Michael Cowen

Michael Cowen specializes in personal injury cases involving trucking, commercial motor vehicle, catastrophic injury, oil field accidents as well as product liability,

53 – Malorie Peacock – The Verdict Is In! Post Trial Discussion

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock about their recent jury verdict. (In Episode 51 they discussed trial prep and included how they were preparing for an upcoming trial.) This time they will be discussing their $3,420,000 jury verdict, what worked well, how they overcame the challenges of this case, and the power “of a trial to heal.”

Malorie starts by sharing the background on the case. This was a construction site incident where their client was working when a trench collapsed and killed him. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) found the company did not provide the required trench protection. (For our listeners outside of Texas, Michael explains that in Texas there is optional workers comp, so the company did not have workers comp at the time and he was able to directly sue the employer.)

At face value, this may seem “like an easy win.” However, there were challenges in the case. The first was the lack of eyewitnesses, which was an obstacle for liability, so the case required the use of witness statements. OSHA keeps their witness statements anonymous, so the ambiguity made it more difficult than using a live person. Because of this Michael and Malorie knew there would be doubt in the minds of the jurors, so Michael had to use Keith Mitnik’s philosophy “doubt is not an out” in order to address the issue of anonymous statements that didn’t answer all of the questions in this incident.

Another challenge on the case, which related to damages, was the client being undocumented and working under a different name. This was “the elephant in the room,” which Michael and Malorie discuss in detail explaining why they chose to share this information in trial (even if most lawyers fight to have this excluded). Michael also points out his absolute shock with the defense alleging this was a sham marriage just for papers and provides insight on how a lack of photos and the appearance of the widow was used to argue this.

After sharing the challenges of the case, the topic shifts to jury selection and how a large portion of their jury panel knew about OSHA. Michael also shares his disappointment to his question “who would like to be on the jury,” but Malorie felt differently and was very impressed with the response. In this trial Michael used Sari de la Motte’s inclusive voir dire, shares how it was received by the jury panel, and the result of it making the defense “be reactive instead of proactive.”

Using visuals to educate the jurors was also important, but this doesn’t happen overnight. They discuss how they planned the visuals, why you need to show them to your experts, and talk about how they can be used in an expert testimony. When you use PowerPoint in trial it forces you to stick to a visual plan, but with poster boards you can decide IF you want to use it AND when. Malorie loved when a juror would ask one of them to “move a little bit over” so they could read a poster board. And Michael loved that the jury felt comfortable enough to ask them to move out of the way. This showed them the jury wanted to understand the information and knew why it was important to see it.

The podcast ends with an emotionally raw and incredibly honest conversation about the power “of a trial to heal.” Malorie shares the moment when the jury put money in the blanks the client “started sobbing uncontrollably” and how powerful it was for both her and their client. Trial is “the last stage of closure” in a death case. It is extremely significant and impactful for your client.

This episode also discusses the interesting questions the jury asked and how those questions were answered, feedback from the two alternate jurors, what you can learn from the defense voir dire, dealing with spacing issues in the courtroom, the surprising link between OSHA and high school theatre sets, the process of building trust with your client, the differences between an injury case and a death case, as well as other trial details you will want to hear.

 

52 – Karonnie Truzy – Iron Sharpens Iron: How Practicing in a Tough Jurisdiction Makes You A Better Lawyer

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with attorney Karonnie Truzy from North Carolina. This show covers everything from contributory negligence, to gross negligence, making your case about the company, 1983 civil rights cases, and the simple things attorneys can do to help with diversity and inclusion in our industry.

The conversation starts with a discussion on how to maintain a work-life balance, as it is certainly a big issue for the legal industry. Simply put Karonnie believes, “people make time for things that are important to them.” He shares how hard his paralegals work to make sure travel takes place in the middle of the week so on weekends he can be with his family. His law firm is also supportive and will proactively tell him to take some personal time when he’s spent long hours at the office (a rarity you hear about at big firms). And he shares a great example of their care for him when he injured his Achilles last year.

Contributory negligence is the next topic discussed and an important one. North Carolina is 1 of 4 states with contributory negligence, essentially stating if you are found to be ANY percent at fault and responsible in ANY way for your injury you cannot recover damages. It is a complete bar, which is different from other states with a comparative negligence between the plaintiff and defendant. “Wow. So how do you deal with that?” Michael asks (clearly the same thought on everyone’s mind). It starts by accepting cases on a case by case basis. But it’s also incredibly important to do a lot of investigation work at the very beginning from talking with witnesses and law enforcement, to gathering video evidence. And while contributory negligence is difficult Karonnie also discusses “last clear chance” and “gross negligence” as ways to get around it.

Michael and Karonnie then discuss what can be done to make a case about a company and not just the driver in order to make it a bigger case. To begin Karonnie shares why it is important to have everything you need in discovery from employee handbooks to training materials. JJ Keller is often referenced, so Michael adds why these materials can be useful to plaintiff attorneys by giving an example of how his law partner Malorie Peacock is using the JJ Keller training to learn what the rules are and what people should be trained on for a unique explosion case. Karonnie then explains how he organizes his depositions and uses 30(b)(6) to know he is deposing the right people in the case (30(b)(6) is discussed in detail in episode 30 with Mark Kosieradzki).

Karonnie also handles 1983 civil rights cases, which leads to a discussion of qualified immunity with police officers. You’re usually not the attorney riding in on a white horse and most jurors already believe your client did something wrong. So how do you handle juror perception? In most cases like this the police department will hold a press conference and news stories will be shared, so Karonnie will use this footage to ask whomever made those statements “was this truthful, was this actually what happened?” He does this in front of the jury, so they can see how these statements before a proper investigation can skew their perception because the information was inaccurate. The same inaccurate information also aids in mean comments on media articles, which Karonnie purposely does not read. However, the conversation comes full circle when Michael shares he reads those mean comments to learn about hurdles he has on a case and Karonnie states he does this with focus groups whether it’s a civil rights case or a trucking case.

Explaining the dynamic of a family after they lose a loved one is critical in our industry. But sometimes we as attorneys have to explain to a jury why the value of life is the same no matter who it is. If our client was not the perfect person and lost their life, “we take away the opportunity for redemption” Michael poetically states. Karonnie responds with a heartfelt example of a case where in deposition the daughter of a deceased client describes why she is upset about the loss of her father when her relationship with him was not great. It’s a story that will undoubtedly resonate with everyone and may bring some to tears as they realize just how precious every day is in life.

The topic of “diversity and inclusion” is often discussed in the legal industry. Karonnie recently finished his 3 year role as Chief Diversity Officer for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and shares how this role was created to work to on this issue. But change doesn’t just happen, it has to be real and not “just words on a paper” he explains. Michael shares his simple, yet effective, way of simply inviting new people to join a group. This leads Karonnie to describe the impact cliques can have within an organization, or when attending a CLE, and why it’s important for attorneys to realize when this happens you leave people out and it can create a problem. It’s a truly honest and open conversation on what can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic to discuss.

This episode also covers sudden emergency defense, how the AAJ Trucking Litigation Group helps with industry standards, using the commercial driver’s license manual to show what is reasonable in adverse weather conditions, and so much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

Karonnie Truzy is a North Carolina attorney where he practices as a Partner with the law firm of Crumley Roberts, LLP. Karonnie has been licensed to practice in the state of North Carolina since 2001 in both state and federal courts and he concentrates his practice on handling
complex injury cases, commercial motor vehicle cases, and wrongful death claims throughout the state of North Carolina in Federal and State Court. Karonnie earned an undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina at Spartanburg (Upstate) where he played basketball and further earned his Juris Doctorate from the Wake Forest University School of Law. He is dedicated to providing quality legal representation to each of his clients has helped his clients obtain successful results throughout North Carolina.

 

Karonnie is an accomplished attorney and has received a 10/10 Superb AVVO rating. He is listed in the Best Lawyers publication and serves on various boards on legal associations in North Carolina. Karonnie has most recently served as the Chief Diversity officer for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, the state’s largest Plaintiff’s bar. Karonnie has a passion for the practice of law but more importantly providing legal guidance to clients in need of assistance.

 

Karonnie is actively involved in his community and church. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family, working within his church, basketball and more basketball! Karonnie is married and has one daughter and twin boys.

 

Education

• Wake Forest University School of law, Juris Doctorate, 2001

Order of the Barristers for Excellence in Trial Advocacy

• University of South Carolina Spartanburg, B.S., 1998

Professional Affiliations
North Carolina Bar Association
United States District Court for the Eastern, Western, and Middle Districts of North Carolina
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
American Association for Justice
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
North Carolina Advocates for Justice

51 – Malorie Peacock – Preparing Yourself and Your Case for Trial

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss trial prep. Trial prep has been a topic many of our viewers asked to hear more about, so this episode covers everything from file organization, to witness prep, opening and voir dire, visuals, your exhibit list, and the mental toll trial can have on you personally.

To begin, Malorie starts with how important it is to be organized. She begins her organization process 30 days out by putting her exhibits together, printing out the jury charge and witness list, then looking at everything and thinking about the game plan. Her goal from there is to create a 1 or 2 page “order of proof for trial” with exhibits, list of witnesses, and the key points to be made in the trial. Michael agrees and shares a common mistake he sees a lot of lawyers make when they “put every possible piece of paper from the case on their exhibit list.” He suggests lawyers ask themselves: A) is this an exhibit necessary for the jury to see, or B) do I need this to protect the record? Then review how many exhibits you have and what is their order. “If the focus of your case is trying to get the medical bills in your case, then your first exhibit is a summary of all of the medical bills and the medical treatment in the past … so the jury knows when they open the binder ‘this is what we’re focusing on and this is the focus of the case.’” Malorie continues.  Michael also shares how he organizes his complete list of exhibits on his laptop, so if at any point in trial he needs to pull up an exhibit on the fly he can quickly find it.

It takes a lot of time and energy to write a good opening and prepare for voir dire. Which is why Michael and Malorie discuss how changes in your story throughout a case, can affect the opening and voir dire work you do early on. Michael gives an example of this on a case he will try in February with Malorie. Months before trial they worked with a consultant on the case, had a theory on the case, graphics already prepared, then after they developed all of the evidence they decided it wasn’t the best story to tell. Creating a new story and theory may be extremely difficult to do after investing lots of time, money, and energy, however it’s an important part of the trial preparation process.

Which leads to a conversation on storyboarding, creating visuals, and how Sari de la Motte helped Michael rethink his use of the phrase “a simple case” when talking to the jury and using visuals. Malorie brings up just how important it is to tell your witnesses where they should be looking when they answer questions. We as attorneys may think it’s obvious a witness should talk to the jury when answering a question, but in reality it’s normal for you to look at the person you are talking to. “I think people believe that trial lawyers are natural public speakers, but if you’ve ever been to a conference you know that’s not true,” Malorie explains. You might think “it’s only 12 people,” but when your entire case relies on those 12 people, on a really important matter, and your client is watching you, the nerves start to creep in so you have to practice. And practice does not apply simply to speaking, Michael shares his reasoning for adding several solid black slides in his PowerPoint in order to command the attention of the jury when visuals are involved.

Michael then transitions the conversation by expressing his opinions on why every case will have a different order of witnesses. You should determine the order of witnesses based on each case, start strong, think about a witness who can prove the defendant did something wrong, think about when a witness goes on (time of day and when the jury has low energy), and be sure to end with a message of the harm that was caused but a hope of what a verdict can do to help. But emergencies happen and people are late to court, so Malorie reminds you to be flexible.

And the only way you can be flexible is when you are mentally and emotionally prepared for trial. Malorie suggests you spend time with family and decompress the day before trial. Which Michael agrees with because you “spend so much time during trial staying up until 2 am” preparing for that next day, you cannot risk the exhaustion and mental fog and need to be in bed at a decent hour and fully rested.

Being aware of your energy after trial, is equally important whether you win or lose the case. You need to take a day off and recognize it is not possible to be 100% on every day. Or maybe you come in to work and just talk to people in your office. But Michael very bluntly shares “it’s hard because when you’re in trial all the other shit piles up” so when you’re out of trial you feel like you need to play catch up. “It’ll wait a day you need to take care of yourself,” he adds. After each case you should re-evaluate the parts that went great and where you can improve in your next trial, but again it’s important to give yourself space. Michael’s NFL quarterback analogy for this is spot on and reminds attorneys not to value yourself differently after a trial, instead focus on the work you put in.

This episode on trial prep truly is detailed and also discusses: thinking about your clothes, glasses, how to prep lay witnesses, saving money on images by using Google and Adobe, thinking about the Rules of Evidence, and trying cases with other people. And with Michael and Malorie’s jury trial (mentioned in this episode) resulting in a 7-figure verdict, podcast listeners can expect to hear another episode discussing trial soon!

50 – Sari de la Motte – Voir Dire & Opening: Forming The Best Jury Possible

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen invites Sari de la Motte back to the show. Sari was one of our top episodes in 2019, so to celebrate 50 episodes and over 100,000 downloads we invited her to be our first returning guest. This show will cover voir dire, opening, the concept of group communication, and how all of these concepts help you form the best jury for your case.

To start things off, Sari shares that her book “From Hostage to Hero: Captivate the Jury by Setting Them Free” is now available for purchase. She reveals how her desire to help trial lawyers understand why jurors “don’t want to be there” (summoned for jury duty), how to deal with this, and then lead them from their “hostageness – their inability to say no to this process” to choosing to be a part of the jury, was how the idea for the book began. Michael adds how initially this reminded him of Carl Bettinger’s book “Twelve Heroes, One Voice” in that both Carl and Sari believe it is important to help your jury become the hero in the case. But after working with Sari, Michael sees how she focuses more on the hostage aspect, shows you how to release the jury panel from this, works to help you understand how important nonverbal communication can be, and gives practical tips to use in the courtroom.

Jumping right in Michael introduces the highly debated topic of “inclusive voir dire” versus “exclusionary voir dire.” He reveals how in the past he has used exclusionary voir dire to find his bad jurors, but understanding Sari’s thoughts on the “hostage mentality” has made him rethink his voir dire technique. Putting it bluntly Sari gives the example of “when you come in with the mindset of ‘who here is out to kill me and how do I kill them first’ that is like a poison and a disease” which then spreads and has your potential jurors wanting to find a way to get out of being selected for your jury.  A different mindset where you find the people who want to help you can change this and Sari’s analogy involving hiring a new paralegal and sorting through resumes helps put everything into perspective.

Michael pivots the conversation into how important mindset is for trial lawyers. Sari truly believes “how you’re thinking, affects how you act, which affects your results” and explains how the CTFAR model can help. Michael gives the example of his mindset before his upcoming jury trial and how he is reminding himself “jurors are good people and want to do the right thing and help my client.” This example leads to Sari sharing just how useful the mindset of “the jurors love me” was for a client of hers and how the success of this led to a $10 million dollar jury verdict. And if you are thinking “this is bullshit” Sari explains the communication science behind it and why it works.

Moving from mindset back to voir dire, Sari and Michael discuss how frustrated potential jurors are in the jury selection process. When jurors are not sure why they are there and what is happening it’s critical to get to the point and say what they are in court to do. The next step is to then think about voir dire as a group process and not an individual process, because you are there to create a group and you want a group to reach a verdict in your case not 12 individuals. Michael adds how equally important it is to think about the information you share with the group, the order in which you share it, and how you shape the conversation. The order in which you share your information is crucial and your timing is too, which leads to Sari explaining how jurors will immediately think whatever principle or fact (good or bad) you bring up first is the most important part of your case.

Michael wraps up this episode with a discussion on managing energy. He shares his experiences as a trial lawyer by describing his energy level as a young attorney as being extremely high energy at all times, but then when he tried to slow down he came across as “low energy and passionless,” and now he has learned about “managing energy” to keep the jury engaged and never bored. “Ringing the bell” is an engaging way for attorneys to keep the jury on the edge of their seat and is described as a tool for great storytelling in your opening. However, these techniques are not natural and as Michael points out you have to practice before you do this in front of the jury successfully. Practice should not be confused with scripting an opening, so Sari reminds listeners this is for “the ease and the delivery of information not rehearsing it word for word.”  

The episode is filled with additional great advice ranging from the importance of videotaping yourself, why it is imperative to rehearse saying the dollar amount you want a jury to award, thinking about the principles in your case, how journaling can help you in your mindset, using devils advocate questions, thinking about voir dire and how it connects jurors to you in your opening, and so much more. It’s truly a show any attorney will want to listen to more than once.

 

BACKGROUND ON SARI DE LA MOTTE

Sari de la Motte is a nationally recognized coach, speaker, and trial consultant. She has trained extensively with an internationally recognized authority in nonverbal communication and is an expert in nonverbal intelligence.

Sari specializes in helping trial attorneys communicate with jurors.

Sari speaks to audiences of a few dozen people to audiences of over a thousand. A sought-after keynote speaker, Sari is often asked to headline conferences across the United States.

Sari consults with trial attorneys all over the country, assisting with trial strategy, voir dire and opening statement. She conducts mock trials in her studio in Portland, Oregon and assists with jury selection on-site.

Sari has spoken for, and works with, several members of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group consisting of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. She’s has been a featured columnist for Oregon Trial Lawyer’s Magazine, Sidebar, and has also written for Washington State Association of Justice, Oregon Criminal Defense Attorney, and other legal publications. She provides CLEs for various state association of justices around the country.  Because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves, she has been dubbed “The Attorney Whisperer.”

Sari is regularly interviewed on TV, radio, and in print, and has appeared in the Atlantic, Huffington Post, The Oregonian, Willamette Week and other publications. Her book, From Hostage to Hero: Captivate the Jury by Setting Them Free was released by Trial Guides in November, 2019.

For more information on Sari de la Motte you can visit http://www.saridlm.com/

 

49 – Malorie Peacock – Applying 2 Seasons of TLN to Your Law Practice

Trial Lawyer Nation is proud to celebrate 2 years of podcast episodes! In this Table Talk episode, Michael Cowen sits down for a conversation with his law partner Malorie Peacock for a discussion about the last two seasons, their favorite takeaways from guests, as well as how this show has helped them create their 2020 resolutions.

The episode begins with Michael asking Malorie what she’s learned from the show and how she has been able to use and apply this to her cases. She responds with “you have to choose the kind of lawyer that you’re going to be” as a theme which has come up several times throughout the show. Whether it’s how you formulate your case strategy, how you run your business, or the kind of lawyer you are going to be, the first step is to go after this goal.

But this isn’t always easy and can be a struggle, which leads to Michael sharing his struggles and how he has overcome them. The “salesman in me wants to close every deal,” Michael reveals when discussing case selection. He explains how hard it can be when “you see the dockets getting smaller you have trouble not freaking out” and shares why it is so important to remain disciplined and stick with your business plan. And while a smaller case docket may be a business model for his firm, Malorie brings the conversation full circle by pointing out how not every business model should be the same.

The conversation shifts to a discussion on which episodes discuss how to turn “a good case into a great case” where Michael shares his thoughts on how Randi McGinn’s book and her skills as a former journalist help her dig deep into the story of a case. Jude Basile is another guest Michael brings up as he shares how inspiring it was to have spoken with him and understand how Jude was able to find value (and an excellent case result!) in a case involving an addict at an addiction facility when other lawyers may have turned the case away.

Malorie points out some of her favorite episodes have been those of Sari de la Motte and Michael Leizerman who help explain why you need to “do the work on yourself as well as in your cases.” When defense counsel does something on a case to cause you to react and become distracted, Michael shares how Leizerman has helped him understand “the zen” of it all and why it’s important not to let the other side upset you and take your energy away from your case. He also brings up the quote “how can they be right and we still win” and how this simple statement from Joe Fried has been so powerful in his cases. Malorie and Michael also agree on and discuss how this mindset can be helpful in a case with degeneration, in both liability and damages.

Entering the confession spirit as the year ends, Malorie asks Michael what his strategies are for enforcing what he says he is going to do. He reveals the lesson he has learned when taking on cases which do not fit his business model. Describing a serious injury case involving a TBI not fitting his “case on wheels” business model, Michael shares the extra time spent looking up case law and standards versus with a trucking case where he immediately understands about 95% of the rules and sources to cite and can do so very quickly. “It’s efficiency,” Malorie adds.

The topic of efficiency transitions nicely to another theme in the show, which is how the brilliant attorneys who have been on the show “create and enforce systems” within their firm so they can do the work they need to do on their cases. If you don’t do this then you’re constantly putting out fires and distracted from the work you should be doing. This also applies to the reality of “you can’t be a lawyer 24/7” and leads to a meaningful discussion on having a work/life balance and how burn out can not only impact your personal life but also your cases and effectiveness in the office.

The episode ends with Michael and Malorie discussing their 3 resolutions for 2020, which include Michael sharing his book deal with Trial Guides and his goal to continue writing, and Malorie sharing her idea on how she will be using the firm’s in-house graphic designer to work up her cases, which Michael describes as “brilliant” and “will scare the crap” out of defense attorneys.

An exciting piece of news shared on this episode is Michael’s commitment to hosting a Facebook Live session every month in the “Trial Lawyer Nation – Insider’s Circle” private group . If you haven’t already requested to join this group, we suggest you do so now in order to participate in the first Facebook Live in January 2020. The exact date will be shared on our podcast social media pages and also via email for those who are subscribed to our emails.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our show for the past 2 years. We look forward to sharing even more great shows with all of you in 2020 as we enter Season 3!

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