procedures

109 – Malorie Peacock – Practical Procedures: Creation, Education & Implementation

On this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined once again by his partner Malorie Peacock to discuss their firm’s procedures and how they implemented them. They’ll cover their firm’s journey with procedures, what to create procedures on, how to create, implement, and train on your procedures, how to achieve buy-in, and Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius Model.

Michael and Malorie begin the episode with a look at their firm’s journey with procedures and why they felt the need to share it on the podcast. Michael shares that he drew inspiration from the book “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber, which asserts that every business should be run like a McDonalds, and everything that can be systematized, should be. Having systems and training (and re-training) on them serves to empower your employees, ensures everyone is doing things the way you want them done, and creates a safety net so if someone leaves the firm, someone else can step in and take over where that employee left off.

Malorie then asks Michael a follow-up question- What kinds of things should you have procedures on, and what kinds of things should be left to the discretion of the person doing the job? Michaels answers simply that you need to be realistic. While he would love having a procedure for every little task, there isn’t’ enough time in the day and you need to prioritize 1-3 things that what will “give you the best bang for the buck.” Once you implement those 1-3 procedures, you can move on to a different 1-3.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of having to practice law, run a business, and write and implement all these procedures, Michael has some good news for you- it doesn’t all have to be done by you. He’s learned that hiring and delegating things like creating, implementing, and training on new procedures to someone he trusts in his office frees him up to do other, more pressing items. Malorie agrees and adds that this is WHY you have these systems in the first place. It allows the owner to be able to take a step back and trust that things still get done the way he or she wants.

Malorie then asks Michael to share an interesting statistic that they discussed over coffee- that only 5% of employees can just figure new things out themselves. The other 95% need to be thoroughly trained and reminded continuously on how to do things the way you want. Your business systems should be designed for the 95%, NOT the 5%. While it can be frustrating to constantly remind your team of how you want things done, Malorie explains how it’s absolutely necessary to do, and if you go into it with the right mindset it takes a lot of the frustration out of it.

Regarding how detailed your procedures need to be, Michael says it really depends on what the job is. The procedure for someone in a filing or scanning role, a typically lower skilled job, will have step-by-step instructions; but the procedure for lawyers to set depos by a certain time will simply have guidelines to follow. Malorie adds that their firm procedures’ level of detail has fluctuated quite a bit, and the key to success is adapting to your firm’s current needs.

Malorie and Michael then take a deeper look at one of their procedures, for each lit team to have a monthly File Review on each case at the firm. They discuss why they have them and how they benefit Michael, then move on to how they hold teams accountable and achieve buy-in.

Achieving buy-in is the tough part. Looking at the big picture, Michael shares his firm’s “mantra” which they recite at the beginning of each meeting. If a team member buys into this mantra, he will do everything in his power to develop and support them. It’s something they look for in the hiring process and are up front on from the beginning, but if someone doesn’t want to buy into this mantra, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad lawyer, but his firm isn’t the right place for them.

Malorie then digs into the micro-level buy-in for each procedure, where they encourage feedback and brainstorm how to make the procedure better. They’ll get some great suggestions from their team, which they sometimes implement into the final procedure. They also make sure to explain the “why” behind each procedure, to make it clear they’re not trying to micro-manage the team or create unnecessary work.

After discussing some things they’ve learned from implementing procedures over the years, Michael brings up an upcoming Patrick Lencioni book on the concept of “The Working Genius Model” with the acronym “WIDGET”- Wonder, Idea, Discernment, Galvanizing, Enablement, and Tenacity. They elaborate on each of these working genius types, share the ones they each have and don’t have, and explain how they filled their team with the other types. The result has been a trusting, high-performing, complete team.

Michael and Malorie end the episode by encouraging listeners to work on building their ideal team and to start creating procedures for their firms. The result will be more joy and a better-performing law firm.

This episode also covers how to create procedures that leave room for creative lawyering, when to get rid of ineffective procedures, why perfection is the enemy of good work, how to incorporate Patrick Lencioni’s Working Genius Model into your firm, and so much more.

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.

 

98 – Delisi Friday – Scaling Your Law Firm, Your Way

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down once again with his Chief Marketing Officer, Delisi Friday, to discuss law firm growth and how they’ve scaled their firm over the years in the way that best suited their goals.

The pair begins the episode with a look at the motivation for their most recent hiring expansion and how they knew it was time to grow. Delisi shares her frustration on the marketing and intake side, where she would receive a new case and have to decide between overwhelming an attorney with an already large docket or rejecting a case she would normally accept.

Michael echoes this sentiment and adds that rejecting “bread and butter” cases from referral partners was hard to do at times but needed to be done to ensure that the proper time and care was being put into existing cases; and that his staff was not going to be stretched too thin. This is how they knew it was time to hire 3 new associate attorneys.

“I always want to market our firm honestly, and I want us to fulfill our promises as well.” – Delisi Friday

Following this, Delisi asks Michael how he knows when the firm needs to grow and how to figure this out. Michael breaks down his answer in two points:

  1. “If I see the workloads on my people are becoming unhealthy.”
  2. “If [I’m] having to turn down things [I] wish we could keep,” paired with asking yourself, “Am I having to turn down enough things that justify hiring someone else?”

Adding onto these points, Michael says he saw that his firm was at the point where they had to hire more lawyers or start saying “no” to cases at a rate that he felt would damage his referral relationships. To this, Delisi brings up the firm’s weekly docket discussions. During these meetings, she not only brings up the number of cases on attorney dockets, but also the phases of those cases to properly assess if they have the bandwidth for more cases. Michael then discusses doing something similar in his monthly attorney development meetings and adds that a further challenge is getting lawyers to trust him enough to tell him when they are overwhelmed.

“I have to prove to them that I’m worthy of their trust … [by taking] steps to help and not punishing them for being overloaded.” – Michael Cowen

Delisi then asks Michael how he decides how he’s going to grow, to which he explains why he looks for what the pain points are and what type of hire would resolve them in the most efficient and logical way. This leads them to discuss the pros and cons of hiring an experienced lawyer, which has historically not had the best “hit rate” at their firm. This, according to them, is due to the firm’s established culture, procedures, and systems, which many experienced lawyers may find difficult to adjust to; having been trained in and working under different systems and procedures beforehand.

“I can’t do legal work, market the firm, and run a 33-employee firm.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then touches on the fear associated with growth; more specifically the fear of letting responsibilities go. He goes on to say that finding and hiring the right manager to cover those responsibilities and run with them is essential. By hiring and promoting the right people, such as his firm operations and intake managers, Teresa and Delisi respectively, most of those fears and anxieties have subsided while productivity and efficacy have only increased.

Building from this conversation, Delisi asks Michael what he’s learned along the way from scaling his firm and his advice for other lawyers, which he breaks down into 3 main points.

  1. Do you want to grow?
  2. Is this a temporary bump, or do you have a sustainable flow of business where it makes economic sense to grow?
  3. Do you have the cash flow to grow?

Throughout these points, Michael notes that growth is not for everyone, and it’s not the only way to build a successful and profitable practice.

“You should grow if it’s going to fulfill you, and if it’s what YOU want to do.”– Michael Cowen

Delisi then adds how every year, they seem to bring in roughly the same number of new cases without even realizing it, month-to-month. Michael clarifies that while this doesn’t sound like growth, the value of those new cases grows with each year, which reflects the growth model his firm follows. This is tracked through a concept learned from former podcast guest Chad Dudley, called the 5-Star Case Rating system, which assigns each case a star rating based on a variety of factors, and helps to accurately analyze a lawyer’s docket and the firm’s entire case load.

“We may have the exact same number of cases that we did last year, but the type of cases, the quality, and what our projected attorney’s fees are going to be vastly different.” – Delisi Friday

Michael then shares that growth isn’t always about adding more lawyers, but frequently requires more paralegals, marketers, or other positions. This leads Delisi to dig deeper into the onboarding and training process for all these new hires, especially the young lawyers.

Michael answers candidly, sharing how large the time commitment is to bring someone completely new and inexperienced up to speed. But, from his experience, the more time you put in up front, the better the outcome is in the long run. He elaborates on this sentiment by sharing his lengthy 3-step deposition training process with new hire lawyers, an incredible training strategy which everyone considering hiring young lawyers would benefit from hearing.

Delisi then references Chad Dudley’s podcast episode once again, sharing his fantastic quote about how being a great tennis player doesn’t necessarily make you a great tennis coach. This leads Michael to share that, while he’s a great teacher, he doesn’t see himself as a great coach, something Delisi commends him for realizing.

“We have a promise we make to our referral partners that if you’re nice enough to bring us in on your case, we are going to do the case to this standard. Which means I have to enforce those standards at my firm.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Delisi then discuss some of the challenges they’ve faced when hiring new lawyers. For the most part, it boils down to setting expectations and being willing to have tough conversations when those expectations aren’t being met. This has led them to their current strategy of hiring 3 lawyers who are all relatively young in their careers, something Michael has been very happy with, citing their energy and willingness to learn and adapt.

Delisi agrees and adds that these associate additions have required the senior attorneys to communicate more with each other, which has led to more idea sharing and even a hint of competitiveness, which has been fun and rewarding to see.

The pair wraps up the episode with their final thoughts on law firm growth. It’s been a wild, scary ride, but if you plan for it and grow at a rate you can handle while keeping an eye on your finances, it can be very rewarding.

This podcast episode also covers how to know when and why your lawyers are overwhelmed, why Michael likes promoting paralegals from within, a look at some of their past hiring mistakes, and so much more.

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