leadership

111 – Malorie Peacock – How To Keep Your Team Running While You’re Away

As a founder and leading attorney at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock, Michael Cowen has a lot on his plate: he not only drives cases, but he also manages the team, leads meetings, signs checks, and makes sure the financials are in order. It can be hard to imagine what even one day of vacation time would look like for the office in his absence.

Yet for years, Michael has been able to take extended vacations — sometimes as long as four weeks — with his work phone left at home and his email inbox virtually unchecked.

“For my own mental health, for my own ability to bond with my family, I found that not having my cell phone with me … it’s the only way that I can really be present,” Michael says. It also allows him to come back to the office at the end of his vacation fully recharged. 

That valuable time away from work is something we should all be able to enjoy. But how can you make sure your office won’t fall into disarray when you’re gone? 

That’s the subject of Episode 111 with guest and fellow Cowen Rodriguez Peacock attorney Malorie Peacock, who filled Michael’s substantial shoes while he was away on his most recent two-week vacation. Tune in to this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation to find out how Michael establishes a system that keeps his office operating like a well-oiled machine, and how passing colleagues greater responsibilities helps make the whole team stronger.

Featured Guest

Name: Malorie J. Peacock

About: Malorie J. Peacock is a Partner at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock. She was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and received her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. During her time with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock, Malorie has worked on numerous commercial vehicle, trucking, and wrongful death cases. Malorie brings close attention to detail, commitment to finding safety issues and areas of neglect, continued utilization of technology and cutting-edge visuals in cases, along with a sincere passion to help those who have been hurt, to each and every case.

Company: Cowen Rodriguez Peacock 

Connect: LinkedIn 

Key Points

Top takeaways from this episode 

  • Prepare others before you go. Don’t surprise your clients: send them a note a few days in advance explaining when you’ll be gone and who they can speak with until you come back. Prepare scripts ahead of time so your staff knows how to respond to certain calls or questions, and get ahead of any looming deadlines.
  • Establish a system that everybody knows. A sound system requires smart and capable people to carry it out. This means giving adequate training on how to deal with emergencies and taking over full responsibility for cases. While he’s away, “they have to assume that I’m not going to read any case-related emails,” Michael says.
  • Let your team take charge. Putting trust in your team to take over big responsibilities like management and financials will not only take a weight off your shoulders, but it will uplift your fellow attorneys and help them grow into future leaders.

Episode Highlights 

[01:10] Leaving work at home: When he goes on vacation, Michael Cowen leaves his work phone at home and checks emails as little as possible. But what’s it like for other partners to take over when the head of a firm is out and unreachable?

[04:53] Knowing the right time: How do you know your firm is ready for an extended absence from a leading partner?

[06:26] Be prepared: Michael gives some tips on best practices for preparing your team and your clients for an extended absence so you can enjoy a relaxing vacation away from your inbox.

[13:52] Establish a system: Michael explains what it takes to ensure the office is a well-oiled machine while he’s away.

[18:15] More money, more problems: The responsibility of signing checks and making payments usually falls in the lap of the head of a firm. How do you find someone trustworthy enough to take over that role? Michael borrows some wisdom from Liz Wiseman’s Multipliers.

[22:38] A constant challenge: Malorie discusses why management is the most difficult part of taking over the firm, and Michael explains why it never gets easier.

[27:21] Taking charge: Malorie explains why taking over Michael’s meetings while he’s away may save time and improve the system in the future.

[31:07] The two-factor dilemma: Leaving your work phone behind is a great idea in retrospect, but Michael discusses how it got in the way of his vacation and what he’d do differently next time.

[33:19] Help your team grow: Michael talks through the lessons he’s learned about uplifting his other attorneys and giving them bigger roles by taking time away from the office.

Connect with Trial Lawyer Nation

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In this popular and award-winning podcast for trial lawyers, noteworthy author, sought-after speaker, and renowned trial lawyer, Michael Cowen explores critical topics distinctive to the legal profession with some of the biggest names in the industry – specifically focused on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.

Produced and Sponsored by LawPods.

110 – Bill Biggs – Why Every Problem Is a Leadership Problem

The term “culture” might be the most misunderstood term in corporate America today. But it couldn’t be more important. Don’t miss this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation as Bill joins host and renowned trial lawyer Michael Cowen as they discuss what it takes to build a strong company culture, how to cultivate future leaders, and why “every problem is a leadership problem.”

Company culture is about a lot more than just being friendly to a coworker or having a welcoming office environment. It consists of your firm’s collective values and your commitment to sticking with them. Culture can transform your organization and generate more profit while keeping your team — and your clients — happy.

In short: culture is everything. 

“Most firms — most businesses — fail, not because of bad business ideas, but because of internal fracture and interpersonal issues,” says Bill Biggs, CEO of Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers. 

As an expert organizational leadership consultant to law firms whose client list includes Heisman Trophy winners, NBA champions, and Olympians, Bill swears by his message to “love your people and demand high performance.”

“It takes somebody who’s naturally inclined to want to care for people but is also naturally inclined to compete, and to win, and understands what that means. I don’t know how you can be a really effective leader if you don’t have some element of both of those in you,” Bill says.

Featured Guest

Name: Bill Biggs

About: Bill Biggs is the Chief Team & Culture Officer for Pond Lehocky Giordano; Special Consultant to Walter Clark Legal Group and Price Benowitz; and Leadership Strategist at Vista Consulting. He’s considered one of the nation’s most innovative thinkers in law firm leadership. His unique perspective on culture and ability to inspire and multiply leaders has created a movement that is reshaping firms across the country. 

Bill is the founder of the Law Firm Leadership Summit and host of Transforming The Culture of Law Podcast. He is a limited engagement consultant to select firms and is relentlessly committed to spreading his message, “Love Your People & Demand High Performance,” as a platform for organizational success. He is also the President of Biggs & Associates, serving high-value sports professionals and franchises as a brand and messaging strategist. His distinguished client list includes Heisman Trophy winners, NFL HOFers, NBA champions, Olympians, and many of the top teams in college and professional sports. Bill is a Phi Kappa Phi graduate of Texas A&M University and completed his executive training through the CORe program at Harvard Business School. He lives in College Station, Texas, with his beautiful wife, two sons, and a herd of dogs.

Company: Pond Lehocky Giordano, LLP

Connect: LinkedIn | Website | Vista

Key Points

Top takeaways from this episode 

  • Be intentional with your company culture. Firms don’t fail because of a lack of talent; they fail when they crumble internally. That’s why it’s so important to be intentional about establishing a company culture. Start at the hiring process by hiring the right person, not just the most qualified candidate. Establish a set of core values and commit to them. Inviting a consultant to help can serve as an asset.
  • Cultivate a strong leadership team. An effective team of leaders should be made up of both lawyers and non-lawyers. But most importantly, leaders need to be aligned with one another, and with the people they’re managing, in their values.
  • Love people and demand high performance. Caring for your team creates a more profitable business, but all that starts with intentional hiring. “I believe when you love people you earn the right to demand high performance.”

Episode Highlights 

[01:02] Meet the guest: Today we’re joined by Bill Biggs, an innovative organizational leader who helps law firms transform their company culture so they can excel in today’s competitive world.

[02:38] What is culture, anyway?: Culture is perhaps one of the most overused, yet misunderstood terms in corporate America today. Bill walks us through what culture really is — and isn’t.

[04:27] Be intentional: Bill offers some advice to smaller firms that may struggle more than larger firms with developing strong culture and leadership. 

[13:12] Getting the best hire: Hiring intentionally may seem impossible amid today’s worker shortage, but there are ways to streamline the process while finding the right candidate.

[17:22] Attitude over experience: Experience isn’t the only determining factor when it comes to finding the right hire. Bill and Michael discuss why attitude and aptitude matter so much.

[20:40] Develop your leaders: Bill discusses how firms can establish company leadership and best practices for cultivating future leaders through professional development.

[23:49] Let your lawyers lawyer: Your leadership shouldn’t just be coming from your legal team. Bill explains why a leadership team from departments across your company is beneficial.

[30:30] A path for mid-level leaders: Cultivating mid-level leadership is a two-way street. Bill offers a step-by-step guide to helping pave that path for your best team leaders and helping them grow into “Multipliers.”

[34:12] More than profit: Bill explains why “love people and demand high performance” is his motto, and why it’s an effective leadership strategy.

[41:23] Every problem is a leadership problem: This is another phrase that Bill swears by. But what exactly does it mean, and what differentiates a good leader from a bad one?

[44:05] Leadership is not unique: There are plenty of resources out there designed to help you improve your culture and leadership. Organizations like Vista, PILMMA, and PetraCoach, as well as Mike Morse’s book Fireproof, are some of Bill’s top industry recommendations.

[46:11] Embrace ownership mentality: To improve your own workplace culture or climb to the top of your firm’s leadership ladder, don’t think like an employee. Use books — Start With Why by Simon Sinek and Multipliers by Liz Wiseman — to start thinking like a leader first. 

Connect with Trial Lawyer Nation

☑️ Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & LinkedIn.

☑️ Subscribe to Trial Lawyer Nation on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or YouTube.

In this popular and award-winning podcast for trial lawyers, noteworthy author, sought-after speaker, and renowned trial lawyer, Michael Cowen explores critical topics distinctive to the legal profession with some of the biggest names in the industry – specifically focused on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.

Produced and Sponsored by LawPods.

101 – Laura Pazin Porter – Pushing Forward: The Journey to Partner

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael welcomes newly minted partner at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock, Laura Pazin Porter, to the show for the first time to discuss her path to partner.

They begin the episode with a look at who Laura is and her career leading up to joining Cowen Rodriguez Peacock in 2019. Laura shares that she’s originally from Florida, but moved to McAllen, Texas at a young age and has strong South Texas roots. She first moved to San Antonio to attend St. Mary’s School of Law and has lived there ever since.

After graduating law school, Laura started working for acclaimed plaintiff’s lawyer Tom Rhodes, where she stayed until his passing in 2018. While working with Tom, Laura shares how she learned the importance of attention to detail, keeping the momentum going on your cases, and the value of a team approach. She also had the opportunity to work with previous podcast guest Hans Poppe as well as Randi McGinn, who Laura was lucky enough to get to try a case with. Laura shares how she was immediately drawn to Randi’s interaction with the jurors and thoughtful use of visuals.

Michael then asks Laura about the transition and differences between working with Tom Rhodes and working at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock. Laura explains how the team structure was different there, with lawyers sharing a legal assistant and working together on the docket. Here, Laura has learned how to manage a team with an associate, paralegal, and medical coordinator, and has grown a lot in her leadership skills.

“Being the leader that I would want is really what I try to do when I approach a meeting.” – Laura Pazin Porter

In addition to adapting to a new team structure, Laura has had to learn a new area of the law in trucking and commercial vehicle cases. She believes the education she was provided with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock and an excellent, experienced paralegal aided in this transition. She and Michael then discuss how regular lawyering skills, she had already developed, applied in a new area. Michael adds that he believes there’s nothing harder than medical negligence cases, which Laura had lots of experience in when she first came here. In fact, Michael quotes Laura’s past boss, who once said that trucking cases were “nursing homes on wheels” because of the similarities in paperwork and procedure.

Another area where Michael notes Laura has grown is in her ability to make decisions confidently, and he asks if there was anything he and his firm did to help with that. Laura once again emphasizes the education, tools, and skills that the firm provided her. This increased her confidence in herself and made her more confident in her decisions. They discuss the access to JJ Keller trainings for truck drivers, the firm’s weekly Case Valuation roundtables, the yearly Big Rig Boot Camp and more. She also shares that she is grateful for the lawyers who provided her with resources and forms to get started, so she wasn’t starting from scratch.

After a brief look at some of the amazing case values Laura has obtained recently and how she did it, they move on to discuss some of the rules Michael has at his firm, discussed in more detail in this episode with partner Malorie Peacock. Laura shares how these rules may be time consuming, but she has come to learn why they all have a purpose, and she finds herself in a better position to accomplish her goals when they are followed. Michael adds that he has been working a docket again recently, so he’s had to follow his own rules for the first time. He agrees they can be a pain, but that little pain now will save A LOT of pain later.

“The stressed-out brain does not make good decisions.” – Michael Cowen

Circling back to training opportunities, Michael and Laura discuss the long-term value of hiring skilled litigation and trial consultants – you pay them once to work with you on a case, but you have the knowledge they provided you with you in every case going forward. Michael then shares how he is often asked why he spends so much time and money on training, since the lawyers could leave the firm at any time. His philosophy is simple, and he explains it well – he wants to have good lawyers everyone else wants to steal, but for those lawyers to choose to stay.

“I really want a firm that everybody in town is trying to steal our people, every day. I want every lawyer here to be recruited constantly, that every other firm wants them. And then I also want them to not want to leave.” – Michael Cowen

This leads them to discuss how they balance their workloads. While some firms require lawyers to work Saturdays, Michael has a different approach which allows more flexibility, which Laura appreciates. They both agree that sometimes it’s necessary to work late or work weekends but allowing the lawyer to decide what works best for them has led to a much better work life balance for Laura.

They end the episode on a slightly personal note, discussing how they balance their work, spouses, and kids. Laura shares how her and her spouse both have strong work ethics, and it helps them understand each other’s needs. Michael then quotes Randi McGinn, saying that “You can have it all, just not at the same time,” which is his philosophy with this. He’ll work late sometimes, but not all the time. He’ll take long vacations with his family, but not all the time. They agree that it’s all about finding the balance in whatever way works for you and your family.

This podcast also covers how Laura is getting fantastic case values, what she’s doing to develop her new associate, how to find the balance in your workload, and much more.

 

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. 

94 – Delisi Friday – Building Your Leadership Dream Team

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development, Delisi Friday, to discuss how they built their leadership team.

The episode begins with a look at how the leadership team started. Michael shares how it started like many of his business decisions, based on a concept from Patrick Lencioni. He started by having regular meetings with his partners, but quickly noticed the flaws in that system – 3 lawyers were making decisions for everybody at the firm, without any input from the non-lawyer leaders who had “boots on the ground.” He found that decisions were being made with old or incomplete information and decided to include Delisi and Teresa (the firm operations manager) on the team.

“Lawyers don’t have a monopoly on good ideas.” – Michael Cowen

Delisi shares why she loves being on the leadership team. Not only does she provide a valuable and unique perspective in the decision making process, but being privy to the firm’s finances and operations has helped her do her own job better. Michael also adds that many team members feel more comfortable going to Delisi or Teresa with problems than they would feel going to him or the other partners.

“It’s uncomfortable to come to the person who signs your paycheck and tell them something that’s not favorable.” – Delisi Friday

Michael then goes into detail on how they formed the team and what they did. He explains that the foundation for any good leadership team (and a common theme in this episode) is trust. Building that trust has taken time, but he noticed that trust grew rapidly once the leadership team spent two days answering just five questions about the business. This is where their core values were decided, which form the basis for every decision made. If something doesn’t fit in those core values, everybody on the leadership team feels comfortable calling that out and vocalizing their disagreement.

“The debate needs to happen, and it takes a lot of trust to say, ‘Michael Cowen, I don’t think that’s a good idea and here’s why.’” – Michael Cowen

After a brief discussion on how they measure success in different areas of the firm and how they use those metrics in lieu of a prepared agenda for their weekly meetings, Michael and Delisi continue to talk about trust, conflict, and decision making in their leadership team.

Michael shares why it’s important for leadership team members to know if he says something critical about them, it’s coming from a good place rather than trying to put them down – and this vulnerability-based trust is really hard to develop. Delisi agrees and reveals she can take things personally and has had learn to be in the right mindset going into these meetings. And while most of their decisions are a consensus, not all are, giving the recent example of a vaccine mandate at the firm, which they decided against after a lengthy and heated debate. The most important thing, Michael says, is that everybody feels heard and the team is respectful of one another.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see in a business, and I also think it makes us a healthy business.” – Delisi Friday

After sharing how to look for disagreement in facial expressions and body language when it’s not being vocalized, with Delisi sharing an interesting comparison of this and voir dire, Michael opens up about how it isn’t unnatural for him to have uncomfortable conversations. But as he’s gotten better at having them at work, he’s also grown more comfortable having them with his family at home.

“It’s a skill that we have to develop, like anything else. And it’s a skill that really pays dividends.” – Michael Cowen

One of the most uncomfortable conversations for him was that of the firm’s finances, which he now shares the details of with his entire leadership team. At first, Michael shares, he was worried that they would panic and leave because of the ups and downs that happen in a contingency fee-based practiced- but nobody was criticizing, and nobody quit.

Recognizing the emotion involved in sharing your business’s finances with other team members, Delisi asks Michael if he felt relieved to share that burden with others. Michael says he did, and he encourages other firm owners listening to do the same, especially if there’s a team making business decisions involved. And while there have been some challenging times, especially during COVID, Delisi agrees that it’s important for her to have that information when she’s involved in making business decisions.

So, how big does a firm need to be to consider having a leadership team? Delisi believes that no firm is too small – even if that means the team is only 2-3 people. Whether you meet with your CPA or even just a trusted mentor once a quarter, the important thing is to have somebody helping you make decisions, set goals, hold you accountable, and reach them.

After once again recommending the book “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni (seriously, buy it), Michael ends the show on a sentimental note and encourages everyone listening to put in the effort to making their work family the best family it can be.

“We spend more time with our work families than with our own families. Let’s try to make it the happiest, healthiest family we can.” – Michael Cowen

This podcast also covers why your core values can’t be aspirational, how to look for disagreement when it’s not vocalized, how to assess a team’s performance, and much more.

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