growth

96 – Malorie Peacock – Building Your Profitable Law Firm

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with one of his favorite guests, his law partner Malorie Peacock, for an episode about the decisions they’ve made over the years to build and run a profitable law firm. 

“It’s a podcast about actually making money from practicing law.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Malorie begin the episode with a look at where they started in 2014. Back then, the practice was general personal injury with a lot of small car wreck cases. That year was the first time they decided to stop taking non-commercial cases without a large insurance policy – a scary decision at first but has since proven to be very successful in branding Michael as a “big case lawyer” with referral partners. And because of this scary decision, Michael began meticulously tracking specific numbers to make sure the new strategy was working.  

Michael shares the main numbers he tracks and analyzes with his leadership team annually – the average case fee and the median case fee. He then breaks it down further by case type, referral source, lawyer assigned to, and more.  

Tracking each of these has shown that even though the firm is only accepting 1/3 of the cases they did before, the firm has grown significantly since 2014. This has helped fuel decisions from what kinds of cases they accept, to marketing, and when to hire more staff. 

“I didn’t dare to dream that we’d end up with the median or average fees we’re at now.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then reminds listeners that he’s been doing this for 20 years and being this picky about what cases he accepts is NOT something he could have done successfully when he first started. 

“If it doesn’t work, you can make other decisions. You don’t have to die on this hill.” – Malorie Peacock

He and Malorie then dive further into their “counterintuitive” approach to growth – to accept LESS cases but make MORE money – and the big and small decisions that were made to get them where they are today.  

The first big decision was that they would not accept any car crash case that did not involve a commercial vehicle or 18-wheeler, unless there was a “large” insurance policy, adding that the definition of “large” has been re-evaluated and changed many times since the decision was first made.  

Malorie then digs deeper into why re-evaluating your rules for case acceptance every year is so vital. Michael explains that you need to see if it’s working, and if it is working, decide if you should lean further in that direction or not.  

Another decision made was if it “doesn’t have wheels” and isn’t worth at least $1 million, they usually won’t take it. Michael shares why this one has been hard to stick to, but he and Malorie discuss why they need to be this picky, citing the lack of systems in place for these cases as well as the amount of research and work that needs to be put in to get the maximum value for the case.  

Malorie and Michael continue discussing some of the changes they’ve made, and some changes they decided not to make, and how they evaluate each item up for discussion. For example, they frequently discuss eliminating cases with low property damage, but for now have settled that they’ll take a low property damage case if it meets other criteria. This insightful and holistic approach is a must-hear for any listener who is looking to re-evaluate their approach to case acceptance. 

“You can’t fight a war on 3 fronts…If you have to fight on all 3 of those issues, it’s really tough to get a jury to go along with you on all 3 and still give you a lot of money.” – Michael Cowen

This leads Michael and Malorie to discuss the sunk cost fallacy once again, where you hesitate to pull out of a case once you’ve put money into it. Michael shares how he used to spend most of his time working on cases that didn’t make him any money, and how learning to let those cases go and withdraw when necessary has made him a much happier person and has actually caused his firm to make MORE money in the long run. These include cases where the client lied to you, or even cases where the facts just aren’t what you’d hoped they would be. 

Michael then shares a heartfelt story about his uncle, and how his death made Michael realize the importance of enjoying your life while you’re still here. Malorie adds that at the end of the day, a personal injury law firm is not a non-profit, and if you’re not making money, then you’re not doing it right.  

“We get one ride on this earth, and I want to choose to be happy and enjoy my time.” – Michael Cowen

They continue to discuss some of the smaller decisions made along the way, including the implementation of in-depth systems. Not only does this help the case resolve faster, but it also helps the lawyer focus less on meeting deadlines and more on in-depth research and complex legal work that can really maximize the value of the case. 

“Cases are not wine. They do not age well.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Malorie begin to wrap up the episode with a look at docket size, which has lowered dramatically at their firm in the last 7 years. This has allowed them the time to implement those in-depth systems and end up getting 150-200% of the money they received 7 years ago on the same wreck with the same injuries.  

If you don’t have control over your docket, but you do have control over what you work on, Malorie recommends utilizing the 5-star case system. This system ranks your cases based on your projected fee and your win probability, and the goal should be to spend as much time as possible on the 5-star cases and as little time as possible on the 1-star cases.  

“Limiting docket size at the firm… counterintuitively… has made everybody happier, but also has made everybody more money.” – Malorie Peacock

The pair concludes the episode by emphasizing that the criteria and decisions discussed in this episode need to be discussed at least once every year, which they will be doing the week this podcast airs, and that the decisions you make need to work for your firm and your life.  

This podcast episode also covers saying “no” to cases, the Pareto principle, why Michael still accepts other personal injury cases, getting out of cases with “toxic” clients, the logic behind “from crash to cash in 12 months”, why you need to be ready for trial the first time you’re called, and so much more. 

85 – Chad Dudley – Let Go To Grow

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with accomplished attorney and consultant Chad Dudley. Chad is a founding partner of Dudley Debosier, part-owner of CJ Advertising, and co-founder of Vista Consulting. He and Michael will discuss time management, developing and maintaining systems, coaching your attorneys, valuing your cases, and the #1 legal marketing strategy (Hint: It’s not what you think!).

Michael and Chad kick off the episode by discussing the question already on everybody’s mind: how does Chad find the time to own a 50+ attorney law firm and a 60-employee marketing agency? He explains how the two complement each other well, and the key has been to “Let go to grow.” When he started these businesses, he wore a lot of hats because he had to. Yet, as the businesses grew, he had to let go of the smaller tasks that could be handled by others; and to ensure those tasks are completed consistently, he’s developed systems for everything from depositions to file structure. This allows him to spend more time on things he enjoys doing, and more importantly, focusing on the things he needs to be the one to do.

Michael then asks Chad how to set those systems up. Chad explains how the first step in this process is based off the book “The First 90 Days”. You need to determine if the current status of your firm is startup, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, or sustaining success. You then start with a broad framework for a system, then work your way down to the details. It’s a very methodical process, but so worth it in the end.

Michael then shares a frustrating experience he had with a past consultant who was trying to prescribe him a system that was meant for a pre-litigation firm, when Michael’s firm was 90% litigation. Chad agrees that pre-packaged systems almost never work for law firms because of the diversity of practices and adds that the owner must determine what type of practice they want before building out any systems.

There’s a common attitude in the Plaintiffs bar that if you build out too many systems, you’re treating your firm like a McDonalds, and each client needs to be treated like an individual. Michael addresses this and adds that the more systems you have in the place, the more you can care for your clients and spend time on things like going to their house to get to know them on a deeper level. Chad agrees, citing the book “Discipline Equals Freedom,” and adds that systems allow you to focus on the relationship, be a better attorney, and deliver a better result to your client.

After an insightful look at why the boss needs to follow systems before his or her employees ever will, Michael and Chad discuss the challenges of transferring their vast knowledge to their employees. Chad shares that when you’re naturally good at something, it’s as natural as breathing; and you’ll likely skip some vital steps when teaching because of that. He encourages attorneys to have someone observe them doing the task, take detailed notes, and help you coach the other attorneys along the way.

Michael then brings up his personal struggle with sticking to the systems that he implements and asks Chad how he avoids doing that. He explains how he has a checklist that he follows for each new system, makes sure he explains why they’re doing it, sets out clear expectations, and designates somebody to hold people accountable. He monitors each system differently, depending on what it requires. When possible, he tries to monitor systems using dashboards and reports.

Chad continues by sharing an ingenious system to prioritize different projects and initiatives at your firm, using a point-based system that will resonate particularly well with the data-driven lawyers listening.

The conversation shifts to a look at Chad’s practice, Dudley DeBosier. With a firm as large as his, how does he keep the value high on his cases? Chad clarifies that they try to be what he calls a “hybrid” firm, which contrasts against low value/high volume and high value/low volume firms. To do this, it’s crucial to identify and rank your attorneys from best to worst, and a good way to identify great cases when they come in. Done give a “tier 1” attorney a very complicated case- it’s not fair to that attorney or the client.

Chad and Michael both hold regular meetings to assign cases a valuation in a group setting. This serves to motivate all the attorneys and bring out their competitive sides and to identify great cases (or bad cases) earlier on in the process. With the bad cases, it helps attorneys avoid spending too much time on them. Citing Vilfredo Pareto, Chad explains how 20% of your effort creates 80% of your results, which translates perfectly to personal injury cases. In fact, he’s found that many times 5% will generate 50% of your revenue and 20% will generate 80% of your revenue. The bottom 40% of your cases will only generate 1-2% of your revenue, meaning the time spent on them is a massive hit to your labor ratio.

The pair closes the conversation with a look at what marketing strategies are working right now. Chad gives a lengthy list of strategies but insists that the most important strategy is performing well for your clients. Strategies like TV ads will bring people to the “restaurant,” but if the food is bad, it’s not going to work. He and Michael agree that the best way to bring in cases is to do a good job working up the ones you have.

If you’d like to contact Chad Dudley regarding a case, marketing, or anything else, you can email him at cdudley@dudleydebosier.com.

This podcast episode also covers why high volume/low-value firms are dying out, why lazy law firm owners tend to have lazy attorneys working for them, finding a person at your firm to hold others accountable, why Michael likes to schedule depos right after the defendant answers, and a plethora of book suggestions! Visit our references page for the complete list of visit Chad Dudley’s bookshelf.

Guest Bio

Chad Dudley started Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers with his partner, Steven DeBosier and James Peltier in 2009. The firm now has over 50 attorneys with offices throughout Louisiana.  Chad also founded Vista Consulting with Tim McKey in 2009. Vista Consulting works with personal injury firms all across the country on all aspects of running a law firm.  Additionally, Chad is the CEO of cj Advertising, an advertising company that represents personal injury firms throughout the country. He is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of law firm management, marketing and technology.

Chad can be reached at cdudley@dudleydebosier.com

 

06 – Lisa Blue – A Psychologist’s View on Jury Selection

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with a legendary trial attorney, Lisa Blue of Baron and Blue.

Lisa’s credentials go on for miles with over $350 million in jury verdicts and an equally impressively long list of hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements; as well as being seen as the national authority on jury selection having written multiple books on the matter and being brought in on mega-cases all around the country. It becomes clear very quickly in her conversation with Michael, that she has put her two master’s degrees and Ph.D. in psychology to great use within the legal field as she recounts her early days in private psychology practice and how she originally became interested in law and becoming a lawyer.

Thinking back to her first time in court, her description of the “warm” welcome she got sounded more like jury selection by fire! Fortunately, for her and all of us listening, that experience only fueled her passion for the business and instilled to her how much she loved it, further driving her to continue in this line of work. Lisa goes on to talk about her experiences working for Henry Wade (yes, of Roe vs Wade) and pulls back the curtain on a lunch conversation she had with him, revealing what he said which ultimately led to her pursuing a career as a lawyer. Lisa’s perspective on specializing was also instilled in her early on in her legal career and has since then only strengthened her position in the industry.

Michael digs in a little deeper with Lisa regarding the advantageousness of using her background in psychology when talking to clients and is surprised at the commonality that she points out between jury selection and a therapy session. The details Lisa explains about the similarities are profound in theory and yet seemingly approachable in practice. The overall voir dire in both is very noticeable the way she describes it.  Lisa continues throughout her conversation with Michael to deliver powerful tips on jury selection, mindfulness, and success while also acknowledging how the changing political climate has also affected the courtroom.

This incredible podcast concludes with Lisa’s outlook on some of the greatest things you can do to grow as a lawyer and even just as individuals in general, each of which truly applies to all of us regardless of years in the industry or specialty. Truly an inspirational icon in the industry and time extremely well spent learning from her.

Background on Lisa Blue

Lisa Blue, a lawyer with the Dallas firm Baron and Blue, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and two master’s degrees from the University of Virginia in Counseling Psychology. After a brief teaching career, she returned to school and earned a Ph.D. degree in Counseling Psychology from North Texas State University and a Juris Doctorate from the South Texas College of Law.

After completing law school, Ms. Blue joined the Dallas County District Attorney’s office where she prosecuted more than 125 cases to verdict and later advanced to the DA’s Organized Crime Division. In 1985, she moved to the law firm Baron & Budd where she specialized in environmental and toxic tort law. Lisa and her husband, Fred Baron, supervised 800+ employees and managed all financial aspects at Baron & Budd, the largest environmental law firm in the United States.

Ms. Blue’s accomplishments in trial courts nationwide have been widely recognized, including being named one of the Top 50 Women Litigators in the U.S. by the National Law Journal, Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Texas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, as well as receiving the Honorary Barrister Award from the University of Texas Law School and the Distinguished Alumni Award from South Texas College of Law. Blue was named Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2006 by the Dallas Bar Association. In 2007, she received the Louise Raggio Women’s Legal Advocate Award from Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and was awarded the Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award from the Texas Bar Foundation in 2008. Ms. Blue was honored to accept the 2009 Rayburn Johnson Award posthumously on behalf of her husband, Fred Baron. In July 2009 Ms. Blue received Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Know Your Power” Award. Selected to the 2014 Texas Lawyers List, an honor reserved for lawyers who exhibit excellence in practice. DMagazine elected her Best Lawyer in Dallas 2014 in Tort Product & Medical Liability Litigation. In April of 2015, Lisa was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.

Lisa’s new quest is campaigning and running for The State Bar of Texas President-Elect for 2019.

In addition to her legal practice, Ms. Blue maintains a private consultancy as a forensic psychologist and is a nationally renowned expert in jury selection. With her unique background, Blue has been a commentator for several high-profile trials covered by Court TV and has co-authored numerous articles on jury selection.

For more information on Lisa Blue, visit https://baronandblue.com/about-lisa-blue/ .

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