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 — 7 months ago
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with his in-house Director of Marketing and Business Development, Delisi Friday, for another Table Talk episode. This show focuses specifically on an inside look at what they’re doing to market their law firm, why it’s important to analyze their efforts every year, and how they determine when to pivot on specific marketing strategies.
Delisi starts the conversation describing why an annual review of their firm’s marketing is imperative and how it gives them a chance to see what’s working and what’s not. It also allows their team to see things early enough to allow for them to pivot in order to make something work better. Michael adds that they have also been known to double down on what’s working, in order to accelerate their success in receiving more cases. Although, the “sunk cost fallacy” occasionally gets in the way of making changes once you’ve put time, and money into an effort and continue with it even though (if it’s not working) you might be better off spending your time on something else. He uses their firm magazine as an example of this. “People tell us that it’s great branding all the time, but it doesn’t bring in big cases” Michael states. They detail how this marketing strategy costs $5,000 every month in printing and mailing, not to mention the time (another associated cost) spent on writing and designing. Which is why Michael states the money on this strategy can be much better, and successfully, spent in other ways benefitting their top referral attorneys. He also suggests that sometimes you need to try 10 things to find the 1 or 2 things that do work for your firm. “We gave it a good shot,” Delisi concludes.
The conversation shifts to a discussion on segmentation and how Delisi and Michael determine each segment and the strategies, and marketing costs, involved at each level. Delisi discusses her system for reviewing their mailing list each month to ensure those who are receiving their marketing are more likely to refer a case and thereby keep marketing costs down. This also goes to the point of spending more marketing efforts on existing relationships versus continuously dripping smaller efforts on those you’re trying to establish a relationship with, in hopes that someday they’ll start referring cases. Michael leans toward a 2 year rule, where if an attorney they are targeting hasn’t engaged with them in 24 months, then they stop using the more expensive types of marketing and simply let them continue receiving their emails, which costs almost nothing for them. Michael also describes some of the more elaborate ways they have fostered their existing relationships while finding the most important marketing tactic to keep in mind, is just to spend time with people and keep building relationships.
Continuing the topic of referral attorneys, Delisi brings up an important note about the customer experience being more than just the experience of the client at the center of the case. It goes to the deeper point of nurturing the relationships they have with their referral attorneys and not overlooking the experience they provide to them. Michael explains some of the hesitancies he’s heard from referral partners coming from “other herds” regarding cases being referred out and then having a lack of communication until a check was received or a problem arises in the case, or worse, a call to them describing the need to change the deal splitting fees. Michael and Delisi are both adamant those types of scenarios would never happen at their firm and Michael firmly disagrees with such tactics. Leading Delisi to say “your integrity is worth more than that.” They go on to discuss how their firm avoids surprises for their referring attorneys, the communication strategies they follow to keep everyone involved in each referred case, and why their relationships “truly are a partnership.”
One of the more interesting shifts in the Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock marketing this last year was when they decided to have Delisi manage the intake department and marketing department. Delisi explains why she has been absolutely delighted by the change and how it has given her a more holistic view of their marketing efforts by not just seeing the number of cases referred, but also the value of those cases and other extremely useful insights to help her guide future marketing efforts. She describes how the relationships with the referring attorneys and their staff has grown after this decision and allows her a chance to help with each new case as it comes into the firm.
Michael segues from Delisi’s internal job of marketing to some external marketing factors and how some past experiences have led to the decisions they are making today. Delisi points out how Michael’s decision to no longer handle small auto cases which tend to settle in pre-lit has changed their marketing and also the success of their firm, but “it didn’t happen overnight.” Next, Michael discusses how they previously used a marketing firm that only did legal marketing but found their track record quickly became “triple the price for half the results.” Today, they use a marketing company with only a few legal clients, which they see as a benefit to them. But Michael adds this decision also leads to some disconnect on messaging, because the B2B marketing tactics used with attorneys is delicate and not a hard sell like other industries. They’ve also learned the same lesson by hiring a local graphic designer to help with visuals for cases, which again helps to get the perspective of someone who does not have a background in the legal world and can help to design trial visuals universally understood.
The TLN Table Talk comes full circle to a discussion on why it is important to analyze, measure, and decide on the next year’s marketing efforts before the new year begins. Michael describes their process of looking at ROI (return on investment) and how it drives much of his decision-making process as well as how it is slightly different for their firm, being that they do not market direct to consumers and focus all of their efforts on referral attorneys. Delisi ends by stating why it is important for attorneys to make time for marketing no matter how busy they are, why consistency can help during those slow business months, and shares a Henry Ford quote for everyone to keep in mind when considering a reduction of their marketing budget.
Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to email@example.com; and be sure to join our “Trial Lawyer Nation – Insider’s Circle” group on Facebook to privately interact with the show!Post Views: 2,198
By Michael Cowen — 1 year ago
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This show focuses mainly on questions revolving around caseloads and determining the best approach for your practice.
The first question from our listeners is about the number of cases an attorney should take on at any given time. Sonia discusses the balancing act, especially for younger lawyers, of quality vs. quantity. Attorneys may want to trim down their docket of cases, but need to make sure these are quality cases that will help keep the lights on and not arbitrarily setting a number for maximum cases. She also reviews some of the dangers of trimming a docket and how it can be a very dangerous economic decision. And she notes that each case should be thoughtfully selected to match the goals for the practice.
Sonia came from a practice with partners with duel loads. (IE: One partner that handles big cases and more complex cases, and the other might carry a larger volume case load to help pay the bills and keep the lights on.) This was a consensus among the partners about how the practice would operate. She points out that her practice has never been based on a very small docket and personally finds this to be a scary prospect. Michael, on the other hand, has operated in the full spectrum of caseloads. He recalls early on having 200 car wreck cases at one time with average case values being fairly low, some of which in hindsight were never economically viable. He even breaks down the impact some of those low value cases can have on a practice. And he also points out it is nearly impossible to be a high-volume lawyer while also trying to be a boutique, high-quality on one case, lawyer. The systems for handling each are very different as well as the tradeoffs which need to be made regarding one type of practice versus the other, both from a personal and professional perspective. Sonia adds there are many lawyers out there building a heavy case load practice and becoming very successful, which ties directly into Michael’s assertion that the type of practice you choose to run must also match your personal preferences, personality type, and aspirations. Michael also describes this as knowing where you are in the marketplace and his explanation on how you figure this out is phenomenal for both young and seasoned lawyers to take note of. He also gives some direct advice for our younger attorney listeners to understand the path to getting bigger cases when you work in someone else’s firm and don’t have the final say in certain matters such as case load.
The next question comes in a few parts. The first being, do firms making the transition into reducing their caseloads spend less on marketing and instead spend more time focusing on referrals? Michael explains why he made a conscious decision to stop marketing to the public when he decided to raise the threshold on the size of cases he wanted to take on. He goes on to reveal the reasons behind this decision which may or may not be what you think. Sonia also brings up a great point about the type of practice you run being largely based on your own risk tolerance and how it relates to the demands of different types of practices.
Secondly, when a firm makes the transition to a smaller caseload, do they end up reducing staff as well? Michael has definitely seen this model work both ways, but discloses why he personally has more staff now, working even fewer cases. He has found when your average fee goes up, you can increase the amount of man/woman-power you can put into the case and so you can pay better, which in turn helps you attract more and better team members to work on cases. Sonia also adds, from her own experience, the more time you have to focus on a case for an extended period of time the more ways she thinks of how to really make a big impact on a case. In other words, the luxury of being able to focus your time and energy on one case, actually creates much more work than she previously appreciated. Michael also explains how it is important to make sure you have the right people in your firm based on the practice model you want to run with since not everyone will be the right fit.
And third, the listeners concern is that like many firms, there are highs and lows and the only way to neutralize this is by taking on a higher number of cases. Michael debunks this right off the bat from his own experience, by explaining how the lower his case volume is, the steadier his revenue has become. Sonia also lays out a great way to analyze the true value of a case when looking at a high-volume practice where cases can sometimes be prolonged with continuance requests (Hint – cases that you carry for a shorter amount of time tend to use less office resources).
Another listener asks: Are you ever embarrassed to have a damages number that is too high? Michael starts right out in stating if you don’t believe this is the right number to get justice for your client, or you are embarrassed about the number, then you definitely shouldn’t present it to a jury. Sonia also asserts that such embarrassment felt by a lawyer is likely to be attributed to the lack of understanding of what their client’s pain or damages truly is. Furthermore, she goes on to say any lawyer using a formula to come up with a number, such as 3X damages, isn’t doing what they’ve been retained to do. You really have to believe what you are fighting for, which sometimes requires you to work through some of your own thoughts which may be holding you back. Michael also points out when you’re trying a case, you want to be 100% dedicated to doing everything you can to win a case, but you cannot be attached to the result.
The conversation concludes with Michael and Sonia reviewing, by listeners request, some of the books they’ve read and would recommend to help run a better practice. And Michael shares his obsessive behavior to really dig into his reading when he finds resources that really click with him. This not only includes his reading of books pertaining to being a great trial lawyer, but also books about becoming a successful business owner.
These Table Talk episodes could not happen without the interaction and questions submitted by our listeners. We are incredibly thankful for your feedback. We encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences.
“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”
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By Michael Cowen — 11 months ago
In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with presentation coach, speaker, and trial consultant, Sari de la Motte, for a conversation on nonverbal communication. With two advanced degrees in music, and having started out initially teaching teachers how to get better results in their classrooms, Sari has transitioned her skills to working 100% with trial attorneys on how to present and work with juries.
Sari began her journey while attending school for her Master’s Degree in Music, when her professor told her she needed to go to a training on nonverbal communication to help her become a better teacher. She attended with the mindset that she was going to learn about how to read people’s nonverbal cues and make up stories about what they are communicating. Little did she realize the focus would be on herself and how she communicated nonverbally, and how she could increase her presence and charisma. And she was hooked! The trainer was Michael Grinder, a master of, and world renown expert in, the power of influence — the science of non-verbal communication, non-verbal leadership, group dynamics, advanced relationship building skills and presentation skills. She was so intrigued, she looked him up, and followed him around the country, paying her own expenses along the way for upwards of 9 months to observe and take notes on what he was presenting. After which she pivoted completely from music to nonverbal communication.
Both music and nonverbal communication are the two universal languages. She explains, you don’t need training in music to enjoy it and the same goes for nonverbal communication in order to understand it, i.e., you don’t need to be trained to know when your spouse is upset. But, if you want to perform music or you want to be systematic in how you communicate nonverbally, then you certainly need to become trained in those areas.
In the beginning, Sari started training teachers in schools on how to communicate using nonverbal techniques until the recession hit and she realized schools had less and less money to use. That’s when she adapted her trainings for the corporate world. Little did she know that when the Oregonian did a story on her, she would receive a call from a lawyer asking her to come help pick a jury the next week. She also wasn’t sure on how she would be helping but once she was in the courtroom, she again was hooked and knew it was a great fit for her.
Michael wonders how Sari learned how to take what she knew about nonverbal communication and apply it to what lawyers do. Sari shares a story about how the original lawyer wanted her to come to the courtroom, watch the jury pool’s body language and tell him who to keep on and who to kick off. Ironically, she found that as much as she kept watching the jury, to which there is no scientific evidence to back up the ability to read body language as its own language to make judgements about people, her attention kept coming back to the lawyer himself. She soon realized, the biggest opportunity to help this lawyer was to in fact, help him with his own nonverbal communication in how he was interacting with the jury. Thankfully he was open to her feedback and wanted to know everything he could from her. Sari goes on to point out that all the nonverbal skills she teaches, whether teaching teachers, the corporate world, or to lawyers, are all the same skills. It’s just the context that changes. And once she learned the context lawyers operate in, how to apply those skills, and met a lawyer who was able to look at himself instead of focusing on what the jury was doing, she truly fell in love with the work trial lawyers do. Michael points out the irony of “how many times we’re doing something with our hands, a facial expression, other body language, or even our tone of voice, and we don’t even know it. And we’re giving off a message that is the opposite of the words we’re saying.” Sari not only agrees, but also points to research that shows “if there is a mismatch between what you are saying and what you’re communicating nonverbally, the listener will go with the nonverbal message every single time.” She continues by pointing out those awkward times lawyers are videotaped, watch it back, and are absolutely horrified by what they see; not so much in regards to the superficial things like hair being out of place or our weight, but rather because we have no idea about all the weird things we’re doing nonverbally.
Early on, at the beginning of her career, Sari was approached to speak to The Inner Circle, a group of the top 100 plaintiff attorneys in the United States, and statistically notes after 15 years, she has found that it is always the best lawyers that show up on her doorstep. Michael and Sari discuss “winning in the courtroom” and how some overstate its importance and talk through what they see as a better way to define winning. Furthermore, Sari points to what is in your circle of concern versus your circle of influence, a mindset which stems from The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey, and further proves her point about the definition of winning.
Talking about Sari’s podcast From Hostage to Hero (also the name of her upcoming book), Michael is curious about where the name came from. She recalls needing to learn the context of how to apply her skills to the courtroom and finding the best way to do so being to read all the books lawyers were reading, attending CLEs, watching DVDs, etc. And she found that after helping to pick several hundreds of juries and having read all kinds materials, there was something missing from the conversations … the idea of jurors being hostages. No one was really talking about the elephant in the room, where jurors don’t even want to be there in the first place, and they’re forced to do it anyway. So, she set out to fix this “communication dilemma” and understand how we get jurors to want to participate and realizing the hero role they truly play in the end. In other words, we’re asking jurors to take action for some person who they don’t know, with something they think doesn’t benefit themselves at all. “We’re asking them to be heroes, but when they first come into the courtroom,” Sari reveals, “they’re hostages.”
Sari discusses the levels of engagement lawyers go through with jurors on their journey through a trial: creating a safe environment; engaging them with you and the material, AKA voir dire; commitment, and be willing to listen to your opening statements; and finally, taking action at the end. Whereas, lawyers have a tendency to jump all the way to the end before systematically moving them through the other levels of the interaction. Or, as Sari describes it “that’s like going to our coffee date, talking for two minutes, and then getting down on one knee and asking the person to marry us.” Sari continues to discuss each level in detail, including: understanding the 3 components of any message (content, delivery, reception) and using your breathing as a way to create safety. Then she discusses listening to understand vs. listening to talk and how to elevate people’s status by listening, along with the different levels of listening. And lastly, empowering jurors to make a decision and take action.
Listeners might think a podcast episode about nonverbal communication could potentially leave people feeling like they’re missing out on what’s to see, but Michael’s conversation with Sari couldn’t be more engaging and relatable with their descriptiveness. The episode rounds out with several other topics such as: understanding the S.C.A.R.F. model (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) and how it relates to juries; how to turn a jury from an unformed group to a functioning faction; how to introduce jurors to each other using just your eyes; issues vs. relationships; the two buckets EVERY communication fits into and how knowing which one you are presenting can give you permission from a juror; things that lawyers do that hurt their cases; and so much more. This is absolutely an episode every lawyer who speaks or moves in the courtroom needs to listen to.
Sari de la Motte is a nationally recognized presentation coach, speaker, and trial consultant. She has trained extensively with an internationally recognized authority in nonverbal communication and is an expert in nonverbal intelligence.
Sari speaks to audiences of a few dozen people to audiences of over a thousand. A sought-after keynote speaker, Sari is often asked to headline conferences across the United States. Sari also works with high-profile speakers in her Portland office, helping them to hone their messaging and fine-tune their nonverbal delivery.
Sari has spoken for, and works with, several members of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group consisting of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. She’s a featured columnist for Oregon Trial Lawyer’s Magazine, Sidebar, and has also written for Washington State Association of Justice, Oregon Criminal Defense Attorney, and other legal publications. She provides CLE’s for various state association of justices around the country. Because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves, she has been dubbed “The Attorney Whisperer.”
“For more information on Sari de la Motte you can visit http://www.saridlm.com/
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