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101 – Laura Pazin Porter – Pushing Forward: The Journey to Partner

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael welcomes newly minted partner at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock, Laura Pazin Porter, to the show for the first time to discuss her path to partner.

They begin the episode with a look at who Laura is and her career leading up to joining Cowen Rodriguez Peacock in 2019. Laura shares that she’s originally from Florida, but moved to McAllen, Texas at a young age and has strong South Texas roots. She first moved to San Antonio to attend St. Mary’s School of Law and has lived there ever since.

After graduating law school, Laura started working for acclaimed plaintiff’s lawyer Tom Rhodes, where she stayed until his passing in 2018. While working with Tom, Laura shares how she learned the importance of attention to detail, keeping the momentum going on your cases, and the value of a team approach. She also had the opportunity to work with previous podcast guest Hans Poppe as well as Randi McGinn, who Laura was lucky enough to get to try a case with. Laura shares how she was immediately drawn to Randi’s interaction with the jurors and thoughtful use of visuals.

Michael then asks Laura about the transition and differences between working with Tom Rhodes and working at Cowen Rodriguez Peacock. Laura explains how the team structure was different there, with lawyers sharing a legal assistant and working together on the docket. Here, Laura has learned how to manage a team with an associate, paralegal, and medical coordinator, and has grown a lot in her leadership skills.

“Being the leader that I would want is really what I try to do when I approach a meeting.” – Laura Pazin Porter

In addition to adapting to a new team structure, Laura has had to learn a new area of the law in trucking and commercial vehicle cases. She believes the education she was provided with Cowen Rodriguez Peacock and an excellent, experienced paralegal aided in this transition. She and Michael then discuss how regular lawyering skills, she had already developed, applied in a new area. Michael adds that he believes there’s nothing harder than medical negligence cases, which Laura had lots of experience in when she first came here. In fact, Michael quotes Laura’s past boss, who once said that trucking cases were “nursing homes on wheels” because of the similarities in paperwork and procedure.

Another area where Michael notes Laura has grown is in her ability to make decisions confidently, and he asks if there was anything he and his firm did to help with that. Laura once again emphasizes the education, tools, and skills that the firm provided her. This increased her confidence in herself and made her more confident in her decisions. They discuss the access to JJ Keller trainings for truck drivers, the firm’s weekly Case Valuation roundtables, the yearly Big Rig Boot Camp and more. She also shares that she is grateful for the lawyers who provided her with resources and forms to get started, so she wasn’t starting from scratch.

After a brief look at some of the amazing case values Laura has obtained recently and how she did it, they move on to discuss some of the rules Michael has at his firm, discussed in more detail in this episode with partner Malorie Peacock. Laura shares how these rules may be time consuming, but she has come to learn why they all have a purpose, and she finds herself in a better position to accomplish her goals when they are followed. Michael adds that he has been working a docket again recently, so he’s had to follow his own rules for the first time. He agrees they can be a pain, but that little pain now will save A LOT of pain later.

“The stressed-out brain does not make good decisions.” – Michael Cowen

Circling back to training opportunities, Michael and Laura discuss the long-term value of hiring skilled litigation and trial consultants – you pay them once to work with you on a case, but you have the knowledge they provided you with you in every case going forward. Michael then shares how he is often asked why he spends so much time and money on training, since the lawyers could leave the firm at any time. His philosophy is simple, and he explains it well – he wants to have good lawyers everyone else wants to steal, but for those lawyers to choose to stay.

“I really want a firm that everybody in town is trying to steal our people, every day. I want every lawyer here to be recruited constantly, that every other firm wants them. And then I also want them to not want to leave.” – Michael Cowen

This leads them to discuss how they balance their workloads. While some firms require lawyers to work Saturdays, Michael has a different approach which allows more flexibility, which Laura appreciates. They both agree that sometimes it’s necessary to work late or work weekends but allowing the lawyer to decide what works best for them has led to a much better work life balance for Laura.

They end the episode on a slightly personal note, discussing how they balance their work, spouses, and kids. Laura shares how her and her spouse both have strong work ethics, and it helps them understand each other’s needs. Michael then quotes Randi McGinn, saying that “You can have it all, just not at the same time,” which is his philosophy with this. He’ll work late sometimes, but not all the time. He’ll take long vacations with his family, but not all the time. They agree that it’s all about finding the balance in whatever way works for you and your family.

This podcast also covers how Laura is getting fantastic case values, what she’s doing to develop her new associate, how to find the balance in your workload, and much more.

 

98 – Delisi Friday – Scaling Your Law Firm, Your Way

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down once again with his Chief Marketing Officer, Delisi Friday, to discuss law firm growth and how they’ve scaled their firm over the years in the way that best suited their goals.

The pair begins the episode with a look at the motivation for their most recent hiring expansion and how they knew it was time to grow. Delisi shares her frustration on the marketing and intake side, where she would receive a new case and have to decide between overwhelming an attorney with an already large docket or rejecting a case she would normally accept.

Michael echoes this sentiment and adds that rejecting “bread and butter” cases from referral partners was hard to do at times but needed to be done to ensure that the proper time and care was being put into existing cases; and that his staff was not going to be stretched too thin. This is how they knew it was time to hire 3 new associate attorneys.

“I always want to market our firm honestly, and I want us to fulfill our promises as well.” – Delisi Friday

Following this, Delisi asks Michael how he knows when the firm needs to grow and how to figure this out. Michael breaks down his answer in two points:

  1. “If I see the workloads on my people are becoming unhealthy.”
  2. “If [I’m] having to turn down things [I] wish we could keep,” paired with asking yourself, “Am I having to turn down enough things that justify hiring someone else?”

Adding onto these points, Michael says he saw that his firm was at the point where they had to hire more lawyers or start saying “no” to cases at a rate that he felt would damage his referral relationships. To this, Delisi brings up the firm’s weekly docket discussions. During these meetings, she not only brings up the number of cases on attorney dockets, but also the phases of those cases to properly assess if they have the bandwidth for more cases. Michael then discusses doing something similar in his monthly attorney development meetings and adds that a further challenge is getting lawyers to trust him enough to tell him when they are overwhelmed.

“I have to prove to them that I’m worthy of their trust … [by taking] steps to help and not punishing them for being overloaded.” – Michael Cowen

Delisi then asks Michael how he decides how he’s going to grow, to which he explains why he looks for what the pain points are and what type of hire would resolve them in the most efficient and logical way. This leads them to discuss the pros and cons of hiring an experienced lawyer, which has historically not had the best “hit rate” at their firm. This, according to them, is due to the firm’s established culture, procedures, and systems, which many experienced lawyers may find difficult to adjust to; having been trained in and working under different systems and procedures beforehand.

“I can’t do legal work, market the firm, and run a 33-employee firm.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then touches on the fear associated with growth; more specifically the fear of letting responsibilities go. He goes on to say that finding and hiring the right manager to cover those responsibilities and run with them is essential. By hiring and promoting the right people, such as his firm operations and intake managers, Teresa and Delisi respectively, most of those fears and anxieties have subsided while productivity and efficacy have only increased.

Building from this conversation, Delisi asks Michael what he’s learned along the way from scaling his firm and his advice for other lawyers, which he breaks down into 3 main points.

  1. Do you want to grow?
  2. Is this a temporary bump, or do you have a sustainable flow of business where it makes economic sense to grow?
  3. Do you have the cash flow to grow?

Throughout these points, Michael notes that growth is not for everyone, and it’s not the only way to build a successful and profitable practice.

“You should grow if it’s going to fulfill you, and if it’s what YOU want to do.”– Michael Cowen

Delisi then adds how every year, they seem to bring in roughly the same number of new cases without even realizing it, month-to-month. Michael clarifies that while this doesn’t sound like growth, the value of those new cases grows with each year, which reflects the growth model his firm follows. This is tracked through a concept learned from former podcast guest Chad Dudley, called the 5-Star Case Rating system, which assigns each case a star rating based on a variety of factors, and helps to accurately analyze a lawyer’s docket and the firm’s entire case load.

“We may have the exact same number of cases that we did last year, but the type of cases, the quality, and what our projected attorney’s fees are going to be vastly different.” – Delisi Friday

Michael then shares that growth isn’t always about adding more lawyers, but frequently requires more paralegals, marketers, or other positions. This leads Delisi to dig deeper into the onboarding and training process for all these new hires, especially the young lawyers.

Michael answers candidly, sharing how large the time commitment is to bring someone completely new and inexperienced up to speed. But, from his experience, the more time you put in up front, the better the outcome is in the long run. He elaborates on this sentiment by sharing his lengthy 3-step deposition training process with new hire lawyers, an incredible training strategy which everyone considering hiring young lawyers would benefit from hearing.

Delisi then references Chad Dudley’s podcast episode once again, sharing his fantastic quote about how being a great tennis player doesn’t necessarily make you a great tennis coach. This leads Michael to share that, while he’s a great teacher, he doesn’t see himself as a great coach, something Delisi commends him for realizing.

“We have a promise we make to our referral partners that if you’re nice enough to bring us in on your case, we are going to do the case to this standard. Which means I have to enforce those standards at my firm.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Delisi then discuss some of the challenges they’ve faced when hiring new lawyers. For the most part, it boils down to setting expectations and being willing to have tough conversations when those expectations aren’t being met. This has led them to their current strategy of hiring 3 lawyers who are all relatively young in their careers, something Michael has been very happy with, citing their energy and willingness to learn and adapt.

Delisi agrees and adds that these associate additions have required the senior attorneys to communicate more with each other, which has led to more idea sharing and even a hint of competitiveness, which has been fun and rewarding to see.

The pair wraps up the episode with their final thoughts on law firm growth. It’s been a wild, scary ride, but if you plan for it and grow at a rate you can handle while keeping an eye on your finances, it can be very rewarding.

This podcast episode also covers how to know when and why your lawyers are overwhelmed, why Michael likes promoting paralegals from within, a look at some of their past hiring mistakes, and so much more.

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