learning

81 – Mallory Storey Ulmer – Baptism by Fire: When Tenacity Defeats Tenure

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Mallory Storey Ulmer from the Walton Law Firm in Auburn, Alabama. Mallory is a young lawyer who recently achieved a $15 million settlement for her clients in a not-so-plaintiff-friendly state. She and Michael discuss her path to such early success, the details of how she worked up the case, and her advice for other young lawyers who want to make a big impact on a big case.

They begin the episode with a bit on Mallory’s background. After working as a paralegal for 8 years, she decided to go to law school with the intention of becoming an insurance defense lawyer. While in law school, she received a prestigious internship at a plaintiff firm and fell in love with plaintiff work, stating “once you’re on the right side, you can’t switch over.” She and Michael then discuss the emotional toll of plaintiff work, especially in a state like Alabama that’s “no plaintiff’s paradise,” but agree the satisfaction of representing people who need it most can’t be beat (as long as you have the right mindset).

This leads Michael to ask Mallory what she’s done to develop her skillset. She says that one of the best decisions she made was joining an excellent firm with a great reputation. Walton Law Firm has robust systems, great lawyers, and makes education a top priority. She’s been able to learn from some of the best minds in the legal industry both in her office and through a wide variety of legal seminars.

While these opportunities helped build her knowledge base, she and Michael agree at some point you just have to jump in and start trying some cases (or as Mallory calls it, “baptism by fire.”) Michael also notes the importance of networking with other lawyers, to which Mallory agrees. Because of her networking and impressive resume of cases, she is now being invited to speak more often at legal conventions.

Next, the pair jumps into the nitty gritty of the $15,000,000 case Mallory recently settled. While she can’t share too many details due to a confidentiality agreement, she agrees to share what she can within those boundaries. This case had an incredibly complex liability sequence, which stemmed from a series of car wrecks and resulted in catastrophic injuries to her client. In fact, her client’s crash occurred when the defendant driver was not driving a commercial vehicle, further complicating the regulatory guidelines for the company.

Another difficult aspect of this case concerns the venue: Alabama, which is no “plaintiff’s paradise” and has contributory negligence, similar to North Carolina as discussed in our episode with Karonnie Truzy. In short, this means if the client is ANY part at fault for the wreck (even 1%), they cannot receive any compensation. This causes worry in any case, but in a case of this size, Mallory knew she needed a plan to combat this defense if the case went to trial.

She then describes a genius argument of wanton (willful) conduct which would have taken away the contributory negligence defense. While she was never able to use the argument because the case settled, this is an incredibly impressive strategy she plans to “keep in her pocket” for future use.

After discussing the importance of discovery and depositions in the case, Mallory shares why she decided to frame the case as a “systems failure.” This boils down to the fact that juries don’t like to award a large verdict against one driver; they’d much rather award a large verdict to a company where the driver was a victim as well.

Michael and Malorie then have a brief conversation about why it’s necessary to work with others (even if you don’t agree). This starts with politics and ends with an astute observation from Mallory about how this also applies to defense lawyers.

Moving back to Mallory’s case, Michael asks how Mallory found rules and systems to apply to her case when the defendant was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the crash. She decided to fall back on the company’s materials, training, and supervision. Regardless of the type of vehicle the defendant was driving, those standards should still apply.

Michael chimes in that his firm’s strategy for a case like this is “compared to what?” He will look at what other similar companies do and argue that while something may not be a regulation, it is certainly the industry standard. Mallory agrees with this strategy and adds that those publications are perfect for getting excellent sound bites in depositions and appealing to an educated jury pool who may sympathize with business owners but understand companies should care about and know these things.

The episode concludes with Mallory’s tips for other lawyers who get a big case like hers. Her first piece of advice is to posture aggressively from the beginning, meaning to act like you’re taking the case to trial. This is especially true in a case with large damages because there’s too much at stake. She insists that this is scary for defense lawyers who don’t want to try the case. Her second piece of advice is to “prepare, prepare, prepare.” She’s found this shuts out any fear that may creep in. It takes a LOT of time and energy, but it has always worked to her advantage as the defense is never as prepared as she is.

Mallory’s last piece of advice is to know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to pull somebody else in if you need help. She urges other young lawyers to not be afraid of “looking stupid,” and be willing to spend the money you need to on experts and co-counsel. “You will most likely earn that back three-fold, and you’ll be glad you did it.” In the end, pulling in people who are experienced to guide you will result in a better fee for you and a better result for your client. Then next time, you can use what you learned, and you may not need to get as many people involved.

If you’d like to get in touch with Mallory to discuss a case, ask her to speak, or to learn more about this case, you can reach her by email at mallory@waltonlaw.net, or by phone at 334-321-3000. She’s happy to talk strategy or help in any way.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of discovery and depositions in Mallory’s case, proposed Texas House Bill 19, why you should try to work with defense attorneys (and what to do when they’re unbearable), Mallory’s approach to jury research, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Mallory Storey Ulmer is an attorney at Walton Law Firm, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama. Prior to joining Walton Law Firm, P.C., Mallory gained experience in whistleblower, fraud, and employment litigation while working at Beasley Allen Law Firm, with some of those cases gaining national attention on merit. Mallory’s current practice is focused on representing victims in personal injury litigation, including the areas of wrongful death, motor vehicle and trucking litigation. She has experience handling cases in the Southeast and Midwest at state and federal court levels. Mallory recently obtained a $15 million settlement in a contested liability case arising from a crash that caused catastrophic injuries to our client.

Mallory is an advocate of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, which provides resources for members of our communities affected by traumatic brain injuries, and she is passionate about representing people who have been seriously injured and families of those killed as a result of the negligence of others.

Mallory and her husband, Dr. Matthew J. Ulmer, and their daughter, Amory, reside in Auburn. They enjoy traveling, visiting with family, finding good local eateries, and being outdoors.

 

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.

 

55 – Jacob Leibowitz – Overcoming COVID-19: Working Remote & Staying Afloat

In this special Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael discusses COVID-19 with fellow trial lawyer Jacob Leibowitz. This episode focuses on adapting your firm to function in an ever-changing crisis situation, including insights on safety, remote work, technology, cash flow, and employee morale.

The show begins with a discussion on using technology to keep cases moving. Jacob emphasizes the importance of continuing to have depositions utilizing video conferencing technology. Their firm has chosen to use Zoom for depositions, mediations, and client meetings, and they have been successful with it. They discuss the pros and cons of Zoom, highlighting many useful features including video recording, “breakout rooms,” options to increase audio quality, and a way to share exhibits that Jacob argues is even better than the in-person method. The challenges of this technology for depositions, and in many states across the U.S., is the person who swears in the witness needs to be in the same room to make the oath sufficient. Jacob shares how the Supreme Court of Texas has assisted with this. The use of online notaries is also discussed and both Michael and Jacob implore the listeners to reach out in their respective state to determine if this can be a solution.

Originally, Jacob believed mediations via video conferencing would be extremely complicated, but he has been pleasantly surprised by the ease of using breakout rooms in Zoom. While some mediators have resisted, Michael is confident they will come around soon, telling them “Either you’re not getting paid or you’re going to do it this way.” Jacob echoes this thought by stating, “It’s here right now, and we have to adapt to it.” They apply this same reasoning to defense counsel who may have objections. Michael strongly believes if the defense doesn’t bill, they don’t make money, and they don’t survive. Jacob thinks it is the plaintiff lawyer’s responsibility to push the case, educate all parties involved on how to use the technology, and has been kind enough to create a Zoom Deposition Guide to share with everyone. This guide can be shared with defense counsel, mediators, and anyone else hesitant with this process. (A Zoom video tutorial for clients has also been created and can be found here)

The conversation shifts to remote work and how their firm of over 30 employees in different office locations has navigated the transition of physical office space to a virtual office space. The process began with Michael deciding to purchase company laptops for staff who did not have one. This was necessary because his IT company would only allow access to the server through a private VPN on a company-owned computer for security reasons. They discuss other challenges of remote work during a quarantine, including working with kids at home, server capacity, and cloud migration. Jacob then shares valuable advice for other firms to mitigate these challenges by advising “You just need to go full force into this, because you’re going to end up learning a whole lot, and you need to.” The reality is no one knows how long social distancing and a nationwide quarantine will last, so lawyers need to adjust accordingly.

On a serious note, Michael recognizes that regardless of technological innovations, the COVID-19 pandemic will disrupt firms’ cash flow. He shares his experience with a market panic and how he has been proactive in protecting the firm’s finances through pulling out money ahead of time and watching his finances very carefully. He also cautions other firms against laying employees off too soon, citing the proposed stimulus bill (which has now passed) would provide loan forgiveness to small businesses who use the money for payroll. He also understands that sometimes, you have to do whatever is right for your firm to stay afloat during these challenging times.

With all these sudden and extreme changes, employee morale can fall to the wayside. Jacob asks Michael what many listeners must be wondering – How do you keep employee morale up during this process? Michael simply states: “We’re overcommunicating.” His firm has focused on having consistent and frequent video conference calls to communicate on daily tasks, collaborates on larger projects, and even gather socially for a Friday evening virtual happy hour. He explains how important it was to tell his staff they could financially handle a 3-4 month quarantine and not have layoffs, and ensure staff of his focus on keeping everyone safe, be it their health or job security. Jacob compliments Michael on his efforts so far and adds that he feels morale has actually increased since the beginning of this crisis, noting that employees can see the massive amount of effort and reassurance given so far. Michael also believes “overcommunicating” applies to clients and referral attorneys and has made an effort to touch base with everyone in his network. This has led to his firm continuing to receive case referrals because they are being proactive.

Lastly, Jacob and Michael discuss their main takeaways during COVID-19. Jacob sees this time as an opportunity to gain skills to better your practice, spend more time with your family, and push your abilities as an attorney. Michael agrees and adds that it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself physically and mentally. He also emphasizes the importance of patience and thankfulness during these difficult times. Michael ends on a powerful note: “We all need to step up and be leaders – leaders for our firms, leaders for our clients, and leaders for our communities.”

This podcast also covers virtual court hearings, telemedicine, self-insured retentions, Microsoft Teams, why clients are liking the face time with attorneys using Zoom, virtual document signing (www.notarize.com), and the efficiency of technology.

14 – Steven Gursten – Remarkable Customer Service = Extraordinary Law Practice (and Life)

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Michigan trial lawyer and owner of Michigan Auto Law, along with 3 other law firms, Steven Gursten. As an early adopter of internet legal marketing, Steven has built his firm to become extremely successful in Michigan and is recognized as having the TOP verdict in the state 8 out of the last 12 years, as well as success throughout the country.

Steven recalls in the first 10 years of his practice making it a goal to be a great trial lawyer and have attorneys all over the state refer him cases. To get there, he still recommends lawyers set aside 30 minutes to an hour every day to read and study some area of law. IE: Mondays would be opening statements, Tuesdays might be cross examining, Wednesdays – closings, Thursdays – medicine, and Fridays he wanted to become an expert on the Michigan no-fault law. Even now, Steven utilizes the massive amounts of information he’s accumulated, learned from, and still references. Similarly, Michael recalls and shares a story about learning through the process of proofreading a book another attorney in his office was writing and both agree the continuation of learning after passing the bar is extremely important.

Fast forwarding from 4 attorneys in his first practice to now having 20 attorneys across 4 diverse practices, Michael and Steven discuss the two very different disciplines of running a law firm vs. trying cases, both of which they do very successfully. He also goes into detail on some of the systems he has put in place as a solid foundation, in order to handle the hundreds of cases coming through his different practices, and how much he has embraced different technologies throughout the years. Steven also brings up a great point that in today’s online society, good lawyers will now more than ever be rewarded and bad lawyers will be punished because of Google reviews, Avvo, and other similar review sites, which makes customer service even more important. Meanwhile, those same systems are the ones which help great law firms stay on top of their cases and communicate with their clients to avoid the potential pitfalls easily avoided through systematic communication. Topics such as discussing what not to post on social media or making sure the client is going to their doctors’ appointments can have hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of impact on a case when communication is stagnant. Steven goes on to say that the same type of communication can also have a huge impact when it comes to keeping referring attorneys in the loop on shared cases, citing a recent case he referred to Michael in which he was extremely impressed with the follow up.

The conversation shifts when Michael asks Steven how he’s able to have the other 19 attorneys in his office use all of the systems he has in place. Without hesitation, Steven points to the culture of his firm which has guided everyone in the same direction, keeping them on the same page, regarding the inner workings of the practices. He is also quick to point out that establishing this type of culture starts with the ownership of a firm, and regardless of tenure no attorney should ever be above talking with their clients, which is something he tries to instill in each of his attorneys. Steven also shares some of the small things they do to build the culture, such as whenever they receive a great review, they send it out to everyone in the firm to further demonstrate its importance to the firm as a whole and praise those who are walking the talk.

So many great insights on running a successful firm (too many to list in this brief description) come from Steven and Michael throughout this episode, even down to the psychological testing Steven does with everyone in his firm which helps shed light on their ability to deliver a quality customer experience. Steven also shares several thoughts for those who are trying to build their practices, which any attorney can leverage to not only work in their practice but also on their practice.

The conversation transitions to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) to which Steven again delivers a mountain’s worth of information in rapid succession. Steven is gracious enough to lay out not only the basics of how TBI cases are identified but also the more intricate and subtle ways clients who’ve suffered from a TBI are not only identified but also misunderstood, as Michael asks him questions to bridge the gap between customer service and delicate TBI cases. Steven’s view of customer service is engrained so deeply in him that even during this part of his conversation with Michael, he can’t help but note its importance when working with those who have suffered a TBI.  Things like displaying a positive image online in order to be seen as approachable, being cognizant of the tremendous diplomacy it takes to work with clients who have had a TBI, and doing everything in your power to genuinely make things as easy as possible on the them. Perhaps THAT is why he doesn’t encounter many of the problems or issues other attorneys do.

Background on Steven Gursten
Steven Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top attorneys handling serious auto accident injury and wrongful death cases, and No-Fault insurance litigation. He is head of Michigan Auto Law, the state’s largest law firm handling car, truck and motorcycle accident cases for more than 50 years.

Steven has recovered top-reported verdicts and settlements for car and truck accidents for multiple years, including a $34 million truck accident settlement in 2014 with Ohio co-counsel.   In this capacity, Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly “Lawyer of the Year,” after recovering one of the largest truck accident settlements in Michigan history, as well four other top-reported trial verdicts in previous years.

Steven frequently lectures at legal seminars throughout the country on trial advocacy, trucking litigation, and traumatic brain injury cases.  He is the annual moderator and speaker at the “Advanced Motor Vehicle Litigation Seminar,” offered through 360 Advocacy.   He is the current President of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and a Past Chair of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation Group.  Steven is also the chair-elect of the AAJ Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group.

In addition, he serves on the executive boards of the Melvin M. Belli Society and represents the state of Michigan in the Taos Trial Lawyers Society, an invitation-only group of distinguished trial attorneys from around the country.

For more info on Steven Gursten visit:
https://www.michiganautolaw.com/firm_profile/attorney-steven-gursten/

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