June 16th, 2010

Thou Shall Know Thy Client

Our client is the most important element of a personal injury case. As we discussed in “Characteristics of the Personal Injury Plaintiff/Hero” a quality plaintiff is true to life, without pretense, and honest. When we present the case to the jury we must intellectually and emotionally understand our client. This allows us to sincerely convey the essence of our client and the nature of her injury.

The first step in being able to do this is to know our client. This begins at the first meeting. Here it is essential to listen. Lawyers have a tendency to do the talking rather then the listening. Listening sends a message to our client we care. Listening allows us to grasp the facts from our client’s perspective. Listening gives our client confidence, as it is human nature to think one who listens is intelligent.

I  meet with my client at  the first meeting when she signs the fee agreement.  I get the facts and feelings on: education, family and employment background; mechanism of injury; detailed description of injury; initial pain and disability components of injury; impact of injury on activities;  impact of injury on employment; medical providers; and, insurance information. Next  we agree on a plan of action.  The client will attack her injury through medical treatment. I will take the burden of dealing with her insurer and third party insurer. In this way we begin our bond.

At subsequent steps in the case, I meet with my client. We do the interrogatories together. We set forth the facts in power language using nouns and verbs. We eliminate modifiers-adjectives and adverbs- that suck the blood out of the English language. We continue to bond. I internalize the case deeper into my conscious and subconscious mind.

Prior to my client’s deposition we meet again with emphasis on the on plot aspects of the case: honest true to life presentation of background, mechanism of injury, injury, attempt to dig out of injury through treatment, and impact of injury. This includes facts and feelings on economic loss, disability (range of motion and strength deficits), impact on activities, and pain. We discuss relating naturally with the defense lawyer with candor and decency. In this way the defense recognizes the jury will like my client. (This maximizes settlement value).

In all client meetings I am focused only on my client. I come to know my client. This allows us to form a solid attorney client bond and trust. This allows us to communicate at our highest level with comfort and ease . This allows us to get into our emotional unconscious minds so jurors have a high likelihood of relating to us with their emotional unconscious minds.

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June 11th, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Use Legalese

This is my second rule under the topic “How I Practice Law.”  Legalese is “language  used by lawyers, and in legal documents, which is difficult for ordinary people to  understand.” Cambridge Online Dictionary.  As we see from the definition legalese is both spoken and written. The key is for it to make no sense to a normal person regardless of it being spoken or written.

When a lawyer finishes law school they have been exposed to legal language for three years. They hear it from their professors. They read it in cases and statutes. They are trained to use it when they speak or write. Thus, the law student who began law school being able to carry on a conversation like a normal person has become a legal speaking machine that only other lawyers fully understand. They work and socialize with other lawyers and get paid to be a lawyer which means talking and sounding like the lawyer they have been taught to be.

This is a problem because the lawyer needs to communicate with non lawyers. This is especially true for a lawyer  who does jury trials. These lawyers need to convince normal people their case deserves fair compensation. Success is more likely if they  speak and write in a way that is clear to a normal person.

I must confess for my first few years as a lawyer I believed in legalese. It made me stand out as a lawyer. Routinely I would begin letters: “This letter serves to memorialize our telephone conversation of… .” I thought it was cool to talk and write like a lawyer. I have learned through the years that a quality lawyer talks and writes like a normal person. This means normal people understand and relate to what is being said or written.

Now a days I say let’s sign the agreement rather than let’s execute the agreement; I select a jury rather than conduct voir dire; I agree rather than stipulate; I deal with the other side rather than an adversary; I say harm rather than prejudice; I pay rather than reimburse. 

I want to be a normal person fighting for justice. To accomplish justice in our legal system I try cases to a jury of twelve normal people. I talk and write like the normal people I am dealing with.  And more often than not my client and I do well.

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June 8th, 2010

Thou Shalt Not Be a Pompous Ass

In the next series of posts we turn from “Thoughts on Personal Injury Practice” to “How I Practice Law.” These posts discuss rules for myself in the practice of law. I hope you find them helpful in your profession even if it is not law.

The  first rule I came across several years ago reading C. S. Lewis. Lewis writing on sin discusses sins of the mind and sins of the flesh. To Lewis sins of the mind are worse than sins of the flesh. Lewis writes the greatest sin of the mind is to be judgmental as in thinking I am better than another.  

As an attorney I work on treating all  people with dignity and respect. The great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius writes he always takes time for his subjects.  He knew every Roman citizen is important as all of the citizens make up the body of Rome.  

Whenever I think I am too busy to deal with a client, staff member, or anyone in my life, I step back and remember C. S. Lewis and Marcus Aurelius and make time for the person.

This rule recognizes we are all in this together, and no one is more important than another.

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