ep24. Law Firm Marketing: Jim Owen, Founder at Koenig & Owen LLC – How to get Operations and Lawyering Right When Starting a Law Firm

January 27, 2021
By: Matthew Laurin

Jim OwenJim Owen is the Founder of Koenig & Owen, LLC, a criminal defense law firm based in Columbus, Ohio. For more than a quarter-century, Jim has been involved in numerous criminal defense cases and won Ohio’s first death penalty acquittal after the state reinstated executions. He has represented judges, members of Congress, professional athletes, and rappers. He has an impressive record of winning acquittals in felony jury trials and serving justice for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Who is Jim Owen?
  • The caliber of clients Jim represents.
  • Why Jim decided to start his law firm and how he got it off the ground.
  • Jim recalls the cases that were a launching pad for his career.
  • The one significant loss that shaped how Jim approaches his private practice.
  • What Jim wishes he did differently during the early days of running his firm.
  • What makes an excellent lawyer?

In this episode…

Here’s the hard truth: your new law firm is a business. Whether you’re operating solo from your home office or with a team in an office space, you want to get your operations and lawyering right early on. Jim Owen, the Founder of Koenig & Owen, LLC, wishes he nailed both aspects down in his firm’s early days.

While Jim turned out a great criminal defense lawyer, he was not as adept when it came to the business of law. Since the start of his practice, he’s learned what to do differently in operations—and became a better lawyer as a result.

Catch all the details of how to get operations and lawyering right when starting a law firm on this episode of the Esq.Marketing Podcast with Matthew Laurin and Jim Owen, Founder of Koenig & Owen, LLC. Jim shares some of the big cases that shaped his career, what he wishes he did differently at first, the reasons behind his legal successes, and more.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Special Mentions:

Books Mentioned: 

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Esq Marketing, your firm’s strategic search marketing partner. Esq Marketing helps law firms generate more clients and cases using search marketing and helping them land on the first page on Google so that clients can find you right away. We help companies ranging from those with 10 or less members to those with over 50 in their team, essentially creating a marketing department for them to help them reach potential clients with ease.

 

Episode Transcript

Intro

You’re listening to the Esq.Marketing Podcast hosted by Matthew Laurin, President of Esq.Marketing, where he features successful solo and SMB law firms from all over the United States. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Matthew Laurin

Hey, I’m Matthew Laurin, President of Esq.Marketing and you’re listening to the Esq.Marketing Podcast where I feature successful lawyers from all over the United States. This episode is brought to you by Esq.Marketing we help law firms generate more clients in cases using affordable and practical digital marketing strategies. And speaking of successful lawyers today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jim Owen. Jim is Founder of Koenig & Owen, a criminal defense law firm based in Columbus, Ohio. For more than a quarter century, Jim has been involved in numerous criminal defense cases, and is credited with winning Ohio’s first death penalty acquittal after executions were reinstated. He’s represented judges, congressmen, professional athletes, rappers and has an impressive record winning acquittals in felony jury trials. Jim, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show.

Jim Owen

Thank you, Matt.

Matthew Laurin

That’s, that’s pretty cool. So you’ve run it you’ve represented rappers saw what it was there any well known rappers that you’ve brought?

Jim Owen

Well, I I currently represent a rapper who’s in Columbus, Ohio, who’s accused of participating in a criminal gang he Okay, currently has a pretty big recording, contract with some big names in music.

Matthew Laurin

That’s super interesting. Yeah, I got to admit, the first time I met you, and some of the things you were telling me about the people, you’ve represented that some you’re definitely one of the more interesting attorneys we’ve had on the show,

Jim Owen

represent anyone from homeless people to represented, was legal adviser to Ohio Secretary of State and 16 federal lawsuits, I’ve represented a congressman judges a lot of different people.

Matthew Laurin

That’s very cool. Very cool. So Jim, take me back to the beginning. When you when you started your law firm, what was that like for you?

Jim Owen

Well, I started in a relatively mid sized law firm and was very unsatisfied representing banks and insurance companies, and had had a hard time just getting any sustenance or even focusing enough to do the work and do it well. And I was appointed to a criminal case by a judge I know and was shocked initially about how unfair the system as how you get very little discovery, I could get sued by a department store and get all the discovery I want, and get charged for murder. And I don’t get anything, particularly back that and I was just really, really stunned. I kind of fell in love with it. We had no rules back when I started about who could represent an ended be appointed to represent an indigent person, even in a murder case or a death penalty case. So in 1985, a judge appointed me to represent a really famous person who is accused of killing a prominent Columbus business person and political figure. It was a candidate for city council at the time and on our transit authority. And some of the legal community was pretty outraged because it was only I only had two jury trials and criminal cases under my belt, very little experience. And I was scared to death. And I went out, did a neighborhood canvass and found some great witnesses that gave descriptions of the shooter that was very different than mine. Got a great alibi. At a jury trial, the jury was out for days. And it came back with a not guilty verdict as to all counts. That was in 1986. The jury started January 9, my birthday, I remember that forever. And it really gave me the bug. I should have never taken the appointment. It was outrageous that I was appointed in the first place. And it could have turned out very, very badly for the client. Yeah. But fortunately, I was so petrified that I worked my tail off day and night, for months before the case went to trial. And that really started my, my career. I’ve been a lawyer for seven years then. I’ve only been doing criminal defense for about 18 months. And so I got some recognition. A number of death penalty murder cases after that my clients were really lucky. I got several other acquittals completed collaterals I mean, most people and a death case, rightfully view it as a win if their client escapes the death penalty. Yeah. But we just litigated the heck out of the cases. And I was very lucky. So homicides kind of became the foundation of my small law firm.

Matthew Laurin

Okay, and then you went into private practice kind of right after that time, and

Jim Owen

well, I was in I, I left the I graduated from law school in 1979. I worked at a major law firm till 1983 for four years and became dissatisfied with representing the banks, insurance companies left in 83, and then got appointed to a criminal case in 84. And really, from 1984 to the present, all I’ve done is either criminal defense or I also have civil rights litigation arising out of people who’ve been wrongly convicted. Okay, okay. Then I, the the premier case, I represented two guys named Timothy Howard and Gary James. And they were tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1977. For robbing a bank in Columbus, Ohio, and killing the security guard. Really, I got involved. 20 years later, this amazing man named James McCloskey is an ordained minister out of Princeton, New Jersey and ran an organization called century and ministries came to visit me and see and sought my help, in representing these two guys that he believed were innocent. That was a 20 years later, in 1997, after all, their appeals were exhausted. Jim and I spent four years pretty much every weekend re interviewing all the witnesses, I think proved on medicine beyond all doubt, on a successor, post conviction. Motion. Had a week long hearing, the judge found that the government cheated to get their conviction found by clear and convincing evidence that they were innocent. And granted a new trial. Nice government threw in the trial, but later we had a civil murder trial, we sued the state. And we had a jury find factual innocence. And we had a six member or an eight member jury they voted six to to find them factually innocent by the greater weight of the evidence.

Matthew Laurin

That’s very cool. So it seems like you got a lot of notoriety early on, and how are you able to parlay that into, you know, getting more more that type of business?

Jim Owen

Yeah, I really didn’t. I’m a failure as a businessman, at least recently, because I view our track record, in trial cases second to none, if not in Columbus in the state, maybe in the Midwest. I mean, we, we have a profile of acquittals and serious felony cases and big name cases that I think are is really unparalleled. And so the question becomes, how do you convert that to dollars and cents, and that it’s like the people that really win are the people that that focus on adding interesting content to their website, build links, get other people to nominate them for awards, you know, and they sit and meet at a coffee shop and nominate each other for this award or that award or the other award. And people that are really trying to focus on building a portfolio of big wins. 10 not the value that is as much as maybe they should if they wanted to support their family, the way their families deserve it. I mean, my wife says, Hey, when my husband’s in trial, the whole family’s in trial offer because you’re focused on your craft. And so your family deserves better. And if you’re really smart, you would think and try to if you can’t do it yourself, get the right team.

Matthew Laurin

Yeah, you raise a good point there because, yeah, I mean, there’s like focusing on your craft and then there’s the whole actually practicing law and then there’s the The promotion of it right and wrong, and you don’t always have time for both. That’s totally true. What is I was reading some of the cases that you had on your site. What’s the craziest one you’ve ever had? That was just curious.

Jim Owen

Well, I’ve had a lot of crazy cases. But that first murder case I had. My client actually in the first trial tried to escape.

Matthew Laurin

I only I read that

Jim Owen

on almost gun down as he reached the elevator. We had this old deputy sheriff named Rufus who probably couldn’t have the side of a barn 18 feet with his gun, and he was holding it and my client by the elevator and said, stop her, I’ll shoot it, even though I was the other direction. And so he was in chat, we had a mistrial. He was retried. He was in shackles the whole time, the retrial. So that was kind of crazy.

Matthew Laurin

Yeah, super crazy.

Jim Owen

The most memorable case I had, I lost, and some people would view it as a when it was a death penalty murder case, my client was sentenced to life. But he shot a person during a robbery with a sawn off shotgun. And I tried that co counsel with our current prosecuting attorney, Gary Tyack. I tried that in 1988. And we add an expert to show that the gun could fire without touching, let alone pulling the trigger. And so we put our expert on and the theory was that the gun went off accidentally, and we didn’t have felony murder in Ohio than purposely causing the death of another half a felony it was involuntary manslaughter. So our defense was involuntary manslaughter, the gun went off by accident. And we had our expert who was a gun expert from southern Ohio and had it off there. And I say, Can this gun fire and it had exposed hammers, but now pulling the trigger? And he said, Yes. And I had put blank shotgun shells in the gun. And I told the judge, but he must not have understood. So he’s been no burying the gun and all of a sudden POW. And everyone in the court ride for the table. And the judge is going crazy. The juries dive. And I’m, I can’t understand why the judge is so unbelievably upset. And he calls us up. And Gary Tyack here with me. And he says, well, didn’t Jim tell you that the gun was loaded? And so I didn’t know I had blanks. I didn’t know you had primers and those. So we had a long recess. And, and actually, it’s funny you ask. Our clients name is Michael Patterson. He called me yesterday from prison. He has 12. More years before his first parole hearing. He has an exemplary record. And I remember during preparing for mitigation or sentencing, I remember talking to his younger brother, who grew up in the slums of bombas, a place called winter terrorists. His name was Carlos. Carlos had two older sisters, both of whom had given birth before they turned 16. his oldest brother had died when he was shot while trying to rob a convenience store. His other brother was on trial for his life. His mother was dying of cancer. And his father had abandoned him when he was born. And I remember talking to him he’d never met anyone who had a job. And I remember thinking about what can society expect to happen to Carlos will Carlos end up like Michael? Yeah, I’m trying to keep in touch and he’s doing okay. doesn’t have a criminal record is employed. And it’s just kind of a fun, we’ll stick with me forever. Not just the gun going off in the courtroom, but the family and what it’s like For people, I mean, I feel many times I’ve had every opportunity known to man and taken advantage and none. And other people have had virtually no opportunity. And some of them succeed. And you wonder why? I assume it’s because there was some grandparents somewhere, or some relative that showed him a lot of love. And, but But anyway, that

Matthew Laurin

Yeah, that’s a that’s unfortunate. Um, then I hear you too. Yeah. I mean, you know, you you, you see, the people that commit these crimes are you hear about it, you think, oh, man, but you don’t really think about, you know, the the environment that created them. So I noticed you had a ton of passion for representing indigent folks. And obviously, you know, some of the the family or the families of those people, was that a major driver for you to get into private practice and focus on criminal defense?

Jim Owen

It was because I couldn’t. It was before the internet. And I did, you were prohibited from soliciting business. And we were able to earn a living when I first got started. After I quit doing that, but doing a point in cases, I got my sustenance from representing people who I believe were convicted at NSF. And we’ve represented a number of people in post conviction hearings and federal habeas, and before the parole board, who we believe are innocent and mistakenly were convicted.

Matthew Laurin

And that’s sort of like the the one the organization I’ve heard about is the Innocence Project.

Jim Owen

Yeah, and we are working on a case now with a branch of the Innocence Project, this operates out of the University of Cincinnati law school. And we have a case, it’s going to a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, and then we have an evidentiary hearing at the end of March.

Matthew Laurin

I love those stories. And I mean, it’s, it’s, I cringe hearing about it, because I just don’t want to, you know, it sucks that people have to be wrongly convicted like that. But it’s neat to hear about organizations like that, and people like you who’ve worked really hard to, you know, open up some hope for people that are that are wrongly convicted. That’s really cool. Um, so a lot of our listeners are attorneys like yourself, who may be working for another law firm and thinking about going off on their own. Um, what’s something you wish you did in the beginning, when you started your private practice that that you didn’t do?

Jim Owen

Well, I wish I would have systematized the offense of criminal practice. I mean, right now we have a about a 10 page, felony case checklist that we go through to make sure that we don’t miss anything. Are there any motions we should have been filing? I mean, on occasion, I have a case and I realized, wow, I should have filed a motion to sever or I didn’t think about suppression with this piece of evidence, or I didn’t think about something. And or maybe there was an expert witness, I wish I would have retained early earlier. And so we now have a pretty comprehensive 10 page checklist. And my paralegal goes through when we get a case. And it starts, you know, with the basics with the client interview and checks for problems early on. And we also have a checklist for analyzing discovery, so that my time can be better used and focusing winsome Borden and discovery a manner.

Matthew Laurin

That is super cool. I know. I mean, the average person probably wouldn’t think much of that. But I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book, The Checklist Manifesto.

Jim Owen

That’s

Matthew Laurin

Yeah, we do that in our work. And I’ve heard of other people doing that. And you’re the first attorney I’ve heard. And there may be other people that do it. But you’re the first attorney. I’ve heard talk about doing a checklist like that, which is super cool, because you can. Yeah, I mean, you not only streamline everything, but then it makes your service much more.

Jim Owen

Well, you have a in Ohio on our criminal rolls, we have a deadline for filing pretrial motions of 35 days after arraignment. And some counties enforce that very strictly. Unless you file a motion before then explaining why you need more time. So and in the county, I primarily practice and routinely doesn’t enforce it unless you really wait till the last Last minute, but we found it really important to have a checklist and identify potential problems as early as possible. Yeah,

Matthew Laurin

it is a really smart.

Jim Owen

Sorry. Yeah. The other thing is, I don’t think I really understood what attributes you had to have to succeed at the when guilty verdict. So my whole view is that if you’re a client, and you want to hire a lawyer, the litmus test and being you know, have they won cases, and they won jury trials? So they come out with acquittals? Because if your lawyer hasn’t, how’s it going to negotiate a good resolve, even if you don’t go to trial, you know, the prosecutor knows you’re not going to try the case? What leverage do you have? And so what do you need to get those acquittal, and I don’t think when I started, I even really understood what they were

Matthew Laurin

as great advice, not only for not only for attorneys, but for people who are who are looking to hire attorneys, because I think a lot of people, no matter what lawyer they’re talking to, they just assume that an attorney is professional and good at their job and knows what to do, you know, like a doctor or a dentist or whatever, but they had no idea that there’s a spectrum of upskill.

Jim Owen

Right. So, you know, obviously, I thought, Well, you’ve just got to be knowledgeable and thorough. And if you’re knowledgeable and thorough, everything will come together. And certainly, if you do have to have a knowledge base, you have to know the elements of every crime that your clients charged with, you need to know common defenses. You need to know that people in the courthouse, the judges and prosecutors, there’s a lot of things you need to know you need to develop a great knowledge base, and that can be a foundation. So that’s kind of the first attribute I think about is the knowledge base that the second thing is our skill, you’ve got to have skill on selecting a jury and cross examining witnesses, and putting your own client on, and how to do it in a persuasive way. You’ve got to have skills and closing argument, there’s a whole host of skills, skills, and graphing pre trial motions, and jury instructions and jury instruction, kind of go with the knowledge base. And so that’s the second element I think about is are those skills. But the third thing is talent of lawyers got to be a talented storyteller, you have to have a theory of innocence, and really do a good job, a talented job of letting the jury know what the case is. And you need to believe in your case. People say Do you believe in your client I never believe or disbelieve my client or ns client. But I tell you one thing I sure as hell believe in my case, I have that, within a sense, I believe in that case with my heart and soul. And the jury from the time we go through jury selection through closing arguments sees the passion about that case, you know, I may not be slick, I’m not may not be shrewd. But they see the passion I have about my belief and my case. And that’s where the talent comes in. It’s different than skill talents and different concept and his skill. Are

Matthew Laurin

those skills that you mentioned, is that something that they that they teach you in law school? Or is that something that attorneys have to seek out afterwards?

Jim Owen

Now, you pretty much have to seek it out. I mean, I’m, my weak point has always been probably cross examination. And I had to learn that there’s a guy out there named Terry McCarthy, who I think is a retired Federal Public Defender has written one book on cross examination, another one on impeachment. There are other people that but I swear by Terry McCarthy, and he has 13 techniques of cross examination, and I take every witness and look at them and try to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work.

Matthew Laurin

That’s very interesting. So and do you work on those skills on a continuous basis, like always trying to hone them and get better as

Jim Owen

much as I wish I would. But I think the better lawyers do, we have a great lawyer in Columbus that I refer a lot of drunk driving cases to who’s constantly working on honing his skills. It’s amazing. Nice, nice.

Matthew Laurin

So if what is a book that you know someone new to private practice or just started thinking about going off on their own? What’s a book that you would recommend they they read any business books or or books related to the skills that you just talked about?

Jim Owen

You know, I, I don’t know, I would just go to as many sale is I mean, I I’m a believer in Terry McCarthy. I think and let me talk about the last element that I think you need to have to get that you got to have guts. Because, yeah, I had someone tell me once asked me what the difference definitely right the difference between a litigator and a criminal trial lawyer was and I didn’t know and he said a litigator is always prepared, but never ready. And chromo in a sense, lawyers are too often ready but never prepared. Hopefully want to be both you want to be prepared, which goes to those elements I talked about. And ready and be ready really takes guts, man, you got to be ready, willing and able to take it to the to the box to the jury. Yeah, a lot of a lot of guts. And I don’t know, need to be a junkyard dog. But man, you gotta have enough confidence to get out there and try your case.

Matthew Laurin

I can’t even imagine that’s that’s all great advice. Jim. You’ve been listening to Jim Owen, Founder of Koenig & Owen, Jim, where can people go to learn more about the firm?

Jim Owen

Well, as you can just google Koenig & Owen I’m sorry,

Matthew Laurin

I mispronounce that’s okay.

Jim Owen

Or is Columbuscriminaldefenseattorney.com, which is too long of a URL. But I got it decades ago when having keywords in your your URL mattered. So Columbuscriminaldefenseattorney.com. And our phone numbers there. And I’m willing to help anyone, however I can.

Matthew Laurin

That’s awesome. Jim, I really appreciate you taking the time to be on the show.

Jim Owen

And I would encourage everyone to to focus on the business aspects more than perhaps I did, and then turning and determining how they’re going to get their clients and what kind of client they want and what they need to do to have a successful business.

Matthew Laurin

Great advice. Great advice.

Conclusion

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