Trial Lawyer Nation

Trial Lawyer Nation

Trial lawyer nation is a legal organization, founder of Michael Cowen. In 2018 Michael created the podcast trial lawyer nation and hosts two episodes every month where he helps share industry knowledge for fellow plaintiff attorneys.

About Trial Lawyer Nation

In this popular trial lawyer nation podcast, Michael Cowen and his guests explore critical topics distinctive to the legal profession – specifically focusing on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.

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

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, 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 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!

45 – Peter Kestner – Money and Strategy with “The Janitor”

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with acclaimed author, speaker, and trucking lawyer, Peter Kestner, for a conversation on going up against insurance companies. Peter’s experience is somewhat unique having started out in the insurance industry working for the second largest trucking insurer in the country, handling truck litigation claims.

Then, after going back to law school, he ran an excess program for a sister insurer under the Travelers Umbrella with 30 of the largest trucking concerns with self-insured retentions (SIR’s) where he would audit their claims files to make sure they had proper reserves. In some cases when it was a high exposure case, Peter would have to interject himself into the case to settle it or make the decision to take it to trial. He was even nicknamed “The Janitor” because he would “clean the messes up.” Not long after, he made a change to become a plaintiff’s lawyer when he decided he wanted to help people instead of defending corporations. Michael points out that Peter’s background and experience from the other side is extremely valuable since he’s been on the other side valuing and negotiating the cases and helping make the decisions.

One of the first insights Peter shines a light on is how much the insurance industry has changed over the years in that they now operate more like the banking industry where it is focused more on getting the premium dollars in to the company versus being in the business of risk management. Peter explains, those are dollars the insurance company works the hardest to bring in, as evidence by all the marketing campaigns aimed at bringing in new customers. They then can use those dollars to invest where, unlike the banking industry, there is little regulation as to what they can put in their portfolios as they are regulated at the state level. He clarifies why this is important looking back to 1991 and the advent to Colossus and Allstate, when the McKenzie company did an audit and determined that Allstate was paying too much in claims and suggested they reduce the amount of third party liability settlements in order to increase profits. The assertion of this being that if an insurer can find ways to bring the number of claim settlements down and pay less in overall claims, it would be an acceptable risk when the practice results in a rare bad faith case against the company, keeping more money overall available to invest. It’s obvious that this strategy has worked, as Peter points out that the insurers have grown substantially to where they are now Fortune 100 companies with billions in assets.

The conversation throughout the bulk of this episode focuses mainly on a deep dive insight on a few cases Peter has encountered and how insurance factored into them. One case referred to several times in this episode is a fascinating case which involved a 63-year-old retired Seal Team 6 member who was hit by an 18-wheeler on a dusty road in Nevada. The details surrounding this case are particularly interesting when you consider the two trucks involved were from the same company and Peter’s client was found to have been 8 feet over the center line and they were still able to settle the case, after 3 days of trial, for a sizable amount. Other details, which you need to hear to believe, involved conflicting positions on who caused the accident from within the company (the driver of the truck and the official position of the company) where a Facebook post helped solidify his client was not at fault.

Peter and Michael give some amazing advice to those taking on trucking cases and how to handle insurance companies including: strategies on how (and why) to separate yourself from the insurance negotiations and trial discussions; defense counsel bluffs – how to spot and call them without getting taken advantage of; how to leverage focus groups to put together the best case for your client, even if it means not entering all the client’s injuries; how 5 seconds of hard data can (and did) defeat a defense theory; and so much more. This episode concludes with a discussion around the top things Peter has seen plaintiff’s lawyers do which ends up leaving money on the table. His insider knowledge is extremely helpful when considering case strategy and the whole episode is worth listening to several times over.

 

BACKGROUND

Peter Kestner has extensive experience with truck accident cases, both as a private attorney and representative for trucking insurers. He is a co-founder of the law firm McEwen & Kestner.  Prior to founding his law firm, Peter served for 10 years as a claims adjuster and litigation manager with one of the largest tractor trailer insurers in the U.S. Peter earned his B.S. from Skidmore College in 1989, and his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in 2001. Peter now uses his defense experience to represent individuals injured by the negligent acts of trucking companies.  Peter has also served as personal counsel to policy holders in disputes with their insurers as well as serving as an expert witness in insurance litigation matters. He is the past-chair of AAJ’s Interstate Trucking Litigation Group, Chair of AAJ’s Bus Litigation Group, sits on the Board of Regents for the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, he is on the board of directors of Minnesota Association for Justice and he also holds a CPCU professional designation in insurance. He has litigated truck accident cases in 19 different states in both State and federal Court.  He is also Board Certified in Truck Accident Litigation by the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA)

  • Past Chair AAJ Trucking Litigation Group 
  • Chair AAJ Bus Litigation Group 2017-present
  • Co-Chair, Amicus Curiae Committee, AAJ Trucking Litigation Group 2011-present.
  • Minnesota Association for Justice Board of Directors 2012-present.
  • Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys- Board of Regents

 

LEGAL BACKGROUND

  • Admitted to Bar, 2001, Minnesota and US District Court of Minnesota
  • Appeared Pro-Hac Vice in Trucking Cases in the following jurisdictions: District of Colorado, Western District of Kentucky, Wyoming State Court, New York State Court, Iowa State Court, Illinois State Court, Wisconsin State Court, Kentucky State Court, South Carolina State Courts, District of North Carolina, Nevada State Court and North Dakota State Court, District of Utah, Texas State Courts, North Dakota State Courts, South Dakota State Courts, District of Mississippi.
  • Education: Skidmore College (B.S. 1989); William Mitchel College of Law (J.D. 2001)

 

PUBLICATIONS AND LECTURES

  • Speaker: AAJ Summer Convention, Understanding the Transport Cycle, Summer 2019
  • Speaker: AAJ Jazz Fest, Negotiation Matters, Winter 2019
  • Speaker: New Jersey Association for Justice, The Defense Perspective, Spring 2019
  • Speaker:  Stratford Webinar- Finding the Hidden Motor Carrier, Fall 2018
  • Speaker: Kentucky Association for Justice- The Broker Defense, Summer 2018
  • Speaker: AAJ Members Only Truck Group- Trial of a Punitive Damage Truck Case
  • Speaker:  New Jersey Association for Justice: Maximizing the Recovery in Truck Cases, Spring 2018
  • Speaker: 2018 Winter Convention AAJ, Negotiations Matter
  • Speaker: National Board of Trial Advocacy, Summer 2018) (Understanding Broker Cases
  • Speaker: Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, Summer 2018- (Understanding the Transportation Cycle
  • Course Chair and Lecturer- AAJ Trucking College, Spring 2018
  • Course Chair/Moderator:  AAJ Annual Convention, Summer 2017, Trucking Litigation Group.
  • Speaker: Ohio Association for Justice, Spring 2017- Trucking Insurance
  • Speaker: Florida Justice Association Winter 2016: Hell on the Highways, Maximizing the Recovery in Trucking Cases
  • Speaker: ATAA Fall 2016 “Truck Insurance 101”
  • Speaker/Course Chair: 2016 AAJ Trucking College
  • Speaker:  “Rules in Trucking Cases” (AAJ Summer Convention 2016)
  • Speaker: “Mediating the Trucking Case” (Minnesota Association for Justice May 2016
  • Speaker: “Maximizing Settlement in Auto Cases” (360 Advocacy Seminar Spring 2016).
  • Speaker: “Understanding the Transportation Cycle” (New Jersey Association for Justice-Boardwalk Seminar 2016)
  • Speaker: “Mediating Trucking Cases” (Minnesota Association for Justice- Spring 2016).
  • Co-author: “Potential Source of Recovery in Commercial Trucking Case”  The Advocate, Vol. 41 #5 (Kentucky Justice Association Sept./Oct 2013)
  • Author- “SIR vs Deductible” (AAJ Insurance Section Newsletter Fall 2015)
  • Speaker: “Discovery In Trucking Cases” Webinar (Fall 2015)
  • Speaker: “Insurance 101” (New Jersey Association for Justice Spring 2015)
  • Speaker: “Insurance 101” (North Carolina Association for Justice, Spring 2015)
  • Author- “Broker Liability for Negligent Selection of an Independent Contractor”, Minnesota Trial, Volume 37, No. 4 (Minnesota Association for Justice Fall 2012).
  • Author- “Broker Liability for Negligent Selection of an Independent Contractor”, Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Newsletter (Fall 2012)
  • Author- “The MCS-90 Endorsement: No Coverage? No Problem, Minnesota Trial (Minnesota Association for Justice Summer 2008)
  • Author- “Trucking Insurance Chapter” Truck Accident Litigation, 3rd Edition, (American Bar Association 2012)
  • Speaker- “Debunking the Broker Defense” Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Broker Shipper Liability Seminar, October 2013
  • Speaker- “Debunking the Broker Defense” Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Broker Shipper Liability Seminar, June 2013
  • Speaker- “Finding all Defendants in Wrongful Death Trucking Cases” Minnesota Association for Justice Wrongful Death Seminar, May 2013
  • Speaker- “Technology in Trucking Cases” New Jersey Boardwalk Seminar, April 2013
  • Speaker- “ Insurance Company Rules” 360 Advocacy Group, Trucking Litigation Seminar, May 2012
  • Speaker- “ Insurance Company Rules” Kentucky Justice Association, Trucking Litigation Seminar, June 2012
  • Speaker- “ Insurance Company Rules” Tennessee Justice Association, Trucking Litigation Seminar, March 2012
  • Speaker- “Maximizing Your Recovery: Finding Insurance Coverage, Minnesota Association for Justice Successfully Litigating the Commercial Truck Case, November 2010
  • Speaker- “Insurance Company Rules: Strategies for Maximizing Recovery- IPITLA Seminar, September 2009
  • Speaker- “Defense of Trucking Cases, Why Commercial Motor Vehicle Cases are Different, May 2007

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

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, 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 episodes 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.

40 – Ken Levinson – Focus Groups and Metaphors

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Ken Levinson, a successful trial attorney who is also very active with his trial consultant focus group practice, for a discussion on how his unique practice is getting big results in the courtroom. Ken selfishly loves his “split practice” primarily because of its process of constant learning which comes with both sides of his practice, noting that he’d never want to give either of them up.

The conversation begins by exploring focus groups, as Ken talks through how they help in cases because lawyers are able to find out what resonates with people and then test it before ever stepping into the courtroom. “Over time, I’ve learned the better approach is to accept what people tell you. Listen, and in a neutral way, find out what’s going on.” Ken goes on to say “I don’t want to fall in love with my case or a witness or a theory without really stepping back and almost looking at your case in a different way” which is exactly what focus groups help him do while pointing to the teachings of Michael Leizerman [link to Michael Leizerman episode] of needing to have a “Zen mind” or a beginners mind. He adds “I think we get lost in the language of being a lawyer and I’ve really tried to train myself to talk like real folks in everyday life about our cases.” Michael then points out how it is incredibly important to be yourself, noting the power that authenticity brings to human communication both inside and out of the courtroom.

After working with so many great lawyers, Michael wonders what Ken has seen separates the good from the elite. Ken points out two factors he’s seen in elite lawyers: 1. They know their cases inside and out and although they may seem to talk very casually about things in the courtroom, they actually work extremely hard; and 2. The better trial lawyers he’s gotten to know are always learning. Ken goes on to point out there are some firms he might do 20+ focus groups for in a given year, and although they have been getting multi-million dollar verdicts for decades now, they are always learning, testing, reading, revising, and thinking about how to improve.

Michael speaks to his own experiences on learning and how over the years, while there are some basic human things that don’t change, many things do change over time and thus, lawyers need to be open to continuing to learn in order to be effective in the courtroom. Ken follows up to describe some of the other things he’s doing to continually get better, such as reading a lot on decision-making, psychology, and metaphors, then discussing what he’s learned with friends and colleagues, testing things for himself in focus groups, case preparations, depositions, and in the courtroom. He also goes to seminars and holds in-house trainings. Ken also discusses some of the ideas he’s learned from R. Rex Parris [link to Rex episode] on metaphors and how he’s been able to incorporate them into his courtroom proceedings.

Talking more about Ken’s experiences with focus groups and testing theories within them, he describes a few exercises he’s used to better understand the imagery that focus group juries associate with their case using simple techniques. Then he takes things a step further to discuss the findings, one-on-one, with the focus group participants. Through this process, he’s discovered many great metaphors and images that have helped his cases as well as some that needed to be tweaked or reworked for a case, noting that it’s better to find out and understand things which can negatively impact your case prior to trial, than during it, of course.

Beyond running his law firm and focus groups, Ken has also written books and articles, which begs the question – how does he have time for all of this? Ken describes his methods of time management which include getting up several hours before his wife and kids, but also includes time blocking and scheduling things based on his own understanding of the best times for him to get work done, which he details more in this episode. Michael also talks through the structures he’s implemented in his life and his firm to help to “move the ball forward” toward accomplishing his goals.

Michael turns the conversation toward what lawyers can do to set themselves up to achieve their goals, whether it is getting a $43 million verdict or a $6 million settlement, to which Ken turns the table a little bit and points out some great advice he had heard from Michael about taking on the right cases and turning away the others. Michael elaborates on this point and discusses the juxtaposition of the normal mentality associated with turning down cases, which really hits the nail on the head in terms of getting more of the types of cases lawyers want to get and building their practice.

Their conversation rounds out in a discussion revolving around the terms Ken has seen come up over and over in focus groups involving trucking cases specifically. Ken talks about terms he’s found to be important to focus groups and juries alike such as “professional driver,” and ideas revolving around vision and forgiveness. Truly insightful information that Ken discusses more in depth, which not only brings perspective to trucking cases at their face value, but also the impact focus groups can have in helping to bring another element of humanity into our cases by getting the perspectives of what’s important in the eyes of others.

 

BACKGROUND

Ken Levinson is a passionate advocate for accident survivors and child safety. For more than 20 years, he has represented disenfranchised clients against corporate giants. By using the law, the court system and his skill as a lawyer, his goal is to level the playing field for those facing the most challenging times of their lives.

 

Leadership

  • Former Section Chair of the American Association for Justice  Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section
  • Vice Chair of the American Association for Justice Trucking Group
  • Board Member of the American Association for Justice National College of Advocacy
  • Co-chair of Overcoming Jury Bias Litigation Group
  • Regional Coordinator of the American Association for Justice Chicago Student Trial Advocacy Competition
  • American Association of Justice Board of Advocates
  • American Association for Justice Law Schools Committee
  • American Association for Justice Voter Protection Committee
  • Committee Chair of the American Association for Justice Litigation Group Coordination Committee
  • Press Advisory Board American Association for Justice
  • Chair Chicago Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee

Ken also serves as chair of the section’s Practice Resources Committee, which compiles documents such as pleadings, research, expert reports and other information that might be helpful to fellow trial lawyers. As part of AAJ, Ken acts as Secretary of Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway, and Premises Liability Section and Chair of the newsletter committee; he has served as Education/CLE Vice-Chair of the Trucking Litigation Group (2014–2015) and Co-chair of Publications Committee (2013-2014). Additional memberships include the Chicago Bar Association, where Ken has also been the Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee Chair from 2009-2019, Vice Chair (2008 – 2009), and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, where he is currently a member of its Board of Managers. Under ITLA, Ken is also a co-chair of the legislative committee. In 2010, Ken was elected to serve a three-year term on the Trial Lawyers College Alumni Board. He is currently serving on the editorial board of The Warrior, the Trial Lawyers College magazine.

Ken has written numerous articles for prestigious lawyer publications and spoken at dozens of conventions for trial lawyers and American Bar Association organizations. Ken also recently appeared on an episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast.

 

Honors and Awards

Ken is currently the Vice Chair of the American Association of Justice Trucking Group. Ken also formerly served as Chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section and  Illinois Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice, a designation that carries Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) Board status. He has been recognized by Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers magazines as one of the top attorneys in Illinois, including the Super Lawyers Top 100 in 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. He is the co-author of Litigating Major Automobile Injury and Death Cases, a two-volume reference series designed to help attorneys build strong cases for their clients by highlighting real-life case studies related to Major Auto Injury and Death. The book is published by AAJ Press/Thomson Reuters.

Named one of The 40 Lawyers Under 40 to Watch in Illinois by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company, Ken is among a select group of trial attorneys that has graduated from legendary lawyer Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College, which is dedicated to training and educating lawyers who represent people against corporate and government oppression. Ken is one of only 100 trial lawyers from Illinois selected for The American Trial Lawyers Association, where membership is by invitation only.

 

Education

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hobart College in 1989 and his Juris Doctor in 1992 from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Ken was appointed an Assistant Illinois Attorney General, representing state agencies and employees in civil matters, including both personal injury and civil rights cases. He has been admitted to practice before the Illinois Supreme Court and the Northern District of Illinois, United States District Court since 1992. Levinson is also admitted to the Federal Trial Bar.

 

Personal

Ken volunteers his time and resources to a variety of community and charitable organizations in the Chicago area, such as sponsoring the Tristin Speaks Benefit, which raised funds for autism awareness. Ken is a former member of The Citizens’ Council of LaGrange, a non-partisan community group that promotes better government through the recruiting and evaluation of candidates for local public office, having co-chaired the Council’s Qualifications Committee. Ken participated in the 39-mile, two-day Avon Breast Cancer Walk and the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer. Ken also supports Art in Motion, an event hosted by the Associate Board to raise funds for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now known as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Ken is an area native, born in Chicago and currently living in LaGrange, IL. He is happily married and the father of three boys, keeping him very active in youth and sports-related activities. One of his favorite pastimes is to go with his wife to their sons’ high school varsity games and in-state and out of state tournaments for basketball and volleyball.

Ken can be reached at all hours via email: Ken@LevinsonStefani.com

 

RESOURCES

How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman

Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers by Gerald Zaltman

Metaphors We Live By author George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

 

 

28 – Malorie Peacock – Storytelling in the Courtroom

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, 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 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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