrative thrust,” using “dramatic tension” to create tension between this moment and the next moment, and the next moment could be an hour away or two minutes away. Crafting what David describes as “forwards” where everyone sees the anticipated moment in the story and wants to hear it for themselves. He also points out these forwards are very case specific, very particular to the story, and it is a relatively sophisticated thing to do for people who are not natural born storytellers, but you can learn to do it. And he describes why the context in storytelling and where you put pieces of information in the story matter significantly to shaping the story.
Michael and David touch briefly on social media and a trial lawyer’s first amendment right, where it is important to note David believes if you are a trial lawyer, you have accepted a fiduciary responsibility to your client which trumps your ability to have free speech. He also believes society has become so divisive these days on social media and now face to face, where we now have the challenge of bringing both sides together to fight for an even greater cause. David uses the example of 2 people fighting, but when someone comes in and tries to do harm to them, they will both unite because they are both in danger and need each other to save themselves. The heart of such a scenario, is the aim of every trial lawyer when working with diverse juries.
Digging deeper into David’s theatre background, Michael talks about how he has yet to see a trial lawyer facing a potentially multi-million-dollar trial rehearse as much as a community theatre where 30 people may be in the audience. David shares how being a trial lawyer is the only area of public performance where they don’t rehearse. He goes on to suggest you cannot fully rehearse on your own and, a full rehearsal, means a dress rehearsal. In the same way you cannot have football practice without eventually having a scrimmage with another side. When you are on the stage, you have a million other things on your mind, you’re being “Hamlet.” When you’re a lawyer, you’ve got your peers, the judge, and the jury all watching you. It distracts your attention from where it needs to be, so you seem very nervous. You cannot be a leader of human beings when you’re very nervous. And the best lawyers are leaders of human beings.
The conversation ends with a discussion on charisma in the courtroom as well as David’s important work in the criminal defense industry. And after spending this episode with David, it’s clear to see why so many trial lawyers look to him as a powerhouse in the industry.
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David Ball, who wrote trial advocacy’s best-selling strategy book – David Ball on Damages — is a litigation researcher and strategist with North Carolina’s Malekpour & Ball Consulting (JuryWatch, Inc.). He is the nation’s most influential jury consultant, communications expert, and advocacy teacher. His training is in science, engineering, and small-group communications, and he is a 30-year veteran of the professional theater.
Dr. Ball and his partner, lawyer/consultant Artemis Malekpour (firstname.lastname@example.org), consult on civil and criminal cases across the country. They are routinely credited with turning the most difficult cases into significant victories. They are the nation’s only trial consultants qualified to safely and comprehensively guide attorneys with Reptilian, David Ball on Damages, and David Ball on Criminal Defense methods and strategy. Their hundreds of brainstorming sessions – “WorkDays” – have become the gold standard for case-strategy development.
In addition to David Ball on Damages, Dr. Ball’s other landmark advocacy books include Theater Tips & Strategies for Jury Trials, Reptile (with Don Keenan), Theater for Trial (with Joshua Karton), Reptile in the MIST, and David Ball on Criminal Defense.
Dr. Ball has taught law students at North Carolina, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Roger
Williams, Loyola, and Campbell schools of law, and at Duke Law as Senior Lecturer. He’s an award-winning teacher for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the American Association for Justice’s National College of Advocacy. He has long been among the nation’s most in-demand of CLE speakers. His favorite job was taxi driver in the 1970s in Stamford, CT, and his Daddy was a Catskill Mountains bootlegger during Prohibition.
Dr. Ball is also a pioneer in adapting film and theater methods into trial techniques. His theater/film students have won Oscars, Obies, Tonies, and Emmies; his scripts have been staged at professional theaters off-Broadway, throughout North America, and overseas. He helped to lead the Guthrie Theater, as well as Carnegie-Mellon University’s renowned theater conservatory and, as Chair, Duke University’s Drama Department. His best-selling film and theater training book, Backwards and Forwards, has been the field’s standard every year since 1984, and is now in uses by trail lawyers as well. His crossover books, Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials along with the new Theater for Trial, are the standards for the use of film and theater techniques in litigation.
Dr. Ball also wrote the cult classic film Hard Rock Zombies, though he made up for it by writing Swamp Outlaw, a novel about Civil War Era Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowery, now under option for a motion picture. (TV viewers: Dr. Ball and Dr. Bull deny each other’s existence.)
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By Michael Cowen — 1 year ago(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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 viewpoint 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).
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