transparency

99 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Pursuit of Happiness: Building the Attorney-Client Alliance

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by his law partner Sonia Rodriguez to discuss a topic sure to resonate with every plaintiff lawyer listening; What can we do to keep our clients happy?

The pair begins the episode with a look at why we want to keep our clients happy. While some of the benefits seem obvious, such as not having a grievance filed against you, getting positive reviews online, and gaining future business through their referrals, Michael and Sonia discuss this in more detail. Michael shares why you want your client to take your advice. And for them to do that, they need to trust you. Sonia agrees and adds that lawyers have a fairly low reputation in the eye of the general public. Clients come to you with this in the back of their minds, so it’s crucial to be upfront, honest, and transparent.

“If you have a client that trusts you, you can go forward with the case strategy as a team.” – Sonia Rodriguez

This leads them to discuss what makes clients unhappy with their lawyer. Sonia explains how the client is initially unhappy when they don’t know how the lawyer is getting paid. To alleviate this strain, Sonia makes a point to have a very frank conversation about the contingency fee and how it works during her first meeting with the client. In this conversation, she also makes it clear that case expenses are separate from the fee. Repeating this throughout the life of the case and making it nonchalant goes very far in building trust with the client.

Michael agrees and adds how crucial it is to fix your own relationship with money to have these conversations. He used to cut his fees all the time, without the client even asking. Sonia shares something that helps with her mindset – that the attorney’s fee isn’t all going into her pocket. It also pays paralegals, investigators, employee health care, etc. It comes down to valuing yourself and your services.

Michael and Sonia’s next topic of conversation is one of the most commonly filed grievances against lawyers – a lack of communication with the client about what’s going on with their case. To nip this issue in the bud, they’ve developed a system which requires a meaningful client contact at least once every 30 days (discussed in more detail in this fan-favorite episode with Malorie Peacock). In this phone call, typically conducted by the paralegal, the client is asked a series of meaningful questions and provided with an update on their case. It not only keeps the client informed, but it also helps the firm know when the client is struggling to keep up with his or her medical appointments. This helps move the case forward, adds value to the case, and helps ensure the client is happy.

After briefly discussing the commonly held belief that the attorney only cares about the money and how to combat it, Sonia asserts a powerful point; attorneys should not put themselves in the position of needing to make the client happy. With a personal injury claim can come a lot of anxiety and depression, and sometimes you can never make a client truly happy. If that is your goal, then you are setting yourself up for failure.

This leads them to talk about managing expectations with clients. Michael and Sonia both agree that bringing up any issues with the case early leads to a happier client in the end. Sonia frames it as not having a “crystal ball.” She will not tell a client early on what she thinks the case is worth. Instead, she tells the client what she “imagines the insurance company wants to pay them.” This is a great way to point out any issues in the case, while diffusing any potential rift between herself and the client and uniting them against the insurance company on the other side.

Michael adds that if the client thinks you need the money, they will doubt you when you advise them to settle. He then shares the powerful explanation that he gives to clients in this situation, where he makes it clear that he is able to take on the risk of going to trial but shares the downsides of doing so for the client.

While there can be a real, scary financial risk for young lawyers with a lot of money invested into a case, Michael shares his personal experience of losing his first $100,000 and his shocking reaction looking back on that experience. At the end of the day, choosing to settle on your advice or not is the client’s decision, and when you make that clear from the start, you don’t need to lose sleep over it.

“It hurts, but when you survive it… it’s a very liberating thing.” – Michael Cowen

Having to be the bearer of bad news comes with the territory of being a lawyer. Michael and Sonia’s next talking point explores the different ways they handle delivering this bad news without damaging the attorney-client relationship. Sonia shares why telling them in person immediately or, if possible, in advance goes a long way to salvaging and potentially even strengthening your trust with the client. She then shares a recent example where her client refused to answer a question in a deposition. Sonia pulled her aside and explained the risks. When the client chose to move forward, she understood a motion to compel could be filed; but it was a decision the client made, and Sonia supported her.

The pair wraps up the episode with Michael sharing a philosophy he learned from his New Mexico office partner, Alex Begum. At the end of the day, personal injury clients don’t usually know if the lawyer is doing a good job or not; but what they do know is how they feel when they interact with your office. Things like offering them a beverage, giving them a gift package, and not making them wait for a long time when they come to see you go a long way. And while the strategies mentioned in this episode won’t make everything perfect all the time, implementing them at your firm will help maximize client happiness over time.

“When you make people feel more respected dealing with your office than anywhere else in their lives, then they will like you.” – Michael Cowen

This podcast episode also covers why online reviews are so important and when you should ask a client for a review, why client happiness is more important in personal injury than most other practices, how to show a client you care about them and not just the money, and much more.

 

80 – Tim McKey – Peak Performance: Developing Systems for Optimum Success

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down for the second time with Tim McKey, co-founder of Vista Consulting. As a business consultant who works with law firms, Tim was welcomed back to the show to talk about the effects of COVID-19 on law firms, measuring success using KPI’s, organizational culture, hiring, optimum vs. maximum, new trends in the industry, and transparency at your firm.

Michael and Tim begin their conversation with a look at remote work and how to measure the performance of your team members when you can’t see them. Tim’s solution doesn’t vary whether or not there’s a global pandemic. He insists you should ALWAYS measure success using KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). This strategy focuses on the output of the employee, not the input. For example, a common KPI for a paralegal is to contact every client and conduct a meaningful check-in every month. Measuring this produces an objective number which can be used to evaluate performance and coach the team member on.

Michael then speaks to his experience using the KPI dashboard, and how he used to struggle to stay on top of it. Tim explains how the highest performing firms have somebody assigned to it, such as an Operations Manager. Some firms find success in the owner managing KPI’s, but Tim says it all comes down to what the owner is passionate about and good at. The goal is to remove as much of the other “fluff” as possible and hire great people to do the rest.

A brief discussion about the merits of having daily meetings leads Michael to ask Tim how to maintain culture when many are still working remotely. Tim explains that it’s even more crucial to intentionally develop culture when you’re not meeting in person. You do this through daily meetings, social events, strong core values, and reminding everyone of their part in the firm. After sharing an enlightening example of a receptionist and their huge purpose in the firm, Michael proudly recites his firm’s core values. He says them at the beginning of every meeting to remind his team members (and himself) of why they do what they do. This has also helped make decisions in the office and staying true to their values.

Tim adds that defining your core values makes the hiring process a lot easier, which leads Michael to dig deeper into Tim’s advice for hiring good team members. Tim insists that finding a good cultural fit is even more important than finding someone with the right skills, because it’s easier to train skills than values. His hiring process, which he calls “intentional hiring,” takes a LOT of time. He brings the prospective team member into the office, has them sit beside people, and explains to them in detail what their values and KPI’s are. Even with this lengthy hiring process, Tim says, “You’ll never bat 1000.” But, as Michael agrees, you can’t measure the cost of a bad hire. This thinking is why his firm is now creating an internal paralegal training program to help him continue to promote from within.

After a conversation that tied culture to college football, which will resonate with Alabama and A&M fans alike, they move on to discuss Optimum vs. Maximum, first in the context of intakes. Most lawyers saw a downturn in intakes during the pandemic, but Tim shares how there are two ways to a grow a law firm – get more cases, or add more value to the cases you already have. Citing The Dip by Seth Godin, Tim explains that while your reservoir of cases may be low, it’s not dry. Work on pushing the cases you DO have over the dam. Michael then ties this in beautifully to how far you push a case. It makes sense to push certain cases all the way to trial, but on other cases it’s better for the lawyer and the client to settle earlier on.

As a business consultant for law firms, Tim is always ahead of the curve when it comes to news and trends that effect how law firms do business. Something he’s keeping a close watch on is non-lawyer ownership of law firms, which recently became legal in both Utah and Arizona.  He and Michael discuss the possible consequences of non-lawyer ownership, most notably consolidation of firms into large national practices. Michael says he’s already noticed this happening in large markets, and he’s very glad he found a niche in trucking litigation. Tim agrees within the next 10 years, it’s going to become very hard to be a general firm if you don’t have a huge advertising budget.

Tim and Michael end their conversation by talking about transparency. Tim shares an enlightening “10% rule” that he encourages every lawyer listening to consider. And while he falls on general transparency as much as possible, he acknowledges some limits to that.

If you’d like to learn more from or work with Tim, you can visit his website, email him at tmckey@vistact.com, or call his cell at 225-931-7045. He also has his annual conference coming up May 6-7 in Dallas, Texas, which will have in person and virtual attendance options.

This podcast episode also covers a creative way to take advantage of the competitiveness of lawyers, why daily meetings and word choice are so important, the problem with traditional recruiters, developing “a discipline” in your team members, why Michael has two types of “clients” at his firm, deciding who can work remotely vs. who needs to work in the office, and so much more!

 

Scroll to top Secured By miniOrange