August 6th, 2012

Back from Trial Lawyers College

With no wasted time we chomp at the bit.

We learn the mask we wear does not fit.

Soon becomes apparent this is about who we are.

To find ourselves we need not go far.

We need only to go within.

To discover our story we go back to then.

There is fear and we know it will not be fun.

But we trust the method and do not run.

For the method teaches to accept the past.

We form a bond that will last.

A bond from taking off the mask.

And after this is done we have a blast.

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July 12th, 2012

Trial Lawyers College

I am going to Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College from July 13, 2012 to August 6, 2012. Two former graduates Bob Dawson and Mark Wagner convinced me to apply. Both say graduates learn the Gerry Spence Method of trying a case. Both say it can and likely will be a life changing experience. From what I understand we will:

Discover Who We Are. Before we can try a case at the highest level we must know who we are. This means becoming honest with ourselves.  We cannot expect a jury to trust us unless we communicate from our heart with honesty and without pretense.  According to Gerry Spence we cannot do this until we know who we are.

Self Action. According to Carl Rodgers, On Becoming a Person (1961)(Required reading for Trial Lawyer’s College), until we discover who we are we tend to ask “[w]hat do others think I should do in this situation?” Id. The Spence Method assists in allowing the lawyer to recognize who he/she is, and then act in a realistic way according to the person’s feeling on what needs to be done. We learn to act as our  self instead of  acting based on society’s expectations.

Discover the StoryKnowing and trusting from one’s heart what needs to be done must be matched with knowing and understanding what our client has gone through and is going through in dealing with her injury. This is done by discovering our client’s story. Under the Spence Method we learn how this is done. Discovering the story allows us to bring the story to the jury in a way that relives the client’s emotions.

Show Me. All trial lawyers should follow the Missouri model of “show me.” We typically try our case by telling rather than showing. Telling is pedantic and boring. Telling is a turn off to the jury. Showing is bringing the case to life. Showing is living the case in the present tense emotions that are the case. Showing brings the case to life and the jury relates. The Spence Method teaches how to show rather than tell.

No Internet.  There is no internet at Trial Lawyers College. There will be no Blog posts. Will return August 6th and post about the Trial Lawyers College experience.


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May 31st, 2012

Tort Law

 Tort law is the body of  law concerned with civil harm of one against another. The law of torts includes three categories of civil wrongs: intentional torts where the actor intends to commit the harm, negligence where the actor commits a wrong by acting in an unreasonable way, and product liability where a manufacturer places an unsafe product into the market place. All torts have the common thread of causing injury. Lawyers are generally concerned with torts of negligence and product liability. This is because there is usually insurance coverage for negligent and product liability wrongs. Not so with intentional torts.

Civilized Freedom. In a civilized free society we should be able to do what we desire. We should be able to act freely. But civilized society involves others as well as the actor. In a civilized society the actor is limited in his actions when his actions harm another. Here freedom for one is harm to another and this is not tolerated in a civilized society. Thus, in a civilized society we are free to act up to the point our action harms another.  This is where tort law comes into play.

Tort Remedy. In tort the the remedy for causing harm to another is money compensation to the harmed person from the person causing the harm. The concept is the person harmed should be placed in the position he was before the harm. When the harm involves a personal injury this means the wrong doer pays the amount of money a jury determines fairly compensates the innocent harmed person.

Dual Purpose. Tort law protects society’s interests in freedom from harm, with the goal of restoring the person harmed to the position he or she was in prior to the defendant’s harmful conduct. Tort law focuses on protecting people and property by imposing a duty of reasonable care on others. An underlying purpose of tort law is to provide for public safety through deterrence of negligent acts. The concept has a dual purpose. First, provide fair compensation to the harmed person from the person who causes the harm. Second, provide for public safety by way of the deterrent effect of the connection between causing harm to another and having to pay for the harm.

Misconception. A misconception on tort law has emerged by way of the frivolous lawsuit myth. Pushed by insurance companies the myth is there is something wrong with seeking money compensation for harm caused by the wrongful act of another. Our nation has believed and fostered tort law from the beginning. Our constitution grants the right of jury trial with the idea that fellow citizens will hear the case and provide fairness. If the harm is real and the act causing the harm is a tort then there is nothing frivolous in seeking fair compensation. It is the civilized and proper thing to do. Our society is safer for all of us when fair compensation is properly provided in a tort lawsuit.

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May 15th, 2012

Lawyers Care


House Republicans on Thursday (May 10, 2012) approved a sweeping package of budget cuts to food stamps, Meals on Wheels and other domestic programs-while sparing the Pentagon. …

If the bill becomes law the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates more than 20 million children will face reduced food and nutrition support, almost 300,000 will be knocked off the federal school lunch program, and at least 300,000 will lose access to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The cuts will replace across-the-board reductions to defense and non security programs that were agreed to as part of last summer’s debt ceiling deal.

by Lisa Mascaro Tribune Washington Bureau (5/11/12).

My first reading of this article made me mad as a lawyer dedicated to helping people. On further reflection, however, my mad reaction changed to a sad reaction. Sad our legislators chose to take from those less fortunate, those who need the most in these hard times, and divert funds for the needy by “literally taking food out of the mouth of babies while continuing tax breaks for the wealthy.” (Nancy Pelosi Rep. Cal.).

As trial lawyers dedicated to helping those in need we can and should speak out about this budget cutting proposal of the House of Representatives. E-mail your Congressman telling him or her:

“Recently heard of the House Budget Package vote of May 10, 2012. As a voting member of your district you need to know a yes vote  fails to represent what the majority of people in our district stand for. The May 10, 2012 proposed House Budget cuts take food and health benefits from children and the poor at a time when they need them most. Your vote on this package will be remembered in November. A yes vote translates to votes against you for reelection.  A no demonstrates you like the majority of our district care about those in need, and  stand tall for our district because “we care.”

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May 9th, 2012

Late Bloomer Trial Lawyer

Malcolm Gladwell, in What The Dog Saw (2009), discusses”Late Bloomers.” To Gladwell there are prodigies and there are late bloomers. We all know prodigies. In art a prodigy is Paublo Picasso. Late bloomers are known but not until they are old. This is because the late bloomer takes years to show his talent. Gladwell uses the example of Paul Cezanne who was not known as a great painter until old age.

In the practice of law we also have late bloomers. The traits of a late bloomer include: being well organized; being methodical; making mistakes; but, learning from mistakes. Let’s explore these traits to determine if we are a late blooming trial lawyer.

Well Organized. Do we take the time to organize our files? Do we know where to find documents? Do we have a case management system computerized or written where we have at our finger tips all information on client’s case? Are we organized  in any court appearance? If  yes to these questions, and we are not recognized as a legal prodigy then we may be a late bloomer.

Methodical. Late bloomers are also plodding. They are in no hurry. They know haste makes waste. They take the time to prepare by internalizing the facts and having the law researched. Little comes as a surprise because they have been there done that. If this is you you are looking more like a late bloomer.

Early Mistakes. Although we have had success we have had failures. Failure is seen when we start trying cases.  All phases of  jury trial present problems, and all  of the problems present opportunities to stumble. But we cannot be a late bloomer unless we make lots of mistakes.

Learning from Mistakes. The key to being a late bloomer is learning from mistakes. It is through mistakes that we grow as a late bloomer. Gladwell teaches late bloomers make tons of mistakes and they take years in making them. But they get better through their mistakes. The same is true as the late bloomer trial lawyer. In fact without the mistakes we have no hope of getting to the late bloomer level of accomplishment. The level where we are in the same light as the prodigy.

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May 2nd, 2012

Learning from Malcolm Gladwell

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book What the Dog Saw we learn:

Interior Life. “We want to know what it feels like to be a doctor,” rather than what doctors do every day. “Curiosity about the interior life of other people’s day-to-day work is one of the most fundamental of human impulses.”

Belief in Product. Gladwell  discuses famous “pitchmen” by distinguishing between an athlete who sells a product by pitching himself and a true salesman who sells a product by pitching the product. The great pitchman has an internal belief in his product. The great pitchmen in Gladwell’s book have internalized their product by inventing a better mousetrap so to speak. Thus, they have the enthusiasm that comes from a knowing understanding of the superior nature of their product.

Client’s Skin. Listening to Gladwell makes me think the same is true for a lawyer who is selling his client’s case. The lawyer has a story to tell and the story is not about himself. The story is the story of his client. The story can be told with full conviction only when the lawyer has taken the time to climb into the skin of his client. The lawyer must internalize the facts of his client’s story at the same emotional level his client has lived the events of his case.

Total Belief. When this has been done and only when this has been done is the lawyer ready to present his client’s case. At this point the lawyer can talk to the judge or jury on a personal and intimate level. Notes are not necessary, just as when Gladwell’s pitchman naturally discusses the product he  invents and in which he has total belief. Although the lawyer has not invented the case, he knows the case internally so he relates to his client’s story as his story. The effect on the judge or the jury is to internalize “what it feels like” to be the injured plaintiff.

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April 20th, 2012

Thoughts on Losing a Trial

This week I received a verdict in a eleven day survival action case. The verdict is a total defeat. My client the estate of decedent takes nothing. I estimate my law partner and I including our legal staff spent over 400 hours on the case. We likely have $40,000 in costs advanced which we will not be paid by the insolvent estate. Below are my thoughts:

What We Control. We cannot control the result. What we control is preparation and work before and during trial. For me this means  countless hours before trial and 15 hour work days including weekends after the trial begins. We gave our best effort and there is nothing more we could have or would have done. There is satisfaction in knowing this.

Taking Cases. They say if a lawyer wins all of his trials he is not trying enough cases. Well I am trying enough cases because I lose sometimes. The case I just lost was a hard case factually and legally. I know the decedent’s family. I took the case because I am their lawyer. They wanted justice for the death of their son and for this they came to me.

Jury Instructions. Before I file a case I have a solid understanding of the facts and the jury instructions to appreciate the rules the jury will follow when making its decision. This gives me an appreciation my opening and closing and the evidence in between.

Continue to Stand for Justice. I will continue to take tough cases. After all I am a trial lawyer and this means I must enter the arena. To quote Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

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March 28th, 2012

Personal Injury Case and Casablanca

Often when I am discussing a client’s personal injury case I ask my client if they have seen the movie Casablanca. Regardless of whether they have seen the movie I tell them their case is like the closing scene.

In the closing scene of Casablanca Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman she must leave Casablanca with her husband. The success of the French Resistance in World War 11 depends on her leaving with her husband. When Ingrid Bergman asks about “us”  in relation to her husband Bogart says “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hills of beans in this crazy world.”

I then tell my client a wise client years ago told me “nothing matters unless it matters when you’re 75 years old.” I then explain this statement  and the closing scene in Casablanca represent the importance of her personal injury case. Meaning the only thing that really matters is how she feels at 75. If she misses the opportunity to do everything she can to recover to the highest possible level from her injury she will regret  missing the opportunity she has now when she is 75.

As far as the simile on her case being like Casablanca, I explain her legal case  ultimately does not mean a hill of beans in the long run of her life- meaning when she is 75 years old what matters is how she feels. Plus dedicating herself to recovery now by doing everything in her power to get better makes her personal injury case better. This is because juries best appreciate a person who never gives up and does everything possible to overcome her injury.

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March 15th, 2012

Think Outside the Box

This post discusses thinking outside the box to succeed as a trial lawyer representing injured people.

The Time is Now. A trait of a quality trial lawyer is living in the moment. Preparation is essential as in having a thorough understanding of the facts and the law. Also it is important to image the case so the steps of the trial are imagined or imaged as an actor does before the play. This preparation  should not, however, substitute for allowing the trial to unfold naturally while staying in the moment. Staying in the moment lives the case as the jury lives the case. This creates connection with the jury. Staying in the moment removes any plastic rehearsed presentation.

Ditch Prior Successes. Great trial lawyers rarely use the same argument again. They move to the next case and present it in a new way that fits the story of the case. Defense lawyers at times pick the brain of a prior opponent to try and find out how the lawyer will approach their case. Trial lawyers who think outside the box could care less about what the prior lawyer has to say because the last case is done and they have moved on to the next with a fresh presentation that fits the story of the new case.

Do the Opposite. Under the classic personal injury case situation the lawyer presents a settlement demand prior to filing the case. Although this still makes sense in some cases, in many cases the pre filing demand is a waist of time. Further it telegraphs to the insurance company the lawyer wants to settle the case rather than take the case to trial. This results in the insurance company paying less for the case. Full value is paid when the insurance company knows the lawyer is prepared and willing to file the case.

Try the Case Without Medical Records. With the advent of Evidence Rule (ER) 904 trial lawyers routinely submit voluminous medical records of their plaintiff which are then introduced at trial. Consider thinking outside the box and forget about submitting ER 904 medical records. Have the treating physician testify to all relevant medical facts. In closing reiterate key medical testimony. The jury does not take any medical records into the jury room. This allows for a decision based on the medical testimony rather than on what a juror may chose to focus on when medical records are available in the jury room.

Never Stop Learning. Although the saying is success breeds success, success is dangerous when it breeds contentment, failure to reflect, and failure to grow. In today’s world change is rapid and those who fail to change and grow are left behind. Remember to forget the glory days, grow from the past and live originally in the present.

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February 15th, 2012

“The Litigators” Thoughts on the Book

On John Grisham’s book The Litigators: The book is funny and entertaining. It is somewhat realistic as far as trial tactics and courtroom scenes. The book plays on lawyer stereotypes, and paints an unfair picture of small and big law firm trial lawyers. This picture of trial lawyers will likely be accepted as true by the  general public. This will  further insurance propaganda that personal injury lawyers are ambulance chasers out to turn any arguable case into a cash cow.

Taking a Case. In today’s legal climate an experienced personal injury lawyer does not take a case unless he has an honest client, who has been legitimately injured and he can demonstrate liability. Stated another way the case must be one where a jury will relate to  the client being legally wronged and deserving of fair compensation.  An experienced personal injury lawyer does not try to manufacture a case. This is because such an attempt is doomed to failure. Failure in a personal injury case means the lawyer makes nothing in fees.

Paying for a Case. Assuming the referring lawyer does not also work on the case, it is unethical for a lawyer to pay for a referral of a case.  Grisham leads his readers to believe this is standard procedure for personal injury lawyers.   The standard procedure is to refer to a lawyer who the referring lawyer trusts and knows will do a quality job in representing the client. This is because the majority of referring lawyers are ethical and simply desire what is best for the client.

Client before Self. Grisham’s book is laced with passages to the effect lawyers care little for their client. He would have the reader believe lawyers care first and foremost about their fee. My years of experience as a trial lawyer demonstrate lawyers representing injured people care first about their client. This is the first requirement for winning representation-belief in the client and in his case. This can only be done when the lawyer understands the impact of the injuries to the client. Total belief in the client is infectious-the jury feels the total belief and responds. The fee is secondary and takes care of itself.

The Value of a Quality Lawyer. Generally people buy stereotypes of lawyers when they contemplate faceless lawyers with whom they have no relationship or when they have to deal with an opposition lawyer. When a person is faced with a legal need as in the need to take their case to trial to get fairness the person sees their lawyer in a different light. They see their lawyer as the vehicle for them to get the justice they deserve. The stereotypes break down as they see their lawyer has internalized their case to the point the lawyer knows more about the client’s case then anyone other than the client. It is then the client understands the value of a quality lawyer. Quality trial lawyers and their clients reading Mr. Grisham’s book will see it for what it is-a fictional version of trial lawyers that plays on stereotypes at the expense of reality.

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