Darl and Andrienne recording podcast

The following is a transcript of Episode 11 of Championing Justice. You can listen to the full episode here, or watch it on YouTube.

Darl: Thank you for joining the Championing Justice podcast. This month we have a very special guest joining us: The Champion Firm’s own Andrienne McKay. Thank you for joining us, Andrienne.

Andrienne: Excited to be here.

Darl: So this topic’s going to be pretty interesting. We’re going to be talking about utilizing associates in your personal injury law firm, but from the perspective of an associate. So Andrienne is an attorney here, although we don’t utilize the term associate, we just call everybody attorneys. A lot of firms do use that term. So we’re going to be talking about as a law firm, owner and supervisor, how to make effective use of the less experienced attorneys. Some would call them younger attorneys.

Andrienne gives me a hard time about that when she calls herself a younger attorney, and I try to remind her I’m not that old.

Andrienne: Newer attorney.

Darl: Newer attorney. So a lot of law firms have newer attorneys in their firm and how can they utilize them? But this is also going to be about how can the newer attorneys be effective in their law firm? How can they build their own brand? How can they market? How can they be of value to the law firm? And so this is going to cover both sides of that.

So Andrienne, before we get started and talking about your experience here and the the advice that you think you can give to other attorneys, tell us a little bit about your background. Where’d you grow up? How’d you decide to become a lawyer?

Andrienne: Sure. So my family is Jamaican. I come from Florida. We’re of course filming here in Marietta, Georgia, the greater Atlanta area. And growing up, I didn’t have any attorneys in my family. It was just really just watching TV and seeing the cool lawyers on tv.

Darl: Did you know you wanted to be a lawyer before you went to college?

Andrienne: Yeah, since I was seven years old. I would watch Matlock with my dad and it was the coolest thing ever to me. So really I wanted to be a lawyer because I thought it was cool.

Darl: Is it cool?

Andrienne: It’s cool.

Darl: I guess it depends on who you ask. You went to University of South Florida?

Andrienne: I did, yep.

Darl: And that’s in Tampa?

Andrienne: Yes, in Tampa. Go Bulls.

Darl: Go Bulls. When you were in law school, did you waiver it all on…?

Andrienne: So initially I actually wanted to do criminal defense because of the Matlocks and

Darl: Me too. See we have a lot in common.

Andrienne: Then I went to law school and in law school, no matter what law school you go to, you’re going to have to take criminal law and you read the gruesome cases and I was just like, “Okay, maybe that’s not necessarily my style, having to be in the jails.” But I ended up working for a personal injury firm while in law school and I was like, “Oh, this is interesting.”

Darl: Okay. Yeah. So my experience was kind of similar to yours that I thought I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. I actually really liked the cases. I loved reading it. I loved the subject matter. What I didn’t like was when I interned to the DA’s office for a year in Macon, it’s just so messy. It’s not like what you see on TV. And I’m like, “I can’t do this.”

And so I think for a lot of people, being a plaintiff’s attorney is kind of a natural progression. It’s like, “Okay, well this didn’t work out or this didn’t really go as planned, so let me kind of move into this area representing people.” We’re not representing businesses. So when you were in law school, you worked at a personal injury firm, were you doing paralegal type stuff? Case manager stuff for them?

Andrienne: Yeah, more so they had me, well, first I did it as an unpaid intern. Actually, I just wanted to start getting experience. This was in my second semester of law school. Even though they do say not to work your first year of law school, but for me, I’ve just always been a person where I’m like, “Oh, let me start forming my connections now.”

And so they kind of had me as a law clerk in a way, but I started off requesting medical records, kind of reviewing cases in a way, but really just getting the feel of what is personal injury. I didn’t know anything about personal injury other than maybe, what is it? My Cousin Vinny?

Darl: Classic.

Andrienne: Yeah, Rainmaker, movies like that.

Darl: Good movies.

Andrienne: Yeah. I didn’t realize how much detail goes into the bottom work of getting things started in a personal injury case.

Darl: Sure. So you’ve seen everything from the ground up.

Andrienne: From the ground up.

Darl: And I’m sure that’s incredibly valuable for you. How long did you work when you were in law school? How long did you work at that personal injury firm?

Andrienne: I was there, that was from February of 2017 through summer of 2018. So about a year and a half. Yeah.

Darl: Okay. So you got a lot of good experience. What year did you graduate from law school?

Andrienne: 2019.

Darl: Alright. And did you go to work at a plaintiff’s firm right then?

Andrienne: No. So after the, well, while studying for the bar, I was interviewing places, trying to find somewhere that could take me while waiting for bar results. We know that’s a three month gap of just knowing, “Am I going to practice? Am I not?” And so I got a job with US Department of Education and was working in the consumer protection title IV fraud cases.The full funds. So I was doing a lot of borrower defense with that. And then of course passed the bar and immediately applying to firms where I knew there would be the potential of being able to litigate cases or take cases to a trial.

Darl: Okay. How’d you come to work with us? You’ve been here for three years now.

Andrienne: Funny story, which I’ve told you this before, but the funny thing is, is that I applied to The Champion Firm initially, and I think at that point you guys were looking for people who had been working longer and I had just passed the bar just out of law school. So ended up working for another plaintiff’s attorney, first, great trial lawyer, and then applied again to The Champion Firm after getting that year of experience. And here I am.

Darl: Awesome. Excellent. Well, I just want to do a little shout out here for the best boss mug. There it is. I got this from Andrienne for Christmas, so you’ll see no Champion Firm swag for me today, just drinking out of the world’s best boss mug.

Andrienne: Because you are the world’s best boss.

Darl: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Andrienne: That’s for anyone who watches The Office. You understand the reference.

Darl: Dunder Mifflin is on the back. Alright, so let’s dig into our discussion and I want to talk about what your approach is to working on cases, because one of the things that I’ve noticed with you since you’ve joined us, and maybe it had to do with your experience working at a personal injury firm, is you have that ability to take charge and know what needs to be done on a case and get it done.

Tell us a little bit about your approach to working on cases first as lead counsel and then we’ll talk about in a support role.

Andrienne: Sure. I think as lead, what is most important for me, especially in the beginning, is connecting with the client. One because of course our job is to tell their story and see compensation for their human damages, what they have specifically gone through, not just on an algorithm or “this type of case is settled in this way and so that means this client’s case should,” but really understanding the client, building that rapport with them because that trust is also important for them to know that you’re doing a good job with their case.

And so with lead, that’s always most important for me, the client connection, but also just diving deep into the issue, whether it’s a car wreck, premise case, wrongful death, negligent security, all of the above, understanding what investigation needs to take place ahead of time so that the case can run smoothly down the line for the support role.

I still think it’s important for keeping that connection with the client, but of course the lead attorney is usually the one that’s a little bit more in contact with the client. So for me, in that support role, especially the cases that we’ve worked on, I have found that being organized has been very helpful. Taking notes on everything, just knowing the case inside and out so that if you have a question, and most times you already know the case inside and out, but it might be something of detail. You’re like, “Hey, Andrienne, in that deposition of such and such, didn’t they say this?”

And I should be able to be like, “Yes, absolutely.” And then quickly search the page because I was there either for the deposition or I’ve reviewed the depositions. So the support role, I find that being very organized is what helps in supporting the lead attorney.

Darl: Sure, yeah. And here at The Champion Firm, our attorneys that work on cases, I think pretty much everybody’s on at least a handful of cases with me. I don’t have a dedicated attorney that supports me in every case. And so there’s a lot of crossover and there’s a lot of opportunity for us to work together. But then each of our attorneys has their own cases that they’re lead counsel on. What are some of the challenges with juggling that, right?

Because I think there can be kind of the problem of too many cooks in the kitchen sometimes, and that’s not really a problem when you only have two attorneys on a case and it’s a big case, but sometimes when you’re a lead, it’s like, “I got to take ownership, I got to get this done and make sure…” How do you kind of juggle that and going from that on the case you’re lead on to over here, it’s like, “What are you doing? What am I doing?”

Andrienne: Well, one, I do think it’s important to just kind of learn the attorney that you’re working with because I know that you’re one that just you dive in immediately and you start getting to the deep parts of a case. And so I have learned to ask you like, “Hey, do you want me to do the first draft of this? Do you want me to take a deposition?” Even though I know that you love your depos, you love to handle them, I’m still going to make sure to ask and say, “Hey, do you want me to go ahead and attack this?”

Darl: So communication’s key, right? Communication is absolutely vital.

Andrienne: And then what’s helpful is our file reviews, too. Whenever we’re working on a case together, we’ll sit down and say, “Okay, this is what we want to happen next.” And again, me and my note taking, I’m going to be like, “Okay, which one of us do you want to handle that? Or if it’s a paralegal part to the case that we’re working on, do you want me to assign this to our paralegal?”

And then taking those notes and then at the end of that meeting, each time I say, “Okay, this is what we discussed. You said such and such is going to handle this.” And then I go back in our case management system, jot down every single thing that we talked about, and I think that’s helpful for us in knowing who’s doing what and when versus this chaotic system.

Darl: That’s really important. I’m glad you brought that up because when I had just started my firm 10 years ago, I knew every single case inside out. I didn’t have a lot of cases. As you grow, you absolutely have to have a case management system. I mean, we talked about that in the last episode.

I’ve noticed is there’s times where, especially when I’m supervising as the owner of the firm, several attorneys, I don’t remember every single thing we talked about in every single file review of all 200 plus cases we have in the firm. And so to go back and be like, “Oh, under this section we have that.” So that documentation is key.

One of the things that you just mentioned was the kind of willingness to take on new experiences and to do things. And for a lot of young attorneys, they can be scared to do things. I think a lot of new experiences can be intimidating. People try and kind of get in their comfort zone. They’re like, “Oh, I feel safe over here. I’m not going to screw anything up.” You’ve always just been like, “Let put it out there. Let me go do this. I want to go do this.”

And sometimes I even have to tell you, I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down a little bit. Let me do this. Let me do the doctor depo. You can watch it. And then the next one, you can take it.” Is that how you are just wired? Are you actually very timid and shy and don’t like doing those things, but you’ve had to convince yourself to do ’em? Where does that come from?

Andrienne: Yeah, I will say it hasn’t been an always thing. In the very start of my career–I say that I’ve been practicing for so long–

Darl: Back in the start of my career, yes, all four years ago.

Andrienne: Three score and four years ago. No, at the start of my career, I had major imposter syndrome, and I think that’s going to be natural for any–

Darl: I still have imposter syndrome.

Andrienne: Okay, I don’t believe that.

Darl: Oh, I a hundred percent do, all the time.

Andrienne: Well, you’re really good at overcoming it and showing otherwise. And I guess myself too, but it was in a very major way at the start of my career where I was just like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” And that’s even in spite of working at a PI firm in the beginning in law school. I thought that I had things under control, but being in the role of the attorney is so different. You’re the one making the decisions.

But what I had learned is that competence leads to confidence. And so the biggest thing for me was just one, knowing cases inside and out, but knowing our industry, reading books, just things that would make me feel like, “Okay, I know what I’m doing. I can at least give an attempt to this thing since I feel like I know what I’m doing.” I’ll say even my very first deposition that I ever took, I was so nervous.

And what I did is I had a Zoom with my best friend and was like, “Okay, just pretend to be this witness. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what’s going on in the case, I am going to ask questions. You answer however.” Because we know in depositions that witnesses can answer however they want to. And then through that, just getting those butterflies and those scary feelings out of the way so that in my first deposition when I was hearing certain answers that the witness was giving, I was like, “Oh, I know how to navigate and change my question per the responses they’re giving.” But yeah, competence leads to confidence is my biggest thing.

Darl: And that’s a great point. I mean, I think what I’ve seen sometimes with newer attorneys is again, kind of getting into that comfort zone and they don’t really want to take on that new experience. And it’s almost like they don’t want to do it unless it’s going to be perfect. And it’s like, “Well, if I can’t be perfect at this, I’m not going to try it.”

Well, guess what? You’re not going to ever be perfect, first of all. But second of all, you’re never going to get good at it unless you do it a bunch of times and screw it up. You mentioned imposter syndrome. That’s something that I think a lot of attorneys have, and you mentioned yourself starting out, and it’s something even experienced attorneys have, and it’s not, I mean, I think there’s different degrees of it and there’s different ways it manifests, but there’s something, I think it’s called The Dunning-Kruger effect or something.

It’s that people that sometimes are the most confident are the ones that don’t have confidence because they don’t know that they don’t know a bunch of stuff. They just assume they know everything. And the people that actually know a lot of stuff, they know how vast the body of knowledge is out there. And so they’re like, “Gosh, I don’t really know all these things.” And it can be intimidating when you start thinking about that.

And so that’s the one thing for people that are high performers that did well in law school like yourself, they get out there. It’s like, you know how to issue-spy, you know these things, and then all these thoughts can run through your head. It’s like, “How do I do this? How do I do that? Where do I go here? What if this happens?” You just got to do it. And that would be my advice to newer associates and newer attorneys that are working for somebody else is just go and do it.

Andrienne: Yeah, do it scared.

Darl: Yeah. I mean, it’s like I have two small kids. My youngest is six. He could ride a bike without training wheels, but the first time it wasn’t great. He can do it great now, but the first time he had a few close calls and it’s super wobbly and you’re like, “Oh my God, he’s going to crash.” And you can’t, if you wait until you can absolutely be perfect at something, you’re never going to try anything.

Andrienne: And to that point, I also learned that that’s why they call it the practice of law or continuously practicing and learning. You never fully reach, or at least you shouldn’t fully reach this point where you’re just like, “Oh yeah, I know everything. I’ve got everything handled.” You should be consistently trying to practice to get better and better, which includes just going out and doing it scared.

Darl: Yeah. No, and that’s great advice. I think the other thing that you mentioned that is somewhat, I think unique to you is that you strive to get this additional knowledge from reading books. And I’ll always be checking the firm calendar and I’m like, “Oh, there’s Andrienne. She’s attending this random webinar for the next two hours on some topic, or she’s going to this CLE or she’s doing something.”

And where does that kind of desire come from? Is it that you want to be the best? Is it because you’re trying to, at least you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing sometimes on certain issues, and so you’re trying to,

Andrienne: I think it was that imposter syndrome in the beginning and just recognizing how much I didn’t know. It was like I wanted to learn from other great trial attorneys of how they started off or the things that work for them because clearly they’re doing well now. And I will say in my first year of practice, it was a lot of figuring things out on my own a little bit where–and it was particular to me, I’m an independent person. I don’t really like to reach out to too many people for help. And with that comes me just finding the information on my own arm.

Darl: Well, but a lot of times too, that’s the best way to learn. I mean, I’ll tell you one thing I see with younger attorneys and for any less experienced attorneys listening to this for kind of advice on things is sometimes they use the advice of the attorney as a crutch and they’ll reach out to their senior attorney. And it’s almost like they want them to do it for them. And that’s not a good way to, because you’ll never learn. I use the examples of templates and go bys and forms and things like that. Sometimes people just plug information into the document without actually understanding why are these things in the document? Why are we asking for this stuff in discovery? Would that discovery request apply in this other case?

So in a premises case, for example, somebody’s looking at a slip and fall and there’s discovery asking for certain types of documents, maybe that’s not even going to be an issue in your case that you even need to be asking for. But you see it repeated over and over again, and–I say this and I say this, not to be harsh, but it’s true–I could pay a legal assistant to do that. I mean, attorneys went to law school. They need to think like a lawyer. If all you’re going to be doing as a associate is plugging in names, seriously, you’re not going to go very far in this profession. And I think that there can be a tendency for lawyers to do that.

Let me ask you this, from the perspective of a newer attorney, we’re going to use that term, right? And during kind called me out, the CLE implied that I was old by saying, “What advice can you give us younger for some of us who are younger attorneys?” And I was the one hosting the CLE, and I’m like, wait a minute.

Andrienne: I also heard a lot of in the audience go, “Ohhhh.”

Darl: Yeah. I’m like, “Oh, what?”

Andrienne: Newer attorneys.

Darl: Yeah. So newer attorneys, how can they make themselves more valuable in a personal injury firm?

Andrienne: I think it is knowing your role, I think about the phrase of: “To whom much is given, much is required.” And in order for you to be given much, you’ve got to start with little, because if someone doesn’t know that they could trust you with little, why would they give you a lot? And so when I was first starting, of course I was handling a lot more of the more difficult smaller cases, but of course, we build our referrals and our do well by clients and all that, so it always helps If someone is injured, we’re still going to try to do our best to take on their case. But some of those cases were really difficult, even though they were a smaller value case.

But I put everything I had into those cases. And I think to a point where, and you could speak to this, but I felt like you started trusting that I was going to do my best on each case, and then the cases started getting a little bit bigger. So yeah, so just knowing your role, I think in what can I do with what I have now versus thinking way down the line, which is fine for people to do, but you’re thinking way down the line and you’re not being present in what’s in front of you right now.

Darl: Sure. Yeah, no, I think that, I mean, every personal injury firm has their own business model. Some are super high volume, some only work on catastrophic cases. Obviously if you’re at a firm that only has huge cases, you may not have a lot of smaller cases to cut your teeth on and get experience. It may be something you want to talk to your partner, the law firm owner about, is maybe taking some smaller cases on so that you can get some of that experience.

But at our firm, we have a wide variety. We have big cases, small cases, and everything in between. And so when we hire somebody who’s less experienced, whether they’re right out of law school or a year or two out, we give them those smaller cases so they can learn, so they can go take those depositions. Those cases aren’t really, I mean, we’re not taking ’em because they’re money makers. They’re not the ones that pay the bills and keep the lights on necessarily. But they’re good to train attorneys on. And I think one of the things that anybody listening to this needs to know if you’re an associate somewhere is if you don’t do great work on those smaller ones, you’re not going to get the bigger ones.

And so if your mentality when you get the smaller ones is, “Well, I’m not really making any money on this case. Maybe I’m paid a percentage of case as I resolve or whatever, and so I’m not going to put as much into it.” That’s a massive mistake for several reasons. One, if you do great work for that client and give great service, get them a great result, you’re more likely to get another referral from that client. You’ll get a good review that’s left for you. I mean, you’ll really make a name for yourself within the firm. But the second thing is you’ve got to establish with your supervisor, partner, whoever you’re working for, that you can be trusted. And if you’re going to be dropping the ball on a small case because you’re not giving it that much attention, it’s not that important to you. It’s just a distraction.

Andrienne: Why would they trust you with more?

Darl: They’re not going to trust you on the big one. And I think that’s important too, that at least from my perspective, is the attorneys that are motivated by money primarily tend to not have their heart in the right place. And that can just lead to all sorts of problems from trying to just turn cases over for the sake of getting a check-in whatever it is, the ones that truly care about the profession and the craft and being the best and focusing on that, the money takes care of itself.

Andrienne: And so the other advice that I’d give to newer lawyers or associates starting at a firm is just being in a place of gratitude as well. I’ve told you this, I lead a small group as well, and one of my small group girls, they’re younger girls, she was mentioning how she started a new job and she’s like, “Oh, it’s so great. I love my bosses, and all of that.”

What I was telling her is, “That’s really amazing. Not too many people get to experience that.” And so realizing what you’re grateful for, even in some tough moments–because we’re all human and we’re all going to have these times where it’s like things aren’t extremely perfect at the firm that you’re working at–but being able to go back to that spot and say, “Yeah, but I’m so grateful for all these other things and that’s why I remain and continue to invest.” So I think gratitude is so important too. Recognizing what benefits or I don’t know, just the good parts of where you are versus again, looking way down the line and thinking like, “Oh, well in this spot things aren’t going so well.”

Darl: I mean, I will tell you I’ve seen this, whether it’s from the employee perspective or just seeing people on social media, the ones that are constantly pessimistic, complaining about things, they’re like that 20 to 30 years down the road, and they’re always going to be that way. And there’s a reason that most people are in that situation. I mean, if you are positive and you take charge and take control of your life and take ownership of things, and I’m not intending this to turn into a Tony Robbins speech or anything, but I mean, it’s totally true.

I mean, your thoughts dictate your actions, and you see a lot of that in motivational speakers and books and things like that. And if you’re thinking negative, then everything around you is going to be negative and your actions will follow. But when you approach things from a mindset of gratitude, you also tend to think, “Okay, how can I add value? How can I be a value to this person, this organization, whatever.” And then everything else, it just becomes this giant flywheel that kind of operates on its own.

So we’ve talked some about how young and newer associates can make themselves valuable in a personal injury firm. What is some advice you have for the law firm owners, partners, supervisors, on how to utilize those attorneys in their firm?

Andrienne: I think what you and our management does really great here at The Champion Firm is making it a very warm environment. We know that business means business and that we need to have excellence. That’s one of our values in everything that we do, and excellence in everything we do includes excellence with each other and just being just an environment where people want to do well. And so I think if it does start from management, kind of fostering that environment.

Darl: Yeah, don’t be a jerk.

Andrienne: Exactly.

Darl: Yeah. I mean, I’m not going to name any names, but I’ve worked in an environment–and it’s not the plaintiffs for I worked at before, it was phenomenal and that was a place where I learned a ton and I was very supportive environment–but I’d worked in a law firm before that very, very briefly, and it was almost like everybody had this kind of fear of everything of screwing up. And that’s not the environment that you want to work in. It’s not healthy, it’s not positive. But I think for law firm owners and supervisors, partners, whoever is working with associates, support staff, whatever, if you’ve got to be a jerk to get people to do their job, they’re probably not the right fit. I mean, being a jerk, yelling, being rude, that doesn’t motivate people at all. And it does the opposite in my opinion. But I’ll hear this advice: People say, “Well, have you yelled at them? Have you done this? Have you tried threatening, you know, telling them…?”

Andrienne: Is that really advice that you’ve got?

Darl: No, no, no, not me personally. No. But you hear this, people talking about this when you’re at lawyer, whatever. It’s like, “Well, have you told them if they don’t get their act together, they’re going to be fired?” It’s like if you got to tell somebody they’re going to be fired, if they don’t do their job, they should probably already be fired. They need to be fired. I mean, seriously. If fear motivates you, you’re not a good fit at this firm. And I would submit maybe not anywhere at any law firm, but you need to have people that are internally motivated. And if you have people that are internally motivated, they want to do a good job. If you just talk to them and point out, Hey, here’s what we need to be doing, it tends to take care of itself.

Andrienne: And with that, I think something that helped me a lot, especially when I first started here, is not assuming that I know everything, even though it was more of like a lateral transition. I had already worked for another firm. You took the time to review my work product. Maybe not every single thing, but things that were going out every once in a while, for instance, discovery. We do it a certain way here at The Champion Firm, our discovery responses and taking the time to do track changes or even meet with me and say, Hey, maybe think about doing it this way because it’ll have this effect down the road. Yes. So as a law firm owner or management or a senior attorney that has associates, I think taking the time to sit down with them and one telling them the way that you do it, which stylistically we each have our different styles, but at least showing that this can help. Just taking that time to mentor in a way.

Darl: Yeah, I think showing them the why behind it is important. And I think what you’re talking about with us sitting down, I mean, that’s something I try to do. Obviously we can’t do it every single time, but if I get a demand letter, discovery responses or discovery requests, whatever it is, and we’re drafting it, if I make changes and just give it back to the attorney, they’re not going to get as much from that. It’s like, “Oh, okay. They changed it.” And everybody’s busy. And if you’re a law firm owner, you’re going to be rushing through things and think, “I just got to get to the next thing.” But if you actually take the time and explain, “Okay, this is why I did this,” then the next time it’ll actually take you less time because then you’re not going to have to do that editing.

You can trust them more. You can start giving them more stuff. And so for your people to grow, you absolutely have to tell them the reasoning behind why you do things in a deposition. I let you take a doctor’s deposition in a medical malpractice case mean, and that was something I thought was really impressive. You had only been here for a year at the time?

Andrienne: Yeah, I think a year.

Darl: A year, year or two. Yeah. You were pretty new here. I think had only been that as law school two or three years. And Andrienne came to me and she’s like, “I want to do this deposition of a defendant doctor in a med mal case.” I was like, “Okay.”

So I think in addition to explaining the reasoning and the why behind it is giving attorneys the opportunity to do things, especially in discovery. If it’s a discovery deposition, I mean, yes, it is important. And I take the position that is important because the vast majority of cases settle. And the way you make your case great is by working it up in discovery and doing great in the depositions. But there’s very, very few things that are absolutely fatal to a case. But then there’s also very few things that you can’t recover from and fix. And so I think if you’ve got less experienced people working for you, you got to give them the opportunity to try those things and go with them and explain to them after, “Hey, here’s what I would do and why.”

Andrienne: Yeah. And then another thing is I think when we see our leaders wanting to learn more, it makes us want to do the same. I think about The Slight Edge, how you got that book for all of us in the firm to read after you loved it so much. And yeah, just to see someone who was leading us wanting to consistently improve in what they’re doing. Why wouldn’t I want to do the same thing?

Darl: Last summer we went to Lanier Trial Academy. Exactly. You and Bill went. This year I’m sending as many other attorneys in my office who are able to go. It was a great experience.

Andrienne: Which thank you for bringing that up. That was also something that was really intriguing to me. Sure. That I like to find my own resources and read books and webinars and all of that, which usually I’m finding the free ones. But my first year, I remember I was probably just two months in working here and you were like, Hey, you want to go to GTLA Auto Torts? And I was like, yeah, sure. This is when it’s in Florida. And mind you, I was confused. I was like, “So do I say yes and then I pay for it myself? How does this work? Are you just saying, I have the time off to go do it?” But knowing that the firm was covering everything, I was like, “Oh, this is really nice.” And then it continued like AAJ things, you would send them out to us, “Hey, does anyone want to go to this?” Because you are also wanting us to have that will to want to learn, but we don’t know that like–of course, we don’t want that to come out of our own pockets.

Darl: Right, yeah. I do pay for all my attorneys to go to stuff. And that’s what was interesting to me. And I think maybe you asked, and then a few other times somebody else has asked. I’m like, “Of course I’m paying for it. Why would I not pay for it?” And maybe there’s people who don’t. That should go without saying, if you want to create that kind of culture of education and ongoing learning, you’ve got to pay for your people to go to these things.

I think for me, the way that you can delegate as a law firm owner and optimize your law firm is by having people that you trust that you can give things to. And there’s also a limited amount of time that I have to teach everybody everything I know and I do my best working on cases, running the firm, doing all these things, and I try and give the feedback, but you can really leverage that and get an exponential benefit by giving others the opportunity to learn.

So “Hey, here’s a great book I read. Would you like to read this book?” The Slight Edge is a great personal development book. The other ones that I’ve talked about might have something to do with trial skills or cross-examination or whatever. I’m a big Trial by Human fan, Nick Rowley. Keith Mitnick, Don’t Eat the Bruises. And I think Deeper Cuts is the other one. I mean, I love that stuff. I love reading it. And there is obviously a time where you get to the point when you’re my age where you’re like, “Okay, am I reading too much? Do I have information overload?” Because the one takeaway that I would tell everybody is when you read those books and you do those things, take the bits and pieces of it that work for you. Don’t try and copy anybody else and be exactly like them because you’re going to come across as a phony. And so again, the best advice I can give associates just starting out is to just be yourself and be genuine. I have an interesting question for you that I wanted to cover before we have to go. What are some misconceptions that you think young attorneys have about joining a firm?

Andrienne: That it’s going to be this scary experience that’s like when you know, move to a new town when you’re a kid, you move to a new town and you’re starting school in the middle of a semester or a quarter and you’re the new kid in town and you’re just not sure how it’s going to go. I think that it has to be this scary environment is a misconception because what helps me is remembering that they either needed you or they either wanted you when they hired you, which means that you have a part to play in the firm’s culture or in the work that’s needed to be done. And so if you belong there, just act as though you belong there.

Darl: Right. No, that’s good. And I think that helps overcome some of the fear. If you go in totally scared, like, “Oh, I don’t want to screw up. I don’t want to do anything.” You’re never going to take on those new challenges. But going into it with a “How can I be of value? type mindset, what can I do to add value? What do you need me to do?” I think it’s really, really good.

So you’ve been here three years now and you’ve been practicing as a personal injury attorney for four, is that right?

Andrienne: Yeah, 2019 to 2024. This year will be five years.

Darl: As a personal injury attorney?

Andrienne: I guess four, four or five years.

Darl: So four to five years, you’re kind of hitting your stride. You’ve got a lot of good experience, you’ve taken depositions and all this stuff. What are some differences you see in yourself now versus when you started working as a personal injury attorney? First day on the job, you’re like, and granted, you had some experience though because you worked as a case manager paralegal at a personal injury firm in law school. So that may make it a little bit different versus people that come in out of law school.

Andrienne: Just blind.

Darl: Just have no idea. I mean, what you learn in torts is nothing. We’re not reading the Paul’s graph case over here or doing stuff like that. This is very, very different. But tell us from your perspective and your experience, what’s different? What have you seen in yourself change over the last several years?

Andrienne: Yeah, I definitely think I’m more confident, but what does come to mind is that I’m kinder. I think in recognizing just how much people go through on a daily basis when we’re talking to our clients, and just frustrations of day-to-day, when something just suddenly interrupts your life, you’d learn to have empathy for people. And even just outside of the work right now, I might be just talking to some random person who knows if I walk into the bank or something and they’re being a little mean, or offput my first thought, “Ah, that’s a really mean nasty person.” Instead I’m like, “Oh, well, they might have something going on. It’s cool.”

Darl: You’re more laid back.

Andrienne: But also in kind being kinder to even our support staff, I think in starting off, this is a transparent moment because you watch shows and you see, well both support staff and opposing counsel, you see this adversarial type of environment on these TV shows in these firms and all of that. And you think that you just have to like, “Hey, just make sure you get this done, make sure…” you criticize and “this is how you get better.” But then realizing that no, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

And that’s the same with opposing counsel. You would think that it’s Suits or something where everything is like, “Rah, rah, rah,” but you realize you actually get more cases resolved when the person on the other side likes who you are as a human being.

Darl: Yeah, I think the point too about when we talked a little bit about this earlier is what’s the best way to teach people and train people? And I think being positive and giving that positive feedback and saying, “Hey, you’re doing these things great, but here’s these things that you could work on, or this is how you can make this better next time,” is really good. Again, if you surround yourself with people that want to do well, that will really resonate with them.

One of the things that I think you do well is you’re a very hard worker, and so you do put in the time, but I think you maintain a good balance. You do recognize Saturdays as the Sabbath, and there’s a few times I’ve forgotten that. I’ll email or text you, I’ll just forget because you know me, I am just a stream of consciousness. I’m just like, “Oh, blah, blah, blah. What about this?” And you’re like, “I’m responding. Just to let you know. But today’s the Sabbath.”

Andrienne: Yeah.

Darl: But what are some things you do to kind of maintain that balance and still working hard, but having a life outside the office?

Andrienne: A lot of this I think I learned after my first year of practice, and mind you, my first year of practice was in Covid, and so everyone was, everyone was adjusting to being available almost 24/7 because you’re working from home. And so naturally everyone thinks you’re available 24/7. And so I had to learn when I first came here at a certain time in the day, even if I’m still working, it could be eight o’clock, nine o’clock at night if I’m still working. And again, this is very early on, but if you were to text me around that time, just checking in on a case or something, just again, as soon as something pops up, you’re like, “Oh yeah, while I’m thinking about it…”

Darl: Lots of emails, lot of late night emails.

Andrienne: But yeah, so if it was a text, I wouldn’t answer that text until the next day. If it was an email, I might respond to an email sooner.

Darl: Interesting.

Andrienne: Yeah, you didn’t know that. But I had to set those boundaries a little bit.

Darl: Okay. That’s interesting.

Andrienne: But only for me because emails, I don’t don’t mind responding to emails like three o’clock in the morning, but anyways,

Darl: You should be asleep at three o’clock in the morning.

Andrienne: I should, but I’m a night owl, so I’m not. But yeah, I think it’s just maintaining balance. I also go to therapy weekly. That’s something that’s important for me, especially after you had recommended the podcast Elawvate. It was a Rick Friedman episode, “Your Success Within” or something like that. And he talked about knowing yourself and because the only way that you can truly connect with other people jurors is to know yourself. Like you were saying earlier, it’s going to obviously come off as you being a phony if all you’re doing is copying what you’ve seen other people do. You have to be able to cater it to yourself. Yeah. So I think that that’s a great way of taking the time to know yourself.

Darl: One of the things that I have tried to do, because I do realize that sometimes when something pops in my head, I’m like, I just need to get this email out. I’m not expecting somebody to respond to it. If I send somebody an email at 11 o’clock at night, I’m not expecting them to respond to it, but to kind help ease some of the anxiety of getting those notifications late at night or on the weekends, like I said, I do work on the weekends a fair amount, is to schedule them for Monday, 8:00 AM. So there’s some people, and I don’t know if that’s actually worse. They come in and it’s just like Monday, 8:00 AM it’s like blah, blah, blah. But no, I try to do that to kind of set those boundaries. But that’s a good point.

Andrienne: And let me make sure to say you are very respectful with, I didn’t mean to come off as like, “Oh yeah, you’re shooting these random texts out.” No, it was just more that we know that you’re constantly thinking about our clients and our cases and just how we can do better. And so sometimes those random thoughts just come up. But as well, I was going to say spacing out emails, I know that’s something that you’ve taught me as well. If I’m working on something, not jumping around everywhere.

Darl: Not going back and forth. Time blocking, I think is one term I’ve heard for it. So there’s a good book called Deep Work. I don’t know if I recommended that one too.

Andrienne: You did.

Darl: It’s a good one. Where they recommend just kind of blocking out time where you’re doing your deep work, the things that require deep thought. Because if you’re constantly being distracted and going back and forth and doing this, you’ll never get your stuff done. But the other part is going back and forth and changing gears constantly is mentally draining. It’s like by the end of it, you’re just fried. So those things that are requiring you to balance from task to task, actually schedule those for later in the day. They don’t require deep thinking and then do your deep stuff at the beginning of the day.

Andrienne: Also, last point to this, I will say it’s very different if there is a huge event going on, if there’s a trial or something going on, I do think you should be available probably 24/7 leading up to that trial that’s about to happen. But we’re talking about more like the day-to-day thing.

Darl: So I have two more topics. I thought I only had one topic to cover with you, but I want to have two, and this one’s going to be kind of a tricky topic.

Okay. I’m going to tread lightly here because I think a lot of people always think that the next generation has something wrong with it. “Oh, the kids in this generation, they didn’t have to do this.” But I do hear a fair amount of firm owners, whether it’s support staff or associates coming right out of law school that people just don’t want to work anymore. They don’t want to do this.

Is that anything that, do you think that’s just probably always been that way and people just notice it now? Do you think that there is kind of less motivation for certain people? Maybe they’ve just kind of coasted through life on Easy Street and their parents have provided everything for ’em or whatever, and they’re not hungry?

Andrienne: No, I definitely think there’s been a shift. I think there’s been a shift mainly because of the social media world that we live in now. And so if somebody has an idea automatically it’s being shared amongst a bunch of people and that becomes the main idea. And so, let me speak for me personally, I think that there’s this theme of everyone wanting to own their own company or work for themselves, and nobody wants to work for anyone else. Me, anytime someone asks me, oh, when are you going to open your own firm? I’m like, no, I want to work for someone else. I do not want, no offense, I do not want all of the things that comes with running a firm. I don’t know. But I do think it’s just a more internet thing and people are taking that and running with it.

Darl: I mean, I’ll give you an example: We interviewed for, I think it was a legal assistant position a couple months ago. No, it was our intake position. And six of the interviews we had scheduled, three people just didn’t show up. No call, no showed. And that is not unusual. I’ve seen that in other positions. We’ve scheduled interviews for, I’ve seen this with other law firm owners too, and I talked to them. They’re like, people just schedule interviews and they don’t show up. And it’s like people are, maybe social media has just shot everybody’s attention span and they don’t have the mentality of actually sticking with things where, Hey, this is going to take a long time. I mean, you get people and it’s a year into it, they’re wanting to have ownership interest in the company, and you’re like, wait, you just started a week ago.

What are you talking about? So I do think there’s a difference between that. And again, I am very cognizant of everybody complains about the next generation. The people that are currently complaining about the kids these days, the generation ahead of them was complaining about them and saying how screwed up they were and how they were going to the baby Boomers sixties were nuts. They were crazy. You could watch any documentary on the sixties. People were doing crazy stuff then. And that generation is the one that’s calling about millennials and Gen Z talking about millennials. Yeah, you’re like, you were crazy in the sixties. But I do think, think there’s just a lot of difference, and I think that’s important for law firm owners to know, is to some extent, you’ve got to accept it because if you’re dealing with, that’s the vast majority of the workforce, you do have to set up your firm, maybe be more flexible with certain things.

Andrienne: I think it’s about investing, because what helped me is knowing that because The Champion Firm is investing in me, I want to do the same and invest in them, invest my time, invest my resources in the same way that you guys are investing your time and resource in me. And so I don’t know, who knows? Maybe it’s the people who are maybe jumping job to job to job or anything like that. Maybe they don’t feel like it’s a reciprocal relationship where maybe they feel like they’re just a number or just an employee versus like, no, I actually want to push this mission forward. And another thing is the fact that we do have values and a mission that we’re actually trying to accomplish. Yeah.

Darl: I think the other thing too, and the plaintiff’s firm I worked at for several years, it was a really good firm and I enjoyed working there, and I always did kind of have the entrepreneurial bug and wanted to start my own firm. But one of the things that probably pushed me a little bit sooner than maybe otherwise would have was I was originating a fair amount of cases, not a ton, but some, and I wasn’t getting any origination credit for it. I hear a lot of people say, “Well, why would I hire this attorney, train them up, they’re just going to leave.” Well, okay, that’s just life. You’ve got to accept that. But second of all, if you create a compensation structure, and that’s one of the things we do with you and all the other attorneys here, is you get credit.

If you originate a case, we’re going to pay you a percentage of that. You’re going to get a percentage of the cases you work on, whether you’re a lead or secondary case goes to trial. There’s extra credit associated with that. So I think a lot of it is the value in the culture, but then also how are you compensating people? Because if people feel like they’re getting screwed, they’re going to want to look at other opportunities.

So final question. You may have a lot to add here. What are some red flags that young attorneys should pay attention to when interviewing for a firm, particularly a personal injury law firm?

Andrienne: Okay. Definitely if the interviewer is mean–there’s a difference between being stern and mean–because there are some people who the culture they want to foster at their firm, at their firm is more stern and just kind of work only, which is fine, but you don’t need to be mean or a jerk that tells you a lot or that should tell you a lot during the interview. The other thing is, do they like people just in general, not just their employees, but how do they think about people? And I don’t know, just paying attention to the vibe. I know that that’s so general.

Darl: Well, what did you do when you applied here? Did you ask people? Did you read reviews? Go on the website, watch videos?

Andrienne: I didn’t. I was already following the firm on Instagram, and so I saw posts here and there and just saw that it was a pretty cool culture. Nothing that definitely no red flag stood out, but really, yeah. What did it for me mostly was the interview.

I was interviewing with two other firms at the time that I interviewed here as well. And you were just super personable. And that’s why I’m saying I would prefer to work for someone who is personable and warm versus maybe someone who’s just very matter of fact and stern. And so it depends on the personality too. If you’re someone who does prefer that sternness, maybe you should make sure that the person is stern in your interview. But yeah, for me it was making sure that the person on the other side was personable. Even though I knew that I was going to be working for you, I still wanted to know that I could work with you.

Darl: That’s great. Yeah. I think one piece of advice I would have for attorneys that are interviewing for jobs is one, if you’ve already worked in the industry, you may have some awareness of the reputation of firms, whether you’re on the defense side of the plaintiff side, but it’s always good to ask around. The other thing is, on the whole, I think the vast majority of personal injury lawyers are honest and ethical and want to do things the right way. But I mean, we’ve talked about this in the context of the problem of runners and people paying people to get cases.

There is kind of this seedy underbelly, and there’s some shady stuff that goes on with the way law firms treat their associates. I mean, some of them will promise them, “I’m going to pay you X percent of cases,” and they get it settled or originated and they don’t pay it to them.

And I hear those stories and I’m like, I’m just blown away. It seems like such a brazen thing to do. I am like, “How do you do that?” And I think, again, just kind of being aware of the reputation, talking to people and just having a feel that something like that’s not going to happen.

One piece of advice that I would give to any associates at personal injury law firms that are listening to this is to take ownership of your own education and development and view yourself as a brand. And I think you do a really good job of that. You have a great following on Instagram. You share stuff. I mean, you get referrals, which is rare for an attorney with several years of experience, and you’ve really made an effort to do that. But I think if you’re working for a law firm, take those opportunities to learn, grow, develop your own name for yourself and your brand, post on social media about what you do, let people know what you do. You never want to run into somebody that’s been your friend on Facebook or followed you on Instagram and three years later they’re like, “What kind of law do you practice again?” Which I will tell you, you know how much I post about my stuff, right? Constantly.

Andrienne: It probably still happens though.

Darl: It still happens. People are like, “Wait a second, you do that?” And I’m like, “What? I’ve known you forever. I’ve been in a personal injury attorney for 14 years and I post about it all the time. You follow my firm’s page, we post stuff on there about the settlements, we get stuff like that.” But it happens.

Andrienne: And yeah, to that point, I think that you have to be proud of what you do because, and I’ve referenced My Cousin Vinny, because naturally, I mean, come on. We know that people, their first thought of a personal injury attorney is: “ambulance chaser.” But when you know that you’re someone who practices with integrity and ethics and that you really are only helping the people who are injured and who need someone to step in to hold either insurance companies accountable or corporations accountable, then you take pride in what you’re doing. And when you take pride in what you’re doing, you want to share your results in order to help other people.

Darl: That’s a good point. I mean, I think I asked the question about red flag from the perspective of the associate. I’ll tell you, my red flag as the interviewer.

Andrienne: Oh this will be exciting.

Darl: And this particularly comes up with defense lawyers, people on the defense side looking to make a switch. You are an automatic no for me if you are switching sides and you say, when I ask you why do you want to be a plaintiff’s attorney, if you say, “Because I’m tired of writing checks to plaintiff’s attorneys, or I’ve seen the size of the checks I write to plaintiff’s attorneys.” You’re an automatic, no, I’ve heard that. I’ve absolutely heard that. I’ve heard that.

Andrienne: That’s their response in the interview?

Darl: Yeah, it’s all about the money. “I just want to make the money. I just want to do this.” And so I think for me, as the person interviewing other attorneys, I want to know, do they view this as just a job and a paycheck? Because if they do, no offense to some of the other firms that are out there, you’re probably going to be a better fit there. You can go there, you can coast, you can work nine to five, you can collect a paycheck, whatever. But if somebody’s truly passionate about what they do and wants to help people and is kind of conscientious, has that internal drive, I think they’re going to do well. So that would be my advice to the newer associates that are out there listening.

To the law firm owners. I think you’ve got to talk to your attorneys when you give them assignments, explain the why to them. I think that is absolutely critical in training them because on the job training is so important. And then with your compensation structure, the one big lesson that I’ve learned is to have clear terms in it. So many plaintiff’s firms like mine that aren’t massive have what I call the black box bonus structure. Nobody knows what it is. It’s just kind of like at the end of the year you try to be fair and your perception of fair may not be fair to different the associate, right? I mean, my perception and my goal has always been like, well, when the firm did well, I wanted everybody to do well. And so that creates peaks and valleys. But to the person who’s actually working there, they’re like, “Well, I don’t know what this is based on.” And it can create problems. So I think having a clear compensation structure for your attorneys is absolutely vital.

And it doesn’t have to cover every single contingency. We pay 10% if they’re a lead, 5% if they’re secondary. But there’s also some wiggle room on the secondary because sometimes people aren’t truly secondary. They just cover a couple things. But don’t worry about those outliers. You can come up with a compensation structure that covers the 90%-95% of cases that are working on do that, and then let everything else kind of work itself out and take care of itself.

But thank you for joining us, Andrienne. This has been very informative for me to get your perspective and to learn more about how you see things and your approach to things.

And I do want you to stop staying up until 3:00 AM and sending those emails. And for the record, Andrienne did send me an email the other morning at 3:00 AM and I’m like, “What the hell is this?” I couldn’t tell if you were up late or if you had woken up early.

Andrienne: That time, I had woken up early. I had woken up like two in the morning.

Darl: That’s ridiculous. All right, but thank you for your hard work.

But thank you for listening. If you have any questions free to reach out to Andrienne or myself, we will have links to Andrienne’s Instagram page.

Andrienne: @McKay_esq

Darl: @McKay_esq on Instagram.

Thank you for tuning into this episode of Championing Justice. I hope that you’ll subscribe to this podcast and listen. We try to release an episode of the podcast monthly.

My goal is to have content that is informative to law firm owners and other people that work in the personal injury space, whether they are the newer attorneys or the owners themselves. So tune in to future episodes where we’ll cover everything that you need to know about running a personal injury law firm, working on cases, we are going to cover everything from A to Z. 

And this has been a great episode. Thank you so much.

Andrienne: Thanks, Champ.


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