table talk

47 – Delisi Friday – Analyzing Your Marketing Strategies for the Year

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with his in-house Director of Marketing and Business Development, Delisi Friday, for another Table Talk episode. This show focuses specifically on an inside look at what they’re doing to market their law firm, why it’s important to analyze their efforts every year, and how they determine when to pivot on specific marketing strategies.

Delisi starts the conversation describing why an annual review of their firm’s marketing is imperative and how it gives them a chance to see what’s working and what’s not. It also allows their team to see things early enough to allow for them to pivot in order to make something work better. Michael adds that they have also been known to double down on what’s working, in order to accelerate their success in receiving more cases. Although, the “sunk cost fallacy” occasionally gets in the way of making changes once you’ve put time, and money into an effort and continue with it even though (if it’s not working) you might be better off spending your time on something else. He uses their firm magazine as an example of this. “People tell us that it’s great branding all the time, but it doesn’t bring in big cases” Michael states. They detail how this marketing strategy costs $5,000 every month in printing and mailing, not to mention the time (another associated cost) spent on writing and designing. Which is why Michael states the money on this strategy can be much better, and successfully, spent in other ways benefitting their top referral attorneys. He also suggests that sometimes you need to try 10 things to find the 1 or 2 things that do work for your firm. “We gave it a good shot,” Delisi concludes.

The conversation shifts to a discussion on segmentation and how Delisi and Michael determine each segment and the strategies, and marketing costs, involved at each level. Delisi discusses her system for reviewing their mailing list each month to ensure those who are receiving their marketing are more likely to refer a case and thereby keep marketing costs down. This also goes to the point of spending more marketing efforts on existing relationships versus continuously dripping smaller efforts on those you’re trying to establish a relationship with, in hopes that someday they’ll start referring cases. Michael leans toward a 2 year rule, where if an attorney they are targeting hasn’t engaged with them in 24 months, then they stop using the more expensive types of marketing and simply let them continue receiving their emails, which costs almost nothing for them. Michael also describes some of the more elaborate ways they have fostered their existing relationships while finding the most important marketing tactic to keep in mind, is just to spend time with people and keep building relationships.

Continuing the topic of referral attorneys, Delisi brings up an important note about the customer experience being more than just the experience of the client at the center of the case. It goes to the deeper point of nurturing the relationships they have with their referral attorneys and not overlooking the experience they provide to them. Michael explains some of the hesitancies he’s heard from referral partners coming from “other herds” regarding cases being referred out and then having a lack of communication until a check was received or a problem arises in the case, or worse, a call to them describing the need to change the deal splitting fees. Michael and Delisi are both adamant those types of scenarios would never happen at their firm and Michael firmly disagrees with such tactics. Leading Delisi to say “your integrity is worth more than that.” They go on to discuss how their firm avoids surprises for their referring attorneys, the communication strategies they follow to keep everyone involved in each referred case, and why their relationships “truly are a partnership.”

One of the more interesting shifts in the Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock marketing this last year was when they decided to have Delisi manage the intake department and marketing department. Delisi explains why she has been absolutely delighted by the change and how it has given her a more holistic view of their marketing efforts by not just seeing the number of cases referred, but also the value of those cases and other extremely useful insights to help her guide future marketing efforts. She describes how the relationships with the referring attorneys and their staff has grown after this decision and allows her a chance to help with each new case as it comes into the firm.

Michael segues from Delisi’s internal job of marketing to some external marketing factors and how some past experiences have led to the decisions they are making today. Delisi points out how Michael’s decision to no longer handle small auto cases which tend to settle in pre-lit has changed their marketing and also the success of their firm, but “it didn’t happen overnight.” Next, Michael discusses how they previously used a marketing firm that only did legal marketing but found their track record quickly became “triple the price for half the results.” Today, they use a marketing company with only a few legal clients, which they see as a benefit to them. But Michael adds this decision also leads to some disconnect on messaging, because the B2B marketing tactics used with attorneys is delicate and not a hard sell like other industries. They’ve also learned the same lesson by hiring a local graphic designer to help with visuals for cases, which again helps to get the perspective of someone who does not have a background in the legal world and can help to design trial visuals universally understood.

The TLN Table Talk podcast comes full circle to a discussion on why it is important to analyze, measure, and decide on the next year’s marketing efforts before the new year begins. Michael describes their process of looking at ROI (return on investment) and how it drives much of his decision-making process as well as how it is slightly different for their firm, being that they do not market direct to consumers and focus all of their efforts on referral attorneys. Delisi ends by stating why it is important for attorneys to make time for marketing no matter how busy they are, why consistency can help during those slow business months, and shares a Henry Ford quote for everyone to keep in mind when considering a reduction of their marketing budget.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to join our “Trial Lawyer Nation – Insider’s Circle” group on Facebook to privately interact with the show!

44 – Natalie Arledge and Dylan Pearcy – Insights on the 2019 ATAA Symposium

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with two attorneys from Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Natalie Arledge and Dylan Pearcy, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to discuss the questions on the minds of our listeners. Today’s topics focus specifically on the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA) annual symposium and our biggest takeaways from attending.

A brief background on today’s guests reveals that Natalie has been with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock for almost two years after having come from a defense background where she worked on trucking cases, among others, from the other side. Dylan also came from the defense side of things where his docket was roughly 70% small car accident cases of which roughly 50% were trucking cases.

Seeing as the ATAA symposium was a multi-day event, Michael wonders which presentations Natalie and Dylan found the most value in. Natalie explains how she found Robert Collins “What is safety for a trucking company” presentation to be the most valuable for her. In that presentation, they explored many forms and regulations to better identify what safety culture really is for a company whereas previously it had been less defined for her. In other words, not just looking at an individual negligent act, but more so the question of – does this company really care about safety? On the other hand, Dylan gravitated more toward Ken Levinson’s presentation on representing a truck driver as a plaintiff where he gained a deeper perspective on trucking cases. He felt that Ken did a “good job of going into some details about how specific factors come into play when the truck driver is the plaintiff and how they might look at an accident and their responsibilities on the road differently than maybe somebody else would.” Michael points out that Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock has also represented a number of truck drivers over the years and having done so, has learned the nuances that come into play when a truck driver is the plaintiff.

Natalie also found Jay Vaughn’s presentation on inspecting trucks particularly valuable as it was aimed at better preparing lawyers to know what to look for and ask about when examining a truck. She also gained useful insights on what he carries with him to better understand what he’s looking at, citing that there is always value in looking at a truck or the scene to fully understand the scale of what occurred. Dylan adds to this topic, sharing his experience of truck inspections describing the importance and value of getting dirty and getting involved in the inspection to bring some validity and credibility to the case down the road. This is in contrast to the attorneys who show up to an inspection in a suit while standing back and just observing an expert inspection.
The conversation shifts to technology with an observation by Dylan in regards to what was being used in presentations and how it was being received by the attorneys in the room. The observation is a critical one at it’s core as it is much like what we do in a courtroom when we either use or don’t use technology to deliver our story to the jury and keep them engaged and interested in what we’re presenting for our clients. Michael recalls one of his side conversations at the seminar with Michael Leizerman where he describes part of our job in the courtroom is to entertain the jury in order to keep them engaged, otherwise they’ll tune out.

Dylan flips the script and asks Michael what some of his takeaways from the seminar were to which he describes some of the smaller, yet extremely valuable, tidbits he picked up on in presentations that he’s already heard in the past, but found new value in by catching things he hadn’t heard before. Michael also explains the value he’s received from the seminars just by talking and networking with others in the hallways and at the mixers. He goes on to talk about the relationships he’s built over the years and how his network of attorney friends, now allows him the ability to bounce ideas off of some of the best in the industry, find experts, get insights on other state’s laws, etc., all with just a phone call or an email that is answered fairly quickly.
The conversation wraps up with a discussion on what first time attendees might consider or keep in mind when they attend their first multi-day seminar like the ATAA symposium and how to best leverage the tools and resources available at such conferences.

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

41 – Malorie Peacock – Resources, Doctor Referrals, and Process-based Focus

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, for another TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on resources for trial lawyers, doctor referrals, and the process behind highlighting what’s most important to your case.

The first question brought to the table is about what the best resources for newer lawyers starting out in the personal injury trial lawyer world. Michael notes his favorite books today would likely not be his favorites for someone just starting out. Having said that, he recommends starting with books like the AAJ Deposition book by Phillip Miller and Paul Scoptur, pointing to the reality in which 90% of cases are likely going to settle and this book focuses on taking good depositions, increasing the likelihood of a higher value settlement for your clients. He also recommends David Ball’s book, Damages 3, which breaks down how to argue a case in a logical and coherent format, avoiding holes in your story, as well as Rules of the Road by Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone, that focuses on simplifying cases. As a follow up to reading all these great books which are meant to help simplify cases, Malorie poses the question of why it is important for lawyers just out of law school (where everything is so complex)  to make the transition to presenting to a jury where you have to make things simple, and why it is so difficult. Michael explores this idea and feels that it takes a lot more work to make things simple, and the complexity is what we hide behind to mask our own insecurities. They both agree that complexity and confusion are great defense tools and by presenting a bunch of confusing ideas to a jury could end up playing right into the defense’s hands. To top off the discussion about resources, Michael adds several other courses, trial colleges, information exchange groups, and other programs that are offered and can help lay the foundation for up and coming trial attorneys and also suggests choosing an area to really focus on, since no one can really know everything about everything.

Beyond books and seminars, Malorie brings up the idea of going to trials and second chairing trials as another great way to gain real life learning experiences. Michael also describes his approach to pairing up attorneys with each other based on where they are in their career to gain practical experience in the courtroom. It’s also noted, in cases where your might be trying them on your own, it can still be beneficial to bring in other attorneys who have done what you are about to do, to strategize and help you prepare. Malorie talks about a specific instance of this coming up for her, where she plans to help a friend through voir dire in their upcoming case. Michael also reminisces about several times back in his early days, enticing friends to come over and practice voir dire and openings with pizza and beer in exchange for their feedback. Although, these weren’t professionals or experts, this practice did help him get more comfortable with talking to people while getting useful feedback.

Another question from our listeners is about lawyers referring people to doctors and the perceived issue that the people getting referred are not actually injured but are being sent to a doctor who will work up some medical documentation to make them look like they’ve sustained an injury in order to make more money for the lawyer. Michael describes his personal experience with this issue in that, he faces it head on and is upfront about it, thereby avoiding any awkwardness or perceived deviance on his part. For him, it basically boils down to having a client in pain, who asks for advice on what doctor to go see. They’re not sure what doctor to go see. They don’t know any specialists in this area. What should I do? Most people would say, tell them to go see a doctor and give them a name. In other words, if you own it, you’re not ashamed of it, and you haven’t done anything wrong and just talk about it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. He also points out that he’s never lost a case on this issue. Malorie also notes, whatever you make a big deal about to a jury, is likely going to be what they think needs to be a big deal, and by confronting it in a matter of fact type way, people take your cues that it is not something to harp on but rather, just being human to one another.

The next question from our listeners is why is it so important for lawyers to make the case about the company and not the low-level employee, and how do you do that? Malorie digs right in, talking through how there are really two main reasons why the company is the bigger villain in a case: 1. The company is where the deep pocket is, and 2. Oftentimes, the individual that did something wrong is likeable. It becomes much “easier for people to dislike a company than it is to dislike an individual who made a mistake,” Malorie explains. Furthermore, “when a company puts an individual in a position where it’s inevitable that they’re going to make those mistakes, and it’s inevitable that they’re going to hurt someone, then it really is the company’s fault.” Michael expands on this idea with an example of a defendant driver, who is usually making a mistake over a period of seconds. Whereas companies that don’t have good safety programs and often make choices, not mistakes, over a period of months or years. So, “it’s just harder to forgive them, whereas it’s easy to forgive someone for making a mistake, for taking your eye off the road for a second, for being distracted for a minute, for driving a little too fast. It’s harder to forgive someone for knowing that you need to have a company safety program and you just don’t do it.” Malorie continues to explore the many types of negligence that can be aimed at companies in how they treat their employees (IE: negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent monitoring, negligent entrustment, etc.). They continue to explore the “how” to make the case about the company, which brings up some truly fascinating ideas and tactics.

Michael and Malorie continue to explore several other topics throughout this episode like testing theories and hypotheses, root cause analysis, reassessing your case throughout the process, and the curse of knowledge. They also explore the processes of walking people through your case one step at a time so that on their own, it inevitably leads to the conclusion of who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, what’s right, and what’s wrong. It takes a lot of work to get there, but Michael and Malorie agree, it’s so worth it.

These Table Talk podcasts also could not happen without the interaction and questions that are submitted by our listeners, for which we are eternally grateful for and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

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

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.”

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