Mindset

97 – Chris Finney – Maximizing Value In Your Life & Law Practice

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael speaks with St. Louis trial attorney Chris Finney, to discuss his recent $750,000 jury verdict on a non-catastrophic injury case, the different voir dire techniques he used, his path towards personal development, and so much more.

The episode begins with Chris sharing his story about how he became a trial lawyer. Being the son of a plaintiff’s lawyer, Chris knew becoming a lawyer was something he would do. After law school he took a job working at the prosecutor’s office, but left when he was offered a job paying much more money at a defense firm. His time working on the defense side was limited and he quickly realized he was destined to be a plaintiff’s lawyer.

“We can get him out of this mess in like 5 seconds. Just call the plaintiff’s lawyer, ask him what he wants, and we’ll give it to him … and I didn’t get the best response.” – Chris Finney

Michael transitions the conversation and brings up the topic of development, asking Chris what he has done to excel in his career. Chris shares everything from regionals with Trial Lawyers College, Trial By Human, ethos with Rick Friedman, working with Sari de la Motte, Trial School, attending Trial Guides seminars, and reaching a comfort level with who he is when he tries cases. This brings up the topic of therapy, with Chris sharing how many of the lawyers he would meet at CLEs were divorced. Being happily married and a father to 5 kids, Chris knew he had to find a way to make it all work. Michael agrees and points out that being a trial lawyer means you have to trust a jury, realize the amount of influence you have on the success of a case, understand you cannot control everything, speak with clients and their families when they have been through something traumatic, and all of this can take a real toll on you. “You don’t have to sacrifice your entire life to do this and be good at it,” Chris adds, “you have to find some kind of balance.”

“There’s no better investment than investing in yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Part of the journey in development is also realizing you will not win them all. Which is why the conversation then turns to this topic, one repeatedly mentioned on the show. Chris shares that he has realized, “No one is going to remember your losses.” To which Michael likens this to professional football players. If Tom Brady is described as one of the best quarterbacks of our time, no one is going to expect him to win every single game, so why should lawyers expect the same of themselves? You give it your all and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t always go your way.

“It’s either too complicated or the jurors are very bored. Brevity and being concise about what’s important, has really helped us a lot.” – Chris Finney

The conversation then shifts to the topic of simplicity with Chris and Michael both agreeing on the importance of this in trial. “Any case is a simple case, it just takes a lot of work to get there,” Michael shares. The trust to do this and the trust in your teammates for it to be a success takes work and as Chris points out it’s done “in your personal exploration.”

Running a successful law practice includes having a great team and Chris brings up the importance of letting his staff know that “nothing they do will sink us.” Empowering staff to make decisions instead of running to your office every 5 minutes, allows you to be more productive and focus. Michael adds that in this current employment climate, keeping your staff is more important than ever. To which Chris takes a step further, sharing why it is also important to make sure when the office is gearing up for trial everyone is there and everyone puts in the work. The effort is done as a cohesive team.

The podcast then transitions into a detailed discussion on Chris’s recent jury verdict of $750,000 on a broken arm case. Briefly outlining the case, Chris explains how his client was driving when a vehicle veered into her lane, hit her head on, and her right arm sustained a fracture. His client had surgery and was then released from treatment. Thinking the case would settle for policy limits of $100,000, Chris initiated settlement negotiations before spending money on animations and the doctor deposition. But defense didn’t respond to him until the day before the doctor deposition, which was too late. It was then, with only a $70,000 offer on the table, that Chris decided this case would need to be tried. For Chris, the fact that his client was a great client helped make going to trial an easy decision.

“Jurors take money from people they don’t like and give it to people they do.” – Chris Finney

Starting off with voir dire, Chris goes into “creating a designed alliance,” which he defines as “managing and meeting expectations” and learned from Sari de la Motte (a two-time podcast guest). Chris brings up his learnings from Jason Selk, the renowned performance coach, and his belief in relationships failing because of missed expectations. For Chris one of this goals was to set the expectations with his jury panel and place himself in a powerful teacher mode. Michael then asks about the use of experiential, or issue-based, questions in jury selection. These are 1 or 2 questions (at the most) based on your fears of the case. In this case the two questions Chris wanted to ask involved: 1) seeing a surgeon and having plates or screws put in you, and 2) medical records.

Continuing with jury selection, Michael asks Chris to describe “the box.” Chris suggests everyone go to Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero group on Facebook and listen to her interview with Mark Wham to learn more about this. Chris used “the box” in trial and explained to the jury panel, because liability had been accepted, they would only decide damages that were “fair and reasonable” and that was “inside this box.” Everything else like if there is insurance, who would pay, etcetera, would be up to the judge. After trial one of the jurors approached Chris and said when those topics came up he reminded his fellow jurists, “that is not our role we have to stay inside the box.” Elated, Michael responds, “I’m definitely going to use that!”

“There is an element of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Chris Finney

With the jurors only being out for 15 minutes, not asking for a single exhibit, Chris clearly did a great job putting on his case for the jury. He adds how in the last 5 years he has noticed jurors are more comfortable talking about their relationships and have no issue with non-economic pain and suffering; in fact, they see a tremendous value in it. Michael adds his belief that the isolation we’ve had the last 2 years has changed the value we put on relationships. Before recently we may have taken friendships and time spent with others for granted, but now we want those interactions and will make it a point to carve out time for them. Leaving listeners with the question, has our recent experience increased the value we, and others, hold in our personal relationships – and will this increase values in jury verdicts?

The podcast also discusses drawing healthy boundaries, being patient with yourself, the power of saying “no,” waving economic losses, showing up in the right mindset, the importance of breathing, and why eye contact is crucial in connecting with the jurors.

 

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. 

95 – Jody C. Moore – A Righteous Claim: Fighting Elder Abuse

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Jody C. Moore out of Southern California. Jody is an established trial lawyer specializing in elder abuse who, together with Susan Kang Gordon and Jennifer Fiore, recently won a $13,500,000 jury verdict on a 10-plaintiff case, in a 4 ½ month-long, 100% Zoom trial!

Michael and Jody kick off the episode with a look at what elder abuse is and how Jody got started in the field. Jody shares that elder abuse cases primarily look at neglect and why it happened. It usually boils down to a corporate systemic neglect case.

Jody started her career in med mal defense, then quickly shifted to nursing home defense. During this time, Jody’s grandma went to live in a nursing home, where she was neglected. This truly powerful story concludes with Jody inheriting $500 from her grandma and using it to start her firm, where she’s been doing plaintiffs elder abuse cases ever since.

“If this is happening to her, what’s happening to the people who don’t have advocates?” – Jody Moore

When Michael asks how Jody built the skills needed to get a good verdict, Jody credits putting in the technical work but says she relied heavily on her instincts early on. She wavered from this after seeing her first success and started to read every book and follow everyone else’s methods, but found the results to be lacking. Recently, she has circled back to being herself and trusting her gut in the courtroom, which is where she has found the most success.

“At the end of the day, you have to be yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then digs into the details of Jody’s case. Jody explains how 10 residents were neglected in an Alameda County nursing facility. The ways they were neglected ranged from wound management to dehydration and malnourishment, to an excessive number of falls- citing a gentleman who fell 42 times throughout his stay. Jody also highlights the complicated nature of California’s Elder Abuse Act, which only allows blame for elder abuse cases to be placed on the company or individual who is in “custody” of the resident. So, the trial team was tasked with proving the parent company’s control and responsibility.

After an intriguing look into the complexity of California’s Elder Abuse Act and recovery caps, Jody shares more on how the case was tried. The trial was 100% over Zoom and took 4 ½ months, but only occurred 4 days a week from 9:00 AM until 1:30 PM. This served to keep the jurors from having Zoom fatigue and helped the court stretch its limited resources.

The trial was broken into multiple phases, starting with the “care of custody” issue where the trial team presented evidence on corporate control. While every witness on the stand claimed they were simply a “consultant,” this defense quickly fell apart when it became clear the consultants were controlling everything. By the time the trial got to punitive damages, this story arc was very helpful to the case.

Michael then asks what the company did wrong to harm so many residents, and Jody shares the primary theory is understaffing. This facility was operating below the state-mandated minimum number of staff 1/3 of days in the past 3 years- something that sticks out compared to most other facilities. Michael commends this approach because it makes more sense to say the company didn’t have enough people there than to say the employees just don’t care. Throughout the episode, Jody commends the work of the attorneys who brought her in on the case just months before trial, who did an excellent job of working up the case before her involvement.

Jody and Michael shift the conversation to what an appropriate docket size is for an elder abuse attorney, which Jody insists is a very different answer depending on who you ask. She commends her partners and attorneys for the work they did while she was in trial for so long, keeping the rest of their cases moving.

After a brief conversation about structuring your practice to accommodate your life, Jody and Michael both credit the mindset work they’ve done with Sari de la Motte, a trial consultant, and 2-time podcast guest. By focusing on how they show up, rather than external factors out of their control, they’ve both been able to get to a better place where they can focus on advocating.

“It feels like there’s so much on the line… but what’s really on the line is how I show up.” – Jody Moore

Michael then shifts the conversation back to the trial by asking how Jody and the trial team told the damages story. While this is a difficult task in an elder abuse case, Jody credited her co-counsel Susan Kang Gordon who presented compelling evidence of what a relationship means. In a creative and impactful fashion, Jody was inspired to write a poem (“Love is” by Jody C. Moore) during the trial that she read to the jury during her closing statement.

“If you can convey the loss with love, then the jury does the rest of the work.” – Jody Moore

Next, they move on to cover the punitive phase of the case, where the trial team was tasked with finding the financial information to present to the jury. Again, her co-counsel Jen Fiore was instrumental in making sense of the company’s finances under tremendous time constraints. This story of a rapid turnaround time to analyze information and some restrictions on what could be discussed resulted in an impressive verdict from the jury – $8.9 million in punitive damages alone!

Lastly, Michael asks Jody a question she now has more credibility to answer than almost anyone – what was her general impression of the Zoom trial format? Shockingly, Jody replies that for this case, it was the perfect fit, citing the length and complexity of the trial, as well as the benefits to her and the team. They were able to use great technology to present a compelling story and noted that jurors were very forgiving of the inevitable technical difficulties.

The pair ends the episode on Jody’s top tips for anybody trying a case on Zoom:

  • DON’T do it alone.
  • Invest in good technology, including an exhibit management program.
  • Master the technology.
  • Practice being “in this little box,” focusing on your breathing, use of hands, and effective pausing.

This podcast episode also covers building a practice as a young lawyer, how the trial team was able to keep the case as one instead of separating them, structuring your practice so you can do what you love, the power of hearing a story for the first time during the trial, why the jurors were so impressive and much more.

Guest Bio:

Founding Partner Jody C. Moore primarily litigates cases involving claims of elder abuse and neglect in a nursing home or residential care facility setting, wrongful death, medical malpractice and other catastrophic personal injury cases.

Ms. Moore is dedicated to improving community safety through legal advocacy. Ms. Moore is an accomplished lecturer on the topic of Long Term Care litigation to lawyer groups across the United States.

Ms. Moore lives in Thousand Oaks with her husband Mike and her two sons, Joshua and Zachary.

If you would like to contact Jody C. Moore you can reach her via email at jody@johnson-moore.com or by phone at (805) 988-3661.

93 – Hans Poppe – David vs. Goliath: Winning the Uphill Battle

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Kentucky-based trial attorney, Hans Poppe, to discuss his recent cases, the difficulty of trying med mal cases, and much more.

The episode begins with Hans going into his history as a trial lawyer. Hans began his practice in Louisville, Kentucky, and currently runs a small, 100% referral-based firm, focusing on catastrophic injury cases. He goes on to explain that he started his firm 4 years out of law school and gradually built his practice through the years by focusing on case selection and making sure everybody knew what he was interested in by utilizing marketing methods such as CLEs to maintain relationships and monthly newsletters.

Following a brief discussion on CLEs, Michael inquires on Hans’ trial record on med mal cases, to which Hans responds, “We’ve won 3 of the last 4 med mal trials, [and have] gotten punitive damages in all 3 of [those wins].” He goes on to say that he’s been focused on trying these cases differently.

To this, Michael asks Hans to explain more about his recent wins, adding that med mal cases are tough for plaintiff attorneys. Hans agrees and adds, in Kentucky, the defense win-rate is 80-90%, and how there’s a very small group of attorneys in the state who take these cases to verdict. He goes on to say even the top lawyers who are doing very well are still losing 80% of the time.

“You’ve got to be able to put $100,000 on the line and know there’s an 80% chance that you’re going to lose it.” – Hans Poppe

Continuing the discussion of the difficulty and uphill battle of med mal cases, Hans expresses the importance of being “hyper-focused” on case selection and realizing “every case is actually 3 cases,” (meaning the case you sign up on day one, the case you prepare for, and the case you try; none of which are the same) and how those factors need to be top of mind during case selection.

Building on the topic of trying med mal cases, Hans goes on to explain if you go into the courtroom and try against a physician just based on medicine, you’re going to lose. He outlines how defense lawyers who handle med mal cases are very good lawyers and work those cases hard, and how you need to “find something else” to bring to the table.

“If you can get past the medicine… and find [focus in on] the other angle… the other side is not used to that.” – Hans Poppe

To explain the concept of “getting past the medicine,” Hans goes into detail on his most recent case involving the suicide death of his client. He shares why it was an impossible case, considering his client committed suicide, but he chose to frame the case so it started before the suicide. He describes the business practice of this particular pain management clinic and the unavoidable outcome it produced of patients not receiving the care they need. This was due to patients only seeing doctors on their first visits and mid-level providers in subsequent visits.

In this case, the prescription given to his client was written 4 days before he’d even seen the provider and was for half of his normal dose. “What we focused on were the business decisions that were being made,” Hans says before delving deeper into the unethical business practices of this clinic. This case ultimately resulted in a $7 million verdict and was a zero-offer case, which Hans adds, “the defense had no idea.”

There were 15 doctors, and the doctors aren’t seeing the patients… each doctor has 4-5 nurses under him, they see a patient every 15 minutes, and so the doctor bills 4-5 doctor’s visits every 15 minutes.” – Hans Poppe

Following this discussion, Michael and Hans go into another of his recent wins, a $21.3 million verdict case involving an unnecessary pacemaker. In this case, Hans and his team focused on the business practices of the hospital, and how it entangled with cardiologists and encouraged them to perform heart procedures; essentially disincentivizing proper care in favor of profit-focused business practices. “You know what the problem is with incentives?” Hans says, “They work.”

He and Michael continue the topic by delving into the ugly side of the medical business, and how it really changes the dynamic of a case when you can focus jury’s attention on something other than “the white coat and the stethoscope,” before moving on to Hans’ 3rd recent case.

In this case, the audit trail (document that hospitals and physician’s offices are required to maintain, tracks every time the chart is logged into, and if any edits are made) revealed several days after the patient died, the PA got into the patient’s chart and modified the history. The PA had no idea during his deposition that Hans had the audit trail, and not only that, but Hans never asked him about it … UNTIL TRIAL!

“We’re not trying a case about what happened  the exam room … we’re trying a case on what business decisions were made and how those impact patient care [and leads to] a bad outcome.” – Hans Poppe

During trial, the PA had no explanation as to why he was changing the patient chart several days later. Hans had also obtained evidence the PA had a productivity bonus and had been running behind on the day his client was seen; a fact Hans argued was the reason he didn’t do a physical examination of the patient.

This episode also covers the willingness to risk losing and why the ability to recover is so important, the impact of your mindset, appearance, and self-confidence, how incentives can go bad and how to highlight it in your case.

 

Guest Bio

Hans is licensed in Kentucky and Indiana; however, he has a national reputation for handling catastrophic injury and death cases as well as contingency fee business-to-business litigation.

While lots of lawyers hold themselves out as “trial lawyers,” Hans actually is one.  According to the 2020 Kentucky Trial Court Year in Review, only three plaintiff lawyers in Kentucky have tried more cases to verdict than Hans since 2005.

In fact, since 1998, only four lawyers in Kentucky have more verdicts over one million dollars than Hans (2020 Kentucky Trial Court Year in Review.) Hans had the largest Kentucky verdict in 2016 and the second largest Kentucky verdict in 2008. Hans has multiple seven and eight figure verdicts and settlements in medical malpractice, insurance bad faith, and FELA cases.

In 2016, ALM VerdictSearch Top 100 Verdicts of 2016 recognized Hans’ $21,274,786 verdict in Wells v Catholic Health Initiatives, Inc as the 94th largest verdict in the United States.  The Wells case was one of over 400 cased filed by the Poppe Law Firm in London, KY alleging unnecessary cardiac procedures were performed in order to boost profits.  Three more cases went to trial and ultimately all the cases were globally settled the night before the verdict in the Owens v. CHI trial.  The work done by Hans and his team also contributed to a $16,500,000 Medicare qui tam recovery from the hospital and $380,000 from two doctors.  Additionally, the work done by the Poppe Law Firm helped lead to the arrest and federal conviction of two other cardiologists for Medicare fraud.  One was sentenced to 42 months and the other was sentenced to 30 months.

At the same time he was handling the London unnecessary procedure litigation, Hans and his team found a similar fact pattern in Ashland, KY involving King’s Daughter’s hospital.  Hans filed over 500 lawsuits in Ashland also alleging unnecessary cardiac procedures. Two months later the Department of Justice reached a $41,000,000 settlement with King’s Daughers for allegations of unnecessary procedures. The civil suits were settled in a 2019 confidential global settlement.  The work done by Hans and his team also helped lead to the conviction of a third cardiologist who was sentenced to 5 years and $1,000,000 in restitution.

Hans was selected by his peers as the 2020 Lawyer of the Year in Medical Malpractice-Louisville by Best Lawyers®. Only a single lawyer in a specific practice area and location is honored with a “Lawyer of the Year” designation. Additionally, Hans was recognized in the same edition of The Best Lawyers in America for his work in Personal Injury Litigation and Professional Malpractice Law.

Hans was named a 2021 Top 50 Kentucky Super Lawyer by the prestigious Thomson-Reuters Super Lawyer peer review rating system.

Also in 2020, Hans was nominated and elected by his legal peers to be President of the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates’ Kentucky Chapter.

Hans’ advocacy and professionalism recently led the U.S News & World Report to recognize The Poppe Law Firm as a 2021 Best Law Firms in Kentucky-First Tier Law Firm.

In addition to being a courtroom trial lawyer, Hans has had five cases go before the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Contact Hans:

E-mail:  hans@poppelawfirm.com
Phone: 502-895-3400
Website: www.poppelawfirm.com

92 – Delisi Friday – Back In Action: Post-Trial Discussion

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development, Delisi Friday, for a retrospective look at his recent in-person trial, including prep, mindset and more, only 3 days after the case settled.

The episode begins in a unique way with Michael turning the tables on the traditional Trial Lawyer Nation format and passing the interviewer role to Delisi. She goes on to open the conversation about how Michael is doing after his recently settled trial. “I’m on cloud 9,” Michael says in response, before going into how fun it’s been getting back into a courtroom for his first in-person trial since February 2020. (For the post-trial discussion of that case, check out Ep 53 – The Verdict Is In! with Malorie Peacock.)

After a brief reflection from Michael about just how much he missed in-person trials, Delisi comments on the “calm confidence” he displayed throughout the trial and asks how he developed that skill. Michael goes on to describe working on his mindset and sense of self to “have joy in trial.” He elaborates by sharing how he worked to separate his value as a person and his worth as a lawyer from his trial results. This created an environment where he was not only able to have fun and focus on what he needed to do, but also remove unnecessary pressures.

“You don’t want to say ‘I don’t care whether I win or lose,’ because that’s not true […] but, I just let it go [and] went in there with, ‘I’m just going to have fun, I have a great story, I’m going to tell that story, and I’m going to trust the jury to do the right thing.’” – Michael Cowen

Following a discussion on the differences between this trial and trials in 2019, Michael goes into the unique jury selection process for this trial. For starters, to appropriately space the 45 potential jurors, a larger courtroom was used which came with its own obstacles, such as columns blocking peoples view, the need for multiple spotters, and jurors being unable to hear their peers which limited discussion. “This was probably a little better, because we actually got to talk to every single person and the judge didn’t give time limits. We got to spend a full day doing jury selection, which in south Texas is a rare thing.”

Circling back to voir dire from a conversation about the client in this case and the challenges that arose from her growing story, Delisi cites Joe Fried’s advice from a previous episode (Ep 86 – Challenging Your Paradigm) regarding being comfortable with your number and asks Michael about his number, how he got to it and if he brought it up in voir dire.

Click here to view/download Michael’s opening transcript for the case referenced in this episode.

“I wanted to mention the $30 million number, that was going to be my ask in the case, and I put a lot of thought into why I thought $30 million was fair in that case […] I wanted to get it out there early.” – Michael Cowen

In order to better understand the $30 million number, Michael goes on to describe his client’s injuries and her life before the incident. Before the incident, his client was a charge nurse at a women’s oncology unit in a top hospital in San Antonio. She enjoyed her job, helping others, the comradery with her fellow nurses and some well-deserved bonding time after a 12-hour shift. After the incident, however, that would quickly change.

Following an incident at Big Lots, where a 29-pound box hit her in the neck and shoulders, she would incur physical injuries such as a multi-level fusion in her neck, a rotator cuff injury, back pain and (we believe) a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

Delisi then asks Michael about his decision to not have his client in the courtroom. Michael goes on to explain when your client is there, the jury is focused on them (seeing if they’re fidgeting, timing how long they’re seated/standing, etc.) and are not listening to the testimony. He also brings up that his client had some real psychological problems such as anxiety and depression, and that her moods could be unpredictable; a factor that he did not want to risk when presenting in front of a jury and felt would be unfair to her as well.

The only reason to really call her was fear that [the defense] would punish us for not calling her.” – Michael Cowen

Delisi shifts the conversation to Michael’s use of photos of the client before her injury. Michael explains that to know what someone’s lost, you need to know what they had, and how he had to “bring to life” the person she once was. He goes on to say that he worked with his client, her friends, family, and others to get a lot of photos of her smiling, and doing what she loved, to paint a picture of her joyful life. When talking to Michael after the case settled, one juror described the contrast of those smiling, happy photos to her current, pained photos as “striking.”

One of the final topics Delisi brings up in this episode, is Michael’s thoughts on trying his first case with his law partner (and frequent TLN guest) Sonia Rodriguez. He shares why it was a great bonding experience and while there may have been some differences in approaches, that he knows their trial team “will get there” after working more cases together. Delisi brings this topic full circle by discussing the importance of over-communicating with your staff, especially ones that you’ve not tried cases with before, to assure your trial preferences and processes are handled as smooth as possible for all parties involved.

The episode ends on a lighter note with Michael talking about an experience with his 10-year-old son, a meltdown, and his unique approach to make his son smile. He explains that during a 3-day weekend, his son did not want to do his homework and was less than thrilled about being asked to do so. Michael, attempting to soothe the situation, offered a unique (and very attorney) approach to the situation; a Change.org petition to end weekend homework. The two end by calling out to fans of Trial Lawyer Nation to make a 10-year-old boy (and many more 10-years-olds, for that matter) smile by adding their signature to the petition.

This episode also covers the differences between trials pre- and post-pandemic, Michael’s feelings about settling his case during his return to in-person trials, going against respectable defense lawyers, and much more.

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