consistency

82 – Malorie Peacock – Working Through Others: Building a High-Performing Team

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his partner Malorie Peacock to discuss the art of managing your team and “working through others.” They cover effective delegation, hiring for experience vs. hiring for attitude, and how lawyers can be leaders to their teams.

Michael and Malorie kick off the episode with a look at delegating tasks to your team effectively, which is easier said than done when the team member has to do the work to your standards. Malorie starts by sharing her thought process when she wants to delegate a task. She first asks herself if this is something she could expect someone else to do in a way she approves of. If it is, she gives clear instructions and deadlines for when the task should be completed. Lastly, she makes a point to be available and open to answering any questions the team member may have about the task.

Michael then brings up a common pitfall for attorneys attempting to delegate tasks – if it’s not done right, he tends to just fix the errors instead of explaining the issues to the team member. Malorie cautions against doing this and outlines the perfect strategy for situations where the work needs to be fixed ASAP, but the team member needs to be taught the correct way for next time.

The conversation then transitions to a look at hiring and training – specifically for a paralegal position. Malorie shares how both of her paralegals started with the firm as receptionists with no legal experience. They were both trained up to the paralegal role which required a lot of work up front, but the benefit to this was they didn’t have any “bad habits.” Michael agrees that he prefers to train someone up from within, so they learn to do the job the way he wants them to, but not every lawyer agrees with this approach. They continue to discuss the pros and cons of hiring someone with experience vs. without experience, to which Malorie concludes it’s really about their ability to perform their main role of assisting the attorney.

After an insightful look at what the attorney can do to ensure their assistant is successful, they begin to discuss what lawyers can do to be leaders to their teams. Malorie reflects on the true meaning of being a leader and insists it all goes back to trust. Your team should trust you enough to tell you when they messed up, or when they need help with something.

Michael continues this line of thought with the necessity of having uncomfortable conversations about issues BEFORE they become a crisis. He recently had the opportunity to meet with Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher, who is notoriously tough on his players. When Michael asked how he holds his players to such high standards, Jimbo highlighted the need for clear expectations, consistency, and for the team to believe that you hold them to those high expectations because you genuinely care about them. In order to have those necessary uncomfortable conversations, you need buy-in and trust from your team members, so they know you’re coaching them up and not putting them down.

Michael and Malorie then discuss how they communicate with their staff to lift them up. They share a variety of techniques that have worked for them, including not creating emergencies, overcommunicating, being willing to do parts of the paralegal’s job, and numerous strategies to show employee appreciation. One thing Michael has always done and will continue to do is invest in his staff’s education. He does this through weekly internal trainings and paying for his staff attend legal seminars like the annual ATAA symposium. Even the act of spending money on their hotels shows them they are valued and appreciated, and “if you buy-in, we’ll have your back.”

This leads Michael and Malorie to discuss the importance of having your team’s back. This doesn’t mean that you sweep issues under the rug- but it does mean you don’t bad mouth your team members to other people, especially to people outside of your team.

They end the episode with a discussion about managing anger and frustration, something many attorneys struggle with. Michael and Malorie both agree when someone does something wrong and it makes you upset, you need to wait until you’ve calmed down to have a conversation with them about it. Malorie finds it helpful to vent to a trusted person about what happened to let off steam, while Michael likes to take his own time to cool off. It comes down to what works best for you, so you can have a productive conversation without bringing the whole team down.

Attorney leadership, while easier said than done, is vital to the success of any law firm. This is why Michael and his firm will be dedicating the second half of 2021 to developing their attorneys into strong leaders. If this topic interests you, stay tuned for a follow-up episode later this year!

This podcast also covers why the “perfect assistant” doesn’t exist, praising your team members, why you need to avoid unrealistic expectations, Michael’s favorite strategies for building employee buy-in, and so much more.

56 – Marc Whitehead – Build Your Lifestyle Law Firm: Optimizing Your Practice, Strategy, & Mindset

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with disability attorney and business coach Marc Whitehead. The two discuss disability law, running a firm using systems, marketing strategies, case selection, building a great team, finding opportunity in chaos, and how to run a “lifestyle law firm” that works for you.

Michael and Marc begin by discussing disability law, which Marc defines as representing disabled workers and veterans for disability benefit claims. Marc began as a PI lawyer and decided to make the switch to disability law after referring out a lot of disability cases. He realized how much he enjoyed disability law and stopped taking PI cases altogether. Marc’s “5-Star” cases are disability insurance claims for dentists and doctors, but he notes how veterans seeking retroactive benefits can be very lucrative as well. He also refers to social security claims as his “bread and butter” because of their quantity. And he encourages personal injury lawyers to be mindful of clients who will have continued medical issues, as those clients may have a disability case and need additional legal help. Marc sums up his goals in disability law by stating, “If you haven’t been hugged by your client this week, you’re not doing your job.”

The conversation then shifts its focus to business management and running a law firm, which Marc coaches other lawyers on. Marc shares a story sure to resonate with many young lawyers, describing a cycle of winning a large verdict, then going broke again three months later. After stepping back and evaluating his business, he decided “The practice should serve me, I shouldn’t be serving the practice.”  Marc believes you have a duty to yourself and your clients to be profitable so you can do your best work for them.

On the note of profitability, Michael asks Marc what he did to make his firm profitable. Marc emphasizes the importance of time management, which he refers to as “focus management.” Marc chooses to live in his calendar instead of living in his inbox, which lets him dictate his own day instead of “constantly putting out fires.” Doing this allows you to focus your productivity and prioritize the best use of your time as a business owner.

Marc then shares his experience of learning to delegate tasks to other people. While Michael and Marc both agree this can be difficult at times, Marc insists learning to do this will allow you to spend your time where it’s most valuable. Marc practices delegation in his firm by developing checklists and flow charts for every task. This implements consistency throughout his firm and allows Marc to spend his time where it adds the most value.

Besides his law firm management and coaching prowess, Marc is well-known for his newsletter “The Successful Barrister.” Marc’s strategy is not to advertise his firm or bore lawyers with updates on disability law. Instead, he aims to provide a funny (he and his lawyers are shown as caricatures), informative resource lawyers will actually read and enjoy. Marc sends the newsletter to a list of 4,000 lawyers and has found great success in this, which leads Michael to share his experience sending a magazine to 1,600 lawyers and the challenge of accurately identifying its ROI. Michael and Marc discuss other successful marketing strategies and how to tailor your marketing approach to a high-volume firm vs. a “high-end, niche” firm.

Choosing to accept or reject a case is a complicated process. Marc has streamlined this process by establishing a separate intake department and removing lawyers and paralegals from the process. This intake team uses a set of checklists and flow charts to determine acceptance or denial of most cases, so Marc only has his hand in dictating the most difficult decisions. Michael agrees with this strategy and finds if he is involved in all the decisions, he will take on cases he shouldn’t because he knows he could find a way to win the case. Upon more reflection, Michael has found accepting these cases leads to unhappy clients and disappointed referral partners. Marc and Michael discuss letting go of the “hero mentality” and not accepting every case they could win. Marc now only accepts strong cases which work with his systems and workflow and refers out many winnable cases to other attorneys. Michael agrees with this strategy, saying, “All the time you’re working on that case, you’re not working on another case where you could add real value.”

Michael then asks Marc how he manages time between running a practice and coaching. Marc describes how he’s built a high-quality team to run his systems, which grants him the time to focus on marketing the firm and coaching. To build this team, Marc invests money into his hiring process. He utilizes an extensive interview process and two personality tests – the DISC Assessment and the Hiring MRI. While searching for the perfect candidate, Marc uses temp agencies to fill the vacant positions and strongly believes in the “hire slow and fire fast” mentality. Even though temps will cost him more money in the short term, Marc says it’s worth it to find the right candidate in the long run.

This transitions Michael and Marc into a discussion of COVID-19 adaptation. While many firms are laying off employees, this gives other law firms an excellent opportunity to hire previously unavailable, top talent. Marc describes COVID-19 as a great pressure test for your firm’s systems.  This will expose any weaknesses and allow you to fix systems that are not working. And he firmly believes, “Where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity.”

Marc has put together numerous resources for business and marketing in a way that builds a law firm that serves your life. He offers all of them for free because, as stated so many times on Trial Lawyer Nation, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” To receive a free copy of Marc’s marketing plan template or subscribe to “The Successful Barrister,” email him at marc@marcwhitehead.com.

This podcast also covers case management software, the differences between a high-volume firm and a niche firm, running a more efficient intake department, book writing, and so much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

Marc Whitehead is double board certified in both Personal Injury Trial Law and Social Security Disability Law.  He dedicates his practice to disability law, specializing in long-term disability insurance denials, Social Security Disability and Veterans Disability.  He has authored multiple books on the topic of disability benefit claims and litigation.  Based in Houston, Texas, Marc runs a national practice and has successfully litigated disability claims in 44 states and counting plus Puerto Rico.

Marc is the editor and publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter, “The Successful Barrister–Marketing, Management & Life Skills that Probably Won’t Get You Disbarred.” Marc is an adjunct practice advisor for Atticus, through which he advises and coaches other lawyers on running successful practices.

Mr. Whitehead is a past president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA), and a member of the Board of Directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA). He is actively involved in the American Association for Justice (AAJ) where he was a past chair of the Insurance Law Section. He was also a member of AAJ’s Marketing and Practice Development Committee among many others. Mr. Whitehead generously donates to AAJ as a PAC Eagle and his firm is an AAJ Leaders Forum member.

 

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