storyboarding

61 – Malorie Peacock – Elite Litigation: Strategies to Maximize the Value of Every Case

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by his law partner Malorie Peacock for a discussion of strategies they use to maximize the value of every case. They cover steps to take when you first get a case, storyboarding, gathering evidence, conducting a targeted discovery, the benefits of spending 3+ uninterrupted hours on a case, and so much more.

Michael and Malorie start off the episode with a conversation about what you should do when you first get a case to end up with the maximum value. They both agree you need to conduct a thorough investigation right away. Michael describes how he used to believe if he spent money on a case, he had to get a settlement out of it and get his money back. He would spend $20,000 to investigate and find out it was a tough liability theory but still file the lawsuit, do a ton of work, and spend even more money just to end up with a reduced settlement value and an unhappy client. He has since learned to write off these cases so he can spend his time and money on a case with potential for a better outcome. Malorie then explains how you can research the case yourself if you really don’t want to spend money early on, but Michael and Malorie both agree it’s best to hire an expert as soon as possible.

The discussion shifts to the topic of storyboarding early on in a case. Malorie explains how you plan out exactly how you want things to unfold, but you don’t need all the information right away to plan for a deposition. She describes her highly effective outlining strategy of placing information into “buckets” based on what she needs to talk to each of the witnesses about, constantly asking herself, “What do I really need? What makes this impactful for a jury or not?”

Michael then urges listeners not to appear nitpicky to the jury by bringing up non-causal violations. He shares an example of a different lawyer’s case with a truck driver who did not know any English. While truck drivers are required to speak enough English to understand road signs, the crash had nothing to do with this. That is, until they dug deeper and discovered a massive, shocking flaw in the trucking company’s training procedures.

While many of these strategies can be effective in making the case about the company and maximizing case value, Malorie emphasizes how you can’t ignore what happened in the crash. If it’s the worst company in the world but they had nothing to do with the crash, it doesn’t matter. Michael argues you should always try to make it a systems failure, but if you investigate and there is no credible story, you need to change course. They then discuss other places to look for systems failures which are often overlooked, including the company’s post-crash conduct. Finding these creative case stories and being willing to change course if you find a better story are key to maximizing case value.

Malorie brings up that there are lots of places to gather evidence, many of which are often overlooked. Michael urges listeners to go out to the crash site and walk around, look for cameras, and talk to people whenever possible. He also sees Freedom of Information Act requests as a valuable asset in any case involving an industry with regulations. You can see more than just past crashes, audits, and violations. He explains how sometimes you will see a trucking company who earned the highest score in a safety audit because they promised to fix the issues they had, which they never fixed. Malorie accurately replies, “That sounds like gross negligence.” They both discuss other types of companies who break promises often, and how showcasing this can be a valuable tool in showing the jury this company didn’t just make one mistake, they purposefully lied and tried to cover it up.

Michael and Malorie then discuss how they conduct a targeted and specific discovery. Michael shares how forms can be useful, but adds that you need to look at the issues in your case and adjust those forms accordingly. He describes his strategy of conducting a root cause analysis to dig deep into the reasons a crash may have occurred, a strategy which is incredibly useful for any plaintiff’s attorney. Michael and Malorie then agree on the importance of reviewing depo notes immediately after the depo is concluded and share a useful practice tip to make this process more efficient. After reviewing depo notes, Malorie highlights that many attorneys are hesitant to send a request for production for just one document. She disagrees with this thought process and has found doing this shows opposing counsel you know what you are doing and can even put you in favor with the judge.

Malorie then asks Michael to elaborate on a strategy they use at their firm based off the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”, where you block out a 3-hour window of time each week to brainstorm on a case. Michael explains how this time does not include depo prep, discovery, or other “defensive” items, but is meant to be spent “playing offense.” Attorneys are directed to do something to purposely move the case towards resolution and increase the value of that resolution. Michael then emphasizes the importance of these being three uninterrupted hours, because “It takes time for things to gel.” If you spend 30 minutes, 6 times in one week on the case, you have to refresh your memory of all the documents and details, and never dive deep into the critical thinking this activity is meant to promote. This is why Malorie spends the first part of her time reviewing every important document in the case, and inevitably this process leads her to ask questions and explore the answers. She urges listeners to not be intimidated by this process, and notes you don’t need to have a specific goal in mind besides to understand the case better and seek answers to the question, “What is this case about?”

Another strategy they use at their firm is “Workdays.” This is where they gather 3-6 people, including both attorneys and non-attorneys, to spend an entire day working through one case together. Malorie emphasizes the importance of everybody participating and being committed to spending this time on the case at hand. This doesn’t work if people come and go or try to discuss a different case. Michael adds that you don’t need an 8-attorney firm to do this. He’s found success in scheduling once-a-month lunches with peers and implementing a similar strategy.

Malorie has also found utilizing focus groups early-on in the case to be critical in understanding juror perceptions about the immediate facts of a case. Michael agrees this strategy can provide valuable insight into the direction you should take a case story, what questions you need to answer and how your client and experts appear to jurors. They then discuss a time they hosted a focus group where only three people attended, which shockingly ended up being one of the most useful focus groups of the entire case.

To wrap up the episode, Malorie notes “You’re not maximizing the value of a case by wasting time on it.” Michael urges listeners to look at each case individually and carefully, then triage it. Some cases are just not great, whether it be because of tough liability, a great recovery, or a client who presents poorly. Malorie aptly concludes by saying, “Maximizing value doesn’t mean getting $20 million on every case… It’s about allocating your time and resources carefully.”

51 – Malorie Peacock – Preparing Yourself and Your Case for Trial

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss trial prep. Trial prep has been a topic many of our viewers asked to hear more about, so this episode covers everything from file organization, to witness prep, opening and voir dire, visuals, your exhibit list, and the mental toll trial can have on you personally.

To begin, Malorie starts with how important it is to be organized. She begins her organization process 30 days out by putting her exhibits together, printing out the jury charge and witness list, then looking at everything and thinking about the game plan. Her goal from there is to create a 1 or 2 page “order of proof for trial” with exhibits, list of witnesses, and the key points to be made in the trial. Michael agrees and shares a common mistake he sees a lot of lawyers make when they “put every possible piece of paper from the case on their exhibit list.” He suggests lawyers ask themselves: A) is this an exhibit necessary for the jury to see, or B) do I need this to protect the record? Then review how many exhibits you have and what is their order. “If the focus of your case is trying to get the medical bills in your case, then your first exhibit is a summary of all of the medical bills and the medical treatment in the past … so the jury knows when they open the binder ‘this is what we’re focusing on and this is the focus of the case.’” Malorie continues.  Michael also shares how he organizes his complete list of exhibits on his laptop, so if at any point in trial he needs to pull up an exhibit on the fly he can quickly find it.

It takes a lot of time and energy to write a good opening and prepare for voir dire. Which is why Michael and Malorie discuss how changes in your story throughout a case, can affect the opening and voir dire work you do early on. Michael gives an example of this on a case he will try in February with Malorie. Months before trial they worked with a consultant on the case, had a theory on the case, graphics already prepared, then after they developed all of the evidence they decided it wasn’t the best story to tell. Creating a new story and theory may be extremely difficult to do after investing lots of time, money, and energy, however it’s an important part of the trial preparation process.

Which leads to a conversation on storyboarding, creating visuals, and how Sari de la Motte helped Michael rethink his use of the phrase “a simple case” when talking to the jury and using visuals. Malorie brings up just how important it is to tell your witnesses where they should be looking when they answer questions. We as attorneys may think it’s obvious a witness should talk to the jury when answering a question, but in reality it’s normal for you to look at the person you are talking to. “I think people believe that trial lawyers are natural public speakers, but if you’ve ever been to a conference you know that’s not true,” Malorie explains. You might think “it’s only 12 people,” but when your entire case relies on those 12 people, on a really important matter, and your client is watching you, the nerves start to creep in so you have to practice. And practice does not apply simply to speaking, Michael shares his reasoning for adding several solid black slides in his PowerPoint in order to command the attention of the jury when visuals are involved.

Michael then transitions the conversation by expressing his opinions on why every case will have a different order of witnesses. You should determine the order of witnesses based on each case, start strong, think about a witness who can prove the defendant did something wrong, think about when a witness goes on (time of day and when the jury has low energy), and be sure to end with a message of the harm that was caused but a hope of what a verdict can do to help. But emergencies happen and people are late to court, so Malorie reminds you to be flexible.

And the only way you can be flexible is when you are mentally and emotionally prepared for trial. Malorie suggests you spend time with family and decompress the day before trial. Which Michael agrees with because you “spend so much time during trial staying up until 2 am” preparing for that next day, you cannot risk the exhaustion and mental fog and need to be in bed at a decent hour and fully rested.

Being aware of your energy after trial, is equally important whether you win or lose the case. You need to take a day off and recognize it is not possible to be 100% on every day. Or maybe you come in to work and just talk to people in your office. But Michael very bluntly shares “it’s hard because when you’re in trial all the other shit piles up” so when you’re out of trial you feel like you need to play catch up. “It’ll wait a day you need to take care of yourself,” he adds. After each case you should re-evaluate the parts that went great and where you can improve in your next trial, but again it’s important to give yourself space. Michael’s NFL quarterback analogy for this is spot on and reminds attorneys not to value yourself differently after a trial, instead focus on the work you put in.

This podcast on trial prep truly is detailed and also discusses: thinking about your clothes, glasses, how to prep lay witnesses, saving money on images by using Google and Adobe, thinking about the Rules of Evidence, and trying cases with other people. And with Michael and Malorie’s jury trial (mentioned in this episode) resulting in a 7-figure verdict, podcast listeners can expect to hear another episode discussing trial soon!

30 – Mark Kosieradzki – Galvanizing Depositions

Mark Kosieradzki – Galvanizing Depositions

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with well-known attorney, author of 30(b)(6) Deposing Corporations, Organizations & the Government  and Deposition Obstruction: Breaking Through, and long-time presenter at countless legal events, Mark Kosieradzki. This is the best legal podcast for new lawyers.

Mark recalls growing up with parents who were scrappy, rightfully so given their startling history, who instilled in him to stand up for principles, ultimately leading him down the path of becoming a trial lawyer. He points out that many go into the field with a “win at all costs” type mentality, but his father always told him that “if you cheat to win, you really didn’t win,” which he continues to carry with him throughout his successful career in law today.

Mark describes one of the most successful tools he has learned to use in the courtroom are the rules themselves. He finds it to be a lot less stressful when you use the rules to get to the truth and if you play by the rules, you can force the other side to play by them too, which most times is not to their advantage. When Michael asks him how he might know if the opposing side is hiding something from you or not telling the truth, Mark very candidly replies that he starts with the premise that they are, and that trial lawyers want to tell the jury a story whereas a litigator wants to hide evidence. He goes on to impart that when they say they are going to give you “everything,” it’s really more like code for saying we’ll give you everything that doesn’t hurt their case.

Mark shares his evolution of new techniques regarding how he approaches depositions. He starts with a lot of case analysis, storyboarding, puts all his information in “buckets,” and then looks at what he’s trying to accomplish. With that, he starts with the assumption that one person could provide all the information, then structures an outline of what this one person could tell him and works at it to identify what documents are being electronically stored. Then he creates a request for production but doesn’t serve it, knowing there will be immediate objections. Next, he creates a 30(b)(6) designee deposition with a schedule of documents in it but doesn’t request the documents. We’d like someone who can provide all known documents in the organization that exist in this category, Mark continues. Where are they located, how are they organized, and most importantly, what are the methods available for searching? Without having requested anything, we are establishing the most effective and efficient way to request the electronic information, while also preempted all the boilerplate objections before we ask for them. Michael wonders about getting any push back regarding doing discovery on discovery to which Mark explains there is no discovery on discovery because you haven’t asked for the documents yet. Which is brilliant!

Michael asks how Mark structures his life to where he has time to storyboard, plot out cases, take depositions, and then craft his cases. The simple answer, Mark replies, is to just say “NO” to cases, continuing to say that his firm currently turns down 6-8 cases a day and work with small caseloads. Mark remembers starting out as a volume lawyer with 250-300 cases and works with the mentality of getting as many cases as you can and then you settle them based on getting each case’s fixed value with as little work as possible. That type of nonsense, however, assumes that the other side determines the value of each case. He’s also found that by spending more time up front on a case, their hourly value has gone up significantly because they take the time to get the evidence and prove each case. Michael relates his own firm where he’s found the fewer cases each of his lawyers have, the more revenue each lawyer generates. Settlements have gone up, the time from intake to the settlement has gone down, and the personal satisfaction of being able to be a craftsman of doing good for clients is significantly rewarding. It wasn’t until he got rid of the fear in his own mind that if you tell a referring attorney “no” on a case, they will disappear forever. When, in fact, the more time you can spend on the right type of case for yourself, the better the outcomes will be, and the more people will respect you and your practice. It also allows you more time to communicate with your clients which allows them to trust you more by knowing you have their best interests at heart.

The conversation shifts to talk about storyboarding cases. Mark describes the process as for where you lay out what your story to the jury ultimately will be and how you will focus the jury to consider the information which is important in your case. Mark points out that there are many great resources like Cusimano, Wenner, Rick Friedman, Carl Bettinger, and David Ball who have different methods of storyboarding cases, all of which are great, but he doesn’t subscribe to just one method. He explains how he tries to learn ALL the different methods because this is not a checkbox profession, but rather one requiring you to stay nimble in your approach in order to be able to counteract whatever gets thrown at you from the other side. In general, he starts first with a chronological account of the case from beginning to end, which admittedly isn’t always the most persuasive one. Then he begins to craft what he would like the jury to focus on first which in most cases is the decision making that has taken place by the wrongdoer. Mark shares a story using the information availability method that really drives the point home on the importance of sequencing details. Then to take things even a step further, they begin to formulate through whose eyes will they tell their story which is equally important given that there are hundreds of perspectives a story can be told…just ask Stephen Spielberg.

Michael and Mark round out this podcast by hitting on hot-button issues including how to structure your questions to establish if the person being deposed is prepared, what you are really trying to get out of a deposition, and how to prove your oppositions unpreparedness. Mark also talks through a real-life example of how all these different techniques were used in a past case of his: Boswell v. Sherman County. The details of which are simply astounding and need to be heard for yourself. They wrap up with a brief discussion on what the future holds for Mark and even sneak in a little surprise at the end.

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

 

BACKGROUND ON MARK KOSIERADZKI

Mark Kosieradzki is a trial lawyer from Minneapolis, MN.  His 40-year career has spanned a vast array of cases throughout the United States.  Mark’s landmark civil right case on behalf of an incarcerated woman resulted in the application of section 1983 protections to detainees. His work on sexual abuse was featured in a CNN series on Rape in Nursing Homes.

http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/02/health/nursing-home-sex-abuse-investigation/

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has described him as “one of the nation’s most feared elder abuse litigators.” http://www.startribune.com/meet-the-minnesota-lawyer-taking-on-the-senior-care-industry/450626193/

He is recognized in the “Best Lawyers in America”.  He is certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy as a Civil Trial Specialist.

Mark is recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on deposition technique, strategy, and law.  He is the author of 30(B)(6): Deposing Corporations, Organizations & the Government, published by Trial Guides. His book Deposition Obstruction: Breaking Through has been described as the hornbook for dealing with deposition obstruction.

Mark has joined trial teams throughout the United States in a wide variety of wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases, including malpractice, bad faith, construction injuries, nursing home abuse, interstate trucking accidents, and products liability.

When Mark turned 50, he had a midlife crisis and started playing the blues harmonica. At 63 he took up salsa dancing in Havana.

28 – Malorie Peacock – Storytelling in the Courtroom

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. Today’s topic focuses on storytelling in trial and identifying the “characters” in your case.

They begin with the most obvious question on today’s topic, why do we want to tell a story instead of just presenting our facts? Michael explains that people don’t learn through cold, clinical facts and if you want a juror to connect to your client’s situation, they must relate to it. The easiest and most effective way for them to relate is oftentimes through a story. Michael adds that we are genetically programmed to think in story, going all the way back to the campfire in the cave scenario, also noting that people can tell when a story is not right. Malorie also describes what stories are on a very basic level, in that they aren’t something that is made up for a trial, but rather something that is very specific and still based on facts. A sequence of events with a beginning, middle, and an end with characters who have motivations for doing things.

Conversely, the real danger of not having a story, Michael explains, is that the jurors are going to come up with a story. For Michael’s team, the story might be about the greedy trucking company who pushed their drivers to drive more hours than are safe on the road, just to make more money. Whereas, a different story that could be formulated by a juror on their own might be about a greedy plaintiff’s lawyer who took a case and is trying to make a lot of money from it. And because the juror wants to be the “hero” of the story, they might stop the attorney from getting that money. This puts even more importance on the story that gets told, for the client’s benefit.

Does every story need to have a hero? Yes, and it’s always the same group of heroes (the jury). Michael refers to a book written by Carl Bettinger called Twelve Heroes, One Voice, that has really helped him to understand the dynamics of storytelling, heroes and villains, and how the jury must be the hero in a trial. He also notes that this book transformed his thinking from where he had thought he, as the attorney or his client needed to be the hero when in reality, the only ones who can do anything heroic are the jurors, because they’re the ones who can save the day.

Michael points out that it is important when starting to storyboard your case that you carefully consider who the “villain” is while also keeping an open mind to the idea that it could always change before going to trial. Michael has gone so far as to research and study playwriting and screenwriting books to find out what the common characteristics of villains are since most people have learned about heroes and villains through watching movies or tv and he wanted to be able to give people a story structure that they can relate to. He lays out his findings of the 5 ideal characteristics of a villain as he found them to relate to the courtroom, those being that they are: Powerful, Intelligent, Immoral, Deceptive, and an Individual (not a collective or an entity). Michael and Malorie go on to talk more about the immorality of these villains and the selfish quality that they portray, while also pointing out that these people are not typically evil just for the sake of being evil (like in some movies), but rather are just willing to risk others for the sake of their own gains. Again, it’s not that they actively set out to kill someone that adds to their guilt, but rather the act of knowing something is wrong and then doing it anyway, also known as conscious indifference, or as Malorie points it out, as a selfish quality to such villains.

Why is it so important to make the villain an individual versus a company or a collective? Michael explains that we just haven’t been programmed in our upbringing to see the villain as a corporation or collective and therefore it doesn’t translate as well into the courtroom. Corporations are not actual “people” and thereby do not have emotions or individual thoughts, again making it hard for them to take on the responsibility for making a decision. So, if you can find the person that made the decision, who knowingly endangered the public, it becomes so much more impactful to a jury, especially when that person is powerful, intelligent, deceptive, and immoral.

The focus shifts from heroes and villains to what role you, as an attorney, and your client (the plaintiff) play in the typical courtroom story, to which Michael sees the plaintiff as the survivor or the one who needs rescuing by the jury, and the attorney as the ones guiding the jury to the truth…like a courtroom Yoda. As a part of that Yoda-like role, Malorie and Michael discuss the need to stay calm and collected when dealing with people who are trying to be deceptive and allowing yourself to place the trust in the jury to see things for what they are and that they will do the right thing. Michael goes on to point out that going into the courtroom without that trust in the jury or suspicion that they may not do the right thing, will almost always do more harm than good to your case. It will show unconsciously in your body language, a tone of voice, and you will have a disconnect with the jurors. Michael also credits Joe Fried and Michael Leizerman on helping him to understand that concept as well.

This TLN Table Talk podcast continues with vital conversations on how you structure a story for a trial where the jury can come to their own conclusions about the villain on their own so not to “tell them what to think;” why it is less impactful to accuse someone of being deceptive, versus exposing it; being aware of the other stories being told in the courtroom so not to seem like you’re beating up the defense and inadvertently become the villain yourself; along with many other real-life, and some fictional, stories to illustrate Michael and Malorie’s insights. Clearly topics they both have a lot of experience with and knowledge that any attorney can find helpful.

 

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