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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.

86 – Joe Fried – Challenging Your Paradigm

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with our first podcast guest, Joe Fried of Fried Goldberg LLC in Atlanta, GA, and The Truck Accident Law Firm in Jacksonville, FL. He and Michael discuss everything from challenging your paradigm and evaluating your relationship with money, to utilizing curiosity, skepticism, honesty, and vulnerability in the courtroom.

Michael and Joe jump right into the episode by discussing Joe’s incredible set of case settlements in 2020. Michael opens by asking how Joe managed to get more money on these settlements where others with similar case facts have received less. The two share a laugh with Joe’s response of, “Well, if I can just figure that out Michael,” before getting to his thoughts. Joe attributes his “big change” to challenging his valuation paradigms. He talks about self-justifying why he wasn’t getting the results he wanted, citing such instances as venues, blemishes on cases and insurance situations, and then discovering this was feeding own limiting beliefs. Joe elaborates on this by delving into where his beliefs formed.

  • Law schools neglecting to teach how to value a case.
  • Basing value on our venue or mentor paradigms.
  • Blind adherence to insurance companies’ value.

He began questioning these beliefs and was struck by the realization that he had bought into a paradigm that was NOT of his own making and never challenged it. He says this is the beginning of what needs to be talked about and where we need to challenge why we believe what we believe.

“What’s the value of a death case? What’s the value of a broken arm case? Who said that’s the value, and WHY do they get to say it? Step #1 needs to be to challenge your own paradigm.” – Joe Fried

Joe elaborates by saying he doesn’t like asking for money, not even for a fundraiser, and especially not in front of a jury. He talks about the “money messages” he received growing up from ‘you shouldn’t talk about money’ to ‘it’s rude to talk about money’, and how he examined these things for the first time. He explains how he’s still on the journey and tries to look at these beliefs with a fresh perspective.

“If it’s real that our client is going through something that causes them pain every day… if that’s REAL, shouldn’t it be huge?” – Joe Fried

Joe then brings up a very insightful question concerning case value, so it makes the case real and personal. “What would I think the value is if what happened happened to the person I love most in the world. If it’s worth that for my loved one, then shouldn’t it be worth that for the client? Why should it be different?”

Michael follows up on this by asking Joe to talk about how he learns what his clients have gone through well enough to internalize and analyze. “It’s really hard to do that from behind your desk,” Joe responds. He elaborates by stating why you have to get into the client’s life and “really look around.” Interacting with the client, their loved ones, and even their not-so-loved ones can provide tremendous insight into their lives.

Joe talks then about case preparation and discovery being a journey, and more specifically, getting to a place where he’s able to take the jurors on this journey. He believes we should welcome juror’s skepticism because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, they’re probably the same feelings we had in the beginning. Joe believes these skepticisms are all opportunities to build credibility and should be embraced. He calls for us to be honest with ourselves and to bring our natural curiosity and skepticism to the table, which he aptly calls “channeling the jurors.”

“[You’ve got to do] whatever you’ve got to do to make it real, but the person who needs convincing is YOU.” – Joe Fried

Michael and Joe then move on to the importance of “feeling it” and communicating non-verbally over being “word-centric.” Joe comments how the struggle to find words to express what’s there is an art in itself. He then calls back to the journey of the case by saying part of that journey is translating these things to dollars and cents. He recommends believing in the value of your case and to practice saying your number; and not cowering in fear when confronted with the juror’s reactions. He believes this to be a necessary and “woefully underutilized” skillset.

Michael then shares his own relationship with money. He opens up about how he thought he was undeserving of money, money in this business was “dirty,” and how this belief led him to resist running his firm like a business. Luckily, by realizing this mindset and relationship with money were unhealthy, he was able to work on himself, get out of his own way, achieve success, and enjoy the success he attained.

“The credibility that comes from willing to be vulnerable and honest is DRAMATIC.” – Joe Fried

Switching gears, the two discuss working up cases; following up on a conversion they had when Joe came to San Antonio for a deposition. During that conversation, Michael asked if Joe was doing a trial depo or a discovery depo, to which Joe responded, “there’s no difference to me.” Joe explains there have only been a few times he has taken a depo he knew would go to trial. He believes if he’s going to maximize the result in a case, he’s only going to maximize the result in terms of settlement if he does his best to nail the other side in depositions.

The pair then move on to discussing motivation. Joe says that what keeps him motivated is finally feeling like he’s a good lawyer and can make a difference. He’s interested in seeing the success of his partners and associates, teaching other trial lawyers, and being involved on the industry on the safety side. He makes it a point to be able to teach others and challenges listeners to look for ways that go beyond monetary in cases to affect change through policy and procedures that will save lives.

Michael shares how he always feels guilt when settling a death case and reveals how getting a safety change made one of his clients feel better because it went beyond money. Joe builds on this by adding that his firm often contributes very directly to solutions at the settlement table. He welcomes everyone to consider the level of change and safety that could be attained if everyone contributed in this way on at least one case and closes with two challenges:

  • Take a sledgehammer to your limiting beliefs and examine your paradigm
  • We all have a duty to make a difference for the good of humanity

Michael chimes in with a third challenge to take care of yourself as a trial lawyer, and cites Joe’s 537-day streak on the Peloton as an inspiration. Joe responds by looking back on his 30-year career and how he went from an “athlete” to “anything-but-an-athlete” which affected his health. “[My motivator] was a life or death motivator,” Joe says while talking about his poor health during trying times. He cites the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear as defining how small changes over time lead to massive change in your mindset. Joe says that his renewed energy from his consistent and improved habits have positively impacted his practice and motivation.

Michael and Joe end the episode by recapping their three challenges to the listeners:

  • Change the way you think about cases and expand your mind
  • Change the industry and make the world safer in your cases
  • Take care of yourself while doing it

If you’d like to contact Joe Fried you can email him at joe@friedgoldberg.com.

Guest Bio

Joe Fried is considered by many to be the preeminent truck accident attorney in the country.  His office is in Atlanta, Georgia, but he has handled cases in over 35 states recovering more than $1 billion for his clients.  He is the Founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former Chair of the American Association of Justice Truck Litigation Group, former President of the National Trial Lawyers Trucking Trial Lawyers and founding Chair of the National Board of Truck Accident Lawyers.  He is among the first lawyers to be Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in Truck Accident Law and sits on the NBTA Board.  In addition to his expertise in trucking, Joe is a former police officer with advanced training in crash investigation and reconstruction, human factors, psychodrama, storytelling and neurolinguistic programming.   He is widely known for his creative and unique approaches to preparing and presenting cases and for his ability to craft and present the compelling human story in each of his cases.  Joe handles a small number catastrophic truck crash cases at a time so he can focus his resources on achieving the best possible results for his clients.  He spends the rest of his time working as a trucking safety advocate, author and educator. Joe has authored books, DVDs and articles on trucking and litigation best practices, and has Joe given over 600 presentations on these subjects to lawyers, judges, and trucking industry stakeholders.

 

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