reputation

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.

 

38 – Wayne Pollock – The Court of Public Opinion

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with attorney and founder of Copo Strategies, Wayne Pollock, for an in-depth discussion on the court of public opinion [copo] and how it can affect your clients, cases, firm, and reputation.

Having graduated college and working in public relations for a PR firm for about four years, he was introduced to the legal world through one of his clients at the time, Fox Rothschild, now an AM Law 100 law firm, which inspired Wayne to go to law school. Graduating law school from Georgetown University, he went to work at a big law firm for six and a half years as a litigation associate while he never stopped liking public relations. Wayne describes himself as an attorney focused on the court of public opinion, which really means he helps other attorneys and their clients, ethically, strategically, and proactively engage public opinion in order to help those clients resolve their cases favorably. Wayne does this work to help the attorneys build their practices, he also goes in as a consultant to law firms, and other times as limited scope co-counsel to the actual clients. Overall, his goal is to help clients resolve their cases favorably through the media and through outreach to the public, essentially blending media strategies with legal strategies, and ethical compliance with defamation avoidance.

Wayne describes the launch of this offering from his firm, mainly because he didn’t see this kind of fixture being offered to attorneys and clients. Often, he describes seeing, attorneys and clients who are talking to the media in connection with active litigation, but they didn’t seem to have a strategy. They don’t seem to be thinking about what’s happening in court when they’re saying things publicly. They certainly aren’t always thinking about the ethics. And he’s also seen plenty of press releases where the PR firm or the law firm is clearly defaming the other side. So, he took that need in the market and thought his services could be used in a different way, thereby launching his firm a couple of years ago, to do just that.

When it comes to being in the media, Wayne admits it’s daunting for many attorneys, mostly because unlike a normal litigation practice, there are no rules. There are literally no rules of evidence, no rules of procedure, and it’s somewhat of an “every person for themselves” type environment, and that’s difficult for attorneys to get used to. He points out there are obviously ethical rules and defamation rules, but in terms of how you engage with the media and what you say, there’s really no set core set of practices that are established. Regardless, Wayne still encourages his clients, and their end clients, to always be thinking about the court of public opinion and engage it head on as a part of their legal toolkit, because often times, they find that what happens in the court of public opinion impacts what happens in the court of law in this era of social media, online news, and the viralness of both. From Michael’s previous experience, he’s also found competing mindsets of the ego of wanting to be on TV and wanting to be quoted, pitted against the fear of not wanting to cause harm to anyone, especially his clients. Wayne goes on to discuss the privilege issue and how it is a huge problem when law firms hire outside PR firms. He explains it all in detail, but once he realized that he could help get around the privilege issue by serving as an attorney, the light bulb went off and he said to himself, “I guess I’m just going to have to do this myself.”

Wayne defines the “court of public opinion” as people who are not parties to a legal dispute, but whose perceptions of the dispute could impact how the dispute is resolved and how the litigant’s reputation or prosperity could be affected. He goes on to describe the many different types of pools of people who can be affected by the court of public opinion, as well as organizations who stand for the same kind of qualities a client, or their case, do which can help bolster a case by piggybacking on the case and drawing more attention to it. Wayne also describes the effects of the ripple far and wide when information is spread in the court of public opinion, whether it is compelling others to call in with crucial evidence or even developing additional suits with others who have experienced the same thing being tried in a current case, all of which adds to the snowball effect that is created. He’s even had judges tell him they will dot their i’s and cross their t’s that much more closely when they know they’re involved in a high-profile case because they know more eyeballs are on them. And he adds exactly how plaintiff attorneys can use the court of public opinion to their advantage to fight the David v. Goliath fight against the big law firms hired to represent defendants.

From a marketing perspective, Wayne talks about how being seen in public media outlets can give an attorney instant social proof of the work you’re doing, by literally seeing you in action. “It’s not just you sending a press release or someone visiting a website. They see you quoted in an article, they see you being an advocate for a client, and they think to themselves, wow, he/she really knows what they are doing. Maybe I should contact them. That’s a lot different than just Googling ‘trucking attorney in Texas’ and hoping that somehow they get to you.”

Michael and Wayne explore a myriad of topics surrounding the court of public opinion throughout this episode, including: the ethics surrounding being in the media and the change of societal narratives and perceptions; anchoring – a tactic rooted in psychology and persuasion; the rules of professional conduct when engaging with the media; getting consent from a client, especially with the understanding that there are many mean-spirited people in the world who are ready to say bad things; core factors to consider when determining if a case is newsworthy and how to frame cases to be “sexier” in the eyes of the media; and so much more. This episode is one to listen to several times for attorneys who are thrust into the spotlight feeling unprepared, as well as for attorneys with cases that could have greater potential through exposure from the court of public opinion.

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

 

BACKGROUND

Wayne founded Copo Strategies in 2016 after spending over a decade achieving favorable legal and public relations results for his clients.

Prior to starting Copo, Wayne was a litigator at Dechert LLP, one of the largest and most prominent law firms in the world, with more than 900 attorneys worldwide, and more than $1 billion in annual revenues. In his more than six years at the firm, he obtained favorable outcomes for clients by analyzing and presenting complex legal and factual issues. While at the firm, Wayne worked on high-stakes, high-profile matters that were often reported on by local, national, and international media outlets. For example, he was on the Dechert team that represented the ten former independent directors of Lehman Brothers in the wave of investigations and litigation triggered by Lehman’s September 2008 collapse. He was also on the team that represented Takata, a leading automotive parts manufacturer, in litigation and regulatory investigations related to the company’s recall of tens of millions of potentially defective airbags. And, Wayne was on the team that represented the Marshall family in litigation against Vickie Lynn Marshall (a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith).

 

Before law school, Wayne practiced public relations at The Star Group, a one-time Advertising Age “Top 100” marketing communications firm. In his four years at the firm, he developed and executed public relations and marketing initiatives on behalf of regional, national, and international clients. While at Star, Wayne cultivated relationships with journalists and secured dozens of placements for clients in national and regional media outlets including USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, regional television network affiliates, and national trade media outlets.

Publications, Media Appearances, and Speaking Engagements

Please click here for a list of Wayne’s publications, media appearances, and speaking engagements.

Education

Wayne graduated in 2009 from Georgetown University Law Center, where he was Senior Special Projects Editor for The Georgetown Law Journal.
Wayne graduated magna cum laude in 2002 from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where he majored in public relations.

Court Admissions

Wayne is admitted to practice law in all state courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Personal

Wayne resides in Center City Philadelphia. If you keep an eye out, you might find him running on one of Philadelphia’s numerous running trails, desperately trying to keep Father Time away from his knees.

 

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.”