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.
106 – Malorie Peacock – The Only Constant: Overcoming Change
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for her first episode since coming back from maternity leave to have a fitting conversation about change. They’ll take a look at different types of changes, including personal, business, law, and intentional ones, and discuss how to embrace them instead of being overwhelmed by them.
Starting with personal change, Michael asks Malorie how she dealt with the change of not working during her 3-month maternity leave. She shares how at first, she was a zombie (which I’m sure all parents listening can relate to), but once she and her husband got into a routine, she found it hard not to check in on her cases. And while she enjoyed her leave, she’s happy to be back doing the job she loves again, and Michael is also glad to have her back.
Michael then shares his experience of taking over the housework while his wife stays in the guest house with Covid. He had a referring attorney call him when he was trying to help his wife and sons, but he had to ask the attorney to call back tomorrow. He was nervous the attorney would take his business somewhere else, but after their discussion the next morning he realized everything would be fine. Malorie poignantly shares that the fear and anxiety we have about change is usually worse than what actually happens.
Continuing with business change, Michael reflects on his law firm growing and the inevitable turnover that comes with growth. He’s found that no matter how much effort you put into making your law firm a good place to work, there are other factors that can cause people to leave. Malorie agrees, adding that it’s just not realistic to expect everyone at the firm to stay forever. And when someone does leave, even those you thought would be with you their entire career, having the right attitude is the key to moving forward effectively.
Michael continues this topic by mentioning the book “No B.S. Ruthless Management of Profits and People,” assuring listeners that the title makes it sound worse than it is. There’s a section of the book which discusses the employee-employer relationship, saying you need to be realistic about that relationship and how people see you. At the end of the day, this is just a job for them. Malorie agrees and adds that psychologically, it’s a good thing if your employees expect to be treated well. It means they perceive themselves as people who work hard and are committed.
Michael then shares how he copes with drastic changes. He takes a 12-24 hour “mourning” period where he lets himself feel it and vents to someone trusted. After that’s done, his focus moves to how they can make it even better than it was before. Could the systems for that position be improved? Do you need to re-think how you structure the position completely? These are all questions you should be asking yourself for each employee turnover.
Moving on to changes in the law, Michael reflects on when he first became a lawyer, and they took the money out of workers’ compensation cases in the state of Texas. Then came the medical malpractice caps and other tort reform policies. Each time, there were lawyers who refused to change and faced serious financial struggles, and there were lawyers who got creative and found ways to adapt- sometimes resulting in them being better off than before the “bad” change. Malorie wholeheartedly agrees and adds that finding a group of lawyer friends to brainstorm with has been very helpful for her in these situations.
As Michael and Malorie begin to wrap up the episode, Michael praises Malorie for her positivity in the face of change and her ability to be creative and look for solutions. It’s something she partially credits to her natural personality,
105 – Keith Mitnik – Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with legendary Morgan & Morgan trial lawyer, podcast host, and author, Keith Mitnik, for a second time. They discuss Keith’s recently released book, “Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work from Winning Workups to Thumbs-Up Verdicts,” new voir dire techniques, and the importance of words.
Jumping right into the podcast episode, Michael asks Keith how he gets full damages on cases with no obvious villain. Keith shares a recent example where he framed everything around the statement, “It’s not about how much she’s going to get. It’s about what was taken, and what’s a fair value for what was lost.” He draws an insightful connection between our modern-day justice system and the “eye for an eye” justice system of the past. The “brutal” eye for an eye system was never about the punishment, but about recognizing fully what was taken from the person who was wronged. He’ll explain this concept to the jury, and the results are powerful.
Keith continues by explaining the evolution of his voir dire process over the years, including how and when he gets the jury to get a discussion going. He’s tried many methods throughout the years and shares their flaws, but feels very good about his current strategy, which he calls “The First Big 3.” He’ll set up voir dire with the story about full recognition, then start questioning the jury on the big 3 types of bias:
Feelings against this type of lawsuit.
Feelings against the non-economic part of pain and suffering.
Feelings against large verdicts.
After asking the jury about these 3 items, he’ll share the idea that it’s not about how much was taken, but how much was lost, and ask how it felt when they heard that.
Continuing this line of thought, Keith adds another change he sometimes makes to his voir dire, which is asserting that the jury’s job is not to assess the income of your client – it’s about the value of his or her health, which is way more precious than income. These changes have made for a great dialogue between Keith and the jury.
Michael then asks Keith about something he loved in the book – having the client create a list of the “little things.” Keith explains how we often base damages around the big things that are important to the client – but especially with hobbies, those things are rarely important and are often unrelatable for the jury.
To assist with this process, Keith gives clients a small notepad and a homework assignment- to write down every little thing they notice has changed due to their injury. This includes things they continue to do but in a different way and things they do but now it hurts. Then, he’ll sit down with the client to choose a list of the best ones. By the time the client is deposed, the client is able to readily provide a laundry list of relatable examples of how the crash has changed their life, and the defense lawyer is highly motivated to settle the case.
This leads Keith to share a brief but heartfelt story of a recent trial where he decided to ask the jury in voir dire about race, and why he plans to do it again in the future. It’s a story sure to resonate with any trial lawyer hesitant to bring up a sensitive topic in voir dire.
If you follow Keith Mitnik, you know he’s a man of many words – a self-proclaimed “word nerd.” So Michael asks the next logical question – why do words matter, and how does he come up with the words he uses? Keith explains the process he uses to find the best anchor words, where he circles any words he feels might not be the best, then turns to one of his many trusty thesauruses to see what else is available (He recommends either a href="https://apps.apple.
104 – Jamal Alsaffar – Sutherland Springs: The Untold Story of a Foreseeable Tragedy
Warning: This episode contains details of the Sutherland Springs massacre. Portions of the show will cover issues of domestic violence, gun violence, and content that may be disturbing to some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.
This episode is dedicated to the memory of all those whose lives were taken in the Sutherland Springs massacre, the survivors, and their families.
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial lawyer Jamal Alsaffar, who served as lead counsel representing the victims of the Sutherland Springs massacre vs. the United States Government, obtaining a $230,000,000 verdict.
They begin the episode with a look at Jamal’s background. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he moved to Austin to go to college, where he met his now wife and law partner. Today they are both partners at National Trial Law in Austin, Texas, along with Jamal’s mentor, Bill Whitehurst. Jamal has tried numerous personal injury cases involving medical malpractice and catastrophic injury but has found a rare specialty in Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) cases.
Michael then quickly asks Jamal how he got started in FTCA cases, as it is notoriously difficult to sue the federal government. He shares how his first FTCA case was a birth injury case at an Army hospital. Even though he had many hoops to jump through, he ended up obtaining a very favorable verdict and realized that military families weren’t receiving high level trial lawyer representation in their cases. From there, his practice spread, and now he tries FTCA cases all over the country.
As Jamal lists the many requirements to try FTCA cases, it’s clear why there are so few lawyers who specialize in them as they are fraught with land mines.
The tone shifts somber as Michael asks Jamal about what happened in the Sutherland Springs shooting. He describes how on November 5th, 2017, a former Air Force member walked into a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where he opened fire. 26 members of the congregation were killed, and 22 were injured. While this man was in the Air Force, he was convicted of multiple felonies involving domestic violence and put in jail. Federal law requires that the agency who convicted him report the felony to the FBI’s background check system, but the Air Force did not. Because of this, the shooter was able to legally purchase firearms and ammunition at Academy Sports, which he used to commit mass murder.
Diving into the legal difficulty of a case like this, Michael asks Jamal what legal challenges he faced with holding the federal government liable on tort liability for someone failing to report criminal convictions. Jamal shares how they faced a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on this issue, and the government’s defense was they cannot be held liable for this failure to follow federal law. But as Jamal successfully retorted, of course they can.
As Jamal puts it, at the end of the day, they didn’t have an excuse for not reporting this felony. In fact, as they learned in discovery, this was not a one-time clerical error. There was a documented 30-year history of the federal government not reporting felonies to the FBI’s background check service on a massive scale. Various internal warnings noted between a 30-50% failure rate, which was even worse at the base the shooter was stationed at in New Mexico – where many employees didn’t even know they were required to report. This was clearly a systemic problem which had been going on for a very long time.
“What we found was a 30-year history of the federal government not reporting on a massive scale.” – Jamal Alsaffar
Michael asks if the government has since done anything to fix this problem, to which Jamal replies with two powerful examples:
* In the Air Force alone, there were over 5,000 unreported felons. As a result of this litigation, all 5,000 of those have now been reported.
103 – Delisi Friday – A Bittersweet Victory: Post-Trial Discussion
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday for a raw, honest conversation about his (very) recent jury trial win where the number was not what he wanted.
“When you try hard cases, you don’t always get what you want.” – Michael Cowen
They begin the podcast episode with the facts of the case. They were in federal court in Laredo, Texas, a community with a huge trucking and logistics industry. Their client was rear-ended by a truck at only 5 miles an hour. Initially, the client was diagnosed with only soft tissue damage, but later discovered a herniated disc that required surgery. This was argued by the defense to be a pre-existing condition, which the jury ultimately agreed with, only awarding enough money to cover the medical bills before the surgery.
As Michael explains the largest offer they received was only $25,000 during the trial, when the jury verdict was $80,000, Delisi asks Michael why he feels this is a loss. He breaks it down into 2 reasons: 1) he doesn’t feel the client is materially better off because they went to trial, and 2) he believes the case is worth a lot more than the result.
With that being said, he recognizes the challenges he was up against – low property damage and medical treatment gaps. When you try cases like this, he argues you’re not going to win them all. He tried the case well and gave it everything he had, but it didn’t go his way this time. He compares this to the Bengals, a great football team, losing the Super Bowl this year. At the end of the day, they’re still a great team.
“You’re not always going to get a home run every time you get up to bat.” – Michael Cowen
One of the biggest hurdles in this case was the low property damage. Delisi asks Michael about the challenges of them, and what he does to overcome them. Michael emphasizes that low PD cases are always a challenge because they fail the “oh shit!” test. When you have a picture of a vehicle after the wreck that causes people who see it to say, “oh shit, are they okay?” it’s much easier to try than when you don’t have that initial reaction.
Michael shares the strategy he used in this voir dire, which acknowledged both potential outcomes of a wreck – where the vehicle can look really bad but the person is okay, and where the vehicle can look almost completely fine but the person is very injured.
Delisi then asks Michael about his mindset going into this trial. Michael reiterates, as he has in many past episodes, his mantra for trial – the judge and the jury want to do the right thing, and he’s going to have fun (which he did). But as Delisi asks him why he didn’t want to go talk to the jury after the verdict was read, he says he’s just not there yet. He’s also not sure if it would have been helpful, given both his mindset and the gut feeling he believes the jurors made their decision off of. But even after this experience – he still trusts the jury and will continue to do so for his future trials.
“It feels like I asked someone on a date, they said no, and then I’m supposed to call them and ask why they didn’t want to go out with me.” – Michael Cowen
Changing the tone, Delisi asks Michael what he thinks went well with the trial. He shares how they ran a fast, smooth trial, he felt very comfortable and got to use two “new toys”, a King flip chart and a magnetic white board with cardboard vehicles , which he thinks were highly effective for the cost. He felt good about the cross-examination of their experts and the witnesses they decided to put on. He also explains how the client is a Spanish-speaker,
102 – Michael Leizerman – The Value of Life: Understanding What Was Taken
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with the Zen Lawyer, Michael Leizerman, for his second time on the show. They’ll cover the importance of language in trial, the difference between something being “taken” vs. “lost,” connecting with your client, Leizerman’s upcoming Zen Lawyer workshop, and so much more.
The episode begins with Cowen asking Leizerman how he’s doing, then immediately retracting the question because he just asked it. Leizerman says this is actually the perfect way to begin the episode, because they’re going to talk about habits. Phrases like “pain and suffering,” harms and losses,” and others have become the go-to for trial lawyers everywhere – but that doesn’t mean they’re the most effective phrases to communicate your client’s injuries. Instead, Leizerman encourages you to think about it a different way; how the defendant took something from your client.
Diving into further detail, Leizerman uses the example of how you feel when you lose your phone, versus when someone took your phone. When someone takes something from someone else, you feel like they need to either give it back or compensate them for their loss. In the personal injury world, there is no way for the defendant to give back what they took, so they must pay the value of what was taken.
This strategy also changes how the jurors see it. Jurors know it’s wrong for someone to take something. When you give them an active wrongdoer, and describe what they took, it can be very powerful.
Next, Leizerman shares the importance of describing what the defendant took from your client. This goes much deeper than the medical diagnosis, where most lawyers stop. If the client can’t work anymore or can’t play little league with their daughter, this goes down to the very state of their being, and you need to make this very clear to the jury.
“[The jury’s] sole job is to put a value on what was taken from [my client].” – Michael Leizerman
This discussion naturally flows into a topic frequently covered on the podcast – the case is about what we choose to make it about. Using the example of a herniated disc case, where the defense almost always claims there was degeneration prior to the incident, Cowen describes how he uses the treating doctor’s deposition to describe what the client’s life was like before the incident and what was taken from them. Leizerman loves this example and describes how he uses the defense’s medical expert to make the same point brilliantly, citing an impressive recent $10,988,000 jury verdict in a herniated disc case.
After discussing why it’s so important to spend time with a client in their own home, they transition to the concept called “companioning,” where you are present for someone’s pain without trying to fix it. Leizerman shares a deeply personal experience with his mother, who is currently in hospice, where he held her hand and sat with her for a long time. Applying this to lawyering, Leizerman says he has many phone calls with the client where he only speaks about 5% of the time. He simply listens, lets them speak, and every time they thank him for the conversation.
Cowen then adds that one of the greatest self-imposed sufferings in his life has been his “need to fix.” Over the years, he has gone on a journey to accept that his job is not to fix – it’s to get the client as much money as he can. Leizerman deeply relates to this feeling and gives it the term “empathetic distress.” Flipping the script, Leizerman then asks Cowen to dig a little deeper into how he’s coped with his need to fix. He gives an insightful answer and shares a meaningful example from a recent wrongful death trial, where the verdict gave the spouse such a feeling of validation. Leizerman agrees and had a very similar trial recently, where simply being heard was the most important thing for the client.
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.
As a young Plaintiff’s trial lawyer this podcast is one of my absolute favorites. Michael, Delisi, Mallory, and team are the real deal. The podcast episodes are always packed with great material/guests but they are also willing to respond to emails and answer questions. Recommend this podcast to any and all Plaintiff lawyers of any age or background.
Michael Cowen needs a new mic—he always sounds like he’s underwater.
The content is great though! Thanks
Insightful Perspective on Real-Life Trial Issues
I’ve been listening for a long time and feel like I know Michael, Delisi, Malorie and the rest of the team!! I truly enjoy Michael’s thoughtful, introspective discussion of his trial experiences, hearing about his own journey learning to trust the jury, and all of the accomplished and equally-forthcoming guests they have on for insightful conversation about the joys, sorrows and pitfalls of litigation. Thank you, Michael and team!!