Mindset

106 – Malorie Peacock – The Only Constant: Overcoming Change

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for her first episode since coming back from maternity leave to have a fitting conversation about change. They’ll take a look at different types of changes, including personal, business, law, and intentional ones, and discuss how to embrace them instead of being overwhelmed by them.

Starting with personal change, Michael asks Malorie how she dealt with the change of not working during her 3-month maternity leave. She shares how at first, she was a zombie (which I’m sure all parents listening can relate to), but once she and her husband got into a routine, she found it hard not to check in on her cases. And while she enjoyed her leave, she’s happy to be back doing the job she loves again, and Michael is also glad to have her back.

Michael then shares his experience of taking over the housework while his wife stays in the guest house with Covid. He had a referring attorney call him when he was trying to help his wife and sons, but he had to ask the attorney to call back tomorrow. He was nervous the attorney would take his business somewhere else, but after their discussion the next morning he realized everything would be fine. Malorie poignantly shares that the fear and anxiety we have about change is usually worse than what actually happens.

Continuing with business change, Michael reflects on his law firm growing and the inevitable turnover that comes with growth. He’s found that no matter how much effort you put into making your law firm a good place to work, there are other factors that can cause people to leave. Malorie agrees, adding that it’s just not realistic to expect everyone at the firm to stay forever. And when someone does leave, even those you thought would be with you their entire career, having the right attitude is the key to moving forward effectively.

Michael continues this topic by mentioning the book “No B.S. Ruthless Management of Profits and People,” assuring listeners that the title makes it sound worse than it is. There’s a section of the book which discusses the employee-employer relationship, saying you need to be realistic about that relationship and how people see you. At the end of the day, this is just a job for them.  Malorie agrees and adds that psychologically, it’s a good thing if your employees expect to be treated well. It means they perceive themselves as people who work hard and are committed.

Michael then shares how he copes with drastic changes. He takes a 12-24 hour “mourning” period where he lets himself feel it and vents to someone trusted. After that’s done, his focus moves to how they can make it even better than it was before. Could the systems for that position be improved? Do you need to re-think how you structure the position completely? These are all questions you should be asking yourself for each employee turnover.

Moving on to changes in the law, Michael reflects on when he first became a lawyer, and they took the money out of workers’ compensation cases in the state of Texas. Then came the medical malpractice caps and other tort reform policies. Each time, there were lawyers who refused to change and faced serious financial struggles, and there were lawyers who got creative and found ways to adapt- sometimes resulting in them being better off than before the “bad” change. Malorie wholeheartedly agrees and adds that finding a group of lawyer friends to brainstorm with has been very helpful for her in these situations.

As Michael and Malorie begin to wrap up the episode, Michael praises Malorie for her positivity in the face of change and her ability to be creative and look for solutions. It’s something she partially credits to her natural personality, but she also makes a conscious effort to find something good about the change (even when it’s mostly bad) or take the time to think about all the good things in her life. It helps assure her that the world won’t end, and this positive outlook rubs off on those around her. Michael then shares his journey to having a positive outlook on change, and the two of them exchange a heartfelt moment of exchanges with their children that resonate with each of them.

The episode ends with a reminder to register for Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp as soon as possible. In-person seats are already full, but you can get on the waitlist or register virtually here! We’d love to see you there.

This episode also covers why “1” is the most dangerous number of anything, why you should avoid negative people, how to overcome some recent bad case law in Texas, and much more.

 

103 – Delisi Friday – A Bittersweet Victory: 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 raw, honest conversation about his (very) recent jury trial win where the number was not what he wanted.

“When you try hard cases, you don’t always get what you want.” – Michael Cowen

They begin the podcast episode with the facts of the case. They were in federal court in Laredo, Texas, a community with a huge trucking and logistics industry. Their client was rear-ended by a truck at only 5 miles an hour. Initially, the client was diagnosed with only soft tissue damage, but later discovered a herniated disc that required surgery. This was argued by the defense to be a pre-existing condition, which the jury ultimately agreed with, only awarding enough money to cover the medical bills before the surgery.

As Michael explains the largest offer they received was only $25,000 during the trial, when the jury verdict was $80,000, Delisi asks Michael why he feels this is a loss. He breaks it down into 2 reasons: 1) he doesn’t feel the client is materially better off because they went to trial, and 2) he believes the case is worth a lot more than the result.

With that being said, he recognizes the challenges he was up against – low property damage and medical treatment gaps. When you try cases like this, he argues you’re not going to win them all. He tried the case well and gave it everything he had, but it didn’t go his way this time. He compares this to the Bengals, a great football team, losing the Super Bowl this year. At the end of the day, they’re still a great team.

“You’re not always going to get a home run every time you get up to bat.” – Michael Cowen

One of the biggest hurdles in this case was the low property damage. Delisi asks Michael about the challenges of them, and what he does to overcome them. Michael emphasizes that low PD cases are always a challenge because they fail the “oh shit!” test. When you have a picture of a vehicle after the wreck that causes people who see it to say, “oh shit, are they okay?” it’s much easier to try than when you don’t have that initial reaction.

Michael shares the strategy he used in this voir dire, which acknowledged both potential outcomes of a wreck – where the vehicle can look really bad but the person is okay, and where the vehicle can look almost completely fine but the person is very injured.

Delisi then asks Michael about his mindset going into this trial. Michael reiterates, as he has in many past episodes, his mantra for trial – the judge and the jury want to do the right thing, and he’s going to have fun (which he did). But as Delisi asks him why he didn’t want to go talk to the jury after the verdict was read, he says he’s just not there yet. He’s also not sure if it would have been helpful, given both his mindset and the gut feeling he believes the jurors made their decision off of. But even after this experience – he still trusts the jury and will continue to do so for his future trials.

“It feels like I asked someone on a date, they said no, and then I’m supposed to call them and ask why they didn’t want to go out with me.” – Michael Cowen

Changing the tone, Delisi asks Michael what he thinks went well with the trial. He shares how they ran a fast, smooth trial, he felt very comfortable and got to use two “new toys”, a King flip chart and a magnetic white board with cardboard vehicles , which he thinks were highly effective for the cost. He felt good about the cross-examination of their experts and the witnesses they decided to put on. He also explains how the client is a Spanish-speaker, along with most of the witnesses, the challenges that came with this, and how they overcame them.

This leads to Delisi asking about the two associate attorneys from their firm Michael tried the case with, and what takeaways he thinks they had. Michael shares that he had them each take 2 witnesses, which they both did very well. And while he admits it’s not as fun as doing it all yourself his firm takes pride in training and this truly is the best way to learn.

Delisi then asks the question on everyone’s mind – why is Michael Cowen trying a low property damage case? He explains how Malorie Peacock, his partner, is out on maternity leave, and he didn’t think it would be fair to the client or the referral partner to have two associates with less experience be the ones to try it themselves. He was also excited to try a case in a courtroom, even though low property damage cases aren’t cases he plans to take on in the future.

Circling back to mindset, Delisi wants to know more about why Michael was in such a good headspace going into this trial. He cites the work he has been doing on mindset and acknowledging he doesn’t have control over what the jury’s going to do. Even the best home run hitters in baseball strike out, but as Delisi playfully quips “I’m proud you got on base.”

Before wrapping the episode, Michael adds one more aspect of this case that made it tough – the fact that he didn’t have a “villain.” The driver admitted it was his fault, the defense lawyers were reasonable, the company didn’t train much (which is not the custom in this venue). It’s hard to get the jury to give you money when your client’s just hurt – there needs to be a villain. But sometimes, it’s really just a crash in a parking lot.

Ending on a heartfelt note, Delisi praises Michael’s courage and honesty for recording this episode only one day after the verdict was read and openly sharing this on the podcast. Even after this, Michael adamantly encourages everyone listening to get out there and try cases, even if they don’t always go the way you hope they do.

“If you can keep swinging, you’re going to hit something. So get out there and swing.” – Michael Cowen

 

102 – Michael Leizerman – The Value of Life: Understanding What Was Taken

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with the Zen Lawyer, Michael Leizerman, for his second time on the show. They’ll cover the importance of language in trial, the difference between something being “taken” vs. “lost,” connecting with your client, Leizerman’s upcoming Zen Lawyer workshop, and so much more.

The episode begins with Cowen asking Leizerman how he’s doing, then immediately retracting the question because he just asked it. Leizerman says this is actually the perfect way to begin the episode, because they’re going to talk about habits. Phrases like “pain and suffering,” harms and losses,” and others have become the go-to for trial lawyers everywhere – but that doesn’t mean they’re the most effective phrases to communicate your client’s injuries. Instead, Leizerman encourages you to think about it a different way; how the defendant took something from your client. 

Diving into further detail, Leizerman uses the example of how you feel when you lose your phone, versus when someone took your phone. When someone takes something from someone else, you feel like they need to either give it back or compensate them for their loss. In the personal injury world, there is no way for the defendant to give back what they took, so they must pay the value of what was taken.

This strategy also changes how the jurors see it. Jurors know it’s wrong for someone to take something. When you give them an active wrongdoer, and describe what they took, it can be very powerful.

Next, Leizerman shares the importance of describing what the defendant took from your client. This goes much deeper than the medical diagnosis, where most lawyers stop. If the client can’t work anymore or can’t play little league with their daughter, this goes down to the very state of their being, and you need to make this very clear to the jury.

“[The jury’s] sole job is to put a value on what was taken from [my client].” – Michael Leizerman

This discussion naturally flows into a topic frequently covered on the podcast – the case is about what we choose to make it about. Using the example of a herniated disc case, where the defense almost always claims there was degeneration prior to the incident, Cowen describes how he uses the treating doctor’s deposition to describe what the client’s life was like before the incident and what was taken from them. Leizerman loves this example and describes how he uses the defense’s medical expert to make the same point brilliantly, citing an impressive recent $10,988,000 jury verdict in a herniated disc case.

After discussing why it’s so important to spend time with a client in their own home, they transition to the concept called “companioning,” where you are present for someone’s pain without trying to fix it. Leizerman shares a deeply personal experience with his mother, who is currently in hospice, where he held her hand and sat with her for a long time. Applying this to lawyering, Leizerman says he has many phone calls with the client where he only speaks about 5% of the time. He simply listens, lets them speak, and every time they thank him for the conversation.

Cowen then adds that one of the greatest self-imposed sufferings in his life has been his “need to fix.” Over the years, he has gone on a journey to accept that his job is not to fix – it’s to get the client as much money as he can. Leizerman deeply relates to this feeling and gives it the term “empathetic distress.” Flipping the script, Leizerman then asks Cowen to dig a little deeper into how he’s coped with his need to fix. He gives an insightful answer and shares a meaningful example from a recent wrongful death trial, where the verdict gave the spouse such a feeling of validation. Leizerman agrees and had a very similar trial recently, where simply being heard was the most important thing for the client.

“My job is to reduce suffering in the world, and that includes reducing suffering in my own life.” – Michael Leizerman

Cowen then asks Leizerman what skills he has used to comfort people who are grieving. Leizerman describes how he is truly present with his client in their pain and aware of their energy. He recognizes the concept of energy may sound “wacky” to some, but he believes it works for him and makes a real difference in his connection with his clients. This has served him well in depos, where the defense will want to take a break as soon as his client begins crying or showing strong emotion. The clients feel supported enough to continue through the tears and pain of that moment, often resulting in a very powerful deposition.

They end the episode by discussing Leizerman’s workshop on Zen meditation. Cowen has attended before, and credits it to a huge jump in his skills and mindset. It has helped him be more present in the moment and make him an overall happier person. Leizerman appreciates this, and adds that Zen Buddhism is non-theistic and not about being calm all the time, but being truly present in a moment. Michael Cowen encourages all lawyers listening, especially lawyers with some experience under their belt, to attend.

Michael Leizerman’s next workshop will be held October 19th-22nd in Toledo, Ohio. You can learn more about the workshop and register here.

This podcast episode also covers why you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you misspeak in trial, why you need to tie the wrongdoing to what was taken, the details of both Cowen and Leizerman’s most recent wrongful death trials, why it’s important to look for non-portrait photos of your client before the incident, Michael Cowen’s experience at Michael Leizerman’s Zen workshop, and much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Michael Leizerman is a partner at The Law Firm for Truck Safety, which handles truck accident litigation across the United States.  He is the co-founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). He concentrates his practice in select catastrophic injury truck collision cases across the country.

Michael was the first Chair of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group. He and his wife and law partner, Rena, wrote the 4,000+ page treatise Litigating Truck Accident Cases. Together, they also spearheaded efforts in partnership with the NBTA and the ATAA to obtain the first and only American Bar Association-accredited board certification in truck accident law in the country.

Michael has taken 13 truck and bus cases to trial since 2006. He has received record-breaking truck accident settlements and verdicts across the country, including multiple verdicts with punitive damages. He and his firm have received multi-million-dollar results in over 50 settlements and verdicts.

Michael is also the author of the Trial Guides book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, published in 2018.

 

100 – David Ball – Damages Evolving: Practicing Law in an Ever-Changing World

In this very special 100th episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael has the legendary David Ball back on the show to discuss his soon-to-be-released book, Damages Evolving, written alongside Artemis Malekpour and Courtney and Nick Rowley.

“I’d shake the hand of any person who can keep this going for 100 episodes.” – David Ball

Michael begins the episode by asking David what he means by “Damages Evolving.” David explains that it’s mostly what they’ve learned since the release of Damages 3. He was almost finished with his first draft right before Covid hit. After Covid, turmoil in Washington, George Floyd, and more, he knew the shifts on jury perception would be too large not to re-analyze before publishing.

David continues by elaborating on why Nick and Courtney Rowley were involved in this book. He heard of Nick Rowley and the incredible verdicts he was getting all over the country and thought, how is he doing this? As Michael interjects that David and Nick have different methodologies, David says he feels they are more similar than most believe. And as he’s progressed in his career, he’s learned there’s no one way to do things. You need to find what works for you and run with it.

“I’ve stopped saying ‘Courtney is Nick’s wife’ and started saying ‘Nick is Courtney’s husband.’” – David Ball

Michael then digs into the meat of the book and asks David about the concept of alignment. David shares that the goal of alignment is to get jurors to start believing something important about your case. This aspect of your case doesn’t need to be the most important or most central part. This works because people tend to continue believing what they first start to believe, and if the next thing they hear re-enforces that belief, it’ll be even stronger. This repeats until you’re almost impervious to any jabs the defense attempts to make.

“If you get the alignment in place, you start winning within the first 2-3 pages of your opening.” – David Ball

David then shares how the concept of alignment can break through any preconceptions about attorneys being dishonest. The key is to never tell the jury what to think; it is vital that the jury decides for themselves what they think. He then shares a brilliant example of how to use alignment in a rear-end collision case, which is sure to solidify this concept in every listener’s head.

After David shares that he doesn’t think he would be a good lawyer because he would get too frustrated with the judges, Michael shares some of the mindset work that he’s done to help with this and how being angry during the trial isn’t productive. David then recommends the book “The Way of the Trial Lawyer” by Rick Friedman, which he admits he thought was just another self help book at first. It discusses ego, why you’re in trial, and the importance of empathy, which David also covers in “Damages Evolving.”

Continuing on empathy, David emphasizes how important it is. Understanding where defense lawyers, jurors, and judges you don’t like are coming from can both make it easier on you mentally and create a bond with that person. This allows you to make decisions within their mindset, which is incredibly powerful.

After a discussion about the many benefits of having a female trial partner, Michael picks David’s brain about the best ways to give developing lawyers experience in the courtroom. David has a few recommendations, including finding simple cases for them to try, splitting liability and damages, and even hiring actors to play jurors for practice.

Moving on, David shares some brilliant techniques on how to include the jury in an examination of a hostile witness. Referencing the teachings of Joshua Karton, David explains how to position your body, when to stay silent, and what your facial expressions should be saying throughout the process. It sounds simple, but David asserts this type of inclusion of the jury does not come naturally to most people, especially those who would choose to attend law school and be a trial lawyer. It’s something that takes a lot of practice and vulnerability to do successfully.

“It’s all you working with them to arrive at a mutual understanding.” – David Ball

Michael then asks David about another section of his book on “Forgotten Damages.” David explains how these are compensable damages which are often left out of the equation. He then elaborates on some forgotten parts of chronic pain, including trouble sleeping and a sedentary lifestyle. What does long term lack of sleep do? It makes you about 1/3 more likely to develop cancer and heart disease, leading to a shorter remainder of life.  With a sedentary lifestyle, the long-term effects are well-known and documented. While finding and highlighting these forgotten damages is more work for the lawyer, David goes as far as to say a lawyer is committing negligence if he or she does not look for them in a case.

“If someone is in great pain, and you don’t look for the forgotten part of their pain, what the hell else is there?” – David Ball

After a brief but very insightful look at how framing your client’s loss of control over their life is a loss of freedom resonates extremely well with conservative jurors, the conversation shifts to experts. David explains that evidence presented by our experts must be both reliable and relevant – otherwise, it’s not evidence at all. He outlines the three criteria we should have for our evidence and adds that if the defense expert’s evidence is not reliable, you need to frame it to show the jury they are cheating. And not just cheating your client – they’re cheating the jury, and they are the villain. The trick is to do this without ever making an accusation. Like with the other techniques mentioned in this episode, jurors must come to their own conclusions.

“It’s a way of showing the other side isn’t just mistaken. It’s to frame it to show they are cheating. And they’re not just cheating me and my client; they’re doing the worst sin you could do. They are cheating the jury.” – David Ball

Before wrapping up this episode, Michael asks David to discuss another topic in his upcoming book- respect. David shares how our need for respect stems from an evolutionary need to stay in the tribe to survive. This survives to this day, causing the feeling of disrespect to be one of the most memorable and hated feelings we have. David takes it a step further to assert that every act of negligence is an act of disrespect to EVERYONE, and you need to frame your case that way.

“As powerful of a persuasive tool as you will ever find, is to harness the power of how much we HATE disrespect.” – David Ball

If you would like to speak with David Ball or his partner Artemis Malekpour about working on a case or their research, you can contact David by email at jurywatch@gmail.com or Artemis at artemis@consultmmb.com.

“Damages Evolving” is available now for pre-order on the Trial Guides website and will release on April 15th, 2022.

This podcast episode also covers David’s templates, why some of the most evil people in history actually had great empathy, how to split an opening statement between 2 different lawyers, why brain injury cases should be the highest value cases, why you should always check to see if your client has a brain injury, how our hatred of disrespect got Donald Trump elected, and much more.

Guest Bio:

David Ball (Malekpour Ball Consulting) is the nation’s most influential trial consultant. With partner Artemis Malekpour, he guides plaintiff’s civil cases and criminal defense cases across the country. They are the nation’s only trial consultants qualified to help attorneys with Reptilian methods and strategy, as well as with Ball’s David Ball on Damages techniques and a wide range of other essential approaches. They have an unparalleled record in helping attorneys with every size and kind of case.

Dr. Ball is also a pioneer in adapting methods of film and theater for use in trial. His theater/film students hold Oscars, Obies, Tonys, and Emmys. His Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials has been a bestseller for nearly two decades, and his Backwards and Forwards has been a foundation of theater and film training since 1984.

Dr. Ball wrote two of the bestselling trial strategy books ever published: David Ball on Damages and—with Reptile cofounder Don Keenan—Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution.

Dr. Ball is an award-winning teacher for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the American Association for Justice’s National College of Advocacy. He has also taught law students at North Carolina, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Campbell law schools, and at Duke Law as a senior lecturer. He has long been the nation’s most in-demand continuing legal education speaker.

99 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Pursuit of Happiness: Building the Attorney-Client Alliance

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by his law partner Sonia Rodriguez to discuss a topic sure to resonate with every plaintiff lawyer listening; What can we do to keep our clients happy?

The pair begins the episode with a look at why we want to keep our clients happy. While some of the benefits seem obvious, such as not having a grievance filed against you, getting positive reviews online, and gaining future business through their referrals, Michael and Sonia discuss this in more detail. Michael shares why you want your client to take your advice. And for them to do that, they need to trust you. Sonia agrees and adds that lawyers have a fairly low reputation in the eye of the general public. Clients come to you with this in the back of their minds, so it’s crucial to be upfront, honest, and transparent.

“If you have a client that trusts you, you can go forward with the case strategy as a team.” – Sonia Rodriguez

This leads them to discuss what makes clients unhappy with their lawyer. Sonia explains how the client is initially unhappy when they don’t know how the lawyer is getting paid. To alleviate this strain, Sonia makes a point to have a very frank conversation about the contingency fee and how it works during her first meeting with the client. In this conversation, she also makes it clear that case expenses are separate from the fee. Repeating this throughout the life of the case and making it nonchalant goes very far in building trust with the client.

Michael agrees and adds how crucial it is to fix your own relationship with money to have these conversations. He used to cut his fees all the time, without the client even asking. Sonia shares something that helps with her mindset – that the attorney’s fee isn’t all going into her pocket. It also pays paralegals, investigators, employee health care, etc. It comes down to valuing yourself and your services.

Michael and Sonia’s next topic of conversation is one of the most commonly filed grievances against lawyers – a lack of communication with the client about what’s going on with their case. To nip this issue in the bud, they’ve developed a system which requires a meaningful client contact at least once every 30 days (discussed in more detail in this fan-favorite episode with Malorie Peacock). In this phone call, typically conducted by the paralegal, the client is asked a series of meaningful questions and provided with an update on their case. It not only keeps the client informed, but it also helps the firm know when the client is struggling to keep up with his or her medical appointments. This helps move the case forward, adds value to the case, and helps ensure the client is happy.

After briefly discussing the commonly held belief that the attorney only cares about the money and how to combat it, Sonia asserts a powerful point; attorneys should not put themselves in the position of needing to make the client happy. With a personal injury claim can come a lot of anxiety and depression, and sometimes you can never make a client truly happy. If that is your goal, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

This leads them to talk about managing expectations with clients. Michael and Sonia both agree that bringing up any issues with the case early leads to a happier client in the end. Sonia frames it as not having a “crystal ball.” She will not tell a client early on what she thinks the case is worth. Instead, she tells the client what she “imagines the insurance company wants to pay them.” This is a great way to point out any issues in the case, while diffusing any potential rift between herself and the client and uniting them against the insurance company on the other side.

Michael adds that if the client thinks you need the money, they will doubt you when you advise them to settle. He then shares the powerful explanation that he gives to clients in this situation, where he makes it clear that he is able to take on the risk of going to trial but shares the downsides of doing so for the client.

While there can be a real, scary financial risk for young lawyers with a lot of money invested into a case, Michael shares his personal experience of losing his first $100,000 and his shocking reaction looking back on that experience. At the end of the day, choosing to settle on your advice or not is the client’s decision, and when you make that clear from the start, you don’t need to lose sleep over it.

“It hurts, but when you survive it… it’s a very liberating thing.” – Michael Cowen

Having to be the bearer of bad news comes with the territory of being a lawyer. Michael and Sonia’s next talking point explores the different ways they handle delivering this bad news without damaging the attorney-client relationship. Sonia shares why telling them in person immediately or, if possible, in advance goes a long way to salvaging and potentially even strengthening your trust with the client. She then shares a recent example where her client refused to answer a question in a deposition. Sonia pulled her aside and explained the risks. When the client chose to move forward, she understood a motion to compel could be filed; but it was a decision the client made, and Sonia supported her.

The pair wraps up the episode with Michael sharing a philosophy he learned from his New Mexico office partner, Alex Begum. At the end of the day, personal injury clients don’t usually know if the lawyer is doing a good job or not; but what they do know is how they feel when they interact with your office. Things like offering them a beverage, giving them a gift package, and not making them wait for a long time when they come to see you go a long way. And while the strategies mentioned in this episode won’t make everything perfect all the time, implementing them at your firm will help maximize client happiness over time.

“When you make people feel more respected dealing with your office than anywhere else in their lives, then they will like you.” – Michael Cowen

This podcast episode also covers why online reviews are so important and when you should ask a client for a review, why client happiness is more important in personal injury than most other practices, how to show a client you care about them and not just the money, and much more.

 

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