Listen to Improve Your Firm?

20 – Alexander Begum – A Practice Built by The Law Giant

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, Alexander Begum, who has offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Alex admits early on in his conversation with Michael that he didn’t originally know he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t have any immediate connections to the law field, and friends and family members initially forced him to study for his MBA as a fallback. A blessing in disguise, this actually helped him to bring a business perspective to the field of law.

From early on, Alex found himself valuable by leveraging his business and finance education. He turned down a $75k/yr position at a defense firm, has his sights on something better, only to take 4 years to break the $100k mark. He first started with just about any case he could bring in the door from child custody to divorce to criminal and corporate, but eventually transitioned to personal injury when he got a big “break” from an owner of a managing agency who saw him in the courtroom as a defense lawyer who won a settlement against the plaintiff through a counterclaim. They liked what they saw so much they essentially fired another firm they had been working with and sent all their car wreck defense cases to his office. Listening to him tell the story is reminiscent of something from the movies with a van full of case files, in varying stages of pre-lit and litigation, being dropped at their front doorstep. Jumping right into the cases, it didn’t take long for him to see the limitless potential in the personal injury world. After having been exposed to several practice areas of law and through the process of elimination, Alex landed on plaintiff personal injury. The fact that his father was an immigrant further solidified his decision to fight for the small guy, beat all odds and led him into representing people who had been victimized in some way.

The conversation fast-forwards and switches to a more “tactical” view of trial strategy involving the practice of NOT including medical bills in a trial. The studies that Michael and Alex have both reviewed are striking, but the actual implementation of this in Alex’s practice has proven to be successful with 6 and 7-figure verdicts on cases – some of which have $4k of medical bills! The explanation from Alex on why he thinks this practice works is extremely insightful, to say the least, and shows that litigation without medical bills may become the standard practice by necessity. Michael points out that, ironically, he believes the industry is going to end up with bigger recoveries. They also talk through the effects the different strategies have on juries in awarding damages and how one of the tactics can anchor down the numbers, whereas the other can allow jurors to think about the true impact of what’s been taken from a client and their family.

Alex shares some of his insights on how he balances the administration of running his firm and keeping cases on track with trying cases himself. He shares everything from the software they use to his endless checklists, which Michael is able to draw a parallel to form a brief past in aviation where pilots are known for going through their checklists regardless of how many times they’ve flown the airplane – all in the name of quality control.

Michael asks Alex about the journey of advertising, which they both agree is “painful.” But, Alex goes on to talk about the evolution of advertising in the legal industry and the importance of dominating a niche market with examples like “The Jewish Lawyer,” “The Hammer,” or in his own case, “The Law Giant.” He talks about a significant focus group he conducted that helped him realize the overwhelming weight given toward recalling a branded nickname/persona more than any other factor in an attorney’s practice. In Alex’s view, things like trial experience, verdict history, or even the name of the attorney play very little into the public’s perspective of who to call. Some of the examples he gives of niche type tactics are tried and true when it comes to advertising on everything from billboards down to business cards.

Michael wraps up the episode by asking on behalf of all the aspiring PI lawyers listening, “How did you get to where you are?” Alex’s reply is priceless and timeless all at once: “It’s funny how the harder I work, the luckier I become.”

Background on Alexander Begum

Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, with offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo, and McAllen. Mr. Begum completed his undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio earning a double major in marketing and finance. Thereafter, he attended Harvard University in Boston where he studied finance and legal writing. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Alex acquired a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Texas Tech University.

After graduating from law school, Alex did not cease in his quest for learning and improving his skills. In 2010 Mr. Begum was chosen to be among the elite few who are accepted into the Trial Lawyers College. This intense program is intended to push each individual student toward a greater understanding of themselves and others. Every attorney that graduates from the Trial Lawyers College walks away knowing they have improved not only their skills as attorneys but have improved their “personhood” as well. Attending such a program is not an easy task. Alexander Begum made the choice to be away from his home, family and law practice to devote the time to attend and graduate from the Trial Lawyers College. He willingly made this sacrifice for a singular purpose. He wanted to be better able to help his clients and serve his community.

For more information on Alex Begum, visit https://www.texaslegalgroup.com/Attorneys/Alexander-Begum.shtml

 

15 – Phillip Miller – Understanding the Minds of the Jury

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with author, trial consultant, and lawyer Phillip Miller from Nashville, TN.

Oddly enough, Phillip never planned on being a lawyer, being raised as a “military brat” traveling the country with his family that had a background in medicine in the military. It was actually the misfortune of dealing with attorneys in the wake of his father’s unfortunate passing, and subsequently, his mother passing 11 months later, which led him to want to go to law school at night while working during the day as a systems analyst. His practice started from humble beginnings to the point where he was paying overhead with no cases and not really knowing anyone in the field. However, his first case, which happened to be a car wreck, helped him to see his future in personal injury law.

Phillip credits his path to early success to his emphasis on education and taking as many CLE courses as possible. So much so that he began to have as much knowledge as those who were teaching the courses and soon after found himself invited to be on faculty with ATLA, which propelled his learning even more. Phillip notes that you don’t just get invited and start teaching. You first start out by writing a paper on the subject matter, which led to him reading more and becoming exposed to other great lawyers, and the cycle continued to help make him a better lawyer too. Michael also recalls a similar feeling of learning more from doing research and writing papers than from going to lectures to hear others speak on a topic.

Phillip discusses his views on learning from others and says that if you only talk with those who are practicing the same things in the same area, you’ll likely turn out to be just like them. Whereas he has sought to talk and learn from people from all over the world, just to get a different perspective on how others try those very same cases and continue to work cases from all four corners of the country and everywhere in between.

When asked by Michael about his approach to cases when he gets brought in, Phillip sites having worked with and picked up methodologies from Rodney Jew, like becoming an expert in taking depositions and the strategy behind them. As a great example of this, Phillip talks through the idea of “jury proof,” which goes beyond just the duty of breach, a duty of causation, and damages line of questions and instead delves into other questions that, if aren’t explored, resulting in a jury filling in their own answers. In other words, thinking beyond the obvious questions and answers that will help to win your case and looking at the case through the lens of a defense juror. Phillip goes on to say that these techniques are great for finding the “land mines” which could potentially damage a case. Then taking it a step further to use focus groups to help prioritize those detrimental pieces of jury proof, which helps to set up cases to be tried in an order geared towards a jury.

Phillip continues to talk through these “land mines” and the idea of working through the “bad” facts of a case to make them irrelevant or immaterial to the case, which sometimes includes just accepting them and moving on. He also notes that this does not always come easy to the plaintiff’s lawyers who are used to fighting for their client.  Michael also points out (from something Phillip mentioned earlier in the day) that juries tend to make the trials about what you take time to make them about; so when the defense has something bad for your case and you spend time-fighting about it, you end up making the focal point of the case more about that item.

The episode concludes with a discussion of the 5 things Phillip has learned about focus groups and juries and their significance to every case. He even gives some great insights on a product liability case involving talcum powder he worked on recently that really drives one of those jury lessons home.

 

Background on Phillip Miller

Phillip is nationally recognized for his work as a deposition/trial strategist and has been hired by firms in 30 states and the District of Columbia to help them prepare their biggest, most significant cases. Phillip maintains an active practice in Nashville, TN. He has been certified and re-certified as a Civil Trial Specialist, he is AV rated, and has been designated as a Super Lawyer repeatedly. His innovative approaches and case strategy work, including techniques like the “Miller Mousetrap”, have earned him recognition among trial lawyers nationally. Although 70% of Phillip’s time is doing deposition/case strategy and focus groups for other firms, Phillip has personally tried to a verdict both a tractor-trailer case and a school bus case within the last 12 months.

His two most recent books (co-authored with his friend, Paul Scoptur) are “Advanced Deposition Strategy and Practice” released by Trial Guides in July 2013; and “Focused Discovery” in the newly published Anatomy of the Personal Injury Lawsuit, in 2015.  His newest book “Focus Groups – Hitting the Bullseye” is published by AAJ Press and released in January 2017.

For more info on Phillip Miller, visit:

https://philliphmiller.com/

09 – Artemis Malekpour – All-Inclusive Trial Strategy

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with a nationally renowned trial consultant, Artemis Malekpour whose strength lies in her trial litigation strategy consulting. She describes it by boiling it all down to, “we help your case.”

However, the sheer magnitude of the scope of her work ranges from before you even file a case, to the end result, and everything in between, including focus groups, trial strategy, mediation strategy, discovery, pre-suit issues, voir dire, and opening statements to name just a few. Artemis describes her entry into the profession as coming initially from a background of psychology and starting down the pre-med path when realizations came to her, along with a pretty dramatic chain of events, that aligned her studies with a passion toward the legal industry. Her dilemma with the situation turned into learning more and taking in feedback from many different subsequent cases and being introduced to them from the inside, which eventually confirmed she was heading in the right direction for herself.

Empathizing with Michael, who also has a psychology degree, Artemis describes several of the cases she’s been through where the emotions start to take over and the desire to help everyone kicks in. Both Michael and Artemis give several examples of intake processes now firmly in place to help avoid accepting cases which are not suitable to take on both for the good of the firm or for the good of the client.

Artemis also opens up about her focus group experiences across the country, averaging sometimes around 40 per year, and divulges some of the trends she is seeing as a result of our current political climate. An interesting moment is a conversation between her and Michael about the power of silence, be it in the courtroom or with a focus group, and how it can be used to benefit your case. And while this technique and others are discussed, Artemis reinforces the importance of understanding there is no “magic formula” for success and describes what she believes the best trial lawyers do after trial.

The insights Artemis shares throughout the conversation are not just insightful, but practical toward any case. Michael jokingly refers to these insights as a “list of the things we do to screw up our own cases.” But we also know even that depiction is sometimes an understatement, which is why talking with Artemis was such a pleasure in this episode. She tells it like it is, and we all come out better on the other side.

Background on Artemis Malekpour

Artemis Malekpour is a partner in the litigation consulting firm of Malekpour & Ball.  With a background in psychology and psychiatric research, she specializes in focus groups, case strategy, damages, and jury selection.  Artemis did her undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then earned a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from UNC’s School of Public Health and a law degree with honors from Duke University.  She has consulted on a wide variety of cases across the country, with a knack for identifying potential landmines, incorporating her knowledge from years of watching jury deliberations and talking with jurors.

For more info on Artemis Malekpour visit https://www.trialguides.com/authors/artemis-malekpour/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background on Lisa Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

04 – Tim McKey – The Business Side of Practicing Law

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen talks with Vista Consulting’s Owner, Tim McKey, who has been consulting on operational matters with successful plaintiff law firms since 2008.

Tim’s CPA background steers his focus toward numbers and metrics but he concedes that there is a lot more that goes into running a successful practice such as culture and human resources, which allows him to approach firms from a holistic stance. As a client of Vista, Michael shares that he has a personal appreciation for Vista’s value to plaintiff firms, which he also acknowledges has allowed him to sleep better at night knowing the firm runs smoother than ever.

Michael explores with Tim his launching point in working with plaintiff firms; and discovers the strategic decision Tim made after owning his own CPA firm, which drove him to work with attorneys in a big way. Tim also describes his passion for helping firms define success and desire to help CHANGE the score instead of just KEEPING the score as a substantial motivation. During his transition to the consulting world, Tim lightheartedly recalls how similar the process turned out to be for his first two clients; those being a plaintiff’s attorney and business at the polar opposite end of the spectrum (tune in to hear what the other business was). The process Tim uses to examine and analyze a firm is noted to work regardless of years in practice and focuses specifically on tightening up potential deficiencies within the firm and its client acquisition practices.

While being empathetic to the fact that attorneys, in general, are not introduced to business practices before setting out to run their own law practice, Michael recalls his early days in another law firm where trial and error was the modus operandi of their operations, long before he was introduced to Vista’s techniques. The difference between effective and efficient systems and processes are the cornerstone to what Tim advises throughout this episode as he offers listeners insights into breaking down their firm’s data to a dashboard view of the practice and what to do next.

This podcast concludes with Tim explaining things a step further to amplify the importance of having a project point person throughout the process of using what he calls the “public restroom theory.” It’s a wild analogy, but it hits home tremendously to anyone who tends to have lists of 100 “great ideas” being worked on by the firm. And for anyone who has felt the pain of turnover in their office, Tim talks about the mentality of “hire slow and fire fast,” along with the tools, training, and expectations being a key part in the onboarding process to set an employee up for success.

Background on Tim McKey

Tim co-founded Vista Consulting in 2009 with a vision to help plaintiff law firm owners reach their full potential. Tim has traditional CPA experience with local, regional, and national CPA firms. However, it is through Tim’s prior consulting practice that he found his passion. He has worked with many business owners assisting them with defining and attaining success in their business and personal lives.

Tim’s experience and interest allow him to assist Vista clients with developing a realistic vision of their firm into the future, creating a strategic plan to achieve that vision while working with firm owners in designing their desired lifestyle. Tim assists his clients in reviewing firm tax entity structure and accounting systems analysis, and financial reporting.

For more info on Tim McKey visit https://www.vistact.com/meet-the-team/tim-mckey.

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