valuation

88 – Malorie Peacock – The 10 Commandments of Case Management

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock, for a deep dive into their firm’s “10 Commandments of Case Management.” In addition to this, the two also discuss how they developed these standards for working up a case, how involving their team was essential to the long-term success of their plans, and how they intend to track progress moving forward.

Michael and Malorie begin the episode by jumping right into Commandment #1: setting up the initial client meeting. They discuss why meeting with the client in the beginning of a case is so crucial for building the attorney-client relationship, obtaining critical information to get the case on file, and making the client feel comfortable. They explain why the standard they landed on was to have the initial client meeting scheduled within 7 days of the case being assigned to a litigation team.

Moving on to Commandment #2, “the attorney will file suit within 60 days of the initial client meeting.” Michael begins by asking Malorie why he got talked into 60 days as opposed to his original thought of “within a week of having the file assigned.”

“I keep going back to the fact that these are minimum standards, so they’re something that we want to be able to apply in every single case, if possible.” – Malorie Peacock

Following up on this point, Malorie explains how one issue discussed on this topic was that the attorneys must meet with the client before filing the lawsuit; reiterating the importance of the initial client meeting and not only having it, but “getting it right.” The 60-day window allows for deeper research and investigation, as well as time to discuss with experts.

Continuing to the next Commandment (#3), the team discusses their standards for discovery; primarily written discovery and the involved mandatory disclosures. The standard ended up being to submit written discovery within 30 days of the date that discovery is allowed, depending on the rules and jurisdiction.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t encouraging people to just use forms; that we were still giving people time to think about it.” – Malorie Peacock

After a brief discussion, the team move on to Commandment #4, setting depositions. In this segment, Michael and Malorie explain that deposition dates should be scheduled within 45 days of when depositions are allowed to begin: again, depending on the rules and jurisdictions. “It’s making sure that we’re moving that ball forward to get the deposition scheduled,” Malorie says when discussing being aggressive with scheduling, adding onto this by stating, “delay is the friend of the defense … not the plaintiff.”

Commandment #5 establishes the team’s minimum standard of one file review per month. Michael then recites the detailed list of questions contained in these reviews, which, although they may seem extensive, are incredibly important to ensuring an effective file review.

Some monthly file review questions include:

  • Have we served all the defendants?
  • Do we need experts? If so, who have we hired or need to hire?
  • What should we do in the next 30 days to move this case closer to resolution?

Moving on from internal reviews and updates on a case, the team then discusses Commandment #6: client contact. These calls serve the dual-purpose of keeping the client informed as to the status of the case and what (if anything) has changed, as well as to check in with the client on a personal level.

“[Client contact] isn’t just talking to the client […] it’s a set of specific questions and information that need to be relayed to the client, and that the client needs to relay to us.” – Malorie Peacock

Commandment #7 is simply getting a scheduling order or, depending on the jurisdiction, a trial date; the deadline for this being 120 days from the time that the first defendant files an answer. “We do have some exceptions for this one based on what the court will allow and what the rules of civil procedure in that jurisdiction permit you to do.” The two continue this topic by going into detail on the exceptions they foresee regarding this commandment.

The next Commandment (#8) involves implementing a strategy to set appropriate settlement values for cases: “an attorney must present their case to the weekly roundtable before sending a demand or engaging in settlement negotiations.”

Malorie happily steps forward to discuss this commandment, citing it as “one of [my] favorite things we’ve implemented this year.” Malorie explains how during these roundtables, Cowen Rodriguez Peacock lawyers present their case(s) with the purpose of discussing the case and valuation with the team, with the goal of gaining insight and learning from those with more experience.

Michael moves on to one of the self-confessed “least popular” yet still important Commandment (#9): attorneys must submit a report 90 days before the expert deadline and 90 days before trial, to be filled out and submitted to Michael. The importance of this commandment can be summarized by this short but sweet quote from Michael on the subject.

“Less than 90 days, you don’t have time to fix things.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Malorie continue the discussion of their firm’s commandments with #10: any case that might go to trial, the attorney must set a pre-trial meeting with Michael at least 60 days before the discovery deadline.

“I want to be able to brainstorm with people, come up with exhibit ideas, come up with testimony ideas, but I need to do it at least 60 days before the discovery deadline because [invariably] I come up with ideas that require us to find additional witnesses, documents, visuals, those kinds of things. You need [those items] created, found, and disclosed to the other side in time to use them for trial.” – Michael Cowen

The episode closes with Michael and Malorie adding that an important factor that cannot be overlooked when discussing the standards presented in this episode is the inclusion of the team’s input during the creation of said standards.

“We turned down people’s ideas, we accepted people’s ideas, but we all had a long, lively conversation about it. At the end, I think everybody agreed with every single standard on the list because they felt heard out, and now they understand the perspective of it.” – Malorie Peacock

This episode also discusses the star rating, the fine line between too much detail and not enough, pre-trial checklists, and more.

 

86 – Joe Fried – Challenging Your Paradigm

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with our first podcast guest, Joe Fried of Fried Goldberg LLC in Atlanta, GA, and The Truck Accident Law Firm in Jacksonville, FL. He and Michael discuss everything from challenging your paradigm and evaluating your relationship with money, to utilizing curiosity, skepticism, honesty, and vulnerability in the courtroom.

Michael and Joe jump right into the episode by discussing Joe’s incredible set of case settlements in 2020. Michael opens by asking how Joe managed to get more money on these settlements where others with similar case facts have received less. The two share a laugh with Joe’s response of, “Well, if I can just figure that out Michael,” before getting to his thoughts. Joe attributes his “big change” to challenging his valuation paradigms. He talks about self-justifying why he wasn’t getting the results he wanted, citing such instances as venues, blemishes on cases and insurance situations, and then discovering this was feeding own limiting beliefs. Joe elaborates on this by delving into where his beliefs formed.

  • Law schools neglecting to teach how to value a case.
  • Basing value on our venue or mentor paradigms.
  • Blind adherence to insurance companies’ value.

He began questioning these beliefs and was struck by the realization that he had bought into a paradigm that was NOT of his own making and never challenged it. He says this is the beginning of what needs to be talked about and where we need to challenge why we believe what we believe.

“What’s the value of a death case? What’s the value of a broken arm case? Who said that’s the value, and WHY do they get to say it? Step #1 needs to be to challenge your own paradigm.” – Joe Fried

Joe elaborates by saying he doesn’t like asking for money, not even for a fundraiser, and especially not in front of a jury. He talks about the “money messages” he received growing up from ‘you shouldn’t talk about money’ to ‘it’s rude to talk about money’, and how he examined these things for the first time. He explains how he’s still on the journey and tries to look at these beliefs with a fresh perspective.

“If it’s real that our client is going through something that causes them pain every day… if that’s REAL, shouldn’t it be huge?” – Joe Fried

Joe then brings up a very insightful question concerning case value, so it makes the case real and personal. “What would I think the value is if what happened happened to the person I love most in the world. If it’s worth that for my loved one, then shouldn’t it be worth that for the client? Why should it be different?”

Michael follows up on this by asking Joe to talk about how he learns what his clients have gone through well enough to internalize and analyze. “It’s really hard to do that from behind your desk,” Joe responds. He elaborates by stating why you have to get into the client’s life and “really look around.” Interacting with the client, their loved ones, and even their not-so-loved ones can provide tremendous insight into their lives.

Joe talks then about case preparation and discovery being a journey, and more specifically, getting to a place where he’s able to take the jurors on this journey. He believes we should welcome juror’s skepticism because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, they’re probably the same feelings we had in the beginning. Joe believes these skepticisms are all opportunities to build credibility and should be embraced. He calls for us to be honest with ourselves and to bring our natural curiosity and skepticism to the table, which he aptly calls “channeling the jurors.”

“[You’ve got to do] whatever you’ve got to do to make it real, but the person who needs convincing is YOU.” – Joe Fried

Michael and Joe then move on to the importance of “feeling it” and communicating non-verbally over being “word-centric.” Joe comments how the struggle to find words to express what’s there is an art in itself. He then calls back to the journey of the case by saying part of that journey is translating these things to dollars and cents. He recommends believing in the value of your case and to practice saying your number; and not cowering in fear when confronted with the juror’s reactions. He believes this to be a necessary and “woefully underutilized” skillset.

Michael then shares his own relationship with money. He opens up about how he thought he was undeserving of money, money in this business was “dirty,” and how this belief led him to resist running his firm like a business. Luckily, by realizing this mindset and relationship with money were unhealthy, he was able to work on himself, get out of his own way, achieve success, and enjoy the success he attained.

“The credibility that comes from willing to be vulnerable and honest is DRAMATIC.” – Joe Fried

Switching gears, the two discuss working up cases; following up on a conversion they had when Joe came to San Antonio for a deposition. During that conversation, Michael asked if Joe was doing a trial depo or a discovery depo, to which Joe responded, “there’s no difference to me.” Joe explains there have only been a few times he has taken a depo he knew would go to trial. He believes if he’s going to maximize the result in a case, he’s only going to maximize the result in terms of settlement if he does his best to nail the other side in depositions.

The pair then move on to discussing motivation. Joe says that what keeps him motivated is finally feeling like he’s a good lawyer and can make a difference. He’s interested in seeing the success of his partners and associates, teaching other trial lawyers, and being involved on the industry on the safety side. He makes it a point to be able to teach others and challenges listeners to look for ways that go beyond monetary in cases to affect change through policy and procedures that will save lives.

Michael shares how he always feels guilt when settling a death case and reveals how getting a safety change made one of his clients feel better because it went beyond money. Joe builds on this by adding that his firm often contributes very directly to solutions at the settlement table. He welcomes everyone to consider the level of change and safety that could be attained if everyone contributed in this way on at least one case and closes with two challenges:

  • Take a sledgehammer to your limiting beliefs and examine your paradigm
  • We all have a duty to make a difference for the good of humanity

Michael chimes in with a third challenge to take care of yourself as a trial lawyer, and cites Joe’s 537-day streak on the Peloton as an inspiration. Joe responds by looking back on his 30-year career and how he went from an “athlete” to “anything-but-an-athlete” which affected his health. “[My motivator] was a life or death motivator,” Joe says while talking about his poor health during trying times. He cites the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear as defining how small changes over time lead to massive change in your mindset. Joe says that his renewed energy from his consistent and improved habits have positively impacted his practice and motivation.

Michael and Joe end the episode by recapping their three challenges to the listeners:

  • Change the way you think about cases and expand your mind
  • Change the industry and make the world safer in your cases
  • Take care of yourself while doing it

If you’d like to contact Joe Fried you can email him at joe@friedgoldberg.com.

Guest Bio

Joe Fried is considered by many to be the preeminent truck accident attorney in the country.  His office is in Atlanta, Georgia, but he has handled cases in over 35 states recovering more than $1 billion for his clients.  He is the Founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, former Chair of the American Association of Justice Truck Litigation Group, former President of the National Trial Lawyers Trucking Trial Lawyers and founding Chair of the National Board of Truck Accident Lawyers.  He is among the first lawyers to be Board Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in Truck Accident Law and sits on the NBTA Board.  In addition to his expertise in trucking, Joe is a former police officer with advanced training in crash investigation and reconstruction, human factors, psychodrama, storytelling and neurolinguistic programming.   He is widely known for his creative and unique approaches to preparing and presenting cases and for his ability to craft and present the compelling human story in each of his cases.  Joe handles a small number catastrophic truck crash cases at a time so he can focus his resources on achieving the best possible results for his clients.  He spends the rest of his time working as a trucking safety advocate, author and educator. Joe has authored books, DVDs and articles on trucking and litigation best practices, and has Joe given over 600 presentations on these subjects to lawyers, judges, and trucking industry stakeholders.

 

85 – Chad Dudley – Let Go To Grow

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with accomplished attorney and consultant Chad Dudley. Chad is a founding partner of Dudley Debosier, part-owner of CJ Advertising, and co-founder of Vista Consulting. He and Michael will discuss time management, developing and maintaining systems, coaching your attorneys, valuing your cases, and the #1 legal marketing strategy (Hint: It’s not what you think!).

Michael and Chad kick off the episode by discussing the question already on everybody’s mind: how does Chad find the time to own a 50+ attorney law firm and a 60-employee marketing agency? He explains how the two complement each other well, and the key has been to “Let go to grow.” When he started these businesses, he wore a lot of hats because he had to. Yet, as the businesses grew, he had to let go of the smaller tasks that could be handled by others; and to ensure those tasks are completed consistently, he’s developed systems for everything from depositions to file structure. This allows him to spend more time on things he enjoys doing, and more importantly, focusing on the things he needs to be the one to do.

Michael then asks Chad how to set those systems up. Chad explains how the first step in this process is based off the book “The First 90 Days”. You need to determine if the current status of your firm is startup, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, or sustaining success. You then start with a broad framework for a system, then work your way down to the details. It’s a very methodical process, but so worth it in the end.

Michael then shares a frustrating experience he had with a past consultant who was trying to prescribe him a system that was meant for a pre-litigation firm, when Michael’s firm was 90% litigation. Chad agrees that pre-packaged systems almost never work for law firms because of the diversity of practices and adds that the owner must determine what type of practice they want before building out any systems.

There’s a common attitude in the Plaintiffs bar that if you build out too many systems, you’re treating your firm like a McDonalds, and each client needs to be treated like an individual. Michael addresses this and adds that the more systems you have in the place, the more you can care for your clients and spend time on things like going to their house to get to know them on a deeper level. Chad agrees, citing the book “Discipline Equals Freedom,” and adds that systems allow you to focus on the relationship, be a better attorney, and deliver a better result to your client.

After an insightful look at why the boss needs to follow systems before his or her employees ever will, Michael and Chad discuss the challenges of transferring their vast knowledge to their employees. Chad shares that when you’re naturally good at something, it’s as natural as breathing; and you’ll likely skip some vital steps when teaching because of that. He encourages attorneys to have someone observe them doing the task, take detailed notes, and help you coach the other attorneys along the way.

Michael then brings up his personal struggle with sticking to the systems that he implements and asks Chad how he avoids doing that. He explains how he has a checklist that he follows for each new system, makes sure he explains why they’re doing it, sets out clear expectations, and designates somebody to hold people accountable. He monitors each system differently, depending on what it requires. When possible, he tries to monitor systems using dashboards and reports.

Chad continues by sharing an ingenious system to prioritize different projects and initiatives at your firm, using a point-based system that will resonate particularly well with the data-driven lawyers listening.

The conversation shifts to a look at Chad’s practice, Dudley DeBosier. With a firm as large as his, how does he keep the value high on his cases? Chad clarifies that they try to be what he calls a “hybrid” firm, which contrasts against low value/high volume and high value/low volume firms. To do this, it’s crucial to identify and rank your attorneys from best to worst, and a good way to identify great cases when they come in. Done give a “tier 1” attorney a very complicated case- it’s not fair to that attorney or the client.

Chad and Michael both hold regular meetings to assign cases a valuation in a group setting. This serves to motivate all the attorneys and bring out their competitive sides and to identify great cases (or bad cases) earlier on in the process. With the bad cases, it helps attorneys avoid spending too much time on them. Citing Vilfredo Pareto, Chad explains how 20% of your effort creates 80% of your results, which translates perfectly to personal injury cases. In fact, he’s found that many times 5% will generate 50% of your revenue and 20% will generate 80% of your revenue. The bottom 40% of your cases will only generate 1-2% of your revenue, meaning the time spent on them is a massive hit to your labor ratio.

The pair closes the conversation with a look at what marketing strategies are working right now. Chad gives a lengthy list of strategies but insists that the most important strategy is performing well for your clients. Strategies like TV ads will bring people to the “restaurant,” but if the food is bad, it’s not going to work. He and Michael agree that the best way to bring in cases is to do a good job working up the ones you have.

If you’d like to contact Chad Dudley regarding a case, marketing, or anything else, you can email him at cdudley@dudleydebosier.com.

This podcast episode also covers why high volume/low-value firms are dying out, why lazy law firm owners tend to have lazy attorneys working for them, finding a person at your firm to hold others accountable, why Michael likes to schedule depos right after the defendant answers, and a plethora of book suggestions! Visit our references page for the complete list of visit Chad Dudley’s bookshelf.

Guest Bio

Chad Dudley started Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers with his partner, Steven DeBosier and James Peltier in 2009. The firm now has over 50 attorneys with offices throughout Louisiana.  Chad also founded Vista Consulting with Tim McKey in 2009. Vista Consulting works with personal injury firms all across the country on all aspects of running a law firm.  Additionally, Chad is the CEO of cj Advertising, an advertising company that represents personal injury firms throughout the country. He is a nationally recognized speaker on the topics of law firm management, marketing and technology.

Chad can be reached at cdudley@dudleydebosier.com

 

70 – Malorie Peacock – The Method: Our 9-Step Process for Evaluating & Working Up A Case

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for an exciting preview of his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law. They’ll cover Michael’s 9-step method for case evaluation and detail each of those steps, so you can start applying them to your own case evaluation process.

They jump right into this episode with Step 1- initial triage. Michael explains how he derived the term from battlefield medicine, where patients are triaged based on the severity of their injuries and care is prioritized for the patients who need it most. He explains how trial lawyers only have a finite amount of resources, and the decision to put work into a case or not will effect more than just that case. It also takes those resources away from other cases and your personal life.

Michael then shares an example of how he used to work on automotive product liability cases, but his firm has since moved away from them. He has recently rejected five of these cases, even though they were all worthy cases someone will make money from. He chose to do this because these cases don’t fit in with his current docket, and there are other lawyers who will take them and excel at them because they do suit their dockets. Michael even sends his referral attorney to these other lawyers when the referral attorney brings him a case that he knows they will excel on – something that used to terrify him, but he’s since learned it builds an even stronger relationship between him and the referral attorney.

Before moving on to the next step, Michael clarifies that “Initial Triage” is NOT making a final decision on whether or not to accept the case. This step is simply deciding whether you want to look further into the case. In fact, Malorie clarifies that a lawsuit is typically not even filed until about Step 7 in this process.

Step 2 of “The Method” is to gather all the initially available information on the case. This information varies dramatically depending on the type of case it is, but the main goal of this step is to determine a general idea of the liability stories and issues with the case. Michael also explains the importance throughout this process of continually evaluating the case and asking, “Knowing what I know today, is this a case I would take?” If the answer is ever no, consider dropping the case. They conclude this step by discussing a recent example Malorie had of a case where the client was a great person and genuinely deserving, but the facts they discovered during this process made it a case that did not work on her docket.

Step 3 is to identify and analyze all potential immediate causes. Michael explains this as a brainstorming exercise where you record every possible immediate cause of the crash, even the causes that seem unlikely but are possible (for example, a bee in the vehicle). You then divide these potential causes into columns of “winners” and “losers.” Winners are causes which, if proven, help you win the case. Losers are causes which, if proven, mean you lose the case (or need to neutralize them).

After identifying the winners and losers in the case, you move on to Step 4 – conducting a root cause analysis. Michael explains how this concept was first developed by Mr. Toyota, the founder of Toyota Motor Company. Mr. Toyota decided that instead of fixing things when they went wrong, he would try to find the reason these things were going wrong by asking the “5 Why’s.”

To apply this to a case, you take the “winners” discussed in Step 3 and keep asking “Why?” until you find your ultimate root cause. Michael then shares an example from a rear-end case where he took the winner of “the truck driver rear-ended my client” and found “the company did not take the time or effort to train the driver” to be the root cause of the crash. He continues this process for every “winner” and develops multiple theories before he decides which theory he is going to use.

Malorie then re-emphasizes the fact that in an ideal world, you will not have filed the lawsuit yet at this point. They both agree there are times you need to file the lawsuit early to avoid any destroying of evidence, but if possible you should wait.

They move on to Step 5 – drafting the jury instructions. Michael shares how he used to feel doing this so early on was silly, but has since realized it really helps him design the case because he knows what he needs to prove. Malorie adds that doing this also better prepares you for depositions because you know what questions you need to be asking. She also emphasizes to not only look at liability instructions but also damage instructions. This all boils down to, “What do you have to prove?”

The next step in “The Method” is Step 6 – finding rules and anchors. These are authoritative sources for the rules, answering the question “says who?” Michael explains that this is one of the reasons he loves doing trucking cases, because there are so many rules and publications to use as anchors. The more sources that say a rule the better, because defendants are left with two choices: to say they know the rule and broke it, or to say they disagree with all those sources and have their own rule. Michael and Malorie then discuss numerous examples from different types of cases, showing that this method can be used on much more than trucking cases.

Malorie then asks Michael to clarify what an “anchor” is for those who don’t know. He explains an anchor as what you are “anchoring” your rules to. This is an authoritative source or publication of the rule, such as the CDL Manual, a driving company’s textbook, a store’s rules, an OSHA rule, and more. He then concludes this section by explaining how to arm your expert with these anchors to get the most out of their testimony.

Step 7 is to formulate the discovery plan. This is also where you draft the complaint or petition and plead what you need to get the discovery. For example, if you believe the root cause is negligent training, you need information to prove they have a negligent training system. Then, you formulate the discovery plan based on that. Michael cautions strongly against asking another lawyer for their interrogatories before drafting your own. You need to formulate your own based on your theories to prove what you need to prove. You can then use a form to double check and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Michael and Malorie then agree on a fantastic practice tip which makes this process a lot easier and discuss the importance of brainstorming with colleagues.

As discussed earlier, now is the ideal time to file the lawsuit. Then, step 8 is to continually re-evaluate the case. Malorie highlights the need to do this throughout each of the steps as well and to keep notes on what you’ve done so far to avoid repeating any unnecessary work. Michael then explains how as new facts, research, depositions, and discovery emerges, your initial root cause might not be the best strategy anymore and that’s okay. Malorie echoes this statement and adds that too many lawyers are afraid to ask for what they really want in discovery, and more lawyers should be specific and ask for specific documents referenced in other documents.

The above steps were mostly completed before you have all of the information about the case, which Michael cites to further emphasize the point that re-evaluation is key. He then shares some techniques he’s developed at his firm to ensure this gets done by all of his lawyers.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode with the final step in “The Method”- test the case. Michael explains how the method of which you test the case varies depending on the value of it and lists a number of unconventional methods to do this on a budget. He then lists the advantages and disadvantages of other more conventional methods, including in-person focus groups and online studies like John Campbell’s Empirical Jury. While no method is 100% accurate, they can give you a good idea of where you stand.

This podcast also covers why you should file a FOIA request immediately, how implementing “vulnerability-based trust” by Patrick Lencioni has helped his firm, how to disprove or neutralize “losers” in a case, how Michael applies parts of this method to his employees, why you should research rules BEFORE hiring an expert, why you need to be constantly re-evaluating your case, and so much more.

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