Seminar

97 – Chris Finney – Maximizing Value In Your Life & Law Practice

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael speaks with St. Louis trial attorney Chris Finney, to discuss his recent $750,000 jury verdict on a non-catastrophic injury case, the different voir dire techniques he used, his path towards personal development, and so much more.

The episode begins with Chris sharing his story about how he became a trial lawyer. Being the son of a plaintiff’s lawyer, Chris knew becoming a lawyer was something he would do. After law school he took a job working at the prosecutor’s office, but left when he was offered a job paying much more money at a defense firm. His time working on the defense side was limited and he quickly realized he was destined to be a plaintiff’s lawyer.

“We can get him out of this mess in like 5 seconds. Just call the plaintiff’s lawyer, ask him what he wants, and we’ll give it to him … and I didn’t get the best response.” – Chris Finney

Michael transitions the conversation and brings up the topic of development, asking Chris what he has done to excel in his career. Chris shares everything from regionals with Trial Lawyers College, Trial By Human, ethos with Rick Friedman, working with Sari de la Motte, Trial School, attending Trial Guides seminars, and reaching a comfort level with who he is when he tries cases. This brings up the topic of therapy, with Chris sharing how many of the lawyers he would meet at CLEs were divorced. Being happily married and a father to 5 kids, Chris knew he had to find a way to make it all work. Michael agrees and points out that being a trial lawyer means you have to trust a jury, realize the amount of influence you have on the success of a case, understand you cannot control everything, speak with clients and their families when they have been through something traumatic, and all of this can take a real toll on you. “You don’t have to sacrifice your entire life to do this and be good at it,” Chris adds, “you have to find some kind of balance.”

“There’s no better investment than investing in yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Part of the journey in development is also realizing you will not win them all. Which is why the conversation then turns to this topic, one repeatedly mentioned on the show. Chris shares that he has realized, “No one is going to remember your losses.” To which Michael likens this to professional football players. If Tom Brady is described as one of the best quarterbacks of our time, no one is going to expect him to win every single game, so why should lawyers expect the same of themselves? You give it your all and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t always go your way.

“It’s either too complicated or the jurors are very bored. Brevity and being concise about what’s important, has really helped us a lot.” – Chris Finney

The conversation then shifts to the topic of simplicity with Chris and Michael both agreeing on the importance of this in trial. “Any case is a simple case, it just takes a lot of work to get there,” Michael shares. The trust to do this and the trust in your teammates for it to be a success takes work and as Chris points out it’s done “in your personal exploration.”

Running a successful law practice includes having a great team and Chris brings up the importance of letting his staff know that “nothing they do will sink us.” Empowering staff to make decisions instead of running to your office every 5 minutes, allows you to be more productive and focus. Michael adds that in this current employment climate, keeping your staff is more important than ever. To which Chris takes a step further, sharing why it is also important to make sure when the office is gearing up for trial everyone is there and everyone puts in the work. The effort is done as a cohesive team.

The podcast then transitions into a detailed discussion on Chris’s recent jury verdict of $750,000 on a broken arm case. Briefly outlining the case, Chris explains how his client was driving when a vehicle veered into her lane, hit her head on, and her right arm sustained a fracture. His client had surgery and was then released from treatment. Thinking the case would settle for policy limits of $100,000, Chris initiated settlement negotiations before spending money on animations and the doctor deposition. But defense didn’t respond to him until the day before the doctor deposition, which was too late. It was then, with only a $70,000 offer on the table, that Chris decided this case would need to be tried. For Chris, the fact that his client was a great client helped make going to trial an easy decision.

“Jurors take money from people they don’t like and give it to people they do.” – Chris Finney

Starting off with voir dire, Chris goes into “creating a designed alliance,” which he defines as “managing and meeting expectations” and learned from Sari de la Motte (a two-time podcast guest). Chris brings up his learnings from Jason Selk, the renowned performance coach, and his belief in relationships failing because of missed expectations. For Chris one of this goals was to set the expectations with his jury panel and place himself in a powerful teacher mode. Michael then asks about the use of experiential, or issue-based, questions in jury selection. These are 1 or 2 questions (at the most) based on your fears of the case. In this case the two questions Chris wanted to ask involved: 1) seeing a surgeon and having plates or screws put in you, and 2) medical records.

Continuing with jury selection, Michael asks Chris to describe “the box.” Chris suggests everyone go to Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero group on Facebook and listen to her interview with Mark Wham to learn more about this. Chris used “the box” in trial and explained to the jury panel, because liability had been accepted, they would only decide damages that were “fair and reasonable” and that was “inside this box.” Everything else like if there is insurance, who would pay, etcetera, would be up to the judge. After trial one of the jurors approached Chris and said when those topics came up he reminded his fellow jurists, “that is not our role we have to stay inside the box.” Elated, Michael responds, “I’m definitely going to use that!”

“There is an element of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Chris Finney

With the jurors only being out for 15 minutes, not asking for a single exhibit, Chris clearly did a great job putting on his case for the jury. He adds how in the last 5 years he has noticed jurors are more comfortable talking about their relationships and have no issue with non-economic pain and suffering; in fact, they see a tremendous value in it. Michael adds his belief that the isolation we’ve had the last 2 years has changed the value we put on relationships. Before recently we may have taken friendships and time spent with others for granted, but now we want those interactions and will make it a point to carve out time for them. Leaving listeners with the question, has our recent experience increased the value we, and others, hold in our personal relationships – and will this increase values in jury verdicts?

The podcast also discusses drawing healthy boundaries, being patient with yourself, the power of saying “no,” waving economic losses, showing up in the right mindset, the importance of breathing, and why eye contact is crucial in connecting with the jurors.

 

79 – Malorie Peacock – Finding Joy in the Practice of Law

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss how they’ve been finding joy in the practice of law and in life over the last year. They’ll cover the struggles of working from home, what they’ve done to keep joy in their lives, what they’re looking forward to most in 2021, and what Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp annual seminar will look like this year (and how YOU can attend!).

The pair begins their conversation on a topic that everyone listening can relate to- the struggles of working from home. They both agree that a lot is lost over Zoom, from the creative process to human connection as a whole. But they also agree that certain depositions and court hearings taking place over Zoom has been a huge blessing for time management’s sake. While they’re excited to engage and meet in person again, they hope that once COVID is no longer a factor, courts will continue to allow certain proceedings to be conducted remotely.

Michael then asks Malorie the big question of the episode- What did you do to keep joy in your life in 2020? Malorie explains how establishing a home office space helped keep her sane, and how their firm daily check in meetings have kept their team connected. Michael adds how remote work was a really fun challenge at first, from buying everyone laptops to figuring out remote court proceedings. But as time went on, he became very burned out from it all. He now finds joy in getting ready for trial and the excitement of starting to meet in person again.

Malorie then turns the tables on Michael and asks him what he’s most looking forward to in terms of practicing law. Of course, Michael answered quickly with trials. Whether in person or virtual, a good case or a bad case, he says “I just want to get back in the ring. I don’t care if it’s minor league.” He’s also looking forward to seeing people in person for conferences, and he and Malorie discuss how virtual conferences have fallen short.

Malorie continues by reflecting on their (failed) resolutions discussed in a podcast episode at the beginning of 2020. This leads her to ask Michael if he’s made any “resolutions” for 2021. Michael says he has, and the theme is “Taking my life back.” He’s looking forward to traveling, seeing friends, and trying cases. Malorie adds that she’s excited to get back into her routine, which as an obsessive planner, is something she misses dearly. She then shares a personal story about her wedding which was originally planned for September of 2020 and how she’s learned to let go of things out of her control. Michael then ties this beautifully into how lawyers stress about trial, and how this year has taught all of us to stop living in fear and to value the little things more.

After a brief but insightful conversation about burnout in the legal industry, Malorie asks Michael about something she knows he’s very excited about- his annual Big Rig Boot Camp on May 20th of this year. He shares that there are both virtual AND in-person attendance options this year, something he decided to do after the fantastic virtual turnout in 2020. If you’d like to attend Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp in 2021 either virtually or in-person in San Antonio, Texas, visit BigRigBootCamp.com and register today, as spots for both options are limited.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode on a wholesome note. Michael shares how he is making a concerted effort to find joy in his life every day, and Malorie says she’s doing the same. If we can all take a step back and put everything back into perspective, 2021 is sure to be one of the best years yet.

This podcast episode also covers getting used to traveling again, what virtual court proceedings may remain virtual, why virtual conferences just aren’t the same, burnout in the legal industry, and so much more.

 

 

65 – Malorie Peacock – Lessons from a Virtual Seminar: Successful Applications in a Courtroom and Online

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss his recent virtual seminar, Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp. They draw parallels between the seminar and the courtroom, including utilizing camera angles through Zoom, energy management, and how to use slides and graphics effectively. Michael also shares a sneak peek inside his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law.

The episode begins with a brief overview of what Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp looked like in 2020. While it remained a 6-hour trucking seminar, it was done entirely virtually. Michael describes the multitude of tactics he used to keep the audience engaged, which included celebrity appearances and surprising attendees with actor and comedian David Koechner live.

He notes one of the biggest engagement factors was the use of multiple camera angles and a professional AV crew. Through this, he was able to stand for the presentation and use hand gestures naturally. Malorie and Michael draw parallels between this and a Zoom hearing or trial and agree they’d like to find a way to stand while conducting Zoom hearings. Michael goes as far as to say he’d like to set up a Zoom “studio” in the office in the future, and says he would even hire a professional AV crew again if he had a very big hearing or a virtual trial.

Malorie comments on how surprised she was that utilizing multiple camera angles made such a big difference in the presentation engagement. Michael agrees, and explains how he first heard of this concept from Mark Lanier who utilizes a 3-camera setup for his depositions. When showing depo footage in trial, Lanier will only show the same camera angle for 7 seconds. (This is how they do it in the news media to keep the audience engaged.) If virtual trials move forward, these concepts will all need to be considered to effectively produce a dynamic virtual experience which holds the jurors’ attention.

Malorie then asks Michael a question which must be on everyone’s mind, how did you keep your energy up for 6 ½ straight hours of speaking to a camera without a live audience? Michael notes how similar this was to presenting in a courtroom – you can be absolutely exhausted, but as soon as you step in the room, “you’re on.” He also explains how you can’t be high energy the entire time without coming off frantic and stressing your audience out. The key is to have a range of highs and lows, which serves to conserve your energy and make the highs more impactful.

This type of energy management has taken Michael years to master, and he shares an insightful story from a trial 15 years ago where he learned an important lesson – even if you can’t say everything you want to, you need to slow down and make it about the listener.

Michael goes on to explain his mindset change through the teachings of Carl Bettinger in the book “Twelve Heroes, One Voice.” He used to think it was his job to win the case, but now he knows that’s the jury’s job. And by incorporating this mindset, it’s abundantly clear that the jury deeply understanding the case is much more important than you saying everything you want to say. Malorie then describes her own journey through this, when she was told she speaks very loudly when she’s telling a story she’s passionate about. She realized this comes off as abrasive when the jury isn’t there with her yet and has worked to consciously change this.

Another strategy Michael used to manage his energy during the presentation was the strategic use of PowerPoint slides. He incorporated a variety of both “busy” slides filled with information and simple slides with just a topic or phrase. While presenting the information dense slides, he could be lower energy. But when there was a simple slide, he knew he had to be high energy to carry that portion of the presentation.

This leads Michael and Malorie to discuss the larger applicability of these tactics in the courtroom. When presenting in trial, Michael utilizes completely blank slides in his PowerPoints when he wants the jury to be focused on him. While they both agree more visuals will be necessary in a virtual trial, they recognize the need to incorporate film professionals to make those visuals effective.

On the topic of visuals, they shift to the role of graphics in the courtroom. Michael and Malorie agree that often a simpler graphic is much more effective than an intricate, expensive graphic from a courtroom exhibit company. Michael sums this up perfectly by stating, “If we have to explain the graphic, then we’re losing them.” He’s enjoyed working with his firm’s own graphic artist, and also recommends looking at Upwork and hiring an artist on a contract basis. Malorie adds you can even create some very effective graphics yourself in PowerPoint without spending a dime. This all boils down to the fact that you can’t win a complex case, and while intricate and expensive graphics certainly have their place in the courtroom, they are often overused and frankly a waste of money.

Malorie then shifts the conversation to a discussion of Michael’s upcoming book on trucking law, which Michael previewed during the virtual seminar. One of the major aspects of his research focused on electronic logs for truck drivers, and how they cheat on them. Michael explains how even though truck drivers are allowed to work up to 70 hours a week already, they spend so much time on unpaid activities (deliveries, loading, inspections, etc) they need to cheat in order to make a decent living. Trucking companies have been recommended to pay by the hour or a salary, but they almost always choose to pay their drivers by the mile because it’s better for the company economically.

Michael then describes numerous ways these drivers cheat their logs, including driving on “personal conveyance” time, creating a “phantom driver,” and more which are so intricate they need to be heard to be believed.

Michael and Malorie wrap up the episode with some terrifying facts. Michael spent some time researching drug testing protocols for truck drivers, where he was very disappointed by the current system. Through a plethora of methods, drivers successfully cheat on urine tests and stay on the road. One study indicated as many as 310,000 truck drivers on the road today would fail a hair follicle drug test if given one, to which Malorie replies, “What if that number was commercial airline pilots? People don’t think that way, but they should. These things are huge.”

This podcast also covers Sari de la Motte’s teachings, courtroom models and exhibits, how to catch a truck driver who cheated on their electronic logs, raising the minimum insurance limits for trucking companies, and so much more.

If you’d like to attend Cowen’s Big Rig Boot Camp in 2021 in person or virtually, visit www.BigRigBootCamp.com for live updates.

Scroll to top