referrals

72 – Delisi Friday – The Evolution of Our Marketing: What Worked, What Didn’t, & Where We Are Now

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday to discuss their firm’s marketing strategies. They start at the very beginning of Michael’s career for a full-circle look at why they chose to market B2B (business to business) instead of B2C (business to consumer), what to look for in a marketing professional and a marketing agency, how to market without spending money, the pros and cons of working with a marketing agency, and why they decided to move their marketing in-house.

They begin the episode by explaining why they only market to other law firms (B2B) instead of marketing directly to consumers (B2C). Michael shares that he’s had people tell him he’s insane for only marketing to other law firms for referrals because he only gets part of the attorney fees, but he insists it works better for his firm’s needs. He explains how he used to do B2C marketing, but after putting pen to paper and analyzing the profitability of his cases, he found that even after paying out the referral fee, he made about 3x as much money per hour on the cases that came from referrals. He also doesn’t have to spend astronomical amounts of money to advertise on TV in an extremely competitive market.

Delisi and Michael then briefly touch on their experiences and struggles with the burgeoning area of digital marketing, before Delisi asks Michael about the evolution of his marketing prior to bringing a marketing professional into the firm. Michael starts at the beginning, dating back 20 years ago when he had practically no marketing budget. He tried numerous methods, from taking out an ad in the yellow pages, to writing a free book for consumers and buying a corresponding TV ad which was not very successful (he only gave away 10 copies to consumers. The rest were to other lawyers and judges).

Michael then reflects on his past in-house marketers and why they didn’t work out. He begins simply by stating, “There’s a lot of flaky people in marketing.” He goes on to explain how he is an “idea person,” so he needed someone with tenacity to balance him out and ensure his ideas were followed through on and not forgotten 3 months down the line. Delisi echoes this sentiment and adds that with marketing, sometimes you have to give initiatives time to see if they will work- something she calls both the “fun and scary” part of marketing.

Delisi then asks the question sure to be on every listener’s mind- what should you look for when hiring an in-house marketing professional? Michael first reiterates that he needed someone with tenacity to follow through on initiatives and adds that it’s important to find someone with the poise and class necessary to communicate with lawyers professionally. Many firm owners are tempted to hire someone based on their looks because “they can get in the door,” but he firmly believes finding someone who can fit in and have a conversation with referring lawyers is much more important for him. Delisi agrees and adds her personal experience with hiring assistants and interns – they can be inexperienced in legal but need to be able to communicate with lawyers and have strong writing skills to succeed long-term.

They then move on to discuss Delisi’s advice for lawyers who are just getting started with marketing and have a very small budget. She highly recommends sitting down and looking at where every single case you got this year came from. While the task is tedious, she insists it’s necessary in order to fully understand what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to do more of going forward. Michael agrees and urges listeners to focus on their relationships to gain referrals. Some lawyers are close with their pastors and have found success within their congregation. Others like Michael who focus on attorney referrals should put time and effort into growing their relationships with those attorneys. They both agree that client reviews and testimonials, as well as providing excellent customer service, are crucial to your credibility and long-term success.

Once you have a more established firm and a marketing budget to match, there are multiple routes you can take to expand your marketing initiatives. Michael notes that at some point, you’ll be tempted to hire an outside marketing agency for help and asks Delisi what she thinks the pro’s and cons of that are. Delisi replies why it really depends on the firm and their needs, but when her and Michael chose to hire an agency it was initially beneficial because she and Michael needed support with graphics to make their ideas a reality. The graphics and creative support they received were crucial for testing out different strategies and figuring out what worked best.

One of the biggest cons of hiring a marketing agency is the cost. This varies depending on the agency, but after you pay each person for their services it’s usually not cost effective vs. doing it yourself. Michael and Delisi urge listeners who do not want to hire an agency to utilize contractor services such as Upwork to hire freelance designers and copywriters, or contract local talent. They also discuss why they parted ways with their marketing agency and Michael’s #1 tip for what to avoid when deciding to hire an agency.

After parting ways with their agency, Delisi and Michael decided it was time to hire more employees for their marketing department, namely a full-time graphic designer. They discuss their initial concerns with doing so, they both agree the numerous benefits for both marketing initiatives and case graphics have far outweighed those concerns.

Delisi and Michael conclude this episode by discussing where they are now and why it works for them. In addition to managing the firm’s marketing, Delisi now manages the intake department as well. They discuss how this has improved the performance of both departments and why it’s important for your marketing and intake departments to be in sync. It also helps that Delisi is on the management team at the firm, something Michael notes as a major difference between in-house marketing and having a marketing agency. Since Delisi is a part of every major firm decision, she is invested in the firm’s well-being, not just making the marketing department look good.

Michael emphasizes that while this was a 20-year process in the making, the goal should be to do at least some of your marketing in-house to invest in yourself and your firm so you can get the cases that YOU deserve.

This podcast also covers why digital marketing didn’t work for their firm, how lettuce on a McDonald’s quarter pounder is wrong, tax write offs, the initial challenges of moving your marketing in-house, utilizing Facebook groups and the Nextdoor app for organic leads, how they conduct their annual marketing meeting (and why you need to have one), and so much more!

 

70 – Malorie Peacock – The Method: Our 9-Step Process for Evaluating & Working Up A Case

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for an exciting preview of his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law. They’ll cover Michael’s 9-step method for case evaluation and detail each of those steps, so you can start applying them to your own case evaluation process.

They jump right into this episode with Step 1- initial triage. Michael explains how he derived the term from battlefield medicine, where patients are triaged based on the severity of their injuries and care is prioritized for the patients who need it most. He explains how trial lawyers only have a finite amount of resources, and the decision to put work into a case or not will effect more than just that case. It also takes those resources away from other cases and your personal life.

Michael then shares an example of how he used to work on automotive product liability cases, but his firm has since moved away from them. He has recently rejected five of these cases, even though they were all worthy cases someone will make money from. He chose to do this because these cases don’t fit in with his current docket, and there are other lawyers who will take them and excel at them because they do suit their dockets. Michael even sends his referral attorney to these other lawyers when the referral attorney brings him a case that he knows they will excel on – something that used to terrify him, but he’s since learned it builds an even stronger relationship between him and the referral attorney.

Before moving on to the next step, Michael clarifies that “Initial Triage” is NOT making a final decision on whether or not to accept the case. This step is simply deciding whether you want to look further into the case. In fact, Malorie clarifies that a lawsuit is typically not even filed until about Step 7 in this process.

Step 2 of “The Method” is to gather all the initially available information on the case. This information varies dramatically depending on the type of case it is, but the main goal of this step is to determine a general idea of the liability stories and issues with the case. Michael also explains the importance throughout this process of continually evaluating the case and asking, “Knowing what I know today, is this a case I would take?” If the answer is ever no, consider dropping the case. They conclude this step by discussing a recent example Malorie had of a case where the client was a great person and genuinely deserving, but the facts they discovered during this process made it a case that did not work on her docket.

Step 3 is to identify and analyze all potential immediate causes. Michael explains this as a brainstorming exercise where you record every possible immediate cause of the crash, even the causes that seem unlikely but are possible (for example, a bee in the vehicle). You then divide these potential causes into columns of “winners” and “losers.” Winners are causes which, if proven, help you win the case. Losers are causes which, if proven, mean you lose the case (or need to neutralize them).

After identifying the winners and losers in the case, you move on to Step 4 – conducting a root cause analysis. Michael explains how this concept was first developed by Mr. Toyota, the founder of Toyota Motor Company. Mr. Toyota decided that instead of fixing things when they went wrong, he would try to find the reason these things were going wrong by asking the “5 Why’s.”

To apply this to a case, you take the “winners” discussed in Step 3 and keep asking “Why?” until you find your ultimate root cause. Michael then shares an example from a rear-end case where he took the winner of “the truck driver rear-ended my client” and found “the company did not take the time or effort to train the driver” to be the root cause of the crash. He continues this process for every “winner” and develops multiple theories before he decides which theory he is going to use.

Malorie then re-emphasizes the fact that in an ideal world, you will not have filed the lawsuit yet at this point. They both agree there are times you need to file the lawsuit early to avoid any destroying of evidence, but if possible you should wait.

They move on to Step 5 – drafting the jury instructions. Michael shares how he used to feel doing this so early on was silly, but has since realized it really helps him design the case because he knows what he needs to prove. Malorie adds that doing this also better prepares you for depositions because you know what questions you need to be asking. She also emphasizes to not only look at liability instructions but also damage instructions. This all boils down to, “What do you have to prove?”

The next step in “The Method” is Step 6 – finding rules and anchors. These are authoritative sources for the rules, answering the question “says who?” Michael explains that this is one of the reasons he loves doing trucking cases, because there are so many rules and publications to use as anchors. The more sources that say a rule the better, because defendants are left with two choices: to say they know the rule and broke it, or to say they disagree with all those sources and have their own rule. Michael and Malorie then discuss numerous examples from different types of cases, showing that this method can be used on much more than trucking cases.

Malorie then asks Michael to clarify what an “anchor” is for those who don’t know. He explains an anchor as what you are “anchoring” your rules to. This is an authoritative source or publication of the rule, such as the CDL Manual, a driving company’s textbook, a store’s rules, an OSHA rule, and more. He then concludes this section by explaining how to arm your expert with these anchors to get the most out of their testimony.

Step 7 is to formulate the discovery plan. This is also where you draft the complaint or petition and plead what you need to get the discovery. For example, if you believe the root cause is negligent training, you need information to prove they have a negligent training system. Then, you formulate the discovery plan based on that. Michael cautions strongly against asking another lawyer for their interrogatories before drafting your own. You need to formulate your own based on your theories to prove what you need to prove. You can then use a form to double check and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Michael and Malorie then agree on a fantastic practice tip which makes this process a lot easier and discuss the importance of brainstorming with colleagues.

As discussed earlier, now is the ideal time to file the lawsuit. Then, step 8 is to continually re-evaluate the case. Malorie highlights the need to do this throughout each of the steps as well and to keep notes on what you’ve done so far to avoid repeating any unnecessary work. Michael then explains how as new facts, research, depositions, and discovery emerges, your initial root cause might not be the best strategy anymore and that’s okay. Malorie echoes this statement and adds that too many lawyers are afraid to ask for what they really want in discovery, and more lawyers should be specific and ask for specific documents referenced in other documents.

The above steps were mostly completed before you have all of the information about the case, which Michael cites to further emphasize the point that re-evaluation is key. He then shares some techniques he’s developed at his firm to ensure this gets done by all of his lawyers.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode with the final step in “The Method”- test the case. Michael explains how the method of which you test the case varies depending on the value of it and lists a number of unconventional methods to do this on a budget. He then lists the advantages and disadvantages of other more conventional methods, including in-person focus groups and online studies like John Campbell’s Empirical Jury. While no method is 100% accurate, they can give you a good idea of where you stand.

This podcast also covers why you should file a FOIA request immediately, how implementing “vulnerability-based trust” by Patrick Lencioni has helped his firm, how to disprove or neutralize “losers” in a case, how Michael applies parts of this method to his employees, why you should research rules BEFORE hiring an expert, why you need to be constantly re-evaluating your case, and so much more.

37 -Sonia Rodriguez – Caseloads: Quality vs. Quantity

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 show focuses mainly on questions revolving around caseloads and determining the best approach for your practice.

The first question from our listeners is about the number of cases an attorney should take on at any given time. Sonia discusses the balancing act, especially for younger lawyers, of quality vs. quantity. Attorneys may want to trim down their docket of cases, but need to make sure these are quality cases that will help keep the lights on and not arbitrarily setting a number for maximum cases. She also reviews some of the dangers of trimming a docket and how it can be a very dangerous economic decision. And she notes that each case should be thoughtfully selected to match the goals for the practice.

Sonia came from a practice with partners with duel loads. (IE: One partner that handles big cases and more complex cases, and the other might carry a larger volume case load to help pay the bills and keep the lights on.) This was a consensus among the partners about how the practice would operate. She points out that her practice has never been based on a very small docket and personally finds this to be a scary prospect. Michael, on the other hand, has operated in the full spectrum of caseloads. He recalls early on having 200 car wreck cases at one time with average case values being fairly low, some of which in hindsight were never economically viable. He even breaks down the impact some of those low value cases can have on a practice. And he also points out it is nearly impossible to be a high-volume lawyer while also trying to be a boutique, high-quality on one case, lawyer. The systems for handling each are very different as well as the tradeoffs which need to be made regarding one type of practice versus the other, both from a personal and professional perspective. Sonia adds there are many lawyers out there building a heavy case load practice and becoming very successful, which ties directly into Michael’s assertion that the type of practice you choose to run must also match your personal preferences, personality type, and aspirations. Michael also describes this as knowing where you are in the marketplace and his explanation on how you figure this out is phenomenal for both young and seasoned lawyers to take note of. He also gives some direct advice for our younger attorney listeners to understand the path to getting bigger cases when you work in someone else’s firm and don’t have the final say in certain matters such as case load.

The next question comes in a few parts. The first being, do firms making the transition into reducing their caseloads spend less on marketing and instead spend more time focusing on referrals? Michael explains why he made a conscious decision to stop marketing to the public when he decided to raise the threshold on the size of cases he wanted to take on. He goes on to reveal the reasons behind this decision which may or may not be what you think. Sonia also brings up a great point about the type of practice you run being largely based on your own risk tolerance and how it relates to the demands of different types of practices.

Secondly, when a firm makes the transition to a smaller caseload, do they end up reducing staff as well? Michael has definitely seen this model work both ways, but discloses why he personally has more staff now, working even fewer cases. He has found when your average fee goes up, you can increase the amount of man/woman-power you can put into the case and so you can pay better, which in turn helps you attract more and better team members to work on cases. Sonia also adds, from her own experience, the more time you have to focus on a case for an extended period of time the more ways she thinks of how to really make a big impact on a case. In other words, the luxury of being able to focus your time and energy on one case, actually creates much more work than she previously appreciated. Michael also explains how it is important to make sure you have the right people in your firm based on the practice model you want to run with since not everyone will be the right fit.

And third, the listeners concern is that like many firms, there are highs and lows and the only way to neutralize this is by taking on a higher number of cases. Michael debunks this right off the bat from his own experience, by explaining how the lower his case volume is, the steadier his revenue has become. Sonia also lays out a great way to analyze the true value of a case when looking at a high-volume practice where cases can sometimes be prolonged with continuance requests (Hint – cases that you carry for a shorter amount of time tend to use less office resources).

Another listener asks: Are you ever embarrassed to have a damages number that is too high? Michael starts right out in stating if you don’t believe this is the right number to get justice for your client, or you are embarrassed about the number, then you definitely shouldn’t present it to a jury. Sonia also asserts that such embarrassment felt by a lawyer is likely to be attributed to the lack of understanding of what their client’s pain or damages truly is. Furthermore, she goes on to say any lawyer using a formula to come up with a number, such as 3X damages, isn’t doing what they’ve been retained to do. You really have to believe what you are fighting for, which sometimes requires you to work through some of your own thoughts which may be holding you back. Michael also points out when you’re trying a case, you want to be 100% dedicated to doing everything you can to win a case, but you cannot be attached to the result.

The conversation concludes with Michael and Sonia reviewing, by listeners request, some of the books they’ve read and would recommend to help run a better practice. And Michael shares his obsessive behavior to really dig into his reading when he finds resources that really click with him. This not only includes his reading of books pertaining to being a great trial lawyer, but also books about becoming a successful business owner.

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

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

 

RESOURCES

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

The Truth about Employee Engagement: A Fable about Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni

10 – Marion Munley – Building Equity in the Legal Industry from the Inside Out

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen welcomes board-certified and award-winning personal injury lawyer, Marion Munley of Munley Law. Marion describes the long family history of strong female influencers who impacted the direction she took in becoming a trial attorney, as well as the inspiration she has drawn from them when giving back in a male-dominated industry.

Marion looks back at some of her more prominent cases in the trucking industry and recalls the lessons learned from research and expert testimony. The sheer volume of interstate highways that converge in her geographic location uniquely, and unfortunately, provide ample trucking cases which have only made her expertise in this focused field more honored. As the Chair-Elect of the AAJ (American Association for Justice) Trucking Litigation Group, Marion’s public speaking engagements have been vast in the trucking litigation arena.

Marion and Michael also explore some polarizing differences in approach when obtaining new cases or referrals and how egos, verdicts, and humbleness do not all fit into the same trial attorney personalities. Marion describes her approach to this and where it’s taken her over the course of her career. Hint, hint, her solid credentials tend to speak volumes, which they both agree are always to be added to in any successful practice.

Marion’s advice to lawyers moving into personal injury law is shared and she speaks directly to the importance of mentorship, training, and opportunities needed to be displayed to the next generation of trial attorneys. In fact, based on a study shared by the ABA, Marion sites that “we know that more women have to be groomed and mentored to become the first chair as there are women out there that are VERY capable and would be great trial lawyers who are just not getting the opportunity, and that all begins with just mentoring and trying to help young lawyers navigate what to do with their careers”… which is not often an easy task. It is clear and evident that Marion’s passion for mentorship comes from a desire to further add and build more equity into the industry.

Background on Marion Munley

Marion Munley is a senior partner in the Scranton law firm Munley Law. A champion of victims’ rights, Marion devotes her practice to representing individuals and families in personal injury litigation, with a special focus on cases involving a commercial truck and tractor-trailer accidents. Marion completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Scranton and earned her J.D. from Temple University School of Law.

Marion is an active member of the American Association for Justice and currently serves on the AAJ Board of Governors. She is Chair of the AAJ Women Trial Lawyers Caucus and the first female Chair-Elect of the AAJ Trucking Litigation Group.  Marion also serves on the Board of Trustees for the National College of Advocacy.  She is a member of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice where she serves on the Board of Governors and on its executive committee.

Munley is the second woman in Pennsylvania to become Board Certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Among her other professional affiliations is the American Board of Trial Advocates and the International Society of Barristers.  She has been named to the Best Lawyers in America list by Best Lawyers since 2012. Marion has been selected to the list of Pennsylvania Super Lawyers for the last 15 years and has been consistently recognized as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Pennsylvania by Super Lawyers Magazine.

Marion frequently travels throughout the United States to lecture on trucking litigation, and recently published an article in Trial Magazine on retrieving electronic data from a crash.

Throughout her career, Marion has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to mentoring other women lawyers. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Bar Association honored Marion with the Lynette Norton Award in recognition of her excellence in the law and her dedication to mentoring other women lawyers.

Click here for more information on Marion Munley

https://munley.com/our-attorneys/marion-munley/

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