training

82 – Malorie Peacock – Working Through Others: Building a High-Performing Team

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his partner Malorie Peacock to discuss the art of managing your team and “working through others.” They cover effective delegation, hiring for experience vs. hiring for attitude, and how lawyers can be leaders to their teams.

Michael and Malorie kick off the episode with a look at delegating tasks to your team effectively, which is easier said than done when the team member has to do the work to your standards. Malorie starts by sharing her thought process when she wants to delegate a task. She first asks herself if this is something she could expect someone else to do in a way she approves of. If it is, she gives clear instructions and deadlines for when the task should be completed. Lastly, she makes a point to be available and open to answering any questions the team member may have about the task.

Michael then brings up a common pitfall for attorneys attempting to delegate tasks – if it’s not done right, he tends to just fix the errors instead of explaining the issues to the team member. Malorie cautions against doing this and outlines the perfect strategy for situations where the work needs to be fixed ASAP, but the team member needs to be taught the correct way for next time.

The conversation then transitions to a look at hiring and training – specifically for a paralegal position. Malorie shares how both of her paralegals started with the firm as receptionists with no legal experience. They were both trained up to the paralegal role which required a lot of work up front, but the benefit to this was they didn’t have any “bad habits.” Michael agrees that he prefers to train someone up from within, so they learn to do the job the way he wants them to, but not every lawyer agrees with this approach. They continue to discuss the pros and cons of hiring someone with experience vs. without experience, to which Malorie concludes it’s really about their ability to perform their main role of assisting the attorney.

After an insightful look at what the attorney can do to ensure their assistant is successful, they begin to discuss what lawyers can do to be leaders to their teams. Malorie reflects on the true meaning of being a leader and insists it all goes back to trust. Your team should trust you enough to tell you when they messed up, or when they need help with something.

Michael continues this line of thought with the necessity of having uncomfortable conversations about issues BEFORE they become a crisis. He recently had the opportunity to meet with Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher, who is notoriously tough on his players. When Michael asked how he holds his players to such high standards, Jimbo highlighted the need for clear expectations, consistency, and for the team to believe that you hold them to those high expectations because you genuinely care about them. In order to have those necessary uncomfortable conversations, you need buy-in and trust from your team members, so they know you’re coaching them up and not putting them down.

Michael and Malorie then discuss how they communicate with their staff to lift them up. They share a variety of techniques that have worked for them, including not creating emergencies, overcommunicating, being willing to do parts of the paralegal’s job, and numerous strategies to show employee appreciation. One thing Michael has always done and will continue to do is invest in his staff’s education. He does this through weekly internal trainings and paying for his staff attend legal seminars like the annual ATAA symposium. Even the act of spending money on their hotels shows them they are valued and appreciated, and “if you buy-in, we’ll have your back.”

This leads Michael and Malorie to discuss the importance of having your team’s back. This doesn’t mean that you sweep issues under the rug- but it does mean you don’t bad mouth your team members to other people, especially to people outside of your team.

They end the episode with a discussion about managing anger and frustration, something many attorneys struggle with. Michael and Malorie both agree when someone does something wrong and it makes you upset, you need to wait until you’ve calmed down to have a conversation with them about it. Malorie finds it helpful to vent to a trusted person about what happened to let off steam, while Michael likes to take his own time to cool off. It comes down to what works best for you, so you can have a productive conversation without bringing the whole team down.

Attorney leadership, while easier said than done, is vital to the success of any law firm. This is why Michael and his firm will be dedicating the second half of 2021 to developing their attorneys into strong leaders. If this topic interests you, stay tuned for a follow-up episode later this year!

This podcast also covers why the “perfect assistant” doesn’t exist, praising your team members, why you need to avoid unrealistic expectations, Michael’s favorite strategies for building employee buy-in, and so much more.

81 – Mallory Storey Ulmer – Baptism by Fire: When Tenacity Defeats Tenure

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Mallory Storey Ulmer from the Walton Law Firm in Auburn, Alabama. Mallory is a young lawyer who recently achieved a $15 million settlement for her clients in a not-so-plaintiff-friendly state. She and Michael discuss her path to such early success, the details of how she worked up the case, and her advice for other young lawyers who want to make a big impact on a big case.

They begin the episode with a bit on Mallory’s background. After working as a paralegal for 8 years, she decided to go to law school with the intention of becoming an insurance defense lawyer. While in law school, she received a prestigious internship at a plaintiff firm and fell in love with plaintiff work, stating “once you’re on the right side, you can’t switch over.” She and Michael then discuss the emotional toll of plaintiff work, especially in a state like Alabama that’s “no plaintiff’s paradise,” but agree the satisfaction of representing people who need it most can’t be beat (as long as you have the right mindset).

This leads Michael to ask Mallory what she’s done to develop her skillset. She says that one of the best decisions she made was joining an excellent firm with a great reputation. Walton Law Firm has robust systems, great lawyers, and makes education a top priority. She’s been able to learn from some of the best minds in the legal industry both in her office and through a wide variety of legal seminars.

While these opportunities helped build her knowledge base, she and Michael agree at some point you just have to jump in and start trying some cases (or as Mallory calls it, “baptism by fire.”) Michael also notes the importance of networking with other lawyers, to which Mallory agrees. Because of her networking and impressive resume of cases, she is now being invited to speak more often at legal conventions.

Next, the pair jumps into the nitty gritty of the $15,000,000 case Mallory recently settled. While she can’t share too many details due to a confidentiality agreement, she agrees to share what she can within those boundaries. This case had an incredibly complex liability sequence, which stemmed from a series of car wrecks and resulted in catastrophic injuries to her client. In fact, her client’s crash occurred when the defendant driver was not driving a commercial vehicle, further complicating the regulatory guidelines for the company.

Another difficult aspect of this case concerns the venue: Alabama, which is no “plaintiff’s paradise” and has contributory negligence, similar to North Carolina as discussed in our episode with Karonnie Truzy. In short, this means if the client is ANY part at fault for the wreck (even 1%), they cannot receive any compensation. This causes worry in any case, but in a case of this size, Mallory knew she needed a plan to combat this defense if the case went to trial.

She then describes a genius argument of wanton (willful) conduct which would have taken away the contributory negligence defense. While she was never able to use the argument because the case settled, this is an incredibly impressive strategy she plans to “keep in her pocket” for future use.

After discussing the importance of discovery and depositions in the case, Mallory shares why she decided to frame the case as a “systems failure.” This boils down to the fact that juries don’t like to award a large verdict against one driver; they’d much rather award a large verdict to a company where the driver was a victim as well.

Michael and Malorie then have a brief conversation about why it’s necessary to work with others (even if you don’t agree). This starts with politics and ends with an astute observation from Mallory about how this also applies to defense lawyers.

Moving back to Mallory’s case, Michael asks how Mallory found rules and systems to apply to her case when the defendant was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the crash. She decided to fall back on the company’s materials, training, and supervision. Regardless of the type of vehicle the defendant was driving, those standards should still apply.

Michael chimes in that his firm’s strategy for a case like this is “compared to what?” He will look at what other similar companies do and argue that while something may not be a regulation, it is certainly the industry standard. Mallory agrees with this strategy and adds that those publications are perfect for getting excellent sound bites in depositions and appealing to an educated jury pool who may sympathize with business owners but understand companies should care about and know these things.

The episode concludes with Mallory’s tips for other lawyers who get a big case like hers. Her first piece of advice is to posture aggressively from the beginning, meaning to act like you’re taking the case to trial. This is especially true in a case with large damages because there’s too much at stake. She insists that this is scary for defense lawyers who don’t want to try the case. Her second piece of advice is to “prepare, prepare, prepare.” She’s found this shuts out any fear that may creep in. It takes a LOT of time and energy, but it has always worked to her advantage as the defense is never as prepared as she is.

Mallory’s last piece of advice is to know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to pull somebody else in if you need help. She urges other young lawyers to not be afraid of “looking stupid,” and be willing to spend the money you need to on experts and co-counsel. “You will most likely earn that back three-fold, and you’ll be glad you did it.” In the end, pulling in people who are experienced to guide you will result in a better fee for you and a better result for your client. Then next time, you can use what you learned, and you may not need to get as many people involved.

If you’d like to get in touch with Mallory to discuss a case, ask her to speak, or to learn more about this case, you can reach her by email at mallory@waltonlaw.net, or by phone at 334-321-3000. She’s happy to talk strategy or help in any way.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of discovery and depositions in Mallory’s case, proposed Texas House Bill 19, why you should try to work with defense attorneys (and what to do when they’re unbearable), Mallory’s approach to jury research, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Mallory Storey Ulmer is an attorney at Walton Law Firm, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama. Prior to joining Walton Law Firm, P.C., Mallory gained experience in whistleblower, fraud, and employment litigation while working at Beasley Allen Law Firm, with some of those cases gaining national attention on merit. Mallory’s current practice is focused on representing victims in personal injury litigation, including the areas of wrongful death, motor vehicle and trucking litigation. She has experience handling cases in the Southeast and Midwest at state and federal court levels. Mallory recently obtained a $15 million settlement in a contested liability case arising from a crash that caused catastrophic injuries to our client.

Mallory is an advocate of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, which provides resources for members of our communities affected by traumatic brain injuries, and she is passionate about representing people who have been seriously injured and families of those killed as a result of the negligence of others.

Mallory and her husband, Dr. Matthew J. Ulmer, and their daughter, Amory, reside in Auburn. They enjoy traveling, visiting with family, finding good local eateries, and being outdoors.

 

26 – Jack Zinda – Success by Design

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with an accomplished trial attorney, Jack Zinda, for an inside look at his bustling personal injury law practice. Built from the ground up in a county where seemingly no one wanted to start a law office because the juries are so conservative, Jack has built his practice up to include 3 offices with 63 people on his team, 23 of which are lawyers.

Jack’s humble beginnings working in his father’s restaurant washing dishes and waiting tables, contributed to him becoming a great trial lawyer by teaching him to learn how to talk to people, which he says was “great training.” Michael admits that he actually looks for “waiting tables” on the resumes of his potential lawyers as he understands that such experience comes with being able to deal with people, even when they are being unreasonable, among other reasons.

As they dig in deeper to Jack’s practice, he directly correlates the growth of business to an exercise he did after reading the book “The E Myth” where he laid out a plan for where he wanted his firm to be in the future and worked backward from there in order to develop a plan of action. He also made sure to account for his core values and not giving up practicing law seeing as one of his top motivators for getting into Personal Injury law was to help people, and he never wanted to lose that. Michael and Jack also talk through their views regarding the use of consultants and how egos sometimes get in the way of success in this industry. Jack makes it extremely clear that “none of what [he’s] done is original” and that he’s simply taken what he has learned from others and built upon it to become successful. It also, from Jack’s perspective, comes down to the systems that get put in place and following them consistently; an example being that each lawyer in his firm is highly encouraged to attend two networking events per week in order to continue to build relationships.

As Jack reflects on the continued growth of his practice over the years, one of the most important decisions he discovered was who he hired to work at his firm. To prove his point, he describes the scenario where if you hire the most brilliant and amazing people to work for you in every aspect of your business and you have poor systems in place, chances are that you will likely still be successful. Whereas, even if you have the most robust and well-oiled systems in place, if you hire people who are unmotivated and don’t want to work hard, you are likely to fail. He goes on to say that even experience can be overrated when looking to hire someone. At the core, when looking to add people to your organization, people need to be hungry and driven, they need to be smart and organized, and they need to be hard working. Michael and Jack also talk through their hiring processes to get the “right people” into their firm. Surprisingly, the interview has very little to do with it and sometimes… neither does a candidate’s aspirations of working with your firm!

The conversation shifts to internal systems where Jack has gone so far as to hire a developer to create their case management system to his specifications. And not only has he found it to be a great way to customize his practice to run the way he wants it to but also works as a great training tool for everyone in his firm, even the most seasoned attorneys. Jack points out that even the simplest of things go into the firm’s checklists and procedures such as “read the local rules,” which, as easy as that might sound, he points out that it can be vital when working in as many jurisdictions as his firm does. Jack has also raised the bar on training and development within his firm by creating a position that solely focuses on it. Listening to Jack’s description of how he came up with and implemented this position is likely to deliver shock and awe to anyone who runs a firm, as it did for Michael during this podcast.

Michael wraps up the podcast with the question that is likely on everyone’s mind – How much of a “life” do you get to have, running a firm of this size and as successful as yours? Jack boils it down to really deciding what success means to you, first and foremost. What do you want to get out of the practice (note the sentiment of beginning with the end in mind)?  Jack explains that he sets hard and fast rules on family time and personal time and has become VERY intentional about it, down to the alarm on his phone that goes off at 6 pm that reminds him to “go home.” Michael points out that there is also a difference between being in the room with your kids and being present with your kids. Jack goes on to describe how he turns off his phone when he gets home and puts it in a drawer, making it harder for him to somehow “find” it back in his hands, IE: working when he shouldn’t. “Willpower is overrated. I think you’ve got to set yourself up for success by setting the atmosphere to do what you want to do in order to be successful,” which is certainly a great mantra for us all to take away from this conversation with Jack.

 

John C. (Jack) Zinda is the founder and senior trial lawyer at Zinda Law Group.

Jack has served as lead attorney on a wide range of complex catastrophic injury cases across the United States, including:

  • Fire death cases
  • Gas explosions
  • Wrongful deaths
  • Governmental torts, including wrongful death cases caused by law enforcement
  • Federal tort claims act cases
  • Traumatic brain injury cases
  • Commercial litigation
  • Motor vehicle collisions
  • Premises liability
  • Interstate 18-wheeler collisions
  • Product liability

As a trial attorney, Jack takes tremendous pride in giving a voice to individuals and families who need help battling Fortune 500 companies and large insurance conglomerates. His firm balances aggression with a strategy to maximize the outcome for clients, and every case is handled with a focus on getting ready for trial. He also knows the importance of communicating with his clients and ensures that they are part of the process. He is dedicated to always putting the needs of his clients first.

A native Texan, Jack graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business and political science from Southwestern University, where he distinguished himself as president of the Interfraternal Council and as a member of the Student Congress, the Student Judiciary, Phi Delta Theta, and the Pirates basketball team.

Jack went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from the prestigious Baylor University School of Law, which is perennially ranked as one of the top law schools for trial advocacy in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. While there, he was one of the finalists in the Bob and Karen Wortham Practice Court Competition.

Over the years, Jack has earned a reputation as a thought leader in the legal industry, and he has been featured as a speaker for numerous groups across the country, including the Brain Injury Association of Texas, the Williamson County Bar Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Jack has also benefited his professional community through leadership positions in a variety of legal organizations. He has served as president of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, as a member of the board of directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and as a member of the American Association for Justice, the Texas Bar Association, the Austin Bar Association, and WCBA. He is also involved with a number of consumer advocacy organizations.

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

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

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

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

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

Background on Marion Munley

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for more information on Marion Munley

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

04 – Tim McKey – The Business Side of Practicing Law

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen talks with Vista Consulting’s Owner, Tim McKey, who has been consulting on operational matters with successful plaintiff law firms since 2008.

Tim’s CPA background steers his focus toward numbers and metrics but he concedes that there is a lot more that goes into running a successful practice such as culture and human resources, which allows him to approach firms from a holistic stance. As a client of Vista, Michael shares that he has a personal appreciation for Vista’s value to plaintiff firms, which he also acknowledges has allowed him to sleep better at night knowing the firm runs smoother than ever.

Michael explores with Tim his launching point in working with plaintiff firms; and discovers the strategic decision Tim made after owning his own CPA firm, which drove him to work with attorneys in a big way. Tim also describes his passion for helping firms define success and desire to help CHANGE the score instead of just KEEPING the score as a substantial motivation. During his transition to the consulting world, Tim lightheartedly recalls how similar the process turned out to be for his first two clients; those being a plaintiff’s attorney and business at the polar opposite end of the spectrum (tune in to hear what the other business was). The process Tim uses to examine and analyze a firm is noted to work regardless of years in practice and focuses specifically on tightening up potential deficiencies within the firm and its client acquisition practices.

While being empathetic to the fact that attorneys, in general, are not introduced to business practices before setting out to run their own law practice, Michael recalls his early days in another law firm where trial and error was the modus operandi of their operations, long before he was introduced to Vista’s techniques. The difference between effective and efficient systems and processes are the cornerstone to what Tim advises throughout this episode as he offers listeners insights into breaking down their firm’s data to a dashboard view of the practice and what to do next.

This podcast concludes with Tim explaining things a step further to amplify the importance of having a project point person throughout the process of using what he calls the “public restroom theory.” It’s a wild analogy, but it hits home tremendously to anyone who tends to have lists of 100 “great ideas” being worked on by the firm. And for anyone who has felt the pain of turnover in their office, Tim talks about the mentality of “hire slow and fire fast,” along with the tools, training, and expectations being a key part in the onboarding process to set an employee up for success.

Background on Tim McKey

Tim co-founded Vista Consulting in 2009 with a vision to help plaintiff law firm owners reach their full potential. Tim has traditional CPA experience with local, regional, and national CPA firms. However, it is through Tim’s prior consulting practice that he found his passion. He has worked with many business owners assisting them with defining and attaining success in their business and personal lives.

Tim’s experience and interest allow him to assist Vista clients with developing a realistic vision of their firm into the future, creating a strategic plan to achieve that vision while working with firm owners in designing their desired lifestyle. Tim assists his clients in reviewing firm tax entity structure and accounting systems analysis, and financial reporting.

For more info on Tim McKey visit https://www.vistact.com/meet-the-team/tim-mckey.

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