personal injury

59 – Malorie Peacock – Discover Your “Why”: Committing to Organizational Health

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock. They discuss their recent “deep dive” 2-day management retreat, the organizational health of your law firm, Zoom jury trials, and implications of the shut down on future business.

The episode begins with a review of their firm’s recent 2-day management retreat, which was a “deep dive” into their firm’s core values, focus, and goals based off the book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” by Patrick Lencioni. The retreat starts off with a seemingly simple question: Why does our law firm exist? Michael admits he was worried everyone would think the idea was “hokey,” but Malorie insists she was surprised at how complex the question really was. Michael, Malorie, and the rest of their management team spent significant time reflecting on this and decided their firm’s purpose is to “provide a ‘Special Forces’ level of representation to people who are hurt.” Michael recognizes this as an extremely high aspirational standard (which is why he hesitated at first to share) and sees this as their goal for the firm.

After deciding the firm’s purpose, their team was tasked with choosing the firm’s core values. Both Michael and Malorie emphasize the importance of choosing values you will embrace and commit to. As an example, Michael highlights the common PI lawyer core value of safety. He asks, “What do you do when you get a 5 million dollar offer without a safety change, or 1 million dollars with a safety change?” If the firm’s core value is safety, they should take the lower offer. Malorie echoes this sentiment and adds that PI lawyers face a lot of backlash from society, so they tend to overcompensate by expressing an unrealistic emphasis on safety over getting justice for their clients. The key is choosing values that truly represent your firm and its goals.

On the note of goal setting, Michael explains the importance of choosing one large goal and sticking to it. Citing Gary W. Keller’s book “The One Thing,” Michael reflects on past experiences of having lots of great ideas, but something would always come up and they would be forgotten. By choosing the one area which adds the most “bang” to your law firm, you can truly focus on that area and strive towards your goal every day. This strategy requires buy-in and personal work from every attorney at your firm, but when achieved is very effective.

Michael and Malorie then reflect on the implications of states re-opening and how it affects their ability to conduct legal work remotely. Malorie has already had opposing counsel insist on doing things in person again, but worries about what she’ll do down the line if the court forces her high-risk client to have an in-person deposition. Michael shares these concerns, stating “eventually I’ll be ordered to do something I’m not comfortable doing.”

As they switch to the topic of Zoom jury trials, Michael is quick to share his hesitance towards the idea. His concerns include a lack of nonverbal communication, distractions, a loss of group dynamics, and the inability to obtain a representative jury pool by excluding citizens without adequate internet or access to childcare. He does add that online focus groups have shown the numbers aren’t very different from in-person jury trials, but he would like to see more research before committing to one. Malorie also notes an interesting difference between an in-person trial and a virtual trial. In a virtual trial you have to sit in the same place for the entirety of the case, which means you can’t have witnesses act things out, do demonstrations, or have multiple ways of showing people information. This makes it more difficult to keep the attention of the jury. Michael and Malorie end this discussion by agreeing if this goes on for years, they will eventually have to adapt. And Michael ends by agreeing to try a jury trial case via Zoom with a podcast fan, an offer you’ll have to tune in to hear all of the details.

They finish off this episode with a conversation about future business implications because of this shut down. Malorie has noticed more people on the roads recently and only anticipates a 3-4 month lull in new cases, but believes it will pick back up quickly. Michael agrees and adds that people are getting stir crazy, and driving more recklessly than before, stating “gear up and get ready.” With that being said, Michael and Malorie encourage scrutiny when deciding what cases to invest in right now. Malorie believes small insurance companies may be less willing to pay out claims, and Michael is being very cautious with cases involving a risk retention group or a self-insured company. Many are currently teetering on insolvency and may not be able to pay out claims.

This podcast also covers answering legal questions for friends, “Zoom fatigue,” time management, return-to-office prep, and more.

 

 

 

54 – Michael O’Neill – Delivering Justice: From UPS Defense Attorney to Plaintiff Trial Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with former defense attorney for UPS and current plaintiff attorney, Michael O’Neill. This show covers an array of topics, including the defense’s advantages in catastrophic injury cases, why O’Neill switched sides of the courtroom (and why it made him such a good plaintiff attorney), what companies can’t defend against, and why referring out cases can make you more money.

The episode kicks off with Cowen asking O’Neill why large companies use the same defense firm for cases around the country. O’Neill says the lawyer needs to know a very specific field, know the company well, and have a consistent defense. O’Neill would receive a call in the middle of the night or on a weekend and would need to travel immediately to the scene of a crash. UPS would refer to this as “boots on the ground.” He emphasizes that marshalling evidence while it’s fresh is pertinent to the success of any case. O’Neill shares a story of a time where he went to the scene and pointed out a detail the police missed which would have hurt their case on liability. He was also there while the police were writing their reports and describes how he could influence what was written. Cowen and O’Neill discuss the defense’s role in shaping the narrative of the case from the start, the role of psychology with the first responders, the defense’s advantage in this, and what plaintiff lawyers CAN (but most DON’T) do to combat this.

Cowen then asks what everyone’s thinking; why did O’Neill switch to the plaintiff’s side? O’Neill replies that the curiosity has always been there. He then describes a scenario, not uncommon to him, where he had a defense verdict on a case he believed “that’s an easy 7-figure case that should have been won and we zeroed them.”

The conversation shifts to what companies CAN’T defend. Both agree on exposing poor training programs as the key to winning “nuclear verdicts” in commercial vehicle and trucking cases. They discuss this and other factors which make the case about the 3 months before, as opposed to the 5 seconds before the crash. O’Neill then brings up a defense trucking podcast by FreightWaves which recently discussed the defense’s fear of “the second lawyer” and the impact of referral attorneys on the insurance industry. As a “second lawyer” himself, Cowen shares a recent example of an insurance company who learned once he became involved all prior negotiations at a much lower number were out the window.

One of the most important details for a successful catastrophic injury lawyer to accomplish is to make the case about the company, not the individual. Cowen shares a story of a case where the CMV driver was high on meth at the time of the accident. The case against the driver was already strong, but when asked by a colleague why he was working so hard on the case Cowen replied, “It doesn’t take much money to teach a meth head a lesson. It needs to be about the company and what it takes to teach the company a lesson.” O’Neill echoes this with another great example of a strong case that he made even stronger by putting in the work.

O’Neill and Cowen then praise trucking trial lawyer Joe Fried and how instrumental he has been on creating the current “abundance mentality” of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). The ATAA abundance mentality encompasses the idea that there are plenty of trucking cases to go around, and we all perform better when we share information and establish good law. “The tide raises good ships,” O’Neill eloquently responds. When comparing this to the defense bar, O’Neill says the difference is night and day. Information on the defense side is kept from one another because there are fewer clients and essentially everyone can be your competition. He goes as far as to say that the way the plaintiff’s bar shares information “terrifies the defense.”

They then move into a discussion on the transition process from defense to plaintiff lawyer. Cowen asks O’Neill what it has been like changing into a role where he works at a firm that now funds cases and isn’t paid by the hour. O’Neill discusses some transitional difficulties, but insists he has been made confident through his experiences as a defense attorney, stating, “You start giving big checks to mediocre lawyers and you start to wonder, why am I not on the other end of this conversation?” Cowen then describes his history of funding cases by sharing his expertise in finance management and smart firm growth.

The conversation concludes with a discussion on package car cases- What makes them different from trucking cases? Why can they be so complicated? O’Neill highlights the necessity for specialized knowledge in this area, stating, “There’s a million ways to skin a cat, but you have to know how to skin the cat.” Because shipping companies usually work with subcontractors as delivery drivers, it can be difficult to make the case about the company. O’Neill shares valuable insight into how he’s overcome this barrier.

This podcast also covers efficient docket size, the order of your depositions, networking, direct to public marketing versus B2B marketing, and much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

A northeastern Pennsylvania native, Attorney Michael O’Neill handles catastrophic injury litigation, including representing those who were in motor vehicle and truck accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and premises liability. A former senior litigation associate at DLA Piper LLP, and a founder partner at a national litigation boutique law firm, O’Neill has served as first chair trial attorney in over 25 jury trials, or their equivalent, in ten different states. All of these complex litigation matters involved disputes of seven figures or more and resulted in successful verdicts or settlements.

With more than 20 years of complex litigation experience, O’Neill has appeared multiple times on NBC-10 television in Philadelphia, numerous radio broadcasts and national podcasts as a legal expert and to discuss cases he is handling on behalf of catastrophically injured people.

O’Neill is admitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Supreme Court of New Jersey, and the Supreme Court of New York, as well as the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Pennsylvania, District of New Jersey, and the Northern District of Texas.

O’Neill also has a distinguished military service record as a veteran of the United States Army. He is an honors graduate of the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and the U.S. Army Aviation and Warfighting Center, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and trained to fly helicopters for the Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard. He remained active in the National Guard until 2005 and is a member of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, one of the oldest recognized organizations in the United States military.

O’Neill earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Scranton and received his Juris Doctor from the Villanova University School of Law in 1998. While at Villanova, he focused on litigation-related curriculum and after graduation taught trial advocacy for seven years as an adjunct professor. A lifelong athlete, he played collegiate football and baseball and was inducted into the Wayne/Pike County Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. He also has held a civilian aviation license for more than 30 years.

Michael O’Neill joined the offices of Fellerman & Ciarimboli in Philadelphia on March 1st.. He can be reached by phone at (215)776-5070 or by email at mjo@fclawpc.com.

 

43 – Joseph Camerlengo – The Complexity and Rewards of Operating a Specialized Law Firm

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Joe Camerlengo, an extremely successful trucking lawyer from Jacksonville, FL, who is also the outgoing president of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA), for a deep dive conversation on the specialization of trucking law.

Joe’s start as a lawyer began after being a finance major in undergrad, going to law school to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and then falling in love with being a trial lawyer after taking a trial practice course. From there he only interviewed at defense firms and only wanted to be a defense lawyer, having “drank the Koolaid,” and thinking people were exaggerating their claims, lying, and cheating. But his perspective changed after his then-girlfriend, now wife got T-boned in her car and suffered a soft tissue injury which he quickly realized are very real and hurt. At that point he started to plan his exit although he didn’t want to leave, having only been at a defense firm for two and a half years. What he really wanted, was to wait until he tried cases and learned more about excess coverage in multiple layers and multiple defendants, which he did, and then waited until he was on the eve of being a partner at the defense firm and left to start his own plaintiffs firm.

Michael wastes no time in asking Joe how he became a trucking specialist, to which it all started with a single case Joe recalls vividly. The Tony and Johnson case was a case where a 19-year-old girl was killed by a double trailer truck which was driving on a small county road. Joe immediately dove into the regulations, bought Michael Leizerman’s book, The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, went to seminars, and fell in love with the complexity and being able to do real justice in that first trucking case. While the results of that case would obviously never bring Tony back, he was able to resolve it in a way that brought justice to her family and further pushed the trucking company to agree to not drive their double trailers on county roads anywhere in the state of Florida.

Michael then contrasts this with automobile cases where the driver who caused the wreck is a major factor. You can resolve those cases or if you try them, you rarely get full justice because a large percentage of responsibility is going to go to someone else. Plus, when you try them, you’re not going to win them as often, so the settlement values are such that instead of fully taking care of somebody, you are helping them more than they would have been helped had you not been there, but not really getting them full justice. As an example, he points to award a couple of million dollars for a quadriplegic over a lifetime is not really going to take care of them, as opposed to a trucking case. They both agree that with trucking cases there’s more likely to be a situation where the trucking companies are at fault, they DO have the resources, you can actually do more complete justice and in some cases, when you really have a good case, you can force them to agree to safety changes as part of a settlement and it just feels better knowing the impact you’ve had beyond the case itself.

Joe talks through the financial ups and downs of having your own practice and the discipline it takes to stay the course and be focused on the cases you are looking to take on while maintaining the expenses of the rest of your practice. Michael goes on to describe the conversation he had with Michael Leizerman when Cowen wanted to know how he got to the point where he only had good trucking cases and recalls Leizerman’s simple words, “I just said no to everything else.” Michael and Joe continue to talk about what goes into building a successful firm in direct relationship to the profitability of narrowing the scope of cases they’re willing to take on, which in large part, includes a firm’s capacity. Joe brings up a point that’s so often overlooked where you cannot run your people or yourself at 100% capacity. “That’s when you will break down. That’s when you’ll burn out. That’s when you’ll make mistakes,” Michael explains. Joe describes the need to have space in your inventory for that new call, because if you’ve said yes to some of those smaller cases because you had capacity at the time, and now you’re almost at capacity when the 9-figure case calls, the firm will likely not be in a position to do its best work on that case or the others. You need to have some capacity in your life, in your firm to take on arising unknown opportunities. The unfortunate side of the self-imposed stress placed on people when running at capacity all the time is the drugs, alcohol, suicide, infidelity, and everything else people do when they’re managing the stress in a bad way. You have to do what’s right for you and develop a stress level to where you’re still having quality time with your family and you’re not overworking yourself or your people. Joe recalls “they say people make you money,” whereas his theory at his firm is “happy people make you more money,” strongly suggesting the need to give your people support and “treat them like they’re gold.”

Michael and Joe continue to talk through a variety of topics regarding the solid building blocks they’ve both used in building successful practices including: Systems within the firm (intake checklists, forms, etc.) and the idea that when you follow the systems, it frees you up to do the creative stuff; The necessity to never neglect the business side of your firm and the impact it can have on your clients; Savvy accounting tips for lawyers who focus specifically on phantom income and their associated taxes; and several other important factors for law firms to consider.

This jam-packed podcast concludes with an in-depth look at one of Joe’s latest trial successes that have been 8½ years in the making and culminated with an astonishing $11.32M verdict for, of all things, a car wreck case involving their firm’s long-time IT employee. Joe is gracious enough to share so many details about the trials and tribulations of this case, and they were plentiful over the course of the life of the case.

BACKGROUND

Joe Camerlengo is a founding partner of The Truck Accident Law Firm where he maintains a nationwide trial practice specializing in the areas of serious personal injury and wrongful death caused by trucking, bus, and commercial motor vehicle crashes.   He is extremely hardworking and a passionate advocate for his clients.   Joe is board certified in truck accident law by the National Board of Trial Advocates and board-certified in civil trial law by both the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocates.   Joe is a member of ABOTA, has achieved a preeminent AV rating by Martindale Hubbell and has been voted a Florida Super Lawyer in Civil Trial and Personally Injury Law every year since 2008.  Joe serves as the President of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, the Education Chair for the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group, Chair of the Florida Justice Association’s Trucking and CMV Crash Section and serves on the board of the National Board of Trial Advocates and the National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates.  Joe speaks all over the country on issues relating to handling Trucking Crash cases and advanced trial techniques.  He has been a repeat speaker for the American Association for Justice, the Florida Justice Association, the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, the 360 Advocacy programs, and many other trial lawyer organizations.

An extremely hardworking and passionate advocate for our clients, Joe Camerlengo specializes in the areas of serious personal injury and wrongful death caused by a tractor-trailer and commercial motor vehicle crashes.  Joe is board certified in civil trial law by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocates.  Joe lectures other attorneys on handling tractor-trailer crashes all over the county and has served as faculty at the AAJ Truck Litigation College.  Joe has achieved a preeminent AV rating by Martindale Hubbell and has been repeatedly voted by his peers as a Florida Super Lawyer, a member of Florida’s Legal Elite and a National Trial Attorneys top 100.

Joe is passionate about making our roads safer by pursuing and helping other attorneys pursue, bad trucking companies and dangerous truck drivers.  Joe remains actively involved in the leading trucking litigation attorney organizations.  He is the President and Board Member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys; the Education Chair and Board Member of the American Association for Justice Interstate Truck Litigation Group; a board member of the National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates; and Co-Chair of the Florida Justice Association’s Trucking Litigation Group.

Joe began his legal career defending insurance companies and corporations for 7 years before founding the Camerlengo Law Group in 2001 to focus on civil justice.  He has been representing plaintiffs in serious injury and death cases since then and enjoys the challenge of taking on large corporations and insurance companies. In 2014, Joe and his team joined Coker, Shickel, Sorenson, Posgay, Camerlengo & Iracki.  In 2017, Joe joined forces with leading trucking trial attorneys Michael Leizerman and Joe Fried to form The Truck Accident Law Firm, handling trucking crash cases all over the country from the home office in Jacksonville, Florida.

Joe is a double Gator, having received his B.S.B.A. in Finance in 1991 and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1994, both with honors. Joe has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1994 and is also admitted to the United States District Court, for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida and the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Joe is actively involved in the Florida and Jacksonville Bar and his community and is a recognized leader on diversity and inclusion issues.  Joe currently serves on a Florida Bar Grievance Committee.  He has served on the Florida Bar’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee since its inception, serving as chairman in 2011-2012.  He is a Past President of the Jacksonville Bar Association. Joe also supports several charitable and community organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Jacksonville Human Society, the Jacksonville Host Committee for Florida’s Children First and Leadership Jacksonville.  He enjoys coaching kids’ sports, playing golf, working out, surfing and, most importantly, spending time with his wife and their daughters.

Joe can be reached at jvc@truckcrashlaw.com

Additional Information:

EDUCATION
The University of Florida, Warrington College of Business, B.S.B.A. in Finance with honors (1991), Levin College of Law, Juris Doctorate with honors (1994)

CERTIFICATIONS
Board Certified in Civil Trial Practice, The Florida Bar, Board Certified in Civil Trial Practice, National Board of Trial Advocates

BAR ADMISSIONS
Florida Bar, member since 1994, Board Certified in Civil Trial since 2011, U.S. District Court, Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

PROFESSIONAL HONORS, ACTIVITIES & AFFILIATIONS: 
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
President (2018 – 2019), Vice President (2017-2018), Board of Regents (2016 – present)

National Board of Trial Advocates
Board Member (2016-present)

National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates
Board Member (2016-present)

American Association for Justice, Interstate Trucking Litigation Group
Education Chair (2018-present), Membership Chair (2017-2018), AAJ Truck Litigation College Co-Chair (2018), Vision Zero Committee (2016-present), Side Underride Committee (2015-present)

Florida Justice Association,
Trucking Litigation Section Co-Chair (2016-present), Eagle Member, since 2006

American Board of Trial Advocates, since 2015

Jacksonville Bar Association, since 1994
Chair – Diversity Committee (2010-2011), President (2008-2009), Founder, Diversity Symposium (2009), President-Elect (2007-2008), Board of Governors (2000-2006), Co-Chair, Entertainment and Sports Law Committee (2004-2005), Foundation Advisory Committee (2001-2005)

President, Young Lawyers Section (2000-2001), President-Elect, Young Lawyers Section (1999-2000), Secretary, Young Lawyers Section (1998-1999), Board of Governors, Young Lawyers Section (1996-1998), Sports Commissioner, Young Lawyers Section (1994-1996)

Founder, 4th Judicial Circuit Trial Docket (2000-2001)
Florida Bar Association, since 1994
Executive Council, Florida Bar Standing Committee on Diversity & Inclusion (current), Chairman, President’s Special Statewide Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2011-2012), Appointed to President’s Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2010)

American Bar Association, since 1994
American Association for Justice, since 2001
Jacksonville Justice Association, since 2001
Treasurer (2006-2009), Secretary (2005)

University of Florida Bull Gator, Since 2006

Frequent CLE Presenter on Trucking and Trial Strategies

Certified NFL Agent (2000-2005)

 

RECOGNITIONS

Martindale Hubbell AV Rated, National Trucking Lawyers Top 10, 2017-present, National Trial Lawyers of the Year Top 100; 2012-present, Florida Super Lawyer, Plaintiff’s Personal Injury & Civil Trial; 2008-present, Florida Trend’s Legal Elite, 2014 to present, AVVO Superb Rating – 10 out of 10; 2008-present, Leadership Jacksonville, Class of 2010, Jacksonville Business Journal, 40 under 40, 2009, Florida Justice Association Bronze Eagle Award, 2008, Florida’s Legal Elite, Civil Trial Practice, FLORIDA TREND Magazine, 2006, Million Dollar Trial Advocates, Member since 2003

 

CIVIC ACTIVITIES:
Assumption Catholic School League Soccer Coach (2011-present), Armada Jacksonville Football Club Soccer Coach (2014-present), Arlington Football Club Soccer Coach (2010-2014), Leadership Jacksonville, Class of 2010, Jacksonville Host Committee, Florida’s Children First (2004-present), Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Volunteer, Sulzbacher Center Volunteer

REPRESENTATIVE CASES:
Tractor Trailer Wrongful Death:  Settled $8.8 million total recoveries, Tractor Trailer vs. Motorcycle serious injury:  Settled $6 million Policy Limits

10 level Spinal Fusion:  Judgment $5.86 Million, Rear End Collision by parts delivery truck:  Jury Verdict $4.85 Million, Tractor Trailer Head-On Collision:  Settled $3.975 Million, Tractor Trailer Rear-End Collision on Interstate:  Settled $3.5 Million, Head-On Collision with Limo Van:  Settled $2.65 Million, Tractor Trailer vs. Motorcycle Wrongful Death:  Settled $2.6 million, Tractor Trailer Tire Came Off:  Settled $2.2 Million, Head-On Collision with Small CMV:  Settled $2.05 Million, Commercial Vehicle vs. Pedestrian crash:  Settled $2 Million, Fatal Bus vs. Pedestrian Crash:  Settled $1.65 Million, Intersection Collision:  Settled $1.43 Million, Intersection Collision:  Jury Verdict $1.2 Million, Intersection Collision:  Jury Verdict $1.1 Million, Commercial Vehicle Crash at Port:  Settled $1.1 Million

QUOTE:
“I have been privileged to represent many families that have suffered greatly at the hands of bad tractor-trailer companies or overworked commercial drivers.  The more I know about semis, tractor-trailers and their companies, the greater my passion to pursue justice for the harms and losses they cause.  Trucking experience is critical.  Do not call a car crash lawyer to handle your trucking case.  Our firm specializes in Tractor Trailer and Commercial Vehicle crash cases and has the knowledge, experience, and resources to achieve full justice for you and your family.”

RESOURCES

Be the CEO of Your Law Firm

Authored by Alexandra Lozano 
Mentioned by Joe Camerlengo

41 – Malorie Peacock – Resources, Doctor Referrals, and Process-based Focus

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, for another TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on resources for trial lawyers, doctor referrals, and the process behind highlighting what’s most important to your case.

The first question brought to the table is about what the best resources for newer lawyers starting out in the personal injury trial lawyer world. Michael notes his favorite books today would likely not be his favorites for someone just starting out. Having said that, he recommends starting with books like the AAJ Deposition book by Phillip Miller and Paul Scoptur, pointing to the reality in which 90% of cases are likely going to settle and this book focuses on taking good depositions, increasing the likelihood of a higher value settlement for your clients. He also recommends David Ball’s book, Damages 3, which breaks down how to argue a case in a logical and coherent format, avoiding holes in your story, as well as Rules of the Road by Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone, that focuses on simplifying cases. As a follow up to reading all these great books which are meant to help simplify cases, Malorie poses the question of why it is important for lawyers just out of law school (where everything is so complex)  to make the transition to presenting to a jury where you have to make things simple, and why it is so difficult. Michael explores this idea and feels that it takes a lot more work to make things simple, and the complexity is what we hide behind to mask our own insecurities. They both agree that complexity and confusion are great defense tools and by presenting a bunch of confusing ideas to a jury could end up playing right into the defense’s hands. To top off the discussion about resources, Michael adds several other courses, trial colleges, information exchange groups, and other programs that are offered and can help lay the foundation for up and coming trial attorneys and also suggests choosing an area to really focus on, since no one can really know everything about everything.

Beyond books and seminars, Malorie brings up the idea of going to trials and second chairing trials as another great way to gain real life learning experiences. Michael also describes his approach to pairing up attorneys with each other based on where they are in their career to gain practical experience in the courtroom. It’s also noted, in cases where your might be trying them on your own, it can still be beneficial to bring in other attorneys who have done what you are about to do, to strategize and help you prepare. Malorie talks about a specific instance of this coming up for her, where she plans to help a friend through voir dire in their upcoming case. Michael also reminisces about several times back in his early days, enticing friends to come over and practice voir dire and openings with pizza and beer in exchange for their feedback. Although, these weren’t professionals or experts, this practice did help him get more comfortable with talking to people while getting useful feedback.

Another question from our listeners is about lawyers referring people to doctors and the perceived issue that the people getting referred are not actually injured but are being sent to a doctor who will work up some medical documentation to make them look like they’ve sustained an injury in order to make more money for the lawyer. Michael describes his personal experience with this issue in that, he faces it head on and is upfront about it, thereby avoiding any awkwardness or perceived deviance on his part. For him, it basically boils down to having a client in pain, who asks for advice on what doctor to go see. They’re not sure what doctor to go see. They don’t know any specialists in this area. What should I do? Most people would say, tell them to go see a doctor and give them a name. In other words, if you own it, you’re not ashamed of it, and you haven’t done anything wrong and just talk about it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. He also points out that he’s never lost a case on this issue. Malorie also notes, whatever you make a big deal about to a jury, is likely going to be what they think needs to be a big deal, and by confronting it in a matter of fact type way, people take your cues that it is not something to harp on but rather, just being human to one another.

The next question from our listeners is why is it so important for lawyers to make the case about the company and not the low-level employee, and how do you do that? Malorie digs right in, talking through how there are really two main reasons why the company is the bigger villain in a case: 1. The company is where the deep pocket is, and 2. Oftentimes, the individual that did something wrong is likeable. It becomes much “easier for people to dislike a company than it is to dislike an individual who made a mistake,” Malorie explains. Furthermore, “when a company puts an individual in a position where it’s inevitable that they’re going to make those mistakes, and it’s inevitable that they’re going to hurt someone, then it really is the company’s fault.” Michael expands on this idea with an example of a defendant driver, who is usually making a mistake over a period of seconds. Whereas companies that don’t have good safety programs and often make choices, not mistakes, over a period of months or years. So, “it’s just harder to forgive them, whereas it’s easy to forgive someone for making a mistake, for taking your eye off the road for a second, for being distracted for a minute, for driving a little too fast. It’s harder to forgive someone for knowing that you need to have a company safety program and you just don’t do it.” Malorie continues to explore the many types of negligence that can be aimed at companies in how they treat their employees (IE: negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent monitoring, negligent entrustment, etc.). They continue to explore the “how” to make the case about the company, which brings up some truly fascinating ideas and tactics.

Michael and Malorie continue to explore several other topics throughout this episode like testing theories and hypotheses, root cause analysis, reassessing your case throughout the process, and the curse of knowledge. They also explore the processes of walking people through your case one step at a time so that on their own, it inevitably leads to the conclusion of who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, what’s right, and what’s wrong. It takes a lot of work to get there, but Michael and Malorie agree, it’s so worth it.

These Table Talk podcasts also could not happen without the interaction and questions that are submitted by our listeners, for which we are eternally grateful for and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

34 – Sonia Rodriguez – Hindsight in the PI World

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on advice for our up-and-coming personal injury attorneys on the things we know now and wishes we knew earlier in our careers.

Starting right off in the broad sense of the industry, we start with a question about what advice would we give to a lawyer who is in the first 2 years of practice. Learning the hard way, Sonia states why it is critical for a successful personal injury law practice to understand the difference between a PI practice and a typical business practice when you are talking to bankers and lenders. The discussions you’ll have with bankers and lenders about lines of credit and assets in regards to your practice can sound like a foreign language to certain bankers, so you really need to find a bank that knows the PI practice and knows that many times the assets you have are going to be intangible, and are more likely to be in your file cabinet or on your server. Michael also points out how the banking regulations have also tightened up in recent years where it has become harder for PI lawyers to borrow against their case list. To this point, Sonia suggests once you have a few years under your belt, you should start saving/hoarding your money so you can borrow against your own investments and savings when you want to. They both agree once you hit your first big case, you don’t want to start living like that has become your new lifestyle every year or every month and you need to live below your means for a long time. Michael recalls avoiding the temptation to go buy the expensive Mercedes and shares how his first house was only $67,000, which was in stark contrast to other lawyers who went out and bought big houses and could barely pay their credit cards or make it month to month. It was with this foresight and now shared knowledge, that Michael reveals his early financial habits have led him to build the successful practice he has today.

Providing additional advice for PI lawyers just starting out, Michael weighs the pros and cons of gaining experience by starting in a district attorney’s office (hint – it’s not advised…and for good reason). He goes on to suggest several much better ways to gain experience and learn from other attorney’s experience, this podcast being one of them, which will prove to be more advantageous in building a solid foundation for a personal injury practice. Thinking from the other end of the spectrum, Sonia also offers advice regarding business relationships and how they are bound to change over time and shares the key factors you need to consider before entering into a partnership, regardless of the current or past relationships status. A lesson the majority of seasoned attorneys would likely agree with, hindsight being 20/20. Michael, being one of them, recounts one of the things he knows now that he wishes he knew earlier, and how he wishes he had spent a seemingly small amount of money early on to hire a lawyer to draft his agreements with other lawyers. Being lawyers, he says, “we think we can do it ourselves,” and in the process, we end up overlooking the holes in an agreement and only looking at it through rose-colored glasses as if nothing will ever change in the relationship. Michael reveals, in his own hindsight, the amount of money he’s paid out on legal fees to draft things for him now, has turned out to be less than 1% of what he’s paying people that he wouldn’t have had to pay had he had those agreements in place. LESS THAN 1%!

Sonia transitions by discussing the amount of stress brought on day-to-day in this industry. Our bodies were never designed to handle these amounts of mental or physical stress that can come with a heavy litigation practice, she says, and on the plaintiff’s side, it can also be very easy to become emotionally invested in our client’s cases. As a trial lawyer, you need to find a mechanism for an outlet, such as exercise, meditation (if it works for you), or even journaling, in order to maintain your mental health. Michael adds that you need to find a balance in order to internalize and feel your client’s pain without it taking you over. The Harvard Business Review published a great article about the stress and anxiety of being a perfectionist, as we tend to do in this line of work which also lays out several options for mental self-care.

Michael continues to state, as he has on many episodes of this show, to get out there and try more cases. There is never a shortage of cases to be tried in any firm. And no one will remember the cases you lose as you gain experience or even years into your practice for that matter. He goes on to say that you do not suffer a reputational hit for losing a trial and how he has actually lost more cases than some people have ever tried, but still has tons of referrals coming in because attorneys remember the ones he’s won.

Throughout the rest of this episode, Michael and Sonia discuss topics like: the power of saying “NO,” the importance of reputation; how to use a cost/benefit analysis to determine the right cases to take on; their opinions on paying for online profiles with various legal organizations, what to do in discovery when you think the other side is hiding something from you; how to (and more so, how not to) attract leads online; tricks to leveraging social media and pitfalls to avoid when using it; and many others along the way.

These Table Talk podcasts could not happen without the interaction and questions submitted by our listeners. We are eternally grateful and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

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