honesty

99 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Pursuit of Happiness: Building the Attorney-Client Alliance

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by his law partner Sonia Rodriguez to discuss a topic sure to resonate with every plaintiff lawyer listening; What can we do to keep our clients happy?

The pair begins the episode with a look at why we want to keep our clients happy. While some of the benefits seem obvious, such as not having a grievance filed against you, getting positive reviews online, and gaining future business through their referrals, Michael and Sonia discuss this in more detail. Michael shares why you want your client to take your advice. And for them to do that, they need to trust you. Sonia agrees and adds that lawyers have a fairly low reputation in the eye of the general public. Clients come to you with this in the back of their minds, so it’s crucial to be upfront, honest, and transparent.

“If you have a client that trusts you, you can go forward with the case strategy as a team.” – Sonia Rodriguez

This leads them to discuss what makes clients unhappy with their lawyer. Sonia explains how the client is initially unhappy when they don’t know how the lawyer is getting paid. To alleviate this strain, Sonia makes a point to have a very frank conversation about the contingency fee and how it works during her first meeting with the client. In this conversation, she also makes it clear that case expenses are separate from the fee. Repeating this throughout the life of the case and making it nonchalant goes very far in building trust with the client.

Michael agrees and adds how crucial it is to fix your own relationship with money to have these conversations. He used to cut his fees all the time, without the client even asking. Sonia shares something that helps with her mindset – that the attorney’s fee isn’t all going into her pocket. It also pays paralegals, investigators, employee health care, etc. It comes down to valuing yourself and your services.

Michael and Sonia’s next topic of conversation is one of the most commonly filed grievances against lawyers – a lack of communication with the client about what’s going on with their case. To nip this issue in the bud, they’ve developed a system which requires a meaningful client contact at least once every 30 days (discussed in more detail in this fan-favorite episode with Malorie Peacock). In this phone call, typically conducted by the paralegal, the client is asked a series of meaningful questions and provided with an update on their case. It not only keeps the client informed, but it also helps the firm know when the client is struggling to keep up with his or her medical appointments. This helps move the case forward, adds value to the case, and helps ensure the client is happy.

After briefly discussing the commonly held belief that the attorney only cares about the money and how to combat it, Sonia asserts a powerful point; attorneys should not put themselves in the position of needing to make the client happy. With a personal injury claim can come a lot of anxiety and depression, and sometimes you can never make a client truly happy. If that is your goal, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

This leads them to talk about managing expectations with clients. Michael and Sonia both agree that bringing up any issues with the case early leads to a happier client in the end. Sonia frames it as not having a “crystal ball.” She will not tell a client early on what she thinks the case is worth. Instead, she tells the client what she “imagines the insurance company wants to pay them.” This is a great way to point out any issues in the case, while diffusing any potential rift between herself and the client and uniting them against the insurance company on the other side.

Michael adds that if the client thinks you need the money, they will doubt you when you advise them to settle. He then shares the powerful explanation that he gives to clients in this situation, where he makes it clear that he is able to take on the risk of going to trial but shares the downsides of doing so for the client.

While there can be a real, scary financial risk for young lawyers with a lot of money invested into a case, Michael shares his personal experience of losing his first $100,000 and his shocking reaction looking back on that experience. At the end of the day, choosing to settle on your advice or not is the client’s decision, and when you make that clear from the start, you don’t need to lose sleep over it.

“It hurts, but when you survive it… it’s a very liberating thing.” – Michael Cowen

Having to be the bearer of bad news comes with the territory of being a lawyer. Michael and Sonia’s next talking point explores the different ways they handle delivering this bad news without damaging the attorney-client relationship. Sonia shares why telling them in person immediately or, if possible, in advance goes a long way to salvaging and potentially even strengthening your trust with the client. She then shares a recent example where her client refused to answer a question in a deposition. Sonia pulled her aside and explained the risks. When the client chose to move forward, she understood a motion to compel could be filed; but it was a decision the client made, and Sonia supported her.

The pair wraps up the episode with Michael sharing a philosophy he learned from his New Mexico office partner, Alex Begum. At the end of the day, personal injury clients don’t usually know if the lawyer is doing a good job or not; but what they do know is how they feel when they interact with your office. Things like offering them a beverage, giving them a gift package, and not making them wait for a long time when they come to see you go a long way. And while the strategies mentioned in this episode won’t make everything perfect all the time, implementing them at your firm will help maximize client happiness over time.

“When you make people feel more respected dealing with your office than anywhere else in their lives, then they will like you.” – Michael Cowen

This podcast episode also covers why online reviews are so important and when you should ask a client for a review, why client happiness is more important in personal injury than most other practices, how to show a client you care about them and not just the money, and 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.

 

58 – Nick Rowley – Brutal Honesty

In this long-awaited podcast, Michael sits down with renowned trial lawyer Nick Rowley. They discuss Nick’s journey to success, how he came up with “brutal honesty,” his book “Running With the Bulls,” the secret to settling high value cases, saying “no” to the defense, and Nick’s advice for how to become a better trial lawyer.

The conversation begins with Nick sharing his path to becoming the record-breaking trial lawyer he is today. Nick describes himself as a “juvenile delinquent” when he was a child. He was bullied a lot in school and expelled from every school he attended. After graduation, he decided to join the military to “kill bad guys,” but ended up becoming a medic. It was this role that fueled him with purpose. Using his GI Bill, Nick finished his bachelor’s degree and attended law school to continue his desire to help others, which he describes as an addiction.

Nick was never afraid to take tough cases to trial and losing, because he grew up getting beat up. He adds that even if he does lose, he learns more from his losses than his wins and they help make him a better lawyer. Michael echoes this sentiment and agrees that losses hurt in the short-term, but don’t bother him in the long run.

The conversation shifts when Michael shares how he’s noticed most top trial lawyers weren’t “born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” to which Nick wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s about life experience,” Nick states. He goes on to explain how if you’ve never had to work hard, experience failure, been afraid, or gone without, you don’t have the same “hunger” as someone who has. Nick emphasizes the importance of inner drive and notes trial lawyers who grew up without anything know if they don’t put in the work, no one else is going to do it for them. Michael also explains how it’s easier to feel comfortable in a client’s home when you’re used to the environment most of them live in. Both share stories of getting to know clients on a personal level and how this translates to a successful jury verdict.

Michael then transitions by asking Nick which case he is most proud of in his established career. Instead of talking about his largest verdict, he shares a story of a smaller verdict on a particularly challenging case. After being called upon by a lawyer having severe health issues the day before his trial was set to begin, Nick flew out to Santa Monica to help get the case continued. The defense lawyer was uncooperative and lacked the slightest bit of sympathy for the attorney, so Nick decided to try it without any prior knowledge of the case. His description of voir dire and addressing what he saw as the pain points of the case with brutal honesty is riveting and concludes with a $1.5 million verdict based solely on non-economic damages.

Nick is highly regarded as a trial lawyer for many reasons, but he is probably most famous for coining the term “brutally honest” in jury selection. Nick shares the story of how he came up with the term and explains why it works so well. He emphasizes the importance of asking jurors to define “brutal honesty” themselves, then asking them to please be brutally honest with you. This strategy has made a huge difference in Nick’s jury selection process. As an example, Michael role plays as a juror who doesn’t believe in money for pain. Through this example, Nick shows how he would address a juror with these views. Michael and Nick both agree stereotyping jurors immediately is an ineffective strategy and should be avoided.

The conversation shifts into a discussion of Nick’s book, “Running With the Bulls.” Michael inquires as to why Nick decided to write a book about settling cases when he is most famous for trying cases. Nick answers simply, “I do settle cases.” Nick insists the secret to settling cases for high value is “having the balls to go to trial.” He describes his frustration with not getting paid after a jury verdict and started thinking of ways to preemptively strike against this, so as soon as he gets his jury verdict he is “able to collect it immediately.” This resulted in Nick crafting a process to “expose the bullshit” and the insurance company puppet masters, a process he shares with fellow plaintiff attorneys to help raise the bar for everyone.

Michael shares the chapter of the book which resonated with him the most, “The Power of No.” He explains how he still feels bad for saying “no” to the defense, even though he knows better. Nick believes most trial lawyers are gentle, accommodating people by nature. He shares a strategy for re-framing this mindset when it comes to the defense, ending with, “They are the enemy, because they’re working for the enemy … be kind and accommodating. But when it comes to money, don’t hold anything back.”

The two transition into a discussion of criteria for accepting cases. Nick states there aren’t criteria. For him it is asking himself – Do I feel something inside? Is there something I can do for this person? Can I imagine myself standing in front of the jury? He notes that in an ideal world, he would only work on large cases, but argues the small cases are just as important, stating “If I’m not willing to take these cases, who else is?” For example, a case where a child was killed in a state with a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages is still a case worth fighting for. Nick emphasizes the need for industry leaders to set an example for other lawyers by taking on these worthy cases, even if they don’t lead to a huge payout.

The conversation ends with Michael asking Nick what he thinks a lawyer needs to do to be the next Nick Rowley. Nick states, “I want the lawyer who has the drive to do whatever it takes.” He emphasizes the importance of learning everything available from industry experts, listing off a multitude of names including Keith Mitnik, David Ball, Randi McGinn, and many more. He adds that having the guts to try difficult cases, learning from your losses, and breaking the mold are incredibly important in the journey to becoming a successful trial lawyer.

If you’d like to learn more from Nick Rowley, subscribe to the Trial By Human and Trial By Women list serves, attend his seminars, or visit his website to find more information about bringing Nick in on a case. You can also support Nick’s political efforts to fight the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages by visiting fairnessact.com.

This podcast also covers taking care of yourself during trial, lifting state caps on non-economic damages, the pain of trying a wrongful death case, where Nick is trying to improve, and so much more.

 

BACKGROUND ON NICK ROWLEY

Many consider Nicholas C. Rowley to be the most accomplished trial lawyer of his generation. He has extensive courtroom experience representing victims of serious injuries and medical malpractice, especially those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, and chronic pain. In 2009 and 2010, the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) named Nick as a finalist for its prestigious “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award. Nick was also recognized by the Los Angeles Daily Journal for winning a “Top Verdict of 2010” for his $31.6 million jury verdict for the victim of a traumatic brain injury. In 2012, Nick was a finalist for the “Consumer Attorney of the Year” award, given by CAOC (Consumer Attorneys of California). In 2009, the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego awarded Nick its “Outstanding Trial Lawyer” award. In 2013, Nick was honored with the organization’s top award – “Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year“.  Also Some of Nick’s other recent successes include a record-setting $74,525,000 verdict for a victim of medical malpractice, a $38,600,000 jury verdict for a young man who fell from a hotel balcony while intoxicated, a $17,000,000 win for woman who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a fall from a hotel window and a $13,860,000 win for a mild traumatic brain injury caused by an automobile crash.

Nick has served as an instructor at Gerry Spence’s famed Trial Lawyers College and delivers keynote addresses nationwide on his revolutionary approach to voir dire and damages. Other lawyers, faced with low settlement offers from insurance companies, frequently bring Nick into their cases just before trial. Nick is a relentless warrior who has prevailed in the courtroom time and time again. He prides himself on his caring and empathetic approach to working with his clients and their families, and his ability to help juries find the truth and deliver justice to the injured.

Nick is on the Board of Directors of the Imagination Workshop, which is a non-profit theater arts organization committed to using the unique power of the theater to provide life-changing artistic opportunities to the mentally ill, homeless veterans, senior citizens, and ‘at-risk’ young people. IW programs give troubled people, frequently alienated or overlooked by society, a safe way to express themselves and gain insight that often helps make their lives more successful.

Nick is also on the Honorary Board of Governors of TLC, Los Angeles Trial Lawyers’  Charties, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to make a positive difference in the quality of life for people within the greater Los Angeles area, focusing on issues related to education, children, battered women, persons with disabilities, and homelessness, by providing financial assistance to needy persons and groups in the greater Los Angeles area.

Nick is the author of the book Trial By Human, where he candidly shares his approach that brings brutal honesty and humanity into the courtroom.

 

Scroll to top Secured By miniOrange