Interview with Blake Markus
Blake Markus is one of the brightest young minds in our profession. Between guiding an established firm through multiple disasters and figuring out strategies to enhance the amount his clients receive in compensation, Blake finds time to lend an ear to anyone who needs advice. He is the first person to cheer for other lawyers to succeed and someone who dedicates his life to advancing the profession. Oh, and he’s a great chef to boot. We sit down with Blake, the President of Carson and Coil in Jefferson City, Missouri, to talk about balancing his case load with managing a firm.
Lawyer Minds: You’re making exciting changes at an established firm. Tell us about that.
Blake Markus: Well, I started here right out of law school and then actually migrated away with a couple of other attorneys. After spending some time doing just injury work and business litigation, a few opportunities arose. The firm I was with offered me partnership, but so did this firm. Here, I was in a position to join as a partner and build something new as the older generation transitioned out. Despite being a larger organization for mid-Missouri, I could come in and offer my voice. So, I became heavily involved in decisions about marketing, hiring, and compensation formulas. I had the opportunity to transform the business for a new generation of lawyers, which was exciting. Then, I was asked to take over as the president of a law firm when the then-current president transitioned out to serve in the Missouri legislature.
Having a background in business has really helped with this whole process. We have to remember that our law firms are essentially businesses and part of that business is sales.
As an attorney, you are a salesperson no matter the size of the firm. You have to market yourself. Sometimes I think we can get into this mindset that business will just come in on its own, and this isn’t true. We all have a responsibility to bring in business.
So, coming back in here, transitioning the firm, and transforming the mindset has been a great opportunity.
Lawyer Minds: Then the unexpected happens.
Blake Markus: Yep — in the middle of the night our phones go off and the tornado sirens go off. My wife and I grab the baby and go down to the basement. Everything blows over relatively quickly and as we are going back to bed, I get a text saying a local high school, one that’s really close to our office, got hit pretty hard. So, I jumped in the car, and I drove down. Everything on the way looked fine. Nothing was wrong with any of the buildings downtown. Then I get one extra block from downtown, and the roof from the store across the street is in the third floor of our building. The majority of our windows were blown out, water damage everywhere, electrical lines down. We got hit extremely hard, and it was over Memorial Day weekend to boot. We knew it was going to be bad from the beginning, and so immediately I had to flip into leadership mode and contact all the employees to let them know what was going on, that they shouldn’t be coming in the next work day, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. One feather in our cap is that we have been set up to work remotely for the last few years.
Lawyer Minds: You weathered the literal storm and, thankfully, nothing impactful has happened since then.
Blake Markus: No problems whatsoever — 2020 is fantastic.
Lawyer Minds: Oh, right, a pandemic. How has running the practice gone during this time?
Blake Markus: It is simultaneously exhausting and invigorating. There are all of these business challenges coming up that, luckily, we already dealt with last year — getting people working remotely, dealing with things outside of your control, dealing with them in such a way that you can harness all the things that are within your control, and taking steps to make sure that your employees know that they have someplace to go and someplace to make money so they can feed their families.
We have remote servers, we got all of our virtual desktops, so we can access everything from outside the office. There is always something that you have to grab from the office from time to time. For instance, files that are just too large or too difficult to transfer onto a server. But we were able to get around a lot of that pretty easily based on our past experience. But it’s certainly challenging because now we are running into childcare issues, and social distancing issues where you don’t feel comfortable having clients stacked up in your waiting room, and you don’t want too many attorneys in the office at the same time. So, there is a new host of issues that we have had to deal with that we didn’t last year, and I think we have done a pretty good job with it.
Lawyer Minds: You are juggling not just your own schedule, but also the schedule of literally every other attorney in the office in trying to get clients in and out.
Blake Markus: Right. So, what we did is we have a calendar that’s accessible through Outlook that we use to schedule our conference rooms. The attorneys can schedule every time that they are going to have a client in the office for the conference room, and we have limited it to no more than two sets of client meetings happening simultaneously. So, we have been able to use the resources that we already had to deal with these new challenges.
Lawyer Minds: And, you are also managing your case load and some extra work as well….
Blake Markus: We have all of these individual office challenges which involve a significant number of small decisions that have to be made multiple times a week. And on top of that, I also run a practice — my own practice. I have clients and a large case load. I put in a lot of time for my cases already, so there is not enough time in the day as it is. Plus, there are personal aspects as well. Just like everyone else, we’ve got childcare issues in trying to make sure our daughter has somebody watching her during the day. And then back at the office, I’m dealing with the government on PPP loans and setting up COVID-19 guidelines for the office. We also had two associates leave earlier this year because they didn’t want to do litigation anymore. So, I am probably the busiest I have ever been in my practice.
Lawyer Minds: You talked about spending a lot of time on your files — one of the things you’ve developed is a reputable bad faith practice. How did that come about?
Blake Markus: It’s funny, because in Missouri there are really reputable bad faith guys who I totally admire and completely adore. Jeff Bauer and Kirk Pressley are two guys who come to mind. They just have these minds for bad faith cases, and are always working a case, and I just admire so much about that. What I particularly enjoy about bad faith is that it’s a practice area where the facts of your case often matter less than the strategies and leverages available to you. I can take a case that, on its best day is only worth so much money, and use certain strategies to maximize its value for the client. It’s this jujitsu-type practice where you turn insurance companies’ activities back on themselves and thereby enhance the worth of the case. A good way to think about how these cases work is the same type of sabermetrics they use in baseball, like fWAR or rWAR (wins after replacement).
So, when I get involved in a case where there are levers and strategies to employ, I hope I have a fairly high DAR (dollars after replacement).
Again, there is so much more to a case than the facts, and if you don’t know the angles and leverage points that will hit an insurance company the hardest or raise the red flags highest, then you are doing a disservice to your clients. I think you just have to have somebody — anybody — on a case who knows how to send an insurance company into a tizzy, wondering what you are going to do next, to cause that company the most heartburn that they have ever had in their lives.
Lawyer Minds: And these cases are about finding more dollars for your clients?
Blake Markus: When somebody tells me that they have a great case, but that there is just not enough insurance money, my eyes light up and I get hungry. I get a feeling in the pit of my stomach that says that there is no way that this insurance company should get off with just paying the limits on a case where you’ve got a lot of damages, their insured did something extremely wrong that caused a lot of harm, and the insurance company is going to do something to try and weasel out of its commitments. And so, when someone says that there is just not enough insurance, that’s the time to hit the gas. You have to double down on your efforts.
Lawyer Minds: And they’re also about making sure the insurance industry is living up to the promises it makes to its insureds?
Blake Markus: That’s exactly right. An insurance company’s policy holders mean nothing to it. All an insurance company sees is dollars and cents. If there is a way for an insurer to get out of paying something nominal — even if they’re obligated to pay it — they will try it. They write these policies that are so restricting and that are designed to be weaseled out of. Experienced lawyers have troubles with the terms occasionally. And so, our job as a claimant’s attorney is to make sure that the insurance company is abiding by this contract of cohesion with its insured.
You have to hold their feet to the fire. If you don’t, they are going to keep doing it, and they are going to screw over their own policy holders — they are going to screw over injured people. So, I think the claimant’s attorney’s responsibility is to find out what strategies are available to help your client. Often times, your case evolves from going after the trucker who hit your client, or after the gas station where your client fell on a puddle of oil, into a case against the insurance company. You always have to keep that in mind. Your clients deserve it.
Many thanks to Blake for sharing his time with us.
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