Cowen Rodriguez Peacock

106 – Malorie Peacock – The Only Constant: Overcoming Change

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for her first episode since coming back from maternity leave to have a fitting conversation about change. They’ll take a look at different types of changes, including personal, business, law, and intentional ones, and discuss how to embrace them instead of being overwhelmed by them.

Starting with personal change, Michael asks Malorie how she dealt with the change of not working during her 3-month maternity leave. She shares how at first, she was a zombie (which I’m sure all parents listening can relate to), but once she and her husband got into a routine, she found it hard not to check in on her cases. And while she enjoyed her leave, she’s happy to be back doing the job she loves again, and Michael is also glad to have her back.

Michael then shares his experience of taking over the housework while his wife stays in the guest house with Covid. He had a referring attorney call him when he was trying to help his wife and sons, but he had to ask the attorney to call back tomorrow. He was nervous the attorney would take his business somewhere else, but after their discussion the next morning he realized everything would be fine. Malorie poignantly shares that the fear and anxiety we have about change is usually worse than what actually happens.

Continuing with business change, Michael reflects on his law firm growing and the inevitable turnover that comes with growth. He’s found that no matter how much effort you put into making your law firm a good place to work, there are other factors that can cause people to leave. Malorie agrees, adding that it’s just not realistic to expect everyone at the firm to stay forever. And when someone does leave, even those you thought would be with you their entire career, having the right attitude is the key to moving forward effectively.

Michael continues this topic by mentioning the book “No B.S. Ruthless Management of Profits and People,” assuring listeners that the title makes it sound worse than it is. There’s a section of the book which discusses the employee-employer relationship, saying you need to be realistic about that relationship and how people see you. At the end of the day, this is just a job for them.  Malorie agrees and adds that psychologically, it’s a good thing if your employees expect to be treated well. It means they perceive themselves as people who work hard and are committed.

Michael then shares how he copes with drastic changes. He takes a 12-24 hour “mourning” period where he lets himself feel it and vents to someone trusted. After that’s done, his focus moves to how they can make it even better than it was before. Could the systems for that position be improved? Do you need to re-think how you structure the position completely? These are all questions you should be asking yourself for each employee turnover.

Moving on to changes in the law, Michael reflects on when he first became a lawyer, and they took the money out of workers’ compensation cases in the state of Texas. Then came the medical malpractice caps and other tort reform policies. Each time, there were lawyers who refused to change and faced serious financial struggles, and there were lawyers who got creative and found ways to adapt- sometimes resulting in them being better off than before the “bad” change. Malorie wholeheartedly agrees and adds that finding a group of lawyer friends to brainstorm with has been very helpful for her in these situations.

As Michael and Malorie begin to wrap up the episode, Michael praises Malorie for her positivity in the face of change and her ability to be creative and look for solutions. It’s something she partially credits to her natural personality, but she also makes a conscious effort to find something good about the change (even when it’s mostly bad) or take the time to think about all the good things in her life. It helps assure her that the world won’t end, and this positive outlook rubs off on those around her. Michael then shares his journey to having a positive outlook on change, and the two of them exchange a heartfelt moment of exchanges with their children that resonate with each of them.

The episode ends with a reminder to register for Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp as soon as possible. In-person seats are already full, but you can get on the waitlist or register virtually here! We’d love to see you there.

This episode also covers why “1” is the most dangerous number of anything, why you should avoid negative people, how to overcome some recent bad case law in Texas, and much more.

 

103 – Delisi Friday – A Bittersweet Victory: Post-Trial Discussion

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday for a raw, honest conversation about his (very) recent jury trial win where the number was not what he wanted.

“When you try hard cases, you don’t always get what you want.” – Michael Cowen

They begin the podcast episode with the facts of the case. They were in federal court in Laredo, Texas, a community with a huge trucking and logistics industry. Their client was rear-ended by a truck at only 5 miles an hour. Initially, the client was diagnosed with only soft tissue damage, but later discovered a herniated disc that required surgery. This was argued by the defense to be a pre-existing condition, which the jury ultimately agreed with, only awarding enough money to cover the medical bills before the surgery.

As Michael explains the largest offer they received was only $25,000 during the trial, when the jury verdict was $80,000, Delisi asks Michael why he feels this is a loss. He breaks it down into 2 reasons: 1) he doesn’t feel the client is materially better off because they went to trial, and 2) he believes the case is worth a lot more than the result.

With that being said, he recognizes the challenges he was up against – low property damage and medical treatment gaps. When you try cases like this, he argues you’re not going to win them all. He tried the case well and gave it everything he had, but it didn’t go his way this time. He compares this to the Bengals, a great football team, losing the Super Bowl this year. At the end of the day, they’re still a great team.

“You’re not always going to get a home run every time you get up to bat.” – Michael Cowen

One of the biggest hurdles in this case was the low property damage. Delisi asks Michael about the challenges of them, and what he does to overcome them. Michael emphasizes that low PD cases are always a challenge because they fail the “oh shit!” test. When you have a picture of a vehicle after the wreck that causes people who see it to say, “oh shit, are they okay?” it’s much easier to try than when you don’t have that initial reaction.

Michael shares the strategy he used in this voir dire, which acknowledged both potential outcomes of a wreck – where the vehicle can look really bad but the person is okay, and where the vehicle can look almost completely fine but the person is very injured.

Delisi then asks Michael about his mindset going into this trial. Michael reiterates, as he has in many past episodes, his mantra for trial – the judge and the jury want to do the right thing, and he’s going to have fun (which he did). But as Delisi asks him why he didn’t want to go talk to the jury after the verdict was read, he says he’s just not there yet. He’s also not sure if it would have been helpful, given both his mindset and the gut feeling he believes the jurors made their decision off of. But even after this experience – he still trusts the jury and will continue to do so for his future trials.

“It feels like I asked someone on a date, they said no, and then I’m supposed to call them and ask why they didn’t want to go out with me.” – Michael Cowen

Changing the tone, Delisi asks Michael what he thinks went well with the trial. He shares how they ran a fast, smooth trial, he felt very comfortable and got to use two “new toys”, a King flip chart and a magnetic white board with cardboard vehicles , which he thinks were highly effective for the cost. He felt good about the cross-examination of their experts and the witnesses they decided to put on. He also explains how the client is a Spanish-speaker, along with most of the witnesses, the challenges that came with this, and how they overcame them.

This leads to Delisi asking about the two associate attorneys from their firm Michael tried the case with, and what takeaways he thinks they had. Michael shares that he had them each take 2 witnesses, which they both did very well. And while he admits it’s not as fun as doing it all yourself his firm takes pride in training and this truly is the best way to learn.

Delisi then asks the question on everyone’s mind – why is Michael Cowen trying a low property damage case? He explains how Malorie Peacock, his partner, is out on maternity leave, and he didn’t think it would be fair to the client or the referral partner to have two associates with less experience be the ones to try it themselves. He was also excited to try a case in a courtroom, even though low property damage cases aren’t cases he plans to take on in the future.

Circling back to mindset, Delisi wants to know more about why Michael was in such a good headspace going into this trial. He cites the work he has been doing on mindset and acknowledging he doesn’t have control over what the jury’s going to do. Even the best home run hitters in baseball strike out, but as Delisi playfully quips “I’m proud you got on base.”

Before wrapping the episode, Michael adds one more aspect of this case that made it tough – the fact that he didn’t have a “villain.” The driver admitted it was his fault, the defense lawyers were reasonable, the company didn’t train much (which is not the custom in this venue). It’s hard to get the jury to give you money when your client’s just hurt – there needs to be a villain. But sometimes, it’s really just a crash in a parking lot.

Ending on a heartfelt note, Delisi praises Michael’s courage and honesty for recording this episode only one day after the verdict was read and openly sharing this on the podcast. Even after this, Michael adamantly encourages everyone listening to get out there and try cases, even if they don’t always go the way you hope they do.

“If you can keep swinging, you’re going to hit something. So get out there and swing.” – Michael Cowen

 

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.

 

98 – Delisi Friday – Scaling Your Law Firm, Your Way

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down once again with his Chief Marketing Officer, Delisi Friday, to discuss law firm growth and how they’ve scaled their firm over the years in the way that best suited their goals.

The pair begins the episode with a look at the motivation for their most recent hiring expansion and how they knew it was time to grow. Delisi shares her frustration on the marketing and intake side, where she would receive a new case and have to decide between overwhelming an attorney with an already large docket or rejecting a case she would normally accept.

Michael echoes this sentiment and adds that rejecting “bread and butter” cases from referral partners was hard to do at times but needed to be done to ensure that the proper time and care was being put into existing cases; and that his staff was not going to be stretched too thin. This is how they knew it was time to hire 3 new associate attorneys.

“I always want to market our firm honestly, and I want us to fulfill our promises as well.” – Delisi Friday

Following this, Delisi asks Michael how he knows when the firm needs to grow and how to figure this out. Michael breaks down his answer in two points:

  1. “If I see the workloads on my people are becoming unhealthy.”
  2. “If [I’m] having to turn down things [I] wish we could keep,” paired with asking yourself, “Am I having to turn down enough things that justify hiring someone else?”

Adding onto these points, Michael says he saw that his firm was at the point where they had to hire more lawyers or start saying “no” to cases at a rate that he felt would damage his referral relationships. To this, Delisi brings up the firm’s weekly docket discussions. During these meetings, she not only brings up the number of cases on attorney dockets, but also the phases of those cases to properly assess if they have the bandwidth for more cases. Michael then discusses doing something similar in his monthly attorney development meetings and adds that a further challenge is getting lawyers to trust him enough to tell him when they are overwhelmed.

“I have to prove to them that I’m worthy of their trust … [by taking] steps to help and not punishing them for being overloaded.” – Michael Cowen

Delisi then asks Michael how he decides how he’s going to grow, to which he explains why he looks for what the pain points are and what type of hire would resolve them in the most efficient and logical way. This leads them to discuss the pros and cons of hiring an experienced lawyer, which has historically not had the best “hit rate” at their firm. This, according to them, is due to the firm’s established culture, procedures, and systems, which many experienced lawyers may find difficult to adjust to; having been trained in and working under different systems and procedures beforehand.

“I can’t do legal work, market the firm, and run a 33-employee firm.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then touches on the fear associated with growth; more specifically the fear of letting responsibilities go. He goes on to say that finding and hiring the right manager to cover those responsibilities and run with them is essential. By hiring and promoting the right people, such as his firm operations and intake managers, Teresa and Delisi respectively, most of those fears and anxieties have subsided while productivity and efficacy have only increased.

Building from this conversation, Delisi asks Michael what he’s learned along the way from scaling his firm and his advice for other lawyers, which he breaks down into 3 main points.

  1. Do you want to grow?
  2. Is this a temporary bump, or do you have a sustainable flow of business where it makes economic sense to grow?
  3. Do you have the cash flow to grow?

Throughout these points, Michael notes that growth is not for everyone, and it’s not the only way to build a successful and profitable practice.

“You should grow if it’s going to fulfill you, and if it’s what YOU want to do.”– Michael Cowen

Delisi then adds how every year, they seem to bring in roughly the same number of new cases without even realizing it, month-to-month. Michael clarifies that while this doesn’t sound like growth, the value of those new cases grows with each year, which reflects the growth model his firm follows. This is tracked through a concept learned from former podcast guest Chad Dudley, called the 5-Star Case Rating system, which assigns each case a star rating based on a variety of factors, and helps to accurately analyze a lawyer’s docket and the firm’s entire case load.

“We may have the exact same number of cases that we did last year, but the type of cases, the quality, and what our projected attorney’s fees are going to be vastly different.” – Delisi Friday

Michael then shares that growth isn’t always about adding more lawyers, but frequently requires more paralegals, marketers, or other positions. This leads Delisi to dig deeper into the onboarding and training process for all these new hires, especially the young lawyers.

Michael answers candidly, sharing how large the time commitment is to bring someone completely new and inexperienced up to speed. But, from his experience, the more time you put in up front, the better the outcome is in the long run. He elaborates on this sentiment by sharing his lengthy 3-step deposition training process with new hire lawyers, an incredible training strategy which everyone considering hiring young lawyers would benefit from hearing.

Delisi then references Chad Dudley’s podcast episode once again, sharing his fantastic quote about how being a great tennis player doesn’t necessarily make you a great tennis coach. This leads Michael to share that, while he’s a great teacher, he doesn’t see himself as a great coach, something Delisi commends him for realizing.

“We have a promise we make to our referral partners that if you’re nice enough to bring us in on your case, we are going to do the case to this standard. Which means I have to enforce those standards at my firm.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Delisi then discuss some of the challenges they’ve faced when hiring new lawyers. For the most part, it boils down to setting expectations and being willing to have tough conversations when those expectations aren’t being met. This has led them to their current strategy of hiring 3 lawyers who are all relatively young in their careers, something Michael has been very happy with, citing their energy and willingness to learn and adapt.

Delisi agrees and adds that these associate additions have required the senior attorneys to communicate more with each other, which has led to more idea sharing and even a hint of competitiveness, which has been fun and rewarding to see.

The pair wraps up the episode with their final thoughts on law firm growth. It’s been a wild, scary ride, but if you plan for it and grow at a rate you can handle while keeping an eye on your finances, it can be very rewarding.

This podcast episode also covers how to know when and why your lawyers are overwhelmed, why Michael likes promoting paralegals from within, a look at some of their past hiring mistakes, and so much more.

90 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Trials of War: Tactics, Strategy & Mindset

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock partner and attorney, Sonia Rodriguez, to discuss Sonia’s rediscovered inspiration and lessons from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” and the strategies and tactics trial lawyers can utilize from it while still dealing with a pandemic.

Michael opens the episode by telling Sonia about his feelings of frustration about his upcoming case (which is less than a week away at the time of recording) being canceled due to Covid concerns. Sonia responds to this by saying this trend of “getting the rug pulled out from under you,” seems to be the “new normal” for trial lawyers during the pandemic.

The two then begin to discuss how this impacts your case outside of the courtroom, specifically having to invest time and money into a case multiple times due to cancellations, the need to find flexible experts, and the pandemic’s “giant wrench” in your damage evaluations.

“We all know that, even in non-pandemic times, the certainty of a trial date was never really that certain. But now, the prospect of having to prepare multiple times for the trial setting is going to multiply the cost.” – Sonia Rodriguez

The conversation then shifts to what trial lawyers can do in times like these to maximize the value of their cases. Sonia begins by discussing her re-reading of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” and its impact on her successes in 2021.

“I’ve been practicing law for almost 25 years, and I’ve never made more money in a one-year period than I have during this pandemic,” Sonia says leading into her first citation from the book (with a notable twist for trial lawyers); “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without [a trial].” This, she notes, is similar to the modern-day strategy, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

Sonia then delves deeper into this concept by discussing how she prepares for war, or in this case trial, by hiring and preparing our experts, paying for exhibits, and (probably most important) laying plans and evaluating her cases strengths and weaknesses.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”– Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Building on the subject of the importance of evaluating your case, Sonia presents one of her touchstones for case valuation: Remember torts 101, negligence has two parts. She presents that it’s easy to fall into the rut of evaluating your case based on your client’s damage model. However, if you look at your case carefully, based on liability factors you believe, and go to battle fairly evaluating both components, you will add value. Michael agrees with this, adding that if the defense did something really bad, you’re more likely to get a bigger result.

The two continue this conversation with Sonia explaining how mediators only want to talk about low property damage and pre-existing conditions; subjects to which she responds, “I spit on that!” Instead, she wants to talk about this trucking company, how they have no training protocols, how they’ve had the same types of crashes for the last 3 years, and so on; ultimately aiming to change the framework of the conversation to focus on liability.

“No one really knows what a case is worth. There is no magic formula … . If we, in our heart of hearts, believe it’s worth more, we can get more.”– Michael Cowen

Sonia then shifts the conversation to “attacking by fire,” or, in other words, always coming from a position of strength, even if you have weaknesses in a case. Regarding the weaknesses of the defense, however, Michael adds, “you always want conflict in the other room.” We want to add pressure to the other side to the point that they want out. Adding a final point to the subject of “attacking by fire,” Sonia hones in on her “fun” way to strategize; namely finding the pressure point of the defense and exploiting that weakness.

Moving on to discussing and evaluating the actions of the defense, Sonia cites Chapter 9 of “The Art of War,” entitled “Assessing Strategy Based on the Actions of Your Opponent.” Here, Michael and Sonia discuss how noticing aggression, “frenetic” activity, or threatening motions from the defense are clear signs of fear and, more importantly, weakness. “Especially when you respond with calm,” Michael says, “There’s nothing like that calm, quiet confidence.”

On that note of quiet confidence and taking power from the defense, Michael begins to take the conversation in a different route, breaking down his feelings about the results of cases and how that relates to his self-worth as a trial lawyer.

“It’s not that I don’t care about the result, it’s that my self-worth is detached from the result.”– Michael Cowen

This prompts the closing topic of conversation for the episode, mental health in the practice of law. Michael and Sonia discuss the trials and tribulations of their profession including starting and ending trials, letting go of trials (win or lose), the discipline required to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and being compassionate to yourself. “I think perfectionism is something a lot of lawyers struggle with,” Sonia says, “The struggle holds us back.” The two end the episode by sharing their own strategies for coping with the struggles of practicing law and close with a positive note of constantly seeking to be better in their cases, mental health, business, and practice.

This episode also discusses finding the weaknesses in your case and how to overcome them, the importance of obtaining key information during the initial client meeting, and trusting your intuition.

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