Best Personal Injury Lawyer

34 – Sonia Rodriguez – Hindsight in the PI World

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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 advice for our up-and-coming personal injury attorneys on the things we know now and wishes we knew earlier in our careers.

Starting right off in the broad sense of the industry, we start with a question about what advice would we give to a lawyer who is in the first 2 years of practice. Learning the hard way, Sonia states why it is critical for a successful personal injury law practice to understand the difference between a PI practice and a typical business practice when you are talking to bankers and lenders. The discussions you’ll have with bankers and lenders about lines of credit and assets in regards to your practice can sound like a foreign language to certain bankers, so you really need to find a bank that knows the PI practice and knows that many times the assets you have are going to be intangible, and are more likely to be in your file cabinet or on your server. Michael also points out how the banking regulations have also tightened up in recent years where it has become harder for PI lawyers to borrow against their case list. To this point, Sonia suggests once you have a few years under your belt, you should start saving/hoarding your money so you can borrow against your own investments and savings when you want to. They both agree once you hit your first big case, you don’t want to start living like that has become your new lifestyle every year or every month and you need to live below your means for a long time. Michael recalls avoiding the temptation to go buy the expensive Mercedes and shares how his first house was only $67,000, which was in stark contrast to other lawyers who went out and bought big houses and could barely pay their credit cards or make it month to month. It was with this foresight and now shared knowledge, that Michael reveals his early financial habits have led him to build the successful practice he has today.

Providing additional advice for PI lawyers just starting out, Michael weighs the pros and cons of gaining experience by starting in a district attorney’s office (hint – it’s not advised…and for good reason). He goes on to suggest several much better ways to gain experience and learn from other attorney’s experience, this podcast being one of them, which will prove to be more advantageous in building a solid foundation for a personal injury practice. Thinking from the other end of the spectrum, Sonia also offers advice regarding business relationships and how they are bound to change over time and shares the key factors you need to consider before entering into a partnership, regardless of the current or past relationships status. A lesson the majority of seasoned attorneys would likely agree with, hindsight being 20/20. Michael, being one of them, recounts one of the things he knows now that he wishes he knew earlier, and how he wishes he had spent a seemingly small amount of money early on to hire a lawyer to draft his agreements with other lawyers. Being lawyers, he says, “we think we can do it ourselves,” and in the process, we end up overlooking the holes in an agreement and only looking at it through rose-colored glasses as if nothing will ever change in the relationship. Michael reveals, in his own hindsight, the amount of money he’s paid out on legal fees to draft things for him now, has turned out to be less than 1% of what he’s paying people that he wouldn’t have had to pay had he had those agreements in place. LESS THAN 1%!

Sonia transitions by discussing the amount of stress brought on day-to-day in this industry. Our bodies were never designed to handle these amounts of mental or physical stress that can come with a heavy litigation practice, she says, and on the plaintiff’s side, it can also be very easy to become emotionally invested in our client’s cases. As a trial lawyer, you need to find a mechanism for an outlet, such as exercise, meditation (if it works for you), or even journaling, in order to maintain your mental health. Michael adds that you need to find a balance in order to internalize and feel your client’s pain without it taking you over. The Harvard Business Review published a great article about the stress and anxiety of being a perfectionist, as we tend to do in this line of work which also lays out several options for mental self-care.

Michael continues to state, as he has on many episodes of this show, to get out there and try more cases. There is never a shortage of cases to be tried in any firm. And no one will remember the cases you lose as you gain experience or even years into your practice for that matter. He goes on to say that you do not suffer a reputational hit for losing a trial and how he has actually lost more cases than some people have ever tried, but still has tons of referrals coming in because attorneys remember the ones he’s won.

Throughout the rest of this episode, Michael and Sonia discuss topics like: the power of saying “NO,” the importance of reputation; how to use a cost/benefit analysis to determine the right cases to take on; their opinions on paying for online profiles with various legal organizations, what to do in discovery when you think the other side is hiding something from you; how to (and more so, how not to) attract leads online; tricks to leveraging social media and pitfalls to avoid when using it; and many others along the way.

These Table Talk episodes could not happen without the interaction and questions submitted by our listeners. We are eternally grateful and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

26 – Jack Zinda – Success by Design

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with an accomplished trial attorney, Jack Zinda, for an inside look at his bustling personal injury law practice. Built from the ground up in a county where seemingly no one wanted to start a law office because the juries are so conservative, Jack has built his practice up to include 3 offices with 63 people on his team, 23 of which are lawyers.

Jack’s humble beginnings working in his father’s restaurant washing dishes and waiting tables, contributed to him becoming a great trial lawyer by teaching him to learn how to talk to people, which he says was “great training.” Michael admits that he actually looks for “waiting tables” on the resumes of his potential lawyers as he understands that such experience comes with being able to deal with people, even when they are being unreasonable, among other reasons.

As they dig in deeper to Jack’s practice, he directly correlates the growth of business to an exercise he did after reading the book “The E Myth” where he laid out a plan for where he wanted his firm to be in the future and worked backward from there in order to develop a plan of action. He also made sure to account for his core values and not giving up practicing law seeing as one of his top motivators for getting into Personal Injury law was to help people, and he never wanted to lose that. Michael and Jack also talk through their views regarding the use of consultants and how egos sometimes get in the way of success in this industry. Jack makes it extremely clear that “none of what [he’s] done is original” and that he’s simply taken what he has learned from others and built upon it to become successful. It also, from Jack’s perspective, comes down to the systems that get put in place and following them consistently; an example being that each lawyer in his firm is highly encouraged to attend two networking events per week in order to continue to build relationships.

As Jack reflects on the continued growth of his practice over the years, one of the most important decisions he discovered was who he hired to work at his firm. To prove his point, he describes the scenario where if you hire the most brilliant and amazing people to work for you in every aspect of your business and you have poor systems in place, chances are that you will likely still be successful. Whereas, even if you have the most robust and well-oiled systems in place, if you hire people who are unmotivated and don’t want to work hard, you are likely to fail. He goes on to say that even experience can be overrated when looking to hire someone. At the core, when looking to add people to your organization, people need to be hungry and driven, they need to be smart and organized, and they need to be hard working. Michael and Jack also talk through their hiring processes to get the “right people” into their firm. Surprisingly, the interview has very little to do with it and sometimes… neither does a candidate’s aspirations of working with your firm!

The conversation shifts to internal systems where Jack has gone so far as to hire a developer to create their case management system to his specifications. And not only has he found it to be a great way to customize his practice to run the way he wants it to but also works as a great training tool for everyone in his firm, even the most seasoned attorneys. Jack points out that even the simplest of things go into the firm’s checklists and procedures such as “read the local rules,” which, as easy as that might sound, he points out that it can be vital when working in as many jurisdictions as his firm does. Jack has also raised the bar on training and development within his firm by creating a position that solely focuses on it. Listening to Jack’s description of how he came up with and implemented this position is likely to deliver shock and awe to anyone who runs a firm, as it did for Michael during this podcast.

Michael wraps up the podcast with the question that is likely on everyone’s mind – How much of a “life” do you get to have, running a firm of this size and as successful as yours? Jack boils it down to really deciding what success means to you, first and foremost. What do you want to get out of the practice (note the sentiment of beginning with the end in mind)?  Jack explains that he sets hard and fast rules on family time and personal time and has become VERY intentional about it, down to the alarm on his phone that goes off at 6 pm that reminds him to “go home.” Michael points out that there is also a difference between being in the room with your kids and being present with your kids. Jack goes on to describe how he turns off his phone when he gets home and puts it in a drawer, making it harder for him to somehow “find” it back in his hands, IE: working when he shouldn’t. “Willpower is overrated. I think you’ve got to set yourself up for success by setting the atmosphere to do what you want to do in order to be successful,” which is certainly a great mantra for us all to take away from this conversation with Jack.

 

John C. (Jack) Zinda is the founder and senior trial lawyer at Zinda Law Group.

Jack has served as lead attorney on a wide range of complex catastrophic injury cases across the United States, including:

  • Fire death cases
  • Gas explosions
  • Wrongful deaths
  • Governmental torts, including wrongful death cases caused by law enforcement
  • Federal tort claims act cases
  • Traumatic brain injury cases
  • Commercial litigation
  • Motor vehicle collisions
  • Premises liability
  • Interstate 18-wheeler collisions
  • Product liability

As a trial attorney, Jack takes tremendous pride in giving a voice to individuals and families who need help battling Fortune 500 companies and large insurance conglomerates. His firm balances aggression with a strategy to maximize the outcome for clients, and every case is handled with a focus on getting ready for trial. He also knows the importance of communicating with his clients and ensures that they are part of the process. He is dedicated to always putting the needs of his clients first.

A native Texan, Jack graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and political science from Southwestern University, where he distinguished himself as president of the Interfraternal Council and as a member of the Student Congress, the Student Judiciary, Phi Delta Theta, and the Pirates basketball team.

Jack went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from the prestigious Baylor University School of Law, which is perennially ranked as one of the top law schools for trial advocacy in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. While there, he was one of the finalists in the Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition.

Over the years, Jack has earned a reputation as a thought leader in the legal industry, and he has been featured as a speaker for numerous groups across the country, including the Brain Injury Association of Texas, the Williamson County Bar Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Jack has also benefited his professional community through leadership positions in a variety of legal organizations. He has served as president of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, as a member of the board of directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and as a member of the American Association for Justice, the Texas Bar Association, the Austin Bar Association, and WCBA. He is also involved with a number of consumer advocacy organizations.

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