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.
74 – Ed Ciarimboli – Masked Justice: Part 3
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with fellow trial lawyer Ed Ciarimboli from Pennsylvania. Ed is part of the elite class of lawyers who have been able to take a case to trial in the COVID era. And with the final witness testimony being so monumental to the case that they settled immediately after he left the witness box, this trial story is one you need to hear to believe!
They begin with a brief discussion of Ed’s background and how he started trying cases. A partner at a 12-lawyer and 3 location firm, Fellerman & Ciarimboli, Ed mainly focuses on commercial motor vehicle cases. He got into the AAJ speaking circuit about 9 years ago, where he began to really hone his skills as a lawyer. It was a couple of years after that when he was told he needed to become great at trying cases. When Ed asked why, the other lawyer responded, “Because you’re the worst lawyer I’ve ever seen at settling a case.” So, Ed took the advice and has since focused his energy on being as comfortable as possible in the courtroom.
When asked to elaborate on what he did to develop his skills as a trial lawyer, Ed insists the biggest factor was his investment in his education. He urges young lawyers to do more than join a webinar- they should go to conferences and workshops to truly focus on the different aspects of trial and HOW they’re doing it. Body language and movement are crucial to a lawyer’s performance in the courtroom, and after working with a long list of consultants and gurus on these topics, Ed encourages everyone who wants to be a great trial lawyer to put the effort into this.
He then clarifies that this doesn’t mean following the dogmatic approach of one pro- it’s about learning the fundamentals (taking depositions, cross-examinations, etc.) then studying different approaches to storytelling and choosing the best one for your particular case. This approach requires much more work than a cookie-cutter strategy, but both Ed and Michael agree that it’s well worth the effort.
Michael then starts to dig into the facts of Ed’s case, which was unique and incredibly tragic. Ed explains how the defendant company purchased a huge molding machine from a broker. The defendant company signed the paperwork and assumed responsibility for the machine, then hired a crane company for the rigging and transportation of said machine. The crane company was told nothing about the details of the machine, notably the 55-gallon drum of hydraulic fluid still inside the machine. In the process of moving the machine onto the flatbed truck for transportation, the hydraulic fluid sloshed to the side and caused the machine to tip over onto Ed’s client, killing him instantly.
Ed then explains how they ended up suing the company who purchased the machine and shares how his extensive work on commercial motor vehicle cases set him up for success on this case. Ed knew the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations “100 million times better than the defense,” which he used to his advantage in placing the blame on the defendant company whose only real defense was, “We hired this company.”
Michael continues the conversation by asking Ed how jury selection was handled. Ed shares how voir dire was conducted in a large old theater instead of a courtroom in order to allow for safe spacing between the potential jurors. And while he admits he was more nervous for this jury selection than any he’s ever done before, the process went incredibly smoothly. He gives high praise to the judge, his jury consultants, and the jurors themselves, stating, “I truly believe we won this case in jury selection.” He also notes that the demographic composition of the jury pool was not skewed, something which will surprise listeners who believed COVID would cause people to resist sitting on a jury.
Ed then shares the setup o
73 – Pat S. Montes – The Secret Weapon: Your Client’s Story & The Human Experience
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his good friend and “secret weapon,” Pat S. Montes. A practicing lawyer herself, Pat has developed a consulting business where she works with lawyers and their clients to help the clients tell their stories more effectively. They’ll take an in-depth look at her process for depo and trial prep and why it is so effective (and healing) for clients to tell their whole story.
They begin by looking at Pat’s background and how she got into her consulting business. A proud Mexican American and one of six siblings, she explains how her upbringing was hugely influential to her and played a substantial role in her success. She goes on to share how she attended the Trial Lawyers College in 2002 where she realized then that she didn’t really know her clients or their voices. She began a long journey of research and self-discovery, attending countless seminars on psychodrama and storytelling. While Pat does not do psychodrama herself, she utilizes many of the same techniques in her practice. She focuses on getting beyond the client’s outer layer to their inner layer, so they can show the jury what’s really going on inside them.
Pat continues by explaining what psychodrama is, which she simply defines as “finding truth in action.” In this process typically used for group psychotherapy, the “star” (the client) acts out scenes and stories from their life while the present group connects with that experience. In relation to the legal practice and our clients, it is a way of being able to connect with other humans and other human experiences and “finding the truth in the story.” Pat uses role reversal, teaches the clients how to “concretize” their feelings, and more to help them translate their feelings into a story for the jury.
They move on to dig into Pat’s process for preparing the lawyer and their client for deposition. Michael begins this section by asking Pat how she discovered that putting something into action helps the client describe it better. She shares how this process gets the client convicted about how they feel and always begins by asking about the effect of the crash on the client’s life. Their immediate answer to this first question reveals a lot about who they are and how they’ve processed this life-changing event. She will then dig deeper into that answer to uncover the “whole truth,” a process which Michael has seen Pat do with his clients many times and strongly believes is incredibly important to the case, cathartic for the client, and vital for the lawyer to fully understand their client. Michael also notes the importance of the client being completely honest with the jury, because “juries have great b******t detectors” and will punish you if they sense you’re being dishonest.
Pat will then dig into the client’s “before,” something she thinks is crucial for the client to be able to explain vividly to the jury, saying “If the jury can feel the before, then the jury can feel the loss.” She goes on to say that it’s perfectly fine if the client’s “before” was less than perfect. For example, if the client was in a transition phase before the crash, the last thing they needed was a life-altering injury.
Another important part of Pat’s process is teaching the client how to describe their pain and how it makes them feel. This not only helps them explain it vividly to the jury, but it can even uncover injuries and ailments that have been unnoticed by doctors. She then explains how the lawyer should model this to the client by first describing a recent pain they’ve had. She provides her own example of dealing with Sciatica in such detail that listeners are sure to feel the exact sensation of her pain as she says it.
While this process is meant to build trust and understanding bet
72 – Delisi Friday – The Evolution of Our Marketing: What Worked, What Didn’t, & Where We Are Now
In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday to discuss their firm’s marketing strategies. They start at the very beginning of Michael’s career for a full-circle look at why they chose to market B2B (business to business) instead of B2C (business to consumer), what to look for in a marketing professional and a marketing agency, how to market without spending money, the pros and cons of working with a marketing agency, and why they decided to move their marketing in-house.
They begin the episode by explaining why they only market to other law firms (B2B) instead of marketing directly to consumers (B2C). Michael shares that he’s had people tell him he’s insane for only marketing to other law firms for referrals because he only gets part of the attorney fees, but he insists it works better for his firm’s needs. He explains how he used to do B2C marketing, but after putting pen to paper and analyzing the profitability of his cases, he found that even after paying out the referral fee, he made about 3x as much money per hour on the cases that came from referrals. He also doesn’t have to spend astronomical amounts of money to advertise on TV in an extremely competitive market.
Delisi and Michael then briefly touch on their experiences and struggles with the burgeoning area of digital marketing, before Delisi asks Michael about the evolution of his marketing prior to bringing a marketing professional into the firm. Michael starts at the beginning, dating back 20 years ago when he had practically no marketing budget. He tried numerous methods, from taking out an ad in the yellow pages, to writing a free book for consumers and buying a corresponding TV ad which was not very successful (he only gave away 10 copies to consumers. The rest were to other lawyers and judges).
Michael then reflects on his past in-house marketers and why they didn’t work out. He begins simply by stating, “There’s a lot of flaky people in marketing.” He goes on to explain how he is an “idea person,” so he needed someone with tenacity to balance him out and ensure his ideas were followed through on and not forgotten 3 months down the line. Delisi echoes this sentiment and adds that with marketing, sometimes you have to give initiatives time to see if they will work- something she calls both the “fun and scary” part of marketing.
Delisi then asks the question sure to be on every listener’s mind- what should you look for when hiring an in-house marketing professional? Michael first reiterates that he needed someone with tenacity to follow through on initiatives and adds that it’s important to find someone with the poise and class necessary to communicate with lawyers professionally. Many firm owners are tempted to hire someone based on their looks because “they can get in the door,” but he firmly believes finding someone who can fit in and have a conversation with referring lawyers is much more important for him. Delisi agrees and adds her personal experience with hiring assistants and interns – they can be inexperienced in legal but need to be able to communicate with lawyers and have strong writing skills to succeed long-term.
They then move on to discuss Delisi’s advice for lawyers who are just getting started with marketing and have a very small budget. She highly recommends sitting down and looking at where every single case you got this year came from. While the task is tedious, she insists it’s necessary in order to fully understand what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to do more of going forward. Michael agrees and urges listeners to focus on their relationships to gain referrals. Some lawyers are close with their pastors and have found success within their congregation. Others like Michael who focus on att
71 – Richard Newsome – Mixed Method Advocacy: A Hybrid Approach to Sharpen Your Trial Skills
In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his old friend and seasoned trial lawyer Richard aka Rich Newsome. Rich specializes in automotive product liability cases and is one of the top lawyers in this area in the country. They discuss Rich’s journey to success, his Trial School, the importance of young lawyers trying cases, how to move on and learn from a loss, and coping with fear and anxiety in the courtroom.
They begin the episode with Michael asking Rich about his journey to becoming one of the best automotive product liability plaintiff lawyers in the country. Rich explains how he began working in a federal prosecutor’s office right out of law school, then transitioned into working at a civil defense firm doing automotive product liability work. His transition into plaintiff’s work came after deposing a family in a particularly heartbreaking seat belt failure case. In that pivotal moment, he realized he needed to be working for the other side and representing people instead of massive corporations. He joined a small practitioner and began “knocking on doors” of other plaintiff lawyers to start trying product liability cases as their co-counsel.
Michael then brings up how automotive product liability is a tough field to get into on the plaintiff’s side, to which Rich whole-heartedly agrees. They discuss the difficulties of product liability cases and offer several recommendations for young lawyers looking to get into product liability including “getting plugged in” through AIEG, working for an experienced lawyer with the capital to try these notoriously expensive cases, and many more.
With the field being this tough and cases being so expensive to try, Michael asks Rich about his case selection process. He replies simply, “At the end of the day, you can’t try a product case for less than half a million dollars.” With that being said, the case needs to meet two guidelines: 1) There needs to be a catastrophic injury, and 2) there needs to be a clear fact pattern showing the plaintiff should not have sustained a catastrophic injury. He goes on to explain how even though “this whole area is fraught with mine fields,” the work is incredibly important for society in regards to policy changes and consumer safety.
Rich and Michael then discuss the importance of taking cases to trial and refusing to settle quietly, which leads them to every trial lawyer’s worst fear – taking a big case to trial and losing. They trade “war stories” of their most memorable losses which still haunt them to this day, but reflect on what they learned from those early losses and how they made them better trial lawyers. As Rich puts it, “When you take a big loss, it forces you to improve your game.”
Rich ultimately blames his biggest trial loss on picking a bad jury, which was surprising to him because he was following the voir dire method of some of the most successful trial lawyers in the country. This led him to get 30 of these great lawyers together for a 3-day focus group to try out different voir dire methods. They found that the most effective method was really a combination of a variety of methods, which is now known as “Mixed Method Advocacy.” Michael agrees and shares his experience of learning that one lawyer, no matter how great they are, does not have the ultimate answer of how to try a case. The real growth is in practicing and learning which methods work best for you, then being willing to constantly adapt and learn new things.
This discovery of Mixed Method Advocacy led Rich to start Trial School, a community of trial lawyers who freely share information for the betterment of the plaintiff bar. Trial School is free to join (yes, completely free), easy to access, and full of incredibly useful information for any trial lawyer.
The conversation then comes full circle to wher
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 contin
69 – David Koechner – Hit Your WHAMMY! The Power of Storytelling
In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen and his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday are joined by a VERY unique guest – David Koechner! David is a Hollywood actor and comedian who has starred in over 190 films and TV shows. He is best known for his roles as Todd Packer from “The Office” and Champ Kind from “Anchorman” and “Anchorman 2.” You may be wondering how David has any connection to attorneys, but we assure you this episode is full of timely advice for trial lawyers and is just what we need to hear right now. The trio will discuss David’s path to success and his advice for presenting to an audience (think: the jury) both in person and through a screen.
The episode begins with Michael briefly explaining the premise of this special episode. He explains how David comes from the TV/film world, and lawyers are now having to adjust from a live audience to an audience through Zoom. He shares how he’s excited to “learn how to communicate with other human beings through a screen,” or a jury spread out across a stadium or convention center for socially distant in-person trials.
Michael then asks David about his background and how he got into acting. David shares how he grew up in a small town in Missouri and began working for his father’s turkey coop manufacturing business at the age of 7, something he says instilled a strong work ethic in him from a young age. Being from a small town, David had no idea acting was a possibility for him having never met an actor himself. So, he decided to attend college with a political science major where he realized in his third year that “To be in politics, you either need to come from a political family, you’re incredibly wealthy, or you’re the smartest person in any room you walk into. I was none of those things.” He then dropped out of college and worked three jobs until he visited Chicago to attend a “Second City” performance and realized, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”
From that moment on, David spent the next 9 years on stage at least 4 nights a week, putting in his “10,000 hours” and citing the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell until he made it onto Saturday Night Live. Michael aptly compares this to up-and- coming trial lawyers – you have to try a lot of small cases before you get a shot at the big ones. They follow with an insightful discussion of the role of “luck” in being successful, which David believes is “really about hard work, isn’t it?”
They then move onto the topic on everybody’s mind right now – How do you effectively communicate with a jury when you’re either wearing a mask or limited to a screen? David recognizes the challenges of doing so, but emphasizes that the most important thing is always your connection to the story. He believes that is the compelling part of any presentation – whether in the courtroom or through a TV screen.
David continues with his recommendations for preparing to present while wearing a face mask. He suggests that lawyers preparing for an in-person trial in the COVID era start observing other people wearing face masks wherever they go. He explains how you can easily tell if someone is calm and purposeful, or agitated by looking at their body language.
Delisi then explains that Michael is going to be conducting voir dire in a football stadium in his upcoming trial. She asks David for advice on how to use your body in a venue that big to make everybody feel included. David suggests that Michael purposefully look at every single person he’s addressing, think about where his words will land, and pace around as he speaks so everyone feels included in the conversation. He also shares a very insightful strategy he uses when preparing for a show in a new venue, which will be helpful to every lawyer listening in fut...
Customer ReviewsSee All
Great podcast on trial skills
The episode with Mark Mandell on case framing was super helpful.
Best podcast for trial lawyers
If you are a plaintiff's lawyer, you need to listen to this podcast. Required listening. If you put the ideas discussed in these episodes into practice, you will be a better lawyer.