American Bar Association

32 – Jim Adler – Building a Firm on Reputation

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with prominent Texas attorney, Jim Adler, AKA “The Texas Hammer,” for a discussion on building a law practice on a solid reputation.

Running an efficient law firm that has allowed him the ability to spend quality time with his large family (4 kids and 9 grandkids) didn’t happen overnight. Having started his practice doing everything by himself, learning to delegate and understanding the business and marketing side of running a firm are two areas where Adler has focused on the most to build the successful law firm he has today.

Adler recalls back in “those days,” when he was starting out, thinking that it would have been ridiculous to believe he would ever make $100,000. When he started, he was struggling to support his family and manage to do everything himself. He initially started advertising in the “green sheets” and got a little business. But it was when he started using a company called “Lawyers Marketing Services,” that he saw more success. He was told to “try it, you’ll like it,” and went into TV advertising which quickly had his phone ringing off the hook. Of course, it didn’t come without its fair share of social pressures not to advertise to the public back then, due to the stigma that other attorneys attached to the tactic. Adler has also found himself bearing the brunt of parodies on TV, even being referenced on Beavis & Butthead as “Joe Adler.” To which Michael points out, “you know you’ve made it when a national tv show is referencing you.”

Now going on his 5th generation of TV viewers, The Texas Hammer has found himself up against finding the attention of younger people who don’t want to pay for TV, AKA “cord cutters.” These are the individuals who are watching entertainment on their Slingbox, Roku, PlayStation, Netflix, and YouTube, which makes it especially hard to reach them. People don’t have “TV” anymore, so you have to find them elsewhere, which is why Adler has a saying in his firm, “if we’re not changing, we’re dying.” It is this mindset and desire to continue to learn and adapt (more on that later in the episode), which continues to keep his name and brand so strong.

The conversation then turns to when Adler became partners with a well-known U.S. District Judge, Robert O’Connor, who wanted to get back into practice. Judge O’Connor knew that Adler was wasting his time doing divorces, bankruptcy, and real estate and this was “the age of the specialization.” Taking that advice and focusing on personal injury cases has grown his firm to a staggering 30 attorneys and roughly 300 staff! Michael and Adler both agree that having so many people working for the firm is a lot of moving parts. But as Michael points out, it can be “a lot harder to run a business than to be a lawyer.”

Adler goes on to describe the way his firm has created a departmentalized system to take care of clients every step of the way. His intake department has specialists that only take new client calls and are separated from an operator who accepts all calls. His case management department with case managers who are assigned to each case and are supervised by a lawyer essentially works like a mini law practice within his law firm. The packaging department with specialists in preparing settlements and gathering all the hospital records, are all just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the organization he’s built.

In fact, evolution has been long and everchanging with the times. Adler recalls how all of these departments work well, but he received feedback that clients hated being passed around. Since then he has utilized his case managers to tee up the transition better and give the client a clear sense of what each step in their case is going to be. He goes on to describe their closing department, as well as their administrative departments and accounting departments, a strong litigation department, and an internet department, which ties into the firm’s marketing efforts. Over time, the evolution from having one secretary and an assistant, to set up all the different departments, developed through the use of statistics and formulas. From assessing how many cases a case manager could handle, to how many calls can an intake person handle, to how many cases can a lawyer try and/or settle, all of his operations were fine-tuned through statistical analysis. Adler describes himself to be a big believer in customer service and tries to promote their “service marketing” agenda to everyone throughout the firm in order to provide “over the top service” to their clients. He points out that if a lawyer does a good job for a client, he or she will likely be referred, 7 new people. Whereas the “bad-mouthers” are likely to tell 100 people if they didn’t have a good experience, regardless of the end result of their case.

Michael becomes curious about whether Adler had to figure these things out on his own or if he brought in any kind of consultants. Adler shares how he has read tons of books on business, such as The CEO Nextdoor by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell, Good to Great by Jim Collins, FOCUS by Daniel Goleman, as well as many other business publications like The Wallstreet Journal and Forbes Magazine. Thinking back to law school, Adler also recalls that they teach you how to be a good lawyer, but they don’t teach you how to become a good business owner. Adler has learned a lot from talking to people who were trying to sell him something, talking to other lawyers about how they do things, and going to TTLA meetings. Michael points out his own evolution from the mentality of being “a great lawyer and people should just line up at our firm’s door” to opening his mind to see other successful practices like Adler’s, and how they keep clients happy and run their firm in general. He also notes that although he doesn’t do TV advertising, he still spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing to his referral partners.

Both Adler and Michael reflect on the importance of treating people with respect and dignity, even down to the importance of returning a phone call. The 45 seconds you take to let someone know you received their call and you are looking into their question or concern, can have a dramatic impact on the attorney/client relationship, even if just to tell them that you are in trial and will get back to them as soon as possible. Adler also goes a step further to ask for referrals when a case concludes and to remind their clients of all the different cases they handle.

The conversation certainly would have been remiss if Michael hadn’t brought up the obvious question – How did you come up with the name “The Texas Hammer?” Adler explains that it was Hayden Bramleigh, from the lawyer marketing service, who first suggested to him that he needed a trademark, similar to how every big brand has a trademark. Moreover, “The Texas Hammer” went through some evolution of its own through various focus groups and seeing how people around the country responded to the name being associated with other lawyers in different states. Admittedly, although some people might not know Adler’s name, they can still associate him with “The Texas Hammer” which is still an effective marketing tactic for him. Adler also points out that it’s been a long road, fighting battles with others who don’t agree with legal advertising, which oddly enough, he points out, tend to be other lawyers and not the end consumer.

The conversation with Adler goes on to talk about his strategies on developing lawyers in his firm, the tests they give to new lawyers joining their firm, transparency in reporting to the firm on settlements and new cases, professional training they’ve developed, the resources they use for case management, getting over the fear of public speaking, and so much more. The organization that Adler has built over the years is nothing less than astounding and we are so appreciative of the time he spent with us on this episode.

 

BACKGROUND ON JIM ADLER

Famously known as “The Texas Hammer,” injury lawyer Jim Adler has been hammering for victims for over 40 years, championing “the little guy” against big corporations and big insurance companies which would deny their legal rights.

That mission is why he launched his own law firm in 1973 with a one-man office in downtown Houston. Today, Jim Adler & Associates has offices in Houston’s Uptown/Galleria area, Channelview, Dallas, and San Antonio, with two dozen attorneys and more than 250 legal support staff. They share Jim Adler’s mission of helping injured Texans get the money they deserve from those who were at fault.

 

Family Man, Giving Back

You may know Jim Adler only from his media appearances and tough-talking TV ads. But he’s more than that. He’s also a family man who loves children and devotes much time and his firm’s resources to children’s charity causes.

In 2009, former Houston Mayor Bill White appointed Jim Adler to the Board of Directors of the Joint City/County Commission on Children, recognizing his lifelong devotion to helping children.

“I believe we all should give back to our communities,” said Adler, a Dallas native who speaks fluent Spanish. “I believe in helping people and doing good works.”

In fact, unlike his fierce TV image, Jim Adler is “a people person. I enjoy being around people from all walks of life. I love the joy of life – of just being alive.”

He’s also even more active than his busy legal work suggests.

“I love to sweat,” says the avid tennis player, snow skier, jogger and golfer. “I love sports of all kinds, and I work out five or six days a week — 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weightlifting. I’m also really big on nutrition and watching what I eat.”

Boosted by this commitment to health, he has no plans to retire — even now that son Bill Adler has joined the firm as an attorney.

 

Son at His Side

“Having my son at my side at the firm is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Jim Adler says. “He’ll ensure that all the work I’ve put in over the years and the family’s tradition of serving underdogs will continue.”

That family includes Jim Adler’s wife of 38 years, their four children and their five grandchildren.

Bill Adler was raised in Houston, but Jim Adler was raised in Dallas. He went to Austin to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, followed by his law degree from the UT School of Law.

He then served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy and was appointed a judge for the Office of Civilian Health and Medical Programs United Services (OCHAMPUS), adjudicating health and medical disputes for Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel. He then launched his law practice in Houston, home of his principal office today.

Jim Adler was admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of Texas and is licensed to practice in the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit and U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Eastern, Northern and Western Districts of Texas.

He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, Houston Bar Association, Texas Bar Foundation, Dallas Trial Lawyers Association, Dallas Bar Association, American Bar Association, and American Trial Lawyers Association.

He’s also a director of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Houston Trial Lawyers Association.

As a passionate advocate for injury victims, Jim Adler has handled lawsuits involving auto accidents, trucking accidents, offshore accidents, Jones Act cases, refinery accidents, construction injuries, burn injuries, brain injuries, on-the-job accidents, slip-and-fall cases, railroad accidents, electrical accidents and many other types of personal injury.

Getting payments for victims can be a battle. But Jim Adler became a lawyer to fight those battles.

“I always had a desire to help underdogs, the little guy, against big corporations and big insurance companies, and to level the playing field for accident victims,” he says.

 

Charitable Works

Jim Adler’s good works also include many charitable causes. He’s contributed to the American Cancer Society, Armed Forces Relief Trust, Association for Community Television, Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders, Arthritis Foundation, American Heart Association, American Health Assistance Foundation, Special Olympics, Child Advocates of Fort Bend County, The Center for Hearing & Speech, Covenant House, Easter Seals Society and Galena Park Choir Boosters.

Still more of his causes include the Habitat for Humanity, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Federation of Greater Houston, Guild for the Blind, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, March of Dimes, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Primera Rosa De Saron, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Texas Bar Foundation, Texas Children’s Hospital, US Olympic Committee, University of Texas Law School Foundation and UTMB Burn Care Research.

“I wish there were more hours in the day,” says Jim Adler. “I always want to do more.”

“Basically I believe in doing good works. Seeing families whose child was injured by an 18-wheeler or a defective drug puts me in a fighting mode. My good works then are about helping them recover financially. Those good works are my life’s mission.”

Thus, after decades of fighting for justice, Jim Adler is still on the case, helping those who need it the most. As thousands of injured Texans have learned when he fought for their legal rights, there’s only one “Texas Hammer.”

25 – Sonia Rodriguez – Defeating Defense Medical Experts

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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 episode focuses on defense medical “experts,” or as Michael calls them, “paid opinion witnesses.”

Michael calls this spade a spade right from the get-go, in that the title of “defense medical experts” is a sham. Many times, he says, they are called “independent experts” when they are neither independent nor an expert, not to mention the fact that they are hand-picked by defense lawyers who pay them for their testimony. Michael believes it is a huge fraud being perpetrated on our clients, on the jury, and on the court system. He says, typically “we know what their report is going to say once we hear their name,” further exemplifying this flaw in the system.

So, Michael asks, “what do we do to expose this and show the jurors the truth?” Sonia believes it is critical we expose the relationships experts have with the lawyers who hired them, how often they’ve been used by that firm or the defense industry, as well as how much money they make from that business. She also uncovers what percentage of their business is spent on reviewing files for defense lawyers vs. practicing medicine, in some cases. All of which can go a long way in revealing these witnesses for what they really are, which is “paid opinion witnesses.” Michael also explains how he doesn’t like to even use the word “expert,” which gives them the mantle of that title. He goes on to discuss the harsh reality and his distain for medical professionals who misuse their degrees to go against the very oath they have taken to “do no harm,” while we represent legitimately injured clients, and they do it for money! They both agree how uncovering the financial ties and bias of these witnesses also says a lot about them because they could likely be making much more money by seeing patients, but instead are reviewing cases for a defense lawyer. Michael also talks through a real example of what he’s run into on how these medical witnesses come to find themselves making money in this way and how their path toward testifying can ironically parallel his client’s paths.

Michael and Sonia share a plethora of examples regarding their tactics on utilizing depositions, both past and present, to build their cases, ranging from networking with other attorneys and medical professionals to leveraging amazon.com in the middle of a deposition. Sonia explains how you cannot go into a deposition with a broad brush, but rather be laser-focused and able to drill down on even a single word, in some cases, to make your entire case. And to sum things up, Michael talks through the very polarizing two ends of the spectrum his preparations take him with defense medical experts, where they are likely to either be way “off the deep end” and obviously working as a paid witness, or he will focus his energies on essentially turning them to help his case. The strategies they both describe are pure methodical genius.

The conversation shifts to talk specifically about the tone and demeanor both Michael and Sonia use when deposing paid medical witnesses. They both agree the tone and demeaner you use in a paid medical witness deposition is extremely important, as it will likely be replayed for the jury at some point and jurors will also be watching to see how you handle yourself in this situation, the same way they do in the courtroom. We, as plaintiff attorneys, also need to be cognizant of how we are approaching the deposition so it leads the jury to come to their own conclusions regarding the credibility of the paid medical witness and their testimony. It also becomes reflective for the jury to feel the danger themselves of allowing these paid medical witnesses to get away with using their titles as a form of “expertness” in exchange for being paid by the defense. In other words, if we just “rip into them” it will likely backfire on us and not work at all in our favor. Not to mention, Sonia adds, that today’s juries are tired of the theatrics and enthusiastic approach of some lawyers, where the days of yelling and pounding your fist on the table are now long gone.

All in all, this Table Talk with Michael and Sonia was thorough and filled with an enormous number of real examples from their experiences over the years. As a trial lawyer, you will likely run into paid medical witnesses in trials often, and this table talk could be the one thing that prepares you most for success.

20 – Alexander Begum – A Practice Built by The Law Giant

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, Alexander Begum, who has offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Alex admits early on in his conversation with Michael that he didn’t originally know he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t have any immediate connections to the law field, and friends and family members initially forced him to study for his MBA as a fallback. A blessing in disguise, this actually helped him to bring a business perspective to the field of law.

From early on, Alex found himself valuable by leveraging his business and finance education. He turned down a $75k/yr position at a defense firm, has his sights on something better, only to take 4 years to break the $100k mark. He first started with just about any case he could bring in the door from child custody to divorce to criminal and corporate, but eventually transitioned to personal injury when he got a big “break” from an owner of a managing agency who saw him in the courtroom as a defense lawyer who won a settlement against the plaintiff through a counterclaim. They liked what they saw so much they essentially fired another firm they had been working with and sent all their car wreck defense cases to his office. Listening to him tell the story is reminiscent of something from the movies with a van full of case files, in varying stages of pre-lit and litigation, being dropped at their front doorstep. Jumping right into the cases, it didn’t take long for him to see the limitless potential in the personal injury world. After having been exposed to several practice areas of law and through the process of elimination, Alex landed on plaintiff personal injury. The fact that his father was an immigrant further solidified his decision to fight for the small guy, beat all odds and led him into representing people who had been victimized in some way.

The conversation fast-forwards and switches to a more “tactical” view of trial strategy involving the practice of NOT including medical bills in a trial. The studies that Michael and Alex have both reviewed are striking, but the actual implementation of this in Alex’s practice has proven to be successful with 6 and 7-figure verdicts on cases – some of which have $4k of medical bills! The explanation from Alex on why he thinks this practice works is extremely insightful, to say the least, and shows that litigation without medical bills may become the standard practice by necessity. Michael points out that, ironically, he believes the industry is going to end up with bigger recoveries. They also talk through the effects the different strategies have on juries in awarding damages and how one of the tactics can anchor down the numbers, whereas the other can allow jurors to think about the true impact of what’s been taken from a client and their family.

Alex shares some of his insights on how he balances the administration of running his firm and keeping cases on track with trying cases himself. He shares everything from the software they use to his endless checklists, which Michael is able to draw a parallel to form a brief past in aviation where pilots are known for going through their checklists regardless of how many times they’ve flown the airplane – all in the name of quality control.

Michael asks Alex about the journey of advertising, which they both agree is “painful.” But, Alex goes on to talk about the evolution of advertising in the legal industry and the importance of dominating a niche market with examples like “The Jewish Lawyer,” “The Hammer,” or in his own case, “The Law Giant.” He talks about a significant focus group he conducted that helped him realize the overwhelming weight given toward recalling a branded nickname/persona more than any other factor in an attorney’s practice. In Alex’s view, things like trial experience, verdict history, or even the name of the attorney play very little into the public’s perspective of who to call. Some of the examples he gives of niche type tactics are tried and true when it comes to advertising on everything from billboards down to business cards.

Michael wraps up the episode by asking on behalf of all the aspiring PI lawyers listening, “How did you get to where you are?” Alex’s reply is priceless and timeless all at once: “It’s funny how the harder I work, the luckier I become.”

Background on Alexander Begum

Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, with offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo, and McAllen. Mr. Begum completed his undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio earning a double major in marketing and finance. Thereafter, he attended Harvard University in Boston where he studied finance and legal writing. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Alex acquired a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Texas Tech University.

After graduating from law school, Alex did not cease in his quest for learning and improving his skills. In 2010 Mr. Begum was chosen to be among the elite few who are accepted into the Trial Lawyers College. This intense program is intended to push each individual student toward a greater understanding of themselves and others. Every attorney that graduates from the Trial Lawyers College walks away knowing they have improved not only their skills as attorneys but have improved their “personhood” as well. Attending such a program is not an easy task. Alexander Begum made the choice to be away from his home, family and law practice to devote the time to attend and graduate from the Trial Lawyers College. He willingly made this sacrifice for a singular purpose. He wanted to be better able to help his clients and serve his community.

For more information on Alex Begum, visit https://www.texaslegalgroup.com/Attorneys/Alexander-Begum.shtml

 

04 – Tim McKey – The Business Side of Practicing Law

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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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