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Podcast: Love & Law

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by Katie Wolf

on 07 March, 2018

What does love have to do with your legal practice? You may be surprised at the answer! Joshua Madsen & Cheryl Diaz are partners at their personal injury firm, but they’re also partners in life. Learn how their relationship has helped influence and shape their practice in the latest episode of the Filevine Fireside.

 

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Join us as we sit down with the country’s best attorneys to talk about their processes and practices, as well as their outlook on the always-changing legal landscape. New episodes every month!


 

Transcript

KATIE WOLF: You may be asking what does love have to do with managing and marketing your legal practice? Well, we’re going to find out today with our special guests Cheryl Diaz and Joshua Madsen. Cheryl and Joshua run their own personal injury law firm appropriately named Diaz and Madsen here in Alpine, Utah, down in the foothills of these beautiful snowcapped mountains. We’re so honored to have some time to be able to talk with you today.

CHERYL DIAZ: Hello!

JOSHUA MADSEN: Thanks for having us on.

KATIE: How did it come to be that you two became both professional and romantic partners?

CHERYL: Yes. Josh and I met at BYU Law School. He was a 3 L and I was a 1 L. A few months before he went on to graduate, we met, dated and at some point, got married. And then the professional side came along when Josh had already started working at the firm and when I graduated I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with life professionally and otherwise and so that’s how I ended up here and while I wasn’t sure that this was going to be perhaps a long-term solution to what I envisioned, here we are 10-12 years later.

KATIE: So now tell us about your firm? What is it that you focus on here?

JOSHUA: So our law firm has kind of evolved through time. Initially, it began, as Cheryl mentioned, with my father and I. He’s now retired and now Cheryl and I are basically the two partners here. The firm is called Diaz and Madsen. Our primary focus is personal injury law and primarily with the Hispanic community. Obviously, we help any client who comes through our door, but for whatever reason the vast majority of our clients are Hispanic and that’s kind of the market, in particular, the individuals that we kind of cater our practice to.

KATIE: What are the benefits and the risks or the challenges of doing this work together?

CHERYL: For me personally, especially when I had very different ideas of what I was going to do professionally but then, of course, once you get married and you’re starting to look into that and starting a family, just working here at the firm allowed me to still engage in the professional setting but still allowed me that flexibility to, you know, grow our family and so for me just that flexibility is perhaps something that I’m not sure I would have been able to get at a traditional setting.

JOSHUA: And I would say one of the things, you know there’s up sides and downsides with everything, and particularly because we have a relationship both professionally and privately at home, you have work issues that sometimes end up being at home and you have home issues that sometimes end up being at work, which can be an added difficulty. However, it also means that whether it’s with work or with home, we are constantly having to communicate and be on the same page and kind of figure out what our goals are, what matters to us, and so I see that as a plus and so that’s something we’ve learned to manage together. We’ve learned to kind of figure out how to make this work in the best way possible and focus on the benefits from it.

CHERYL: And I would also add that whenever you go into business with anyone there has to be some sort of foundational relationship, right? So, whether it’s your buddy, your father or just your college classmate obviously there’s something that whether it’s the same vision or same, you know, goals or you guys just click. So, for us, we already had that going on because we decided to get married. We’re compatible. And so, we share that and to then transfer that into a work setting, we respect each other. We trust each other. I don’t know, we just had that foundation I would say.

JOSHUA: Yeah, and it’s interesting to me because I’ve had the opportunity to both have a working relationship with my father and then in this case with Cheryl. And the working relationships have been very different. When my father was still practicing we had less overlap in terms of clients and in terms of responsibility, but whereas with Cheryl, our relationship is a lot closer and we do have to delegate responsibilities in order to maximize her strengths and my strengths because they are different and so we kind of figured out these are the things that Cheryl does well and these are the things that I do well. How can we make this work for everyone involved, and most importantly for our clients.

KATIE: So your clients can get the strengths of two attorneys working on their case.

CHERYL: Yes and I love that because I primarily am the one interacting with clients at least from the beginning. I take great pleasure in saying that I meet with all of my clients. I don’t like to delegate that. I wouldn’t send my paralegal to meet with a first-time client only because you know if you’re hiring the law firm and an attorney I think a client deserves to meet that attorney and so I take a lot of that responsibility and then I also take the responsibility of community outreach and let’s call it “marketing” as well.

JOSHUA: So, when we started this practice and we kind of came up with like, I don’t know if you want to call it our mission statement or values are, our kind of “motto” is: We want the person who is the most affected to be the most benefitted. The individual who was in a car accident or an individual who was injured by the negligence of someone else, you know a lot of our clients and individuals that are hurt have a lot of real acute needs. It’s not something they can handle on their own and it changes entire economic landscape for their family. We want to help individuals with the thought that we need to make sure that at the end of the day, they’re the ones that get the most benefit from our help. And so, in the law firm, for example, I do most of the litigation. And it sort of worked out that way because I enjoy doing it more than Cheryl does or she’s way better at negotiating settlements with the insurance company. We found certain things that work and certain things that don’t work. And we revisit it frequently to figure out, do we need to tweak this? Do we need to change it? How can we maximize the benefit we’re giving our clients?

KATIE: Before we dig deeper into the question of relationships with clients, I want to ask one more question about family relationships. You’re parents, right? What is it like being lawyerly parents?

JOSHUA: So it definitely has its difficulties in terms of managing a practice and taking care of our kids. But it also has a lot of, you know, fun and interesting things we find in our home we have our daughter who is eight. And then we have a six-year-old boy and then we have our three-year-old. And my daughter, like many girls, likes to paint her nails. And she’s kind of figured out how to do it on her own. And we’ve taught her. And whenever her brother’s see her doing that they’ll run over excited with glee to paint their nails too. And that’s something they enjoy doing and we don’t see any issue with it. But her grandfather took exception with this. So, my daughter, you know, mounted a pretty vigorous defense of nail painting for the three-year-old, explaining that, you know, that this three-year-old, it’s his nails. He has the right to decide what to do with his nails and as long as he’s not harming anyone else, no one should be able to tell him how he paints his nails. And, of course, her grandfather gave her metaphors and analogies to explain why this is wrong and she pointed out the error in his logic repeatedly. Well, this analogy doesn’t make any sense because it doesn’t apply here. And he eventually became flustered and said, “Well you should just be an attorney. That was a great argument but you should be an attorney,” and walked away.

CHERYL: Our middle one the other day was explaining what we do for a living and he used the word “attorney” or something or other and was playing with the word “attorney”. But at the end of the day he gets it. He said, “Mama and papa help people after they’ve been injured” and he used the word “injured”. And so, I just feel that, you know, just even seeing from, you know, we run a business, we’re both attorneys and we share a lot of those roles at home and so as parents we’re teaching our children, our boys and our girl, that these are things that they can do when they grow up.

KATIE: So, back to your relationships with your clients. Do you want to talk more about the way that you move from just lip service to actually showing concrete examples of respect and care for your clients?

CHERYL: Sure, so from the beginning, like I said, I love to meet with all of my clients. That’s something I know a lot of law firms don’t do. But to me, it baffles me because you’re hiring an attorney. If you went to the medical profession, you’d want to see the doctor and that’s kind of my way of thinking. I want to set aside time to meet with every single client because that establishes a really good foundation to that relationship, to that working relationship that we’re going to have and then from then on, my client trusts me and knows that we’re going to be taking care of them. I give all of my clients my personal cell phone. Some questions might be very pressing. Some might just be very simple. But regardless you can shoot me a very quick text so that opens the lines of communications. But again, just from the get go, meeting with that client and establishing that foundation. A lot of my clients, at the end of the day, develop into more than just clients. You know, they’re going to tell me their situations with their kids and we get to talking and I get to know people and meet people and that carries forward because at the end of the day if I’m representing them in their legal case, if I have their trust and we’ve become friends, this particular situation in which they’re involved, which is fraught with anxiety, with a lot of unknowns, with a lot of stress, I can help them through that situation by the simple act, I suppose, of just taking the time to meet with them and develop that relationship.

JOSHUA: One of the things when we look at clients and kind of relationships with them, I think it’s really easy for attorneys to look at clients sort of as almost a dollar figure, like this is this person, this is what their case is worth and this is what I’m going to make off of it. And so, what we’ve always tried to do in our firm is kind of turn that around and say “look” and we tell this to all of our clients. “You’re the person that is injured. This is your case. This is your life that was affected. Not mine. My job as an attorney is to be here to guide you, to counsel you, to advocate for you and to give you the best information and the best legal advice I can give based on my experience and everything we’ve done and learned and then be there to fight vigorously for you,” so we always try to look at it that way and go, “What value am I as an attorney bringing to this individual in their case”? Because at the end of the day, it really is that individual’s case. It really is their life that was affected and we’re just here in the service industry trying to help them. And so, it does require, as attorneys, looking at clients differently than just the bottom line and really looking at them as individuals and how you can help them as an individual.

KATIE: Do you find that seeing your client’s as individuals and feeling sympathy with what they’re going through, do you find that that helps you to transfer that sympathy, whether it’s to a jury or an opposing council, helping to humanize your clients to them?

JOSHUA: Yes absolutely. You know when you approach your clients differently, and like Cheryl said, we text our clients. They have our cell phones. We talk to them all the time. You get to know about them. And one of the biggest obstacles we face in terms of litigation and going to court or in front of a judge or a jury is there’s always going to be certain prejudices that occur, particularly in a jury in a conservative state like Utah. There will be prejudices about people that bring losses. There will be prejudices about lawsuits in general. And then with our practice working with the Hispanic community, there’s an added wrinkle, in terms of language, potentially legal status and all of these issues. And so, when you get to know a client and you know all the details about their life, you learn how to navigate the litigation process to make sure you protect their interests but also maximize their humanity and show a jury this is who this person is. I’ve had in the last couple months, a couple depositions where I had one client who is, you know, a marathon runner. He’s now in his sixties and he’s ran marathons in Mexico City and he’s ran them all over the place and he has this really fascinating life story and we when got done with the deposition, opposing counsel was immediately like, “I’m going to give you guys an offer. I’m going to talk to the insurance company.” It really changed the value because he got to know this person. And he didn’t seem just as, you know, someone who is trying to take money from the insurance companies, he saw him as a real person who had real needs and of course this does not always happen, and that’s where our job comes as an attorney to help get those stories to light and to help present our clients in the best light. And that’s where it helps to know, you know, that my client is a single mother who takes care of kids and so it’s really difficult for her to carry her kids while she’s trying to recover. Or she had this added difficulty and really present that and let people know, this is who this person is. This is how it affected them. Because a big part of any lawsuit in any case, particularly when it comes to juries, is making them feel sympathetic toward this client so they’ll give them a fair shot at justice. You don’t want a judge or jury or anyone to prejudice, make a snap judgment about them before they know who they are. And when they do know who they are, they’ll be more sympathetic to their claim and listen and at least be open to the possibility that yes, this person deserves this.

CHERYL: In all of that Josh said, I’m just going to just echo it and just say that also applies even from before we’re in the litigation setting. I do a lot of the negotiations and a lot of my role, because I just remember people, I’m like, “okay this is the lady who has five kids”. Or “this is my client who has a child with special needs” and all of those things help me when I’m negotiating a claim to explain to the adjustor how this accident affects this person’s life. If I didn’t know my client, I would not be a great advocate for them because I don’t know those details in their lives that I’ve only gotten to know just because I know them.

KATIE: I want to ask you about the specific communities that you serve; Spanish speaking, Hispanic, Latino communities. If there were another attorney that you were talking to who wanted to open up their practice to those communities and maybe thought that it was just an issue of saying the same things in a different language, how would you talk to them about issues, challenges and opportunities of serving that community.

CHERYL: I would start off by making sure that you’re very sensitive and aware of unique challenges. I have so many clients who might be not sure if they even want to proceed with a case just because they fear for anything that might affect their status here and so you have to make sure that you understand that these are questions, concerns that are going through their minds and even if they don’t voice them. I don’t even ask legal status questions but I will still inform and educate all of my clients that, you know, if you’re involved in an accident or a victim of someone else’s negligence, legal status doesn’t preclude from all of these benefits and rights. And so from the get go, I’m not asking you, I’m not going to put you in that awkward position of having to tell me, you know, what your personal status is but I’m going to tell you regardless that, “Hey if this is a concern, there’s no need for you to be concerned.” So that sensitivity, just being aware of the particular issues. Also, we’re very referral based. In other words, if you have a client and you give them a really good service and you’re able to help them out and they’re happy with you they will be a client for life. If you treat them well, they will come back with their friends. I have clients who tell me, “Are you in the office today?” “Yes.” “I’m coming over with my friend!” “Come on over!” You know, because that’s kind of how we operate.

JOSHUA: I would add be an advocate. And by that, I mean I see a lot of attorneys or law firms that will let’s say have Hispanic clients. And they have no problem taking a case, moving it through the process and making a profit on the tail end of this case and then sending the client off on their way. At the same time, advocating that maybe that same client or people like them be deported or advocating that that same client have certain laws and things that maybe don’t benefit them. So, what I mean by that, when we have a relationship with this community I think you have a duty to not just be an advocate in this one narrow sliver of “I’m going to make sure when you get hit by a car that you get some money,” but actually care about the person beyond that. I think we and we’ve decided that as a group, that we don’t just advocate just for individuals when they get in a car accident but for them in general. And that’s why the relationship with clients is getting to know them. Getting to know how these things affect their lives and understanding the unique challenges that a community faces like Cheryl mentioned, legal status. That’s something I face in litigation all the time. In depositions, you’ll get overzealous defense attorneys that feel like legal status is something that needs to be talked about when it doesn’t. In a deposition, I had an attorney that works for a very large company, lead counsel during a break during deposition and was very upset that we had the audacity to bring a claim on behalf of our client because of their legal status, they have no rights, they shouldn’t be able to bring this. And we were fortunate enough to have an interpreter there who did the excellent job of informing this attorney of what the actually law is. The interpreter did. And I had to chuckle because you know here we have an attorney who has gone through law school and been a lead counsel for years and years and in our state, should have known these things but was still advocating this position that isn’t legal, isn’t correct and isn’t very humane.

KATIE: Have there ever been moments where it was challenging to continuously center your clients?

CHERYL: Yes, there’s been times in my life and me particularly I’ve given birth to three children. And because I’m partner in the law firm, you know, it’s been challenging to take that time off. That maternity leave, as it were. But the one thing that I’ve valued from clients is that because I’ve established for the most part that rapport, that foundation, my clients knew at some point coming up, I was going to take some time off. My work is going to be a little bit slower and most of my clients did, for the most part, were very understanding. I would get lots of, you know, texts, of, you know, congratulations and what have you, but to your question, “Have there been challenges?” Yes. And they have come around those times and maybe because I remember them a little bit more but the good thing about working as a team that Josh and I have is that he was able to just take over and for the most part it was a great transition.

JOSHUA: Yeah, and you know that’s something we’ve always had with our relationship here at work is we’ve been able to cover for one another, help each other, you know when those situations arise and I think part of the reason why Cheryl being pregnant and giving birth was something we could handle and do even though we’re a small boutique law firm and the main two partners, is because that communication with our clients. Cheryl wasn’t just some far off attorney that they had only heard their name once or twice and they talked to paralegals. They actually communicated with her and they knew she was pregnant and they knew this was part of her life. They had seen her pregnant. They had spoken to her and so there was a certain amount of respect that was given back to her because of that and where people understood, “Oh, she gave birth. I’ll be more patient than I might be otherwise. Or I’ll communicate with her husband or I’ll communicate with someone else and get my answers and my needs met that way.” And so again, that goes back to the relationship with our clients. Because we had a relationship that was a little more in depth, and still do with clients, they respect us back in the same way, I believe, and are understanding when those things happen.

KATIE: I want to ask you, Cheryl, about your radio show. So, every Friday at noon if you’re in Utah, you can tune into 102.3 La Grande and hear Cheryl talking. Do you want to explain why you do that and what you do?

CHERYL: Yes, community outreach and you know what I do feel that we’re providing a service. A service to a community that’s been neglected and so I do see myself as having a little bit more responsibility. And so, we wanted to educate and inform and provide tools and information that would be of use to anyone who listens. I’m always on the radio offering things as simple as “you’re not sure about the coverages that you bought.” Send me a picture. Send me a private message through Facebook. I will review it for you and let you know whether you have the coverages that we feel are important. And that’s something that I offer to anybody, you don’t have to be my client or past client. And the reason why we do these things is because we want to ensure that my Hispanic community is knowledgeable, that they are protected, that their families are protected…

JOSHUA: And some of the topics that Cheryl covers are really relevant things. We see, for example, a lot of individuals, and this is I would honestly say that in terms of when we’re talking about insurance coverage and what people don’t have. Most people don’t necessarily understand all the intricacies of how it works. You know a lot of times we see with our clients will come in and they’ll say “I have full coverage. I’m great. Everything’s going to be taken care of.” But when you look at the nitty gritty of the insurance policy you’ll find they’re missing key things like, underinsured insurance or uninsured insurance. These are the types of things that protect you when another individual doesn’t have enough insurance or has no insurance and so a lot of people will find don’t have those. And so what happens if they get involved in an accident like that, they’ll end up with medical bills or lost income or very serious things where there just simply isn’t insurance money to cover for them. Meanwhile, they were believing the whole time that they had full coverage.

KATIE: And the fact that they can trust you in that sense and can see you as an advocate also means that they’re more likely to see you as their own advocate when they do have problems as well, right?

CHERYL: Yes, my role is really that community outreach education, information, how do we prevent accidents. I’m coming up with, well I’m not coming up with them but I’m reading up on stats on distracted driving, the usage of texts and what that causes because in my Hispanic community sometimes we do lack information. And so, I’m able to provide information to our listeners and hopefully be an advocate if ever there is an accident.

JOSHUA: You know, one thing that Cheryl and I look at when we talk about this is obviously we’re in a relationship, and so when we’re running our firm we don’t just think about how much money can we get and how much can we maximize that coming in? We have to take into account other things. You know, we have children together. What values are we leaving them? Yes, practicing law isn’t the most noble profession. There are people doing way more noble things and way better things. There’s teachers. There’s all sorts of people doing subsidive real life changing things. But in the practice that we’ve chosen we can still choose to make certain decisions to put our clients first. And so, you know, that’s part of us having a relationship. We look at our children, and I don’t want our children to go, “Mommy and daddy make money.” I want them to know that in our jobs we put other people first. That we try to bring value to them and that we try to help individuals.

KATIE: Thank you for inviting us into this wonderful office where you work. And best of luck in all of your work.

CHERYL: Thank you.

JOSHUA: Thank you.

KATIE: This has been The Filevine Fireside. I’m Katie Wolf. We’ll see you next week!