hiring

109 – Malorie Peacock – Practical Procedures: Creation, Education & Implementation

On this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined once again by his partner Malorie Peacock to discuss their firm’s procedures and how they implemented them. They’ll cover their firm’s journey with procedures, what to create procedures on, how to create, implement, and train on your procedures, how to achieve buy-in, and Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius Model.

Michael and Malorie begin the episode with a look at their firm’s journey with procedures and why they felt the need to share it on the podcast. Michael shares that he drew inspiration from the book “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber, which asserts that every business should be run like a McDonalds, and everything that can be systematized, should be. Having systems and training (and re-training) on them serves to empower your employees, ensures everyone is doing things the way you want them done, and creates a safety net so if someone leaves the firm, someone else can step in and take over where that employee left off.

Malorie then asks Michael a follow-up question- What kinds of things should you have procedures on, and what kinds of things should be left to the discretion of the person doing the job? Michaels answers simply that you need to be realistic. While he would love having a procedure for every little task, there isn’t’ enough time in the day and you need to prioritize 1-3 things that what will “give you the best bang for the buck.” Once you implement those 1-3 procedures, you can move on to a different 1-3.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of having to practice law, run a business, and write and implement all these procedures, Michael has some good news for you- it doesn’t all have to be done by you. He’s learned that hiring and delegating things like creating, implementing, and training on new procedures to someone he trusts in his office frees him up to do other, more pressing items. Malorie agrees and adds that this is WHY you have these systems in the first place. It allows the owner to be able to take a step back and trust that things still get done the way he or she wants.

Malorie then asks Michael to share an interesting statistic that they discussed over coffee- that only 5% of employees can just figure new things out themselves. The other 95% need to be thoroughly trained and reminded continuously on how to do things the way you want. Your business systems should be designed for the 95%, NOT the 5%. While it can be frustrating to constantly remind your team of how you want things done, Malorie explains how it’s absolutely necessary to do, and if you go into it with the right mindset it takes a lot of the frustration out of it.

Regarding how detailed your procedures need to be, Michael says it really depends on what the job is. The procedure for someone in a filing or scanning role, a typically lower skilled job, will have step-by-step instructions; but the procedure for lawyers to set depos by a certain time will simply have guidelines to follow. Malorie adds that their firm procedures’ level of detail has fluctuated quite a bit, and the key to success is adapting to your firm’s current needs.

Malorie and Michael then take a deeper look at one of their procedures, for each lit team to have a monthly File Review on each case at the firm. They discuss why they have them and how they benefit Michael, then move on to how they hold teams accountable and achieve buy-in.

Achieving buy-in is the tough part. Looking at the big picture, Michael shares his firm’s “mantra” which they recite at the beginning of each meeting. If a team member buys into this mantra, he will do everything in his power to develop and support them. It’s something they look for in the hiring process and are up front on from the beginning, but if someone doesn’t want to buy into this mantra, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad lawyer, but his firm isn’t the right place for them.

Malorie then digs into the micro-level buy-in for each procedure, where they encourage feedback and brainstorm how to make the procedure better. They’ll get some great suggestions from their team, which they sometimes implement into the final procedure. They also make sure to explain the “why” behind each procedure, to make it clear they’re not trying to micro-manage the team or create unnecessary work.

After discussing some things they’ve learned from implementing procedures over the years, Michael brings up an upcoming Patrick Lencioni book on the concept of “The Working Genius Model” with the acronym “WIDGET”- Wonder, Idea, Discernment, Galvanizing, Enablement, and Tenacity. They elaborate on each of these working genius types, share the ones they each have and don’t have, and explain how they filled their team with the other types. The result has been a trusting, high-performing, complete team.

Michael and Malorie end the episode by encouraging listeners to work on building their ideal team and to start creating procedures for their firms. The result will be more joy and a better-performing law firm.

This episode also covers how to create procedures that leave room for creative lawyering, when to get rid of ineffective procedures, why perfection is the enemy of good work, how to incorporate Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius Model into your firm, and so much more.

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.

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.

80 – Tim McKey – Peak Performance: Developing Systems for Optimum Success

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down for the second time with Tim McKey, co-founder of Vista Consulting. As a business consultant who works with law firms, Tim was welcomed back to the show to talk about the effects of COVID-19 on law firms, measuring success using KPI’s, organizational culture, hiring, optimum vs. maximum, new trends in the industry, and transparency at your firm.

Michael and Tim begin their conversation with a look at remote work and how to measure the performance of your team members when you can’t see them. Tim’s solution doesn’t vary whether or not there’s a global pandemic. He insists you should ALWAYS measure success using KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). This strategy focuses on the output of the employee, not the input. For example, a common KPI for a paralegal is to contact every client and conduct a meaningful check-in every month. Measuring this produces an objective number which can be used to evaluate performance and coach the team member on.

Michael then speaks to his experience using the KPI dashboard, and how he used to struggle to stay on top of it. Tim explains how the highest performing firms have somebody assigned to it, such as an Operations Manager. Some firms find success in the owner managing KPI’s, but Tim says it all comes down to what the owner is passionate about and good at. The goal is to remove as much of the other “fluff” as possible and hire great people to do the rest.

A brief discussion about the merits of having daily meetings leads Michael to ask Tim how to maintain culture when many are still working remotely. Tim explains that it’s even more crucial to intentionally develop culture when you’re not meeting in person. You do this through daily meetings, social events, strong core values, and reminding everyone of their part in the firm. After sharing an enlightening example of a receptionist and their huge purpose in the firm, Michael proudly recites his firm’s core values. He says them at the beginning of every meeting to remind his team members (and himself) of why they do what they do. This has also helped make decisions in the office and staying true to their values.

Tim adds that defining your core values makes the hiring process a lot easier, which leads Michael to dig deeper into Tim’s advice for hiring good team members. Tim insists that finding a good cultural fit is even more important than finding someone with the right skills, because it’s easier to train skills than values. His hiring process, which he calls “intentional hiring,” takes a LOT of time. He brings the prospective team member into the office, has them sit beside people, and explains to them in detail what their values and KPI’s are. Even with this lengthy hiring process, Tim says, “You’ll never bat 1000.” But, as Michael agrees, you can’t measure the cost of a bad hire. This thinking is why his firm is now creating an internal paralegal training program to help him continue to promote from within.

After a conversation that tied culture to college football, which will resonate with Alabama and A&M fans alike, they move on to discuss Optimum vs. Maximum, first in the context of intakes. Most lawyers saw a downturn in intakes during the pandemic, but Tim shares how there are two ways to a grow a law firm – get more cases, or add more value to the cases you already have. Citing The Dip by Seth Godin, Tim explains that while your reservoir of cases may be low, it’s not dry. Work on pushing the cases you DO have over the dam. Michael then ties this in beautifully to how far you push a case. It makes sense to push certain cases all the way to trial, but on other cases it’s better for the lawyer and the client to settle earlier on.

As a business consultant for law firms, Tim is always ahead of the curve when it comes to news and trends that effect how law firms do business. Something he’s keeping a close watch on is non-lawyer ownership of law firms, which recently became legal in both Utah and Arizona.  He and Michael discuss the possible consequences of non-lawyer ownership, most notably consolidation of firms into large national practices. Michael says he’s already noticed this happening in large markets, and he’s very glad he found a niche in trucking litigation. Tim agrees within the next 10 years, it’s going to become very hard to be a general firm if you don’t have a huge advertising budget.

Tim and Michael end their conversation by talking about transparency. Tim shares an enlightening “10% rule” that he encourages every lawyer listening to consider. And while he falls on general transparency as much as possible, he acknowledges some limits to that.

If you’d like to learn more from or work with Tim, you can visit his website, email him at tmckey@vistact.com, or call his cell at 225-931-7045. He also has his annual conference coming up May 6-7 in Dallas, Texas, which will have in person and virtual attendance options.

This podcast episode also covers a creative way to take advantage of the competitiveness of lawyers, why daily meetings and word choice are so important, the problem with traditional recruiters, developing “a discipline” in your team members, why Michael has two types of “clients” at his firm, deciding who can work remotely vs. who needs to work in the office, and so much more!

 

26 – Jack Zinda – Success by Design

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with an accomplished trial attorney, Jack Zinda, for an inside look at his bustling personal injury law practice. Built from the ground up in a county where seemingly no one wanted to start a law office because the juries are so conservative, Jack has built his practice up to include 3 offices with 63 people on his team, 23 of which are lawyers.

Jack’s humble beginnings working in his father’s restaurant washing dishes and waiting tables, contributed to him becoming a great trial lawyer by teaching him to learn how to talk to people, which he says was “great training.” Michael admits that he actually looks for “waiting tables” on the resumes of his potential lawyers as he understands that such experience comes with being able to deal with people, even when they are being unreasonable, among other reasons.

As they dig in deeper to Jack’s practice, he directly correlates the growth of business to an exercise he did after reading the book “The E Myth” where he laid out a plan for where he wanted his firm to be in the future and worked backward from there in order to develop a plan of action. He also made sure to account for his core values and not giving up practicing law seeing as one of his top motivators for getting into Personal Injury law was to help people, and he never wanted to lose that. Michael and Jack also talk through their views regarding the use of consultants and how egos sometimes get in the way of success in this industry. Jack makes it extremely clear that “none of what [he’s] done is original” and that he’s simply taken what he has learned from others and built upon it to become successful. It also, from Jack’s perspective, comes down to the systems that get put in place and following them consistently; an example being that each lawyer in his firm is highly encouraged to attend two networking events per week in order to continue to build relationships.

As Jack reflects on the continued growth of his practice over the years, one of the most important decisions he discovered was who he hired to work at his firm. To prove his point, he describes the scenario where if you hire the most brilliant and amazing people to work for you in every aspect of your business and you have poor systems in place, chances are that you will likely still be successful. Whereas, even if you have the most robust and well-oiled systems in place, if you hire people who are unmotivated and don’t want to work hard, you are likely to fail. He goes on to say that even experience can be overrated when looking to hire someone. At the core, when looking to add people to your organization, people need to be hungry and driven, they need to be smart and organized, and they need to be hard working. Michael and Jack also talk through their hiring processes to get the “right people” into their firm. Surprisingly, the interview has very little to do with it and sometimes… neither does a candidate’s aspirations of working with your firm!

The conversation shifts to internal systems where Jack has gone so far as to hire a developer to create their case management system to his specifications. And not only has he found it to be a great way to customize his practice to run the way he wants it to but also works as a great training tool for everyone in his firm, even the most seasoned attorneys. Jack points out that even the simplest of things go into the firm’s checklists and procedures such as “read the local rules,” which, as easy as that might sound, he points out that it can be vital when working in as many jurisdictions as his firm does. Jack has also raised the bar on training and development within his firm by creating a position that solely focuses on it. Listening to Jack’s description of how he came up with and implemented this position is likely to deliver shock and awe to anyone who runs a firm, as it did for Michael during this podcast.

Michael wraps up the podcast with the question that is likely on everyone’s mind – How much of a “life” do you get to have, running a firm of this size and as successful as yours? Jack boils it down to really deciding what success means to you, first and foremost. What do you want to get out of the practice (note the sentiment of beginning with the end in mind)?  Jack explains that he sets hard and fast rules on family time and personal time and has become VERY intentional about it, down to the alarm on his phone that goes off at 6 pm that reminds him to “go home.” Michael points out that there is also a difference between being in the room with your kids and being present with your kids. Jack goes on to describe how he turns off his phone when he gets home and puts it in a drawer, making it harder for him to somehow “find” it back in his hands, IE: working when he shouldn’t. “Willpower is overrated. I think you’ve got to set yourself up for success by setting the atmosphere to do what you want to do in order to be successful,” which is certainly a great mantra for us all to take away from this conversation with Jack.

 

John C. (Jack) Zinda is the founder and senior trial lawyer at Zinda Law Group.

Jack has served as lead attorney on a wide range of complex catastrophic injury cases across the United States, including:

  • Fire death cases
  • Gas explosions
  • Wrongful deaths
  • Governmental torts, including wrongful death cases caused by law enforcement
  • Federal tort claims act cases
  • Traumatic brain injury cases
  • Commercial litigation
  • Motor vehicle collisions
  • Premises liability
  • Interstate 18-wheeler collisions
  • Product liability

As a trial attorney, Jack takes tremendous pride in giving a voice to individuals and families who need help battling Fortune 500 companies and large insurance conglomerates. His firm balances aggression with a strategy to maximize the outcome for clients, and every case is handled with a focus on getting ready for trial. He also knows the importance of communicating with his clients and ensures that they are part of the process. He is dedicated to always putting the needs of his clients first.

A native Texan, Jack graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and political science from Southwestern University, where he distinguished himself as president of the Interfraternal Council and as a member of the Student Congress, the Student Judiciary, Phi Delta Theta, and the Pirates basketball team.

Jack went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from the prestigious Baylor University School of Law, which is perennially ranked as one of the top law schools for trial advocacy in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. While there, he was one of the finalists in the Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition.

Over the years, Jack has earned a reputation as a thought leader in the legal industry, and he has been featured as a speaker for numerous groups across the country, including the Brain Injury Association of Texas, the Williamson County Bar Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Jack has also benefited his professional community through leadership positions in a variety of legal organizations. He has served as president of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, as a member of the board of directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and as a member of the American Association for Justice, the Texas Bar Association, the Austin Bar Association, and WCBA. He is also involved with a number of consumer advocacy organizations.

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