Cowen Rodriguez Peacock

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.

79 – Malorie Peacock – Finding Joy in the Practice of Law

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss how they’ve been finding joy in the practice of law and in life over the last year. They’ll cover the struggles of working from home, what they’ve done to keep joy in their lives, what they’re looking forward to most in 2021, and what Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp annual seminar will look like this year (and how YOU can attend!).

The pair begins their conversation on a topic that everyone listening can relate to- the struggles of working from home. They both agree that a lot is lost over Zoom, from the creative process to human connection as a whole. But they also agree that certain depositions and court hearings taking place over Zoom has been a huge blessing for time management’s sake. While they’re excited to engage and meet in person again, they hope that once COVID is no longer a factor, courts will continue to allow certain proceedings to be conducted remotely.

Michael then asks Malorie the big question of the episode- What did you do to keep joy in your life in 2020? Malorie explains how establishing a home office space helped keep her sane, and how their firm daily check in meetings have kept their team connected. Michael adds how remote work was a really fun challenge at first, from buying everyone laptops to figuring out remote court proceedings. But as time went on, he became very burned out from it all. He now finds joy in getting ready for trial and the excitement of starting to meet in person again.

Malorie then turns the tables on Michael and asks him what he’s most looking forward to in terms of practicing law. Of course, Michael answered quickly with trials. Whether in person or virtual, a good case or a bad case, he says “I just want to get back in the ring. I don’t care if it’s minor league.” He’s also looking forward to seeing people in person for conferences, and he and Malorie discuss how virtual conferences have fallen short.

Malorie continues by reflecting on their (failed) resolutions discussed in a podcast episode at the beginning of 2020. This leads her to ask Michael if he’s made any “resolutions” for 2021. Michael says he has, and the theme is “Taking my life back.” He’s looking forward to traveling, seeing friends, and trying cases. Malorie adds that she’s excited to get back into her routine, which as an obsessive planner, is something she misses dearly. She then shares a personal story about her wedding which was originally planned for September of 2020 and how she’s learned to let go of things out of her control. Michael then ties this beautifully into how lawyers stress about trial, and how this year has taught all of us to stop living in fear and to value the little things more.

After a brief but insightful conversation about burnout in the legal industry, Malorie asks Michael about something she knows he’s very excited about- his annual Big Rig Boot Camp on May 20th of this year. He shares that there are both virtual AND in-person attendance options this year, something he decided to do after the fantastic virtual turnout in 2020. If you’d like to attend Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp in 2021 either virtually or in-person in San Antonio, Texas, visit BigRigBootCamp.com and register today, as spots for both options are limited.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode on a wholesome note. Michael shares how he is making a concerted effort to find joy in his life every day, and Malorie says she’s doing the same. If we can all take a step back and put everything back into perspective, 2021 is sure to be one of the best years yet.

This podcast episode also covers getting used to traveling again, what virtual court proceedings may remain virtual, why virtual conferences just aren’t the same, burnout in the legal industry, and so much more.

 

 

75 – Delisi Friday – Keys to Success: Lessons From Zoom Trial Prep

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his marketing “genius” Delisi Friday to discuss what they did to prepare for a Zoom jury trial. While the case settled one day before the trial was set to begin, they learned some key takeaways on what it takes to prepare a case for trial in this new and exciting format.

They jump right into the episode by discussing the need for movement in a virtual trial. Michael insisted from the beginning that he needed to be able to stand up and move in order to engage with the jury, especially for voir dire and opening. He compares this to a live TV show, versus a normal trial being like live theater. He also emphasizes the importance of proper lighting, the jury being able to see your facial expressions clearly, making “eye contact” with the jury through a camera, and practicing (and recording) every single aspect of your presentation to ensure it goes off without a hitch.

Michael then goes into detail about how he planned to conduct voir dire and maintain eye contact throughout – something he says, even with a ton of practice, “was weird.” They mitigated this challenge by displaying the jury on a 70 inch TV located above the camera. Additionally, they had a smaller screen located underneath the camera where they “spotlighted” the speaker. This allowed Michael to both see the entire jury panel and make “eye contact” with the juror he was currently talking to.

He then explains why “practice, practice, practice” is SO crucial for a virtual trial. This includes using ALL of the equipment you plan on using ahead of time, sharing an embarrassing test voir dire he did with a group of lawyers that was riddled with technical issues. You don’t want to be thinking about whether the tech will work or not, you want to be thinking about your connection with the jury. Delisi agrees and adds that you need to know when to stop adding new things in your effort to be better, give yourself enough time to practice with everything, and minimize the stress of last-minute changes.

They move on to discuss the advantages of a Zoom jury trial versus a regular trial. Michael shares how jurors no longer have to get up and go to the courthouse, they’re excited about the novel concept, and as plaintiff lawyers, you now control what the jury can see. Delisi agrees and shares that they learned so much through this process, including the (shocking) importance of using less visuals.

Michael continues by sharing how important his trial lawyer friends’ input was in this process. The love and sense of community he felt was extraordinary, and the process of practicing with them helped him hone his presentation and gave him a sense of confidence. Delisi agrees and adds that seeing the development of his opening statement was so “magical,” and that she could really see the difference and the growth throughout. She also adds how the Zoom medium and the excessive amount of practice allowed Michael to take more risks and resulted in a much more dramatic and engaging opening statement.

Michael then takes a step back to explain that even if you don’t have a “team of pro’s,” you can incorporate some of these steps as long as you have someone to help you. Delisi agrees and adds that most of the materials they purchased were very affordable – she even utilized a cardboard box to block sunlight from hitting Michael’s face!

They conclude the episode by discussing their main takeaways. Michael shares how he would have tried to have a pre-trial conference earlier to hammer out some issues ahead of time, and started practicing with the technology further in advance. Delisi adds that she learned how important simplicity was in this process, and next time she wants to consider that in how we aid in the storytelling process. Michael agrees and once again emphasizes that you need to practice, record yourself, and watch those recordings. He also reiterates that it’s not about the lawyer or their ego – it’s about the jury and your client. And when the jury trusts you, they’ll work through a technical issue with you. If you trust in them, it takes a lot of your stress away.

While Michael is a bit disappointed that the case settled and he didn’t get to try it, he knew that the settlement offer was what was best for his client and was happy to take it. This process still provided valuable practice for the next time he gets the opportunity to try a case by Zoom, something he firmly believes is the best option for getting justice on personal injury cases right now. He urges any trial lawyer listening to seize this opportunity if it’s presented to them.

This podcast also covers hand gestures, learning to use two cameras on Zoom, the importance of camera angles, light reflections, and considering the video of your witnesses who are not in your office.

SHOW NOTES:

Some of the materials discussed and used for their “Zoom courtroom” are linked below and available for purchase online:

  1. Grey backdrop (under $20)
  2. Headphone extension cable (under $10)
  3. Wireless lavalier microphone (under $80)
  4. Backdrop System Kit (under $70)
  5. Micro HDMI to HDMI cable (under $20)
  6. Cam Link 4K (under $125)

 

72 – Delisi Friday – The Evolution of Our Marketing: What Worked, What Didn’t, & Where We Are Now

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday to discuss their firm’s marketing strategies. They start at the very beginning of Michael’s career for a full-circle look at why they chose to market B2B (business to business) instead of B2C (business to consumer), what to look for in a marketing professional and a marketing agency, how to market without spending money, the pros and cons of working with a marketing agency, and why they decided to move their marketing in-house.

They begin the episode by explaining why they only market to other law firms (B2B) instead of marketing directly to consumers (B2C). Michael shares that he’s had people tell him he’s insane for only marketing to other law firms for referrals because he only gets part of the attorney fees, but he insists it works better for his firm’s needs. He explains how he used to do B2C marketing, but after putting pen to paper and analyzing the profitability of his cases, he found that even after paying out the referral fee, he made about 3x as much money per hour on the cases that came from referrals. He also doesn’t have to spend astronomical amounts of money to advertise on TV in an extremely competitive market.

Delisi and Michael then briefly touch on their experiences and struggles with the burgeoning area of digital marketing, before Delisi asks Michael about the evolution of his marketing prior to bringing a marketing professional into the firm. Michael starts at the beginning, dating back 20 years ago when he had practically no marketing budget. He tried numerous methods, from taking out an ad in the yellow pages, to writing a free book for consumers and buying a corresponding TV ad which was not very successful (he only gave away 10 copies to consumers. The rest were to other lawyers and judges).

Michael then reflects on his past in-house marketers and why they didn’t work out. He begins simply by stating, “There’s a lot of flaky people in marketing.” He goes on to explain how he is an “idea person,” so he needed someone with tenacity to balance him out and ensure his ideas were followed through on and not forgotten 3 months down the line. Delisi echoes this sentiment and adds that with marketing, sometimes you have to give initiatives time to see if they will work- something she calls both the “fun and scary” part of marketing.

Delisi then asks the question sure to be on every listener’s mind- what should you look for when hiring an in-house marketing professional? Michael first reiterates that he needed someone with tenacity to follow through on initiatives and adds that it’s important to find someone with the poise and class necessary to communicate with lawyers professionally. Many firm owners are tempted to hire someone based on their looks because “they can get in the door,” but he firmly believes finding someone who can fit in and have a conversation with referring lawyers is much more important for him. Delisi agrees and adds her personal experience with hiring assistants and interns – they can be inexperienced in legal but need to be able to communicate with lawyers and have strong writing skills to succeed long-term.

They then move on to discuss Delisi’s advice for lawyers who are just getting started with marketing and have a very small budget. She highly recommends sitting down and looking at where every single case you got this year came from. While the task is tedious, she insists it’s necessary in order to fully understand what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to do more of going forward. Michael agrees and urges listeners to focus on their relationships to gain referrals. Some lawyers are close with their pastors and have found success within their congregation. Others like Michael who focus on attorney referrals should put time and effort into growing their relationships with those attorneys. They both agree that client reviews and testimonials, as well as providing excellent customer service, are crucial to your credibility and long-term success.

Once you have a more established firm and a marketing budget to match, there are multiple routes you can take to expand your marketing initiatives. Michael notes that at some point, you’ll be tempted to hire an outside marketing agency for help and asks Delisi what she thinks the pro’s and cons of that are. Delisi replies why it really depends on the firm and their needs, but when her and Michael chose to hire an agency it was initially beneficial because she and Michael needed support with graphics to make their ideas a reality. The graphics and creative support they received were crucial for testing out different strategies and figuring out what worked best.

One of the biggest cons of hiring a marketing agency is the cost. This varies depending on the agency, but after you pay each person for their services it’s usually not cost effective vs. doing it yourself. Michael and Delisi urge listeners who do not want to hire an agency to utilize contractor services such as Upwork to hire freelance designers and copywriters, or contract local talent. They also discuss why they parted ways with their marketing agency and Michael’s #1 tip for what to avoid when deciding to hire an agency.

After parting ways with their agency, Delisi and Michael decided it was time to hire more employees for their marketing department, namely a full-time graphic designer. They discuss their initial concerns with doing so, they both agree the numerous benefits for both marketing initiatives and case graphics have far outweighed those concerns.

Delisi and Michael conclude this episode by discussing where they are now and why it works for them. In addition to managing the firm’s marketing, Delisi now manages the intake department as well. They discuss how this has improved the performance of both departments and why it’s important for your marketing and intake departments to be in sync. It also helps that Delisi is on the management team at the firm, something Michael notes as a major difference between in-house marketing and having a marketing agency. Since Delisi is a part of every major firm decision, she is invested in the firm’s well-being, not just making the marketing department look good.

Michael emphasizes that while this was a 20-year process in the making, the goal should be to do at least some of your marketing in-house to invest in yourself and your firm so you can get the cases that YOU deserve.

This podcast also covers why digital marketing didn’t work for their firm, how lettuce on a McDonald’s quarter pounder is wrong, tax write offs, the initial challenges of moving your marketing in-house, utilizing Facebook groups and the Nextdoor app for organic leads, how they conduct their annual marketing meeting (and why you need to have one), and so much more!

 

70 – Malorie Peacock – The Method: Our 9-Step Process for Evaluating & Working Up A Case

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for an exciting preview of his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law. They’ll cover Michael’s 9-step method for case evaluation and detail each of those steps, so you can start applying them to your own case evaluation process.

They jump right into this episode with Step 1- initial triage. Michael explains how he derived the term from battlefield medicine, where patients are triaged based on the severity of their injuries and care is prioritized for the patients who need it most. He explains how trial lawyers only have a finite amount of resources, and the decision to put work into a case or not will effect more than just that case. It also takes those resources away from other cases and your personal life.

Michael then shares an example of how he used to work on automotive product liability cases, but his firm has since moved away from them. He has recently rejected five of these cases, even though they were all worthy cases someone will make money from. He chose to do this because these cases don’t fit in with his current docket, and there are other lawyers who will take them and excel at them because they do suit their dockets. Michael even sends his referral attorney to these other lawyers when the referral attorney brings him a case that he knows they will excel on – something that used to terrify him, but he’s since learned it builds an even stronger relationship between him and the referral attorney.

Before moving on to the next step, Michael clarifies that “Initial Triage” is NOT making a final decision on whether or not to accept the case. This step is simply deciding whether you want to look further into the case. In fact, Malorie clarifies that a lawsuit is typically not even filed until about Step 7 in this process.

Step 2 of “The Method” is to gather all the initially available information on the case. This information varies dramatically depending on the type of case it is, but the main goal of this step is to determine a general idea of the liability stories and issues with the case. Michael also explains the importance throughout this process of continually evaluating the case and asking, “Knowing what I know today, is this a case I would take?” If the answer is ever no, consider dropping the case. They conclude this step by discussing a recent example Malorie had of a case where the client was a great person and genuinely deserving, but the facts they discovered during this process made it a case that did not work on her docket.

Step 3 is to identify and analyze all potential immediate causes. Michael explains this as a brainstorming exercise where you record every possible immediate cause of the crash, even the causes that seem unlikely but are possible (for example, a bee in the vehicle). You then divide these potential causes into columns of “winners” and “losers.” Winners are causes which, if proven, help you win the case. Losers are causes which, if proven, mean you lose the case (or need to neutralize them).

After identifying the winners and losers in the case, you move on to Step 4 – conducting a root cause analysis. Michael explains how this concept was first developed by Mr. Toyota, the founder of Toyota Motor Company. Mr. Toyota decided that instead of fixing things when they went wrong, he would try to find the reason these things were going wrong by asking the “5 Why’s.”

To apply this to a case, you take the “winners” discussed in Step 3 and keep asking “Why?” until you find your ultimate root cause. Michael then shares an example from a rear-end case where he took the winner of “the truck driver rear-ended my client” and found “the company did not take the time or effort to train the driver” to be the root cause of the crash. He continues this process for every “winner” and develops multiple theories before he decides which theory he is going to use.

Malorie then re-emphasizes the fact that in an ideal world, you will not have filed the lawsuit yet at this point. They both agree there are times you need to file the lawsuit early to avoid any destroying of evidence, but if possible you should wait.

They move on to Step 5 – drafting the jury instructions. Michael shares how he used to feel doing this so early on was silly, but has since realized it really helps him design the case because he knows what he needs to prove. Malorie adds that doing this also better prepares you for depositions because you know what questions you need to be asking. She also emphasizes to not only look at liability instructions but also damage instructions. This all boils down to, “What do you have to prove?”

The next step in “The Method” is Step 6 – finding rules and anchors. These are authoritative sources for the rules, answering the question “says who?” Michael explains that this is one of the reasons he loves doing trucking cases, because there are so many rules and publications to use as anchors. The more sources that say a rule the better, because defendants are left with two choices: to say they know the rule and broke it, or to say they disagree with all those sources and have their own rule. Michael and Malorie then discuss numerous examples from different types of cases, showing that this method can be used on much more than trucking cases.

Malorie then asks Michael to clarify what an “anchor” is for those who don’t know. He explains an anchor as what you are “anchoring” your rules to. This is an authoritative source or publication of the rule, such as the CDL Manual, a driving company’s textbook, a store’s rules, an OSHA rule, and more. He then concludes this section by explaining how to arm your expert with these anchors to get the most out of their testimony.

Step 7 is to formulate the discovery plan. This is also where you draft the complaint or petition and plead what you need to get the discovery. For example, if you believe the root cause is negligent training, you need information to prove they have a negligent training system. Then, you formulate the discovery plan based on that. Michael cautions strongly against asking another lawyer for their interrogatories before drafting your own. You need to formulate your own based on your theories to prove what you need to prove. You can then use a form to double check and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Michael and Malorie then agree on a fantastic practice tip which makes this process a lot easier and discuss the importance of brainstorming with colleagues.

As discussed earlier, now is the ideal time to file the lawsuit. Then, step 8 is to continually re-evaluate the case. Malorie highlights the need to do this throughout each of the steps as well and to keep notes on what you’ve done so far to avoid repeating any unnecessary work. Michael then explains how as new facts, research, depositions, and discovery emerges, your initial root cause might not be the best strategy anymore and that’s okay. Malorie echoes this statement and adds that too many lawyers are afraid to ask for what they really want in discovery, and more lawyers should be specific and ask for specific documents referenced in other documents.

The above steps were mostly completed before you have all of the information about the case, which Michael cites to further emphasize the point that re-evaluation is key. He then shares some techniques he’s developed at his firm to ensure this gets done by all of his lawyers.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode with the final step in “The Method”- test the case. Michael explains how the method of which you test the case varies depending on the value of it and lists a number of unconventional methods to do this on a budget. He then lists the advantages and disadvantages of other more conventional methods, including in-person focus groups and online studies like John Campbell’s Empirical Jury. While no method is 100% accurate, they can give you a good idea of where you stand.

This podcast also covers why you should file a FOIA request immediately, how implementing “vulnerability-based trust” by Patrick Lencioni has helped his firm, how to disprove or neutralize “losers” in a case, how Michael applies parts of this method to his employees, why you should research rules BEFORE hiring an expert, why you need to be constantly re-evaluating your case, and so much more.

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