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101 – Laura Pazin Porter – Pushing Forward: The Journey to Partner

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael welcomes newly minted partner at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock, Laura Pazin Porter, to the show for the first time to discuss her path to partner.

They begin the episode with a look at who Laura is and her career leading up to joining Cowen Rodriguez Peacock in 2019. Laura shares that she’s originally from Florida, but moved to McAllen, Texas at a young age and has strong South Texas roots. She first moved to San Antonio to attend St. Mary’s School of Law and has lived there ever since.

After graduating law school, Laura started working for acclaimed plaintiff’s lawyer Tom Rhodes, where she stayed until his passing in 2018. While working with Tom, Laura shares how she learned the importance of attention to detail, keeping the momentum going on your cases, and the value of a team approach. She also had the opportunity to work with previous podcast guest Hans Poppe as well as Randi McGinn, who Laura was lucky enough to get to try a case with. Laura shares how she was immediately drawn to Randi’s interaction with the jurors and thoughtful use of visuals.

Michael then asks Laura about the transition and differences between working with Tom Rhodes and working at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock. Laura explains how the team structure was different there, with lawyers sharing a legal assistant and working together on the docket. Here, Laura has learned how to manage a team with an associate, paralegal, and medical coordinator, and has grown a lot in her leadership skills.

“Being the leader that I would want is really what I try to do when I approach a meeting.” – Laura Pazin Porter

In addition to adapting to a new team structure, Laura has had to learn a new area of the law in trucking and commercial vehicle cases. She believes the education she was provided with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock and an excellent, experienced paralegal aided in this transition. She and Michael then discuss how regular lawyering skills, she had already developed, applied in a new area. Michael adds that he believes there’s nothing harder than medical negligence cases, which Laura had lots of experience in when she first came here. In fact, Michael quotes Laura’s past boss, who once said that trucking cases were “nursing homes on wheels” because of the similarities in paperwork and procedure.

Another area where Michael notes Laura has grown is in her ability to make decisions confidently, and he asks if there was anything he and his firm did to help with that. Laura once again emphasizes the education, tools, and skills that the firm provided her. This increased her confidence in herself and made her more confident in her decisions. They discuss the access to JJ Keller trainings for truck drivers, the firm’s weekly Case Valuation roundtables, the yearly Big Rig Boot Camp and more. She also shares that she is grateful for the lawyers who provided her with resources and forms to get started, so she wasn’t starting from scratch.

After a brief look at some of the amazing case values Laura has obtained recently and how she did it, they move on to discuss some of the rules Michael has at his firm, discussed in more detail in this episode with partner Malorie Peacock. Laura shares how these rules may be time consuming, but she has come to learn why they all have a purpose, and she finds herself in a better position to accomplish her goals when they are followed. Michael adds that he has been working a docket again recently, so he’s had to follow his own rules for the first time. He agrees they can be a pain, but that little pain now will save A LOT of pain later.

“The stressed-out brain does not make good decisions.” – Michael Cowen

Circling back to training opportunities, Michael and Laura discuss the long-term value of hiring skilled litigation and trial consultants – you pay them once to work with you on a case, but you have the knowledge they provided you with you in every case going forward. Michael then shares how he is often asked why he spends so much time and money on training, since the lawyers could leave the firm at any time. His philosophy is simple, and he explains it well – he wants to have good lawyers everyone else wants to steal, but for those lawyers to choose to stay.

“I really want a firm that everybody in town is trying to steal our people, every day. I want every lawyer here to be recruited constantly, that every other firm wants them. And then I also want them to not want to leave.” – Michael Cowen

This leads them to discuss how they balance their workloads. While some firms require lawyers to work Saturdays, Michael has a different approach which allows more flexibility, which Laura appreciates. They both agree that sometimes it’s necessary to work late or work weekends but allowing the lawyer to decide what works best for them has led to a much better work life balance for Laura.

They end the episode on a slightly personal note, discussing how they balance their work, spouses, and kids. Laura shares how her and her spouse both have strong work ethics, and it helps them understand each other’s needs. Michael then quotes Randi McGinn, saying that “You can have it all, just not at the same time,” which is his philosophy with this. He’ll work late sometimes, but not all the time. He’ll take long vacations with his family, but not all the time. They agree that it’s all about finding the balance in whatever way works for you and your family.

This podcast also covers how Laura is getting fantastic case values, what she’s doing to develop her new associate, how to find the balance in your workload, and much more.

 

97 – Chris Finney – Maximizing Value In Your Life & Law Practice

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael speaks with St. Louis trial attorney Chris Finney, to discuss his recent $750,000 jury verdict on a non-catastrophic injury case, the different voir dire techniques he used, his path towards personal development, and so much more.

The episode begins with Chris sharing his story about how he became a trial lawyer. Being the son of a plaintiff’s lawyer, Chris knew becoming a lawyer was something he would do. After law school he took a job working at the prosecutor’s office, but left when he was offered a job paying much more money at a defense firm. His time working on the defense side was limited and he quickly realized he was destined to be a plaintiff’s lawyer.

“We can get him out of this mess in like 5 seconds. Just call the plaintiff’s lawyer, ask him what he wants, and we’ll give it to him … and I didn’t get the best response.” – Chris Finney

Michael transitions the conversation and brings up the topic of development, asking Chris what he has done to excel in his career. Chris shares everything from regionals with Trial Lawyers College, Trial By Human, ethos with Rick Friedman, working with Sari de la Motte, Trial School, attending Trial Guides seminars, and reaching a comfort level with who he is when he tries cases. This brings up the topic of therapy, with Chris sharing how many of the lawyers he would meet at CLEs were divorced. Being happily married and a father to 5 kids, Chris knew he had to find a way to make it all work. Michael agrees and points out that being a trial lawyer means you have to trust a jury, realize the amount of influence you have on the success of a case, understand you cannot control everything, speak with clients and their families when they have been through something traumatic, and all of this can take a real toll on you. “You don’t have to sacrifice your entire life to do this and be good at it,” Chris adds, “you have to find some kind of balance.”

“There’s no better investment than investing in yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Part of the journey in development is also realizing you will not win them all. Which is why the conversation then turns to this topic, one repeatedly mentioned on the show. Chris shares that he has realized, “No one is going to remember your losses.” To which Michael likens this to professional football players. If Tom Brady is described as one of the best quarterbacks of our time, no one is going to expect him to win every single game, so why should lawyers expect the same of themselves? You give it your all and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t always go your way.

“It’s either too complicated or the jurors are very bored. Brevity and being concise about what’s important, has really helped us a lot.” – Chris Finney

The conversation then shifts to the topic of simplicity with Chris and Michael both agreeing on the importance of this in trial. “Any case is a simple case, it just takes a lot of work to get there,” Michael shares. The trust to do this and the trust in your teammates for it to be a success takes work and as Chris points out it’s done “in your personal exploration.”

Running a successful law practice includes having a great team and Chris brings up the importance of letting his staff know that “nothing they do will sink us.” Empowering staff to make decisions instead of running to your office every 5 minutes, allows you to be more productive and focus. Michael adds that in this current employment climate, keeping your staff is more important than ever. To which Chris takes a step further, sharing why it is also important to make sure when the office is gearing up for trial everyone is there and everyone puts in the work. The effort is done as a cohesive team.

The podcast then transitions into a detailed discussion on Chris’s recent jury verdict of $750,000 on a broken arm case. Briefly outlining the case, Chris explains how his client was driving when a vehicle veered into her lane, hit her head on, and her right arm sustained a fracture. His client had surgery and was then released from treatment. Thinking the case would settle for policy limits of $100,000, Chris initiated settlement negotiations before spending money on animations and the doctor deposition. But defense didn’t respond to him until the day before the doctor deposition, which was too late. It was then, with only a $70,000 offer on the table, that Chris decided this case would need to be tried. For Chris, the fact that his client was a great client helped make going to trial an easy decision.

“Jurors take money from people they don’t like and give it to people they do.” – Chris Finney

Starting off with voir dire, Chris goes into “creating a designed alliance,” which he defines as “managing and meeting expectations” and learned from Sari de la Motte (a two-time podcast guest). Chris brings up his learnings from Jason Selk, the renowned performance coach, and his belief in relationships failing because of missed expectations. For Chris one of this goals was to set the expectations with his jury panel and place himself in a powerful teacher mode. Michael then asks about the use of experiential, or issue-based, questions in jury selection. These are 1 or 2 questions (at the most) based on your fears of the case. In this case the two questions Chris wanted to ask involved: 1) seeing a surgeon and having plates or screws put in you, and 2) medical records.

Continuing with jury selection, Michael asks Chris to describe “the box.” Chris suggests everyone go to Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero group on Facebook and listen to her interview with Mark Wham to learn more about this. Chris used “the box” in trial and explained to the jury panel, because liability had been accepted, they would only decide damages that were “fair and reasonable” and that was “inside this box.” Everything else like if there is insurance, who would pay, etcetera, would be up to the judge. After trial one of the jurors approached Chris and said when those topics came up he reminded his fellow jurists, “that is not our role we have to stay inside the box.” Elated, Michael responds, “I’m definitely going to use that!”

“There is an element of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Chris Finney

With the jurors only being out for 15 minutes, not asking for a single exhibit, Chris clearly did a great job putting on his case for the jury. He adds how in the last 5 years he has noticed jurors are more comfortable talking about their relationships and have no issue with non-economic pain and suffering; in fact, they see a tremendous value in it. Michael adds his belief that the isolation we’ve had the last 2 years has changed the value we put on relationships. Before recently we may have taken friendships and time spent with others for granted, but now we want those interactions and will make it a point to carve out time for them. Leaving listeners with the question, has our recent experience increased the value we, and others, hold in our personal relationships – and will this increase values in jury verdicts?

The podcast also discusses drawing healthy boundaries, being patient with yourself, the power of saying “no,” waving economic losses, showing up in the right mindset, the importance of breathing, and why eye contact is crucial in connecting with the jurors.

 

49 – Malorie Peacock – Applying 2 Seasons of TLN to Your Law Practice

Trial Lawyer Nation is proud to celebrate 2 years of podcast episodes! In this Table Talk episode, Michael Cowen sits down for a conversation with his law partner Malorie Peacock for a discussion about the last two seasons, their favorite takeaways from guests, as well as how this show has helped them create their 2020 resolutions.

The episode begins with Michael asking Malorie what she’s learned from the show and how she has been able to use and apply this to her cases. She responds with “you have to choose the kind of lawyer that you’re going to be” as a theme which has come up several times throughout the show. Whether it’s how you formulate your case strategy, how you run your business, or the kind of lawyer you are going to be, the first step is to go after this goal.

But this isn’t always easy and can be a struggle, which leads to Michael sharing his struggles and how he has overcome them. The “salesman in me wants to close every deal,” Michael reveals when discussing case selection. He explains how hard it can be when “you see the dockets getting smaller you have trouble not freaking out” and shares why it is so important to remain disciplined and stick with your business plan. And while a smaller case docket may be a business model for his firm, Malorie brings the conversation full circle by pointing out how not every business model should be the same.

The conversation shifts to a discussion on which episodes discuss how to turn “a good case into a great case” where Michael shares his thoughts on how Randi McGinn’s book and her skills as a former journalist help her dig deep into the story of a case. Jude Basile is another guest Michael brings up as he shares how inspiring it was to have spoken with him and understand how Jude was able to find value (and an excellent case result!) in a case involving an addict at an addiction facility when other lawyers may have turned the case away.

Malorie points out some of her favorite episodes have been those of Sari de la Motte and Michael Leizerman who help explain why you need to “do the work on yourself as well as in your cases.” When defense counsel does something on a case to cause you to react and become distracted, Michael shares how Leizerman has helped him understand “the zen” of it all and why it’s important not to let the other side upset you and take your energy away from your case. He also brings up the quote “how can they be right and we still win” and how this simple statement from Joe Fried has been so powerful in his cases. Malorie and Michael also agree on and discuss how this mindset can be helpful in a case with degeneration, in both liability and damages.

Entering the confession spirit as the year ends, Malorie asks Michael what his strategies are for enforcing what he says he is going to do. He reveals the lesson he has learned when taking on cases which do not fit his business model. Describing a serious injury case involving a TBI not fitting his “case on wheels” business model, Michael shares the extra time spent looking up case law and standards versus with a trucking case where he immediately understands about 95% of the rules and sources to cite and can do so very quickly. “It’s efficiency,” Malorie adds.

The topic of efficiency transitions nicely to another theme in the show, which is how the brilliant attorneys who have been on the show “create and enforce systems” within their firm so they can do the work they need to do on their cases. If you don’t do this then you’re constantly putting out fires and distracted from the work you should be doing. This also applies to the reality of “you can’t be a lawyer 24/7” and leads to a meaningful discussion on having a work/life balance and how burn out can not only impact your personal life but also your cases and effectiveness in the office.

The podcast ends with Michael and Malorie discussing their 3 resolutions for 2020, which include Michael sharing his book deal with Trial Guides and his goal to continue writing, and Malorie sharing her idea on how she will be using the firm’s in-house graphic designer to work up her cases, which Michael describes as “brilliant” and “will scare the crap” out of defense attorneys.

An exciting piece of news shared on this episode is Michael’s commitment to hosting a Facebook Live session every month in the “Trial Lawyer Nation – Insider’s Circle” private group . If you haven’t already requested to join this group, we suggest you do so now in order to participate in the first Facebook Live in January 2020. The exact date will be shared on our podcast social media pages and also via email for those who are subscribed to our emails.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our show for the past 2 years. We look forward to sharing even more great shows with all of you in 2020 as we enter Season 3!

37 -Sonia Rodriguez – Caseloads: Quality vs. Quantity

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, 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 podcasts 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.”

 

RESOURCES

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

The Truth about Employee Engagement: A Fable about Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni

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