firm management

20 – Alexander Begum – A Practice Built by The Law Giant

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, Alexander Begum, who has offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Alex admits early on in his conversation with Michael that he didn’t originally know he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t have any immediate connections to the law field, and friends and family members initially forced him to study for his MBA as a fallback. A blessing in disguise, this actually helped him to bring a business perspective to the field of law.

From early on, Alex found himself valuable by leveraging his business and finance education. He turned down a $75k/yr position at a defense firm, has his sights on something better, only to take 4 years to break the $100k mark. He first started with just about any case he could bring in the door from child custody to divorce to criminal and corporate, but eventually transitioned to personal injury when he got a big “break” from an owner of a managing agency who saw him in the courtroom as a defense lawyer who won a settlement against the plaintiff through a counterclaim. They liked what they saw so much they essentially fired another firm they had been working with and sent all their car wreck defense cases to his office. Listening to him tell the story is reminiscent of something from the movies with a van full of case files, in varying stages of pre-lit and litigation, being dropped at their front doorstep. Jumping right into the cases, it didn’t take long for him to see the limitless potential in the personal injury world. After having been exposed to several practice areas of law and through the process of elimination, Alex landed on plaintiff personal injury. The fact that his father was an immigrant further solidified his decision to fight for the small guy, beat all odds and led him into representing people who had been victimized in some way.

The conversation fast-forwards and switches to a more “tactical” view of trial strategy involving the practice of NOT including medical bills in a trial. The studies that Michael and Alex have both reviewed are striking, but the actual implementation of this in Alex’s practice has proven to be successful with 6 and 7-figure verdicts on cases – some of which have $4k of medical bills! The explanation from Alex on why he thinks this practice works is extremely insightful, to say the least, and shows that litigation without medical bills may become the standard practice by necessity. Michael points out that, ironically, he believes the industry is going to end up with bigger recoveries. They also talk through the effects the different strategies have on juries in awarding damages and how one of the tactics can anchor down the numbers, whereas the other can allow jurors to think about the true impact of what’s been taken from a client and their family.

Alex shares some of his insights on how he balances the administration of running his firm and keeping cases on track with trying cases himself. He shares everything from the software they use to his endless checklists, which Michael is able to draw a parallel to form a brief past in aviation where pilots are known for going through their checklists regardless of how many times they’ve flown the airplane – all in the name of quality control.

Michael asks Alex about the journey of advertising, which they both agree is “painful.” But, Alex goes on to talk about the evolution of advertising in the legal industry and the importance of dominating a niche market with examples like “The Jewish Lawyer,” “The Hammer,” or in his own case, “The Law Giant.” He talks about a significant focus group he conducted that helped him realize the overwhelming weight given toward recalling a branded nickname/persona more than any other factor in an attorney’s practice. In Alex’s view, things like trial experience, verdict history, or even the name of the attorney play very little into the public’s perspective of who to call. Some of the examples he gives of niche type tactics are tried and true when it comes to advertising on everything from billboards down to business cards.

Michael wraps up the podcast by asking on behalf of all the aspiring PI lawyers listening, “How did you get to where you are?” Alex’s reply is priceless and timeless all at once: “It’s funny how the harder I work, the luckier I become.”

Background on Alexander Begum

Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, with offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo, and McAllen. Mr. Begum completed his undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio earning a double major in marketing and finance. Thereafter, he attended Harvard University in Boston where he studied finance and legal writing. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Alex acquired a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Texas Tech University.

After graduating from law school, Alex did not cease in his quest for learning and improving his skills. In 2010 Mr. Begum was chosen to be among the elite few who are accepted into the Trial Lawyers College. This intense program is intended to push each individual student toward a greater understanding of themselves and others. Every attorney that graduates from the Trial Lawyers College walks away knowing they have improved not only their skills as attorneys but have improved their “personhood” as well. Attending such a program is not an easy task. Alexander Begum made the choice to be away from his home, family and law practice to devote the time to attend and graduate from the Trial Lawyers College. He willingly made this sacrifice for a singular purpose. He wanted to be better able to help his clients and serve his community.

For more information on Alex Begum, visit https://www.texaslegalgroup.com/Attorneys/Alexander-Begum.shtml

 

14 – Steven Gursten – Remarkable Customer Service = Extraordinary Law Practice (and Life)

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Michigan trial lawyer and owner of Michigan Auto Law, along with 3 other law firms, Steven Gursten. As an early adopter of internet legal marketing, Steven has built his firm to become extremely successful in Michigan and is recognized as having the TOP verdict in the state 8 out of the last 12 years, as well as success throughout the country.

Steven recalls in the first 10 years of his practice making it a goal to be a great trial lawyer and have attorneys all over the state refer him cases. To get there, he still recommends lawyers set aside 30 minutes to an hour every day to read and study some area of law. IE: Mondays would be opening statements, Tuesdays might be cross examining, Wednesdays – closings, Thursdays – medicine, and Fridays he wanted to become an expert on the Michigan no-fault law. Even now, Steven utilizes the massive amounts of information he’s accumulated, learned from, and still references. Similarly, Michael recalls and shares a story about learning through the process of proofreading a book another attorney in his office was writing and both agree the continuation of learning after passing the bar is extremely important.

Fast forwarding from 4 attorneys in his first practice to now having 20 attorneys across 4 diverse practices, Michael and Steven discuss the two very different disciplines of running a law firm vs. trying cases, both of which they do very successfully. He also goes into detail on some of the systems he has put in place as a solid foundation, in order to handle the hundreds of cases coming through his different practices, and how much he has embraced different technologies throughout the years. Steven also brings up a great point that in today’s online society, good lawyers will now more than ever be rewarded and bad lawyers will be punished because of Google reviews, Avvo, and other similar review sites, which makes customer service even more important. Meanwhile, those same systems are the ones which help great law firms stay on top of their cases and communicate with their clients to avoid the potential pitfalls easily avoided through systematic communication. Topics such as discussing what not to post on social media or making sure the client is going to their doctors’ appointments can have hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of impact on a case when communication is stagnant. Steven goes on to say that the same type of communication can also have a huge impact when it comes to keeping referring attorneys in the loop on shared cases, citing a recent case he referred to Michael in which he was extremely impressed with the follow up.

The conversation shifts when Michael asks Steven how he’s able to have the other 19 attorneys in his office use all of the systems he has in place. Without hesitation, Steven points to the culture of his firm which has guided everyone in the same direction, keeping them on the same page, regarding the inner workings of the practices. He is also quick to point out that establishing this type of culture starts with the ownership of a firm, and regardless of tenure no attorney should ever be above talking with their clients, which is something he tries to instill in each of his attorneys. Steven also shares some of the small things they do to build the culture, such as whenever they receive a great review, they send it out to everyone in the firm to further demonstrate its importance to the firm as a whole and praise those who are walking the talk.

So many great insights on running a successful firm (too many to list in this brief description) come from Steven and Michael throughout this episode, even down to the psychological testing Steven does with everyone in his firm which helps shed light on their ability to deliver a quality customer experience. Steven also shares several thoughts for those who are trying to build their practices, which any attorney can leverage to not only work in their practice but also on their practice.

The conversation transitions to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to which Steven again delivers a mountain’s worth of information in rapid succession. Steven is gracious enough to lay out not only the basics of how TBI cases are identified but also the more intricate and subtle ways clients who’ve suffered from a TBI are not only identified but also misunderstood, as Michael asks him questions to bridge the gap between customer service and delicate TBI cases. Steven’s view of customer service is engrained so deeply in him that even during this part of his conversation with Michael, he can’t help but note its importance when working with those who have suffered a TBI.  Things like displaying a positive image online in order to be seen as approachable, being cognizant of the tremendous diplomacy it takes to work with clients who have had a TBI, and doing everything in your power to genuinely make things as easy as possible on the them. Perhaps THAT is why he doesn’t encounter many of the problems or issues other attorneys do.

Background on Steven Gursten
Steven Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious auto accident injury and wrongful death cases, and No-Fault insurance litigation. He is head of Michigan Auto Law, the state’s largest law firm handling car, truck and motorcycle accident cases for more than 50 years.

Steven has recovered top-reported verdicts and settlements for car and truck accidents for multiple years, including a $34 million truck accident settlement in 2014 with Ohio co-counsel.   In this capacity, Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Lawyer of the Year,” after recovering one of the largest truck accident settlements in Michigan history, as well four other top-reported trial verdicts in previous years.

Steven frequently lectures at legal seminars throughout the country on trial advocacy, trucking litigation, and traumatic brain injury cases.  He is the annual moderator and speaker at the “Advanced Motor Vehicle Litigation Seminar,” offered through 360 Advocacy.   He is the current President of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and a Past Chair of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation Group.  Steven is also the chair-elect of the AAJ Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group.

In addition, he serves on the executive boards of the Melvin M. Belli Society and represents the state of Michigan in the Taos Trial Lawyers Society, an invitation-only group of distinguished trial attorneys from around the country.

For more info on Steven Gursten visit:
https://www.michiganautolaw.com/firm_profile/attorney-steven-gursten/

03 – Mikal Watts – The Do’s and Don’ts of Running a Successful Law Firm

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael talks with one of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Mikal Watts about his pursuit of the goals he established at a very young age which forced him to make some tough decisions early on in his career. Fear, exhilaration, and even his wife thinking he was crazy couldn’t keep Mikal from doing what had to be done before it was too late in his career.

Mikal describes the choices that were made when he initially started his own practice and their unlikely, yet practical, reasoning. Mikal also recalls his first big solo case and how literally moving some furniture around helped him put his best foot forward and became a pivotal moment for his practice. Mikal offers advice on the do’s and doesn’t for those looking to start their own firm, in addition to some of the sacrifices and deferred gratification that comes with the territory.

While there have been many to date, Mikal shares with Michael some of the verdicts that he has been most proud of thus far, such as his first case against Chrysler, and how those cases have added to the value of his practice beyond just the dollars and cents. Mikal delivers practical keys to success for the courtroom and how to truly connect with the jurors in the room, which by the way, have become keenly proficient in detecting BS (both factual and unscrupulous).

At the same time, both Michael and Mikal recognize and discuss the absolute need to break subjects down into their simplest terms (Mikal’s metaphor for tire tread is simply priceless). Humility and modesty shine through as Mikal describes his firm’s ethos and attitude for sharing with other lawyers, not unlike Michael and his firm, and the inherent benefits that come with such an inclusive environment, for both the firm and more importantly the clients they serve.

This podcast concludes with an important discussion of the biggest threats to the legal industry to which Mikal’s thoughts may surprise even the most seasoned attorney.

Background on Mikal Watts:

Mikal Carter Watts is the founding Partner of Watts Guerra LLP. He was born in Corpus Christi, TX in 1967. Mikal attended The University of Texas in Austin where he completed his undergraduate degree in two years. He then went on to the UT School of Law, where he also graduated in two years at the age of twenty-one. Following college, Mikal accepted a position working for The Honorable Thomas R. Phillips, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, as a briefing attorney from 1989-1990. In 1997 Mikal opened his own law firm in his hometown and in 2006 he relocated to San Antonio.

Mikal was married in 1993 to his lovely wife Tammy. Together they have three children, Taylor, Hailey and Brandon as well as two grandsons, Caleb and Austin. His interests include spending time with his family, attending church, Spurs basketball games, and Longhorn football games.

For more information on Mikal Watts visit http://www.wattsguerra.com/lawyers/mikal-c-watts

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