goals

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.

87 – John Fisher – A Profound Impact

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with accomplished author and New York trial attorney, John Fisher. He and Michael discuss everything from developing real core values and living by them to techniques and practices to better connect with jurors.

Michael and John begin the episode by delving into John’s past and how we became the man he is today. After graduating from law school and facing the inevitable question of “what now?” John was approached by a 30-year-old man who told his story of being “horribly brain-damaged in a bus wreck;” an apparently problematic case that lawyers wouldn’t go near. Thus began John’s interest in personal injury law.

This case would go on to trial, settle for an admittedly “not good amount” after a week of trial, but would serve an even grander purpose of selling John on pursuing this path.

“This is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, which was not personal injury law; it was serving the most severely disabled people and having a profound impact in their lives.” – John Fisher

After discussing another of John’s previous cases, his criteria for accepting cases, and why he loves having a small caseload (28 active files at the time of recording), Michael asks John how he’s able to sustain his business model with only big damage cases. John responds by saying that they don’t just turn away small or moderate cases, they just don’t handle them; opting instead to refer them out to other attorneys and split the fees. John prefers it this way so that the smaller cases don’t take away from the catastrophic injury cases, which require much more time and attention. That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule.

John goes on to explain that, keeping in line with the mission and core values of his firm, he does accept smaller cases on occasion simply because “it’s the right thing to do.” He believes that practicing law goes beyond compensation for injuries (calling that a “small part of what we do”) and is about improving the quality of care for others in the future.

“I got money for people, but is that what the practice of law is really about?” – John Fisher

Following Michael and John’s agreement that it’s much more powerful to affect changes than to focus solely on the money, Michael follows up on the core values of John’s firm and asks him to elaborate on them. John outlines his firms core values as follows:

  • We only represent the injuries of people who’ve been catastrophically injured
  • We’re brutally honest with our clients
  • We do not accept cases that have questionable merit
  • We will NEVER agree to a confidential settlement

After sharing his own firm’s core values, Michael admires John’s concrete goals in regards to the dates he sets to have a certain number of referral attorneys. When asked where he got the idea for that, John eagerly reorients his camera to show the large gong situated in his office. After explaining the ritual of ringing the gong when his firm attains a new referral attorney, he begins to talk about the “epiphany” he had as a young lawyer.

“My clients [are] not injury victims. My clients are attorneys who can send us a steady stream of cases.” – John Fisher

Michael then redirects the conversation back to John’s core values, explaining that they fascinate him and asking how John came up with them. “There’s a critical difference between aspirational values, meaning what we think we should be doing, and real values which is what are you currently doing.” John explains this premise further by talking about the aspirational values his firm adopted (such as “we treat our clients like family”) and how those were changed completely with his new philosophy.

After further elaborating on his core values and the importance of your team embodying your firm’s values, John goes on to explain the importance of mastering the business of law; a subject that led to the creation of his both of his books: The Power of a System and The Law Firm of Your Dreams. (Note: While both books are available on Amazon, John asks that you message or call him personally, and he will send you a signed copy of either or both books! You can email him at jfisherlawyer@gmail.com or call his cell at 518-265-9131.)

“When you give away everything you that know… it comes back to you in spades.” – John Fisher

Following a brief discussion on the importance of absorbing knowledge from “masterminds,” Michael shifts the conversation to an equally important element for success: mindset. Similar to several topics discussed in Ep 86, John highlights the process of changing your mindset (or “Challenging your Paradigm,” as Joe Fried would put it) when it comes to the cases you accept, why you feel that you should accept them and how that may be wrong.

The conversation topic then shifts from Michael and John sharing their methods for dealing with and moving on from a loss, settlements and moving cases to trial, how they prepare for a trial in the weeks before, the importance of collaborating with fellow attorneys, and John’s MasterMind Experience.

“When you stand up in front of the jury for the first time, what is the most important thing you can do? Screw your notes, throw [them] in the garbage can and bond with the jury.” – John Fisher

John concludes the episode in spectacular fashion by not only giving his contact information, but also giving our listeners access to all of his firm’s policies and procedures via Fisherpedia.com!

Login credentials for Fisherpedia.com coming soon! (please check back for updates)

If you’d like to contact John Fisher you can email him at jfisherlawyer@gmail.com or call his cell at 518-265-9131.

 

Guest Bio

John Fisher is the owner and founder of John H. Fisher, P.C., where he limits his practice to catastrophic injury law for injury victims in New York State.  Over the last 20 years, John’s practice has been limited to the representation of catastrophically injured persons.

John has been cited as a legal expert on numerous occasions by TRIAL magazine of the American Association for Justice and the New York Law Journal, and he speaks frequently for the New York State Bar Association, The National Trial Lawyers, PILMMA, Great Legal Marketing, and county and regional bar associations concerning law practice management, internet marketing for lawyers, referral-based marketing and trial skills.

 

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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