Episode

38 – Wayne Pollock – The Court of Public Opinion

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with attorney and founder of Copo Strategies, Wayne Pollock, for an in-depth discussion on the court of public opinion [copo] and how it can affect your clients, cases, firm, and reputation.

Having graduated college and working in public relations for a PR firm for about four years, he was introduced to the legal world through one of his clients at the time, Fox Rothschild, now an AM Law 100 law firm, which inspired Wayne to go to law school. Graduating law school from Georgetown University, he went to work at a big law firm for six and a half years as a litigation associate while he never stopped liking public relations. Wayne describes himself as an attorney focused on the court of public opinion, which really means he helps other attorneys and their clients, ethically, strategically, and proactively engage public opinion in order to help those clients resolve their cases favorably. Wayne does this work to help the attorneys build their practices, he also goes in as a consultant to law firms, and other times as limited scope co-counsel to the actual clients. Overall, his goal is to help clients resolve their cases favorably through the media and through outreach to the public, essentially blending media strategies with legal strategies, and ethical compliance with defamation avoidance.

Wayne describes the launch of this offering from his firm, mainly because he didn’t see this kind of fixture being offered to attorneys and clients. Often, he describes seeing, attorneys and clients who are talking to the media in connection with active litigation, but they didn’t seem to have a strategy. They don’t seem to be thinking about what’s happening in court when they’re saying things publicly. They certainly aren’t always thinking about the ethics. And he’s also seen plenty of press releases where the PR firm or the law firm is clearly defaming the other side. So, he took that need in the market and thought his services could be used in a different way, thereby launching his firm a couple of years ago, to do just that.

When it comes to being in the media, Wayne admits it’s daunting for many attorneys, mostly because unlike a normal litigation practice, there are no rules. There are literally no rules of evidence, no rules of procedure, and it’s somewhat of an “every person for themselves” type environment, and that’s difficult for attorneys to get used to. He points out there are obviously ethical rules and defamation rules, but in terms of how you engage with the media and what you say, there’s really no set core set of practices that are established. Regardless, Wayne still encourages his clients, and their end clients, to always be thinking about the court of public opinion and engage it head on as a part of their legal toolkit, because often times, they find that what happens in the court of public opinion impacts what happens in the court of law in this era of social media, online news, and the viralness of both. From Michael’s previous experience, he’s also found competing mindsets of the ego of wanting to be on TV and wanting to be quoted, pitted against the fear of not wanting to cause harm to anyone, especially his clients. Wayne goes on to discuss the privilege issue and how it is a huge problem when law firms hire outside PR firms. He explains it all in detail, but once he realized that he could help get around the privilege issue by serving as an attorney, the light bulb went off and he said to himself, “I guess I’m just going to have to do this myself.”

Wayne defines the “court of public opinion” as people who are not parties to a legal dispute, but whose perceptions of the dispute could impact how the dispute is resolved and how the litigant’s reputation or prosperity could be affected. He goes on to describe the many different types of pools of people who can be affected by the court of public opinion, as well as organizations who stand for the same kind of qualities a client, or their case, do which can help bolster a case by piggybacking on the case and drawing more attention to it. Wayne also describes the effects of the ripple far and wide when information is spread in the court of public opinion, whether it is compelling others to call in with crucial evidence or even developing additional suits with others who have experienced the same thing being tried in a current case, all of which adds to the snowball effect that is created. He’s even had judges tell him they will dot their i’s and cross their t’s that much more closely when they know they’re involved in a high-profile case because they know more eyeballs are on them. And he adds exactly how plaintiff attorneys can use the court of public opinion to their advantage to fight the David v. Goliath fight against the big law firms hired to represent defendants.

From a marketing perspective, Wayne talks about how being seen in public media outlets can give an attorney instant social proof of the work you’re doing, by literally seeing you in action. “It’s not just you sending a press release or someone visiting a website. They see you quoted in an article, they see you being an advocate for a client, and they think to themselves, wow, he/she really knows what they are doing. Maybe I should contact them. That’s a lot different than just Googling ‘trucking attorney in Texas’ and hoping that somehow they get to you.”

Michael and Wayne explore a myriad of topics surrounding the court of public opinion throughout this episode, including: the ethics surrounding being in the media and the change of societal narratives and perceptions; anchoring – a tactic rooted in psychology and persuasion; the rules of professional conduct when engaging with the media; getting consent from a client, especially with the understanding that there are many mean-spirited people in the world who are ready to say bad things; core factors to consider when determining if a case is newsworthy and how to frame cases to be “sexier” in the eyes of the media; and so much more. This episode is one to listen to several times for attorneys who are thrust into the spotlight feeling unprepared, as well as for attorneys with cases that could have greater potential through exposure from the court of public opinion.

 

BACKGROUND

Wayne founded Copo Strategies in 2016 after spending over a decade achieving favorable legal and public relations results for his clients.

Prior to starting Copo, Wayne was a litigator at Dechert LLP, one of the largest and most prominent law firms in the world, with more than 900 attorneys worldwide, and more than $1 billion in annual revenues. In his more than six years at the firm, he obtained favorable outcomes for clients by analyzing and presenting complex legal and factual issues. While at the firm, Wayne worked on high-stakes, high-profile matters that were often reported on by local, national, and international media outlets. For example, he was on the Dechert team that represented the ten former independent directors of Lehman Brothers in the wave of investigations and litigation triggered by Lehman’s September 2008 collapse. He was also on the team that represented Takata, a leading automotive parts manufacturer, in litigation and regulatory investigations related to the company’s recall of tens of millions of potentially defective airbags. And, Wayne was on the team that represented the Marshall family in litigation against Vickie Lynn Marshall (a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith).

 

Before law school, Wayne practiced public relations at The Star Group, a one-time Advertising Age “Top 100” marketing communications firm. In his four years at the firm, he developed and executed public relations and marketing initiatives on behalf of regional, national, and international clients. While at Star, Wayne cultivated relationships with journalists and secured dozens of placements for clients in national and regional media outlets including USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, regional television network affiliates, and national trade media outlets.

Publications, Media Appearances, and Speaking Engagements

Please click here for a list of Wayne’s publications, media appearances, and speaking engagements.

Education

Wayne graduated in 2009 from Georgetown University Law Center, where he was Senior Special Projects Editor for The Georgetown Law Journal.
Wayne graduated magna cum laude in 2002 from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where he majored in public relations.

Court Admissions

Wayne is admitted to practice law in all state courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Personal

Wayne resides in Center City Philadelphia. If you keep an eye out, you might find him running on one of Philadelphia’s numerous running trails, desperately trying to keep Father Time away from his knees.

 

37 -Sonia Rodriguez – Caseloads: Quality vs. Quantity

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This show focuses mainly on questions revolving around caseloads and determining the best approach for your practice.

The first question from our listeners is about the number of cases an attorney should take on at any given time. Sonia discusses the balancing act, especially for younger lawyers, of quality vs. quantity. Attorneys may want to trim down their docket of cases, but need to make sure these are quality cases that will help keep the lights on and not arbitrarily setting a number for maximum cases. She also reviews some of the dangers of trimming a docket and how it can be a very dangerous economic decision. And she notes that each case should be thoughtfully selected to match the goals for the practice.

Sonia came from a practice with partners with duel loads. (IE: One partner that handles big cases and more complex cases, and the other might carry a larger volume case load to help pay the bills and keep the lights on.) This was a consensus among the partners about how the practice would operate. She points out that her practice has never been based on a very small docket and personally finds this to be a scary prospect. Michael, on the other hand, has operated in the full spectrum of caseloads. He recalls early on having 200 car wreck cases at one time with average case values being fairly low, some of which in hindsight were never economically viable. He even breaks down the impact some of those low value cases can have on a practice. And he also points out it is nearly impossible to be a high-volume lawyer while also trying to be a boutique, high-quality on one case, lawyer. The systems for handling each are very different as well as the tradeoffs which need to be made regarding one type of practice versus the other, both from a personal and professional perspective. Sonia adds there are many lawyers out there building a heavy case load practice and becoming very successful, which ties directly into Michael’s assertion that the type of practice you choose to run must also match your personal preferences, personality type, and aspirations. Michael also describes this as knowing where you are in the marketplace and his explanation on how you figure this out is phenomenal for both young and seasoned lawyers to take note of. He also gives some direct advice for our younger attorney listeners to understand the path to getting bigger cases when you work in someone else’s firm and don’t have the final say in certain matters such as case load.

The next question comes in a few parts. The first being, do firms making the transition into reducing their caseloads spend less on marketing and instead spend more time focusing on referrals? Michael explains why he made a conscious decision to stop marketing to the public when he decided to raise the threshold on the size of cases he wanted to take on. He goes on to reveal the reasons behind this decision which may or may not be what you think. Sonia also brings up a great point about the type of practice you run being largely based on your own risk tolerance and how it relates to the demands of different types of practices.

Secondly, when a firm makes the transition to a smaller caseload, do they end up reducing staff as well? Michael has definitely seen this model work both ways, but discloses why he personally has more staff now, working even fewer cases. He has found when your average fee goes up, you can increase the amount of man/woman-power you can put into the case and so you can pay better, which in turn helps you attract more and better team members to work on cases. Sonia also adds, from her own experience, the more time you have to focus on a case for an extended period of time the more ways she thinks of how to really make a big impact on a case. In other words, the luxury of being able to focus your time and energy on one case, actually creates much more work than she previously appreciated. Michael also explains how it is important to make sure you have the right people in your firm based on the practice model you want to run with since not everyone will be the right fit.

And third, the listeners concern is that like many firms, there are highs and lows and the only way to neutralize this is by taking on a higher number of cases. Michael debunks this right off the bat from his own experience, by explaining how the lower his case volume is, the steadier his revenue has become. Sonia also lays out a great way to analyze the true value of a case when looking at a high-volume practice where cases can sometimes be prolonged with continuance requests (Hint – cases that you carry for a shorter amount of time tend to use less office resources).

Another listener asks: Are you ever embarrassed to have a damages number that is too high? Michael starts right out in stating if you don’t believe this is the right number to get justice for your client, or you are embarrassed about the number, then you definitely shouldn’t present it to a jury. Sonia also asserts that such embarrassment felt by a lawyer is likely to be attributed to the lack of understanding of what their client’s pain or damages truly is. Furthermore, she goes on to say any lawyer using a formula to come up with a number, such as 3X damages, isn’t doing what they’ve been retained to do. You really have to believe what you are fighting for, which sometimes requires you to work through some of your own thoughts which may be holding you back. Michael also points out when you’re trying a case, you want to be 100% dedicated to doing everything you can to win a case, but you cannot be attached to the result.

The conversation concludes with Michael and Sonia reviewing, by listeners request, some of the books they’ve read and would recommend to help run a better practice. And Michael shares his obsessive behavior to really dig into his reading when he finds resources that really click with him. This not only includes his reading of books pertaining to being a great trial lawyer, but also books about becoming a successful business owner.

These Table Talk episodes could not happen without the interaction and questions submitted by our listeners. We are incredibly thankful for your feedback. We encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences.

RESOURCES

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

The Truth about Employee Engagement: A Fable about Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery by Patrick Lencioni

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni

36 – David Ball – Finding the Alignment – Understanding What Jurors Want

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with a special guest, Dr. David Ball. David is a trial consultant, speaker, and one of the “fathers” of the book “The Reptile in the MIST.” His name and his books have been mentioned on numerous episodes not only Michael Cowen, but many of our Trial Lawyer Nation guests. With several books of David’s to choose from, Michael can’t help but note how “David Ball on Damages 3” has been very useful in helping him craft opening statements and serving as an outline for many trials. He also highly recommends all trial lawyers have this book within arms-reach of their desk (more on this later in the episode). And for those trial lawyers who don’t know David personally, it is important to also note he has probably done more good for trial lawyers than anyone else in the industry.

Having started down his path many years ago, David’s mission of trying to help trial attorneys make complicated things clear, originally came from his background in theatre, where much of what he had learned in theatre has been extremely useful for trial lawyers. In fact, working with a more classical repertoire theatre with works from Shakespeare, he wondered how he could make those plays crystal clear for the audience who is listening to it and how it might relate to the legal industry. His conclusion? “I realized lawyers have 2 problems: 1. They’re boring as hell and 2. They’re not very clear about what they’re talking about.” Today David describes what he does as helping to strategize cases to maximize the principles of what we’ve learned in the neurosciences and apply it to how people really make conclusions, how decisions are made, how we know things, and how logic has very little to do with any of it. Essentially, working as a bridge between the neurosciences and the courtroom.

So, how do we get jurors to see things the way we want them to? Logic doesn’t deal with the law school version of tell them your case, they’ll understand your case, and if you’re in the right, they’ll give your client a just verdict. Justice has nothing to do with how people make decisions. How do we translate that into things you’re allowed to do in trial and in a way that will motivate jurors to do what we want them to do? David says, people don’t make their decisions on the basis of “justice,” but rather justice is simply the result of something you think you want. He goes on to explain why trial lawyers need to look at what they’ve got and then put this “stew” together into something someone REALLY wants, for it to end the way we want it to. The whole process of trial, as David describes it, is an alignment.

David continues to describe this alignment by combining solid research along with all the things he’s learned in theatre about what real storytelling is. The fundamental thing about The Reptile, he describes, is by getting the jurors to want themselves to be safe and live in a safe world, that becomes their want. He also points out that in order to get their want, he also needs to get his client’s “want,” which is money. Michael adds to this by stating the only power the jury has in the courtroom is to give or deny money in the case. David goes on to say that if the attorney is presenting their case well, jurors will understand if they give a good verdict it will make their world safer, but also giving a bad verdict will make their world a more dangerous place than it is now. In other words, once the jurors walk into the courtroom, they will be walking out with either a safer world or a more dangerous world, but it will never be the same way as when they walked in. Furthermore, David explains when you ask a client why they are doing the case, not only will they say it’s because they need the money (compensation) but they also want to make sure this won’t happen to anyone else. To expand on his point, David shares an example from his early years watching the trial of a case involving a wealthy woman in North Carolina, who was rear-ended and clearly didn’t need the compensation from the case. The answer the woman gave him when he asked her why she was going through with the case, even though it was painful, is priceless. And it helps us understand why even the smallest cases are important in making the world a safer place. David also talks about the points he describes to the jurors regarding their potential complicities in what they allow the defense to get away with and the affects it will have on others who face the same situations in the future.

Which leads Michael to pose the question, “how do we figure out what the jurors want?” David goes through a laundry list of things we know about what jurors want, including through focus groups and the neurosciences what motivates us to want something. Boiled down to its core, David explains this with a great example of teenage boys as jurors, which will shock you and make complete sense. And he wraps up with describing the fundamental drives that keep us alive, as well as the impact of disrespect and humiliation.

The topic shifts at one point to talk about when the other side brings in what they call an “independent medical examiner,” three lies in one person’s title, David jokes (sort of). Rather than disagreeing with their conclusion, David proposes you show what they did wrong in their methodology, to show they purposely arrived at the wrong conclusion. He goes on to show how the right types of questions posed to your own experts can further point out the flaws in their conclusions without the need to call the defense’s independent expert a liar. Michael also adds how it can be very effective to discuss the idea of a defense’s witness as “independent,” when they’ve been picked and paid for by the defense, in helping the jury not feel like their intelligence is being disrespected. David continues to talk about the difference between describing the defense as someone who may lie in order to protect themselves vs. someone who is disrespecting the jury by insulting their intelligence and the impact this can have on a jury. He goes on to point out how it is analogous to the difference between a doctor lying to a patient, where the patient might be being disrespected but the juror is not vs. a doctor getting on the witness stand and deliberately misleads the jury, and as such, disrespecting them.

One of the things David describes as loving about what he’s been able to do, is when he started writing his first theatre for trial book, there was nothing. Nobody was doing anything in the way of teaching major overall strategy and there were certainly no books on damages or doing it. He’d like to think that the Damages book helped give rise to this whole other industry. In one hand he should hate it, he created all his own competitors, and on the other hand it is the greatest feeling in the world for him.

David also suggests for every attorney to page through their Damages 3 book on a consistent basis to examine it through the lens of the case you’re working on currently, in order to see things you never saw before. He suggests this, mainly because so much information is lost after seminars and reading other books, because the only things you likely retain are the things which pertain to the case you’re working on right now.

Michael and David move on to the topic of the principles of persuasion and how David has brought his theatre experience into the courtroom. Revisiting the idea of “real storytelling,” David talks through the actual history of storytelling and how it has evolved over time. He points out why you have to make people want to hear the next part of the story, AKA “narrative thrust,” using “dramatic tension” to create tension between this moment and the next moment, and the next moment could be an hour away or two minutes away. Crafting what David describes as “forwards” where everyone sees the anticipated moment in the story and wants to hear it for themselves. He also points out these forwards are very case specific, very particular to the story, and it is a relatively sophisticated thing to do for people who are not natural born storytellers, but you can learn to do it. And he describes why the context in storytelling and where you put pieces of information in the story matter significantly to shaping the story.

Michael and David touch briefly on social media and a trial lawyer’s first amendment right, where it is important to note David believes if you are a trial lawyer, you have accepted a fiduciary responsibility to your client which trumps your ability to have free speech. He also believes society has become so divisive these days on social media and now face to face, where we now have the challenge of bringing both sides together to fight for an even greater cause. David uses the example of 2 people fighting, but when someone comes in and tries to do harm to them, they will both unite because they are both in danger and need each other to save themselves. The heart of such a scenario, is the aim of every trial lawyer when working with diverse juries.

Digging deeper into David’s theatre background, Michael talks about how he has yet to see a trial lawyer facing a potentially multi-million-dollar trial rehearse as much as a community theatre where 30 people may be in the audience. David shares how being a trial lawyer is the only area of public performance where they don’t rehearse. He goes on to suggest you cannot fully rehearse on your own and, a full rehearsal, means a dress rehearsal. In the same way you cannot have football practice without eventually having a scrimmage with another side. When you are on the stage, you have a million other things on your mind, you’re being “Hamlet.” When you’re a lawyer, you’ve got your peers, the judge, and the jury all watching you. It distracts your attention from where it needs to be, so you seem very nervous. You cannot be a leader of human beings when you’re very nervous. And the best lawyers are leaders of human beings.

The conversation ends with a discussion on charisma in the courtroom as well as David’s important work in the criminal defense industry. And after spending this episode with David, it’s clear to see why so many trial lawyers look to him as a powerhouse in the industry.

 

BACKGROUND

David Ball, who wrote trial advocacy’s best-selling strategy bookDavid Ball on Damagesis a litigation researcher and strategist with North Carolina’s Malekpour & Ball Consulting (JuryWatch, Inc.). He is the nation’s most influential jury consultant, communications expert, and advocacy teacher. His training is in science, engineering, and small-group communications, and he is a 30-year veteran of the professional theater.

Dr. Ball and his partner, lawyer/consultant Artemis Malekpour (artemis@consultmmb.com), consult on civil and criminal cases across the country. They are routinely credited with turning the most difficult cases into significant victories. They are the nation’s only trial consultants qualified to safely and comprehensively guide attorneys with Reptilian, David Ball on Damages, and David Ball on Criminal Defense methods and strategy. Their hundreds of brainstorming sessions – “WorkDays” – have become the gold standard for case-strategy development.

In addition to David Ball on Damages, Dr. Ball’s other landmark advocacy books include Theater Tips & Strategies for Jury Trials, Reptile (with Don Keenan), Theater for Trial (with Joshua Karton), Reptile in the MIST, and David Ball on Criminal Defense.

Dr. Ball has taught law students at North Carolina, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Roger

Williams, Loyola, and Campbell schools of law, and at Duke Law as Senior Lecturer. He’s an award-winning teacher for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the American Association for Justice’s National College of Advocacy. He has long been among the nation’s most in-demand of CLE speakers. His favorite job was taxi driver in the 1970s in Stamford, CT, and his Daddy was a Catskill Mountains bootlegger during Prohibition.

 

Dr. Ball is also a pioneer in adapting film and theater methods into trial techniques. His theater/film students have won Oscars, Obies, Tonies, and Emmies; his scripts have been staged at professional theaters off-Broadway, throughout North America, and overseas. He helped to lead the Guthrie Theater, as well as Carnegie-Mellon University’s renowned theater conservatory and, as Chair, Duke University’s Drama Department. His best-selling film and theater training book, Backwards and Forwards, has been the field’s standard every year since 1984, and is now in uses by trail lawyers as well. His crossover books, Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials along with the new Theater for Trial, are the standards for the use of film and theater techniques in litigation.

Dr. Ball also wrote the cult classic film Hard Rock Zombies, though he made up for it by writing Swamp Outlaw, a novel about Civil War Era Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowery, now under option for a motion picture. (TV viewers: Dr. Ball and Dr. Bull deny each other’s existence.)

 

RESOURCES

Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution

35 – R. Rex Parris – Cognitive Science and the Persuasion of Jurors

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down an accomplished trial lawyer, speaker, and Mayor of Lancaster, CA, R. Rex Parris, for a conversation revolving around the intersection of cognitive science and the persuasion of jurors. Having acquired his knowledge over the course of his career, Rex has been able to leverage his deep understanding of cognitive science in obtaining dozens of 7, 8, and 9-figure verdicts and settlements, along with a historic and record-breaking $370,000,000 defamation jury verdict.

Michael’s curiosity starts the conversation off by asking Rex what he did do to obtain the skills he’s developed; which Rex breaks down his journey into its simplest form stating he first had to learn it was a “skill.” Many individuals think there are only a certain number of people who are born to be trial lawyers when the reality is they are just skills to be learned. Rex goes as far as to say that anybody who gets through law school has the capacity to learn those skills and do a magnificent job in the courtroom. He shares how he went on to Trial Lawyers College and continued on to attend many CLE seminars, public speaking and voice seminars, and began studying a lot of cognitive science, all of which to learn how people make decisions, how to persuade people, and how to interact and engage people. Michael shares how the more people he meets at the top of the industry, the more he sees the commonality of their constant desire to learn more.

Focusing on the things Rex has learned through his studies of cognitive science, Michael turns his attention to finding out the things most helpful to Rex in the courtroom. As Rex sees it, everything from where he stands, to where he looks, and what he does with his hands and body is important. He goes on to talk about keeping his fear level down by controlling his heartbeat, which he knows he wants to keep between 90-100 bpm in order to stay in “the zone.”   He also knows how to lower his heart rate when it goes over 100 through a technique called “combat breathing” along with taking note of several other observations within the moment, in order to snap back into the present refreshed and ready to go. To that point, Michael shares how when he’s in a trial, he tries to feel the joy of being in trial and let the outcome take care of itself stating “the more I want to win and worry about the outcome, the less I trust the jurors,” which inevitably comes through in your body language or eye contact. Instead, Michael purposely decides he’s going to trust the jurors to do the right thing, and it always seems to work out better.

Rex then discusses his views on utilizing a classic reversal in the courtroom where he describes it as “in every scene of every movie or play there is a reversal of value” (using the example of how Star Wars starts in the desert and in the next scene you’re in the empire) the greater the contrast the better. In the courtroom, Rex talks through how he uses a lottery ticket analogy, where his client holds the “winning ticket” to the super big jackpot and the only thing he needs to claim it is to give up some things. He then proceeds to talk through all the things his client has to give up, stating everything that has been given up as a result of their injury without talking about the things that have been done to his client. The reversal then comes into play at the end, where Rex turns to the jury and asks if any of them want that ticket. They continue to discuss the differences of what a client has gone through and what they’ve lost, and Rex recognizes that most lawyers have been trained to present cases in a pain and suffering context as to what’s been done to their client but, he points out, in most cultures, “bad stuff” doesn’t have a value. Well-being is what equals wealth in America, citing what Steve Jobs would have given for a pancreas that worked. Which is why during the trial, Rex tends to focus on the parts of his client’s well-being which have been taken away. He also notes that juries are also much more inclined to compensate a plaintiff for things that have been taken away or the things they have been denied, rather than the things that have happened to them. Rex also goes so far and will sometimes even tell juries NOT to give his client a dime for the pain and suffering, just compensate his client for what was taken from them. The conversation continues as they talk about how you as a lawyer discover what exactly was taken from your client. Rex takes this well beyond the usual “get to know your client” and shares a technique even Michael is somewhat surprised at, but can’t wait to try. Rex points out, when it comes to relationships, “we’re not nearly as complex as we like to think we are.”

Keeping on the same path, Michael asks Rex how exactly he presents what’s been taken from his clients. Rex discusses why you don’t present it through your client, you present it through their relatives and neighbors in an effort to find the signals of trust for the jury that cuts through the general noise of a trial. He goes on to explain how there is no better way to send those signals of trust than through those who know your client best. As they discuss the topic further, Rex also reveals why he strives not to keep witnesses on the stand too long and tends to use a lot of video depositions to keep the case moving forward. In fact, he surprises Michael by sharing he uses as much video as possible when he goes to trial and his strategy to do so comes from learning “that the shorter the trial the bigger the verdict tends to be.”

Rex also shares some of the techniques and strategies he and his firm have been developing in the last few years based on a conversation he had with Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinologist from Berkley and the author of “Behave – The Biology of Humans at our best and worst.” He later shares his technique for helping the jury value all that has been taken away from his client by relating those things to diamonds, and not just in his closing, but all throughout the trial starting in voir dire.

The conversation shifts to look at how lawyers don’t want their experience to work against them in looking that much better than the other side, as Michael puts it “you don’t want to look like Goliath.” And while Rex used to subscribe to this thinking, he has learned to move past that and focus solely on his credibility in the courtroom when it comes to the jury and being able to maintain his credibility throughout the trial. Rex explains that he is more than willing to admit in front of the jury when he is wrong, such as when an objection comes up and he realizes they are right, which helps to maintain his credibility. He also goes as far as memorizing the evidence section codes, not for the benefit of the judge, but again for the jury, so they can continue to look to him as the most knowledgeable and credible source in the courtroom.

Michael and Rex end with discussing extremely valuable topics such as: using the Warren Buffet method in regards to case selection; mind mapping to prepare for trial; visuals in the courtroom; why Rex avoids using “tricks”; the most important thing Rex does every day and how he balances work, life, and being a city Mayor; insights from Rex’s recent case which resulted in a $41.6M verdict; the extraordinary measures Rex’s firm has taken to practice EVERYTHING; the skills every lawyer needs to learn; Rex’s views on neckties (which is actually surprisingly insightful); and so much more.

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

Pursuing a career that helps others has always been R. Rex Parris’ first choice and for good reason. Growing up, Rex’s father lost his leg in a motorcycle accident because of someone else’s negligence. He witnessed firsthand what happens to a family when the pillar of the household is severely injured through no fault of their own. This tragic event inspired Rex to pursue a life that helps people overcome the physical and financial burdens that result from any kind of accident.

Rex never had it easy growing up. His father left at a young age and his mother worked as a waitress to support him and his three brothers. They often had to collect welfare to make ends meet. Rex dropped out of high school and got a job as a busboy, but shortly after started using drugs and nearly ended up in jail. When he realized he had to make a change, he went back to school and turned his life around.

In 1977, Rex received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law & Society from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he was a member of the prestigious UCSB Scholars’ Program.  After receiving his Juris Doctor in 1980 from Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, he was certified as a Master Advocate in 1991 by The National Institute for Trial Advocacy in Washington, D.C.  He has been a member of the California Bar since 1980 and is a member of several federal and appellate courts and multiple trial attorney associations.

In 1985, Rex and his wife Carrol founded PARRIS Law Firm, a personal injury law firm that has helped thousands of families recover from life-altering accidents. PARRIS Law Firm also helps aggrieved workers who have been wronged by their employers, and those affected by environmental catastrophes. Rex handles a wide variety of other cases as well, ranging from class actions to products liability and business torts.

Since its founding, Rex has tried over 50 civil jury trials in courts throughout California and has recovered more than $1.4 Billion in verdicts and settlements for his clients. He made history by being the first lawyer to obtain a million-dollar verdict in Kern County. Years later in 2009, Rex was lead counsel in obtaining a historic defamation jury verdict of $370 million against George Marciano, the founding designer of Guess jeans. Not only has he faced off against some of the world’s largest companies, he consistently wins.

At the start of 2018, Rex went into back-to-back trials and totaled a combined $94 million for his clients in a matter of just 90 days. During both of these cases, Rex worked tirelessly for years and demanded justice on behalf of his clients, obtaining $52,708,374 for two brothers and $41,634,170 for a young quadriplegic whose life will never be the same because of someone else’s actions. Although these clients’ lives will never be whole again, Rex never stopped fighting to restore their well-being. The strength and courage he showed during these trials allowed jurors to hear the real stories of the people behind the lawsuits.

Another one of Rex’s most notable cases involves the largest gas well blowout in U.S. history. Rex, along with thousands of residents of Porter Ranch, are still demanding answers almost three years after a massive gas well blowout was discovered near their neighborhood. Gas was injected underground by Southern California Gas Company into illegal wells. A well experienced a massive failure and blowout in October 2015. This was predicted by Southern California Gas based on public records. Public health officials still do not know if it is safe for people to live there. Residents have been experiencing major health problems, and many have relocated because of the dangerous gases contaminating the air. Rex and his team are dedicated to helping these residents get the financial compensation they need to get their lives back on track after this terrible catastrophe. In November 2018, the California Court of Appeal Second District called into question why Southern California Gas Company and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office rushed into a plea deal that denied criminal restitution to the victims. Rex will see that they justify why the victims wait to recover their losses when the constitution says otherwise.

In addition to personal injury, environmental and employment cases, Rex has also served as counsel on cases involving the California Voting Rights Act. In 2012, Rex served as co-counsel and advisor to attorney Kevin Shenkman and Milton Grimes for a lawsuit against Palmdale, California in order to amend its election process to district voting. This lawsuit was on behalf of the diverse population of the Antelope Valley to have better representation in its city officials.

In November 2018, Rex obtained another successful verdict for the people of Pico Neighborhood in Santa Monica. The judge ruled that Santa Monica’s elections were intentionally designed to discriminate against minority voters. The Plaintiffs fought for Pico Neighborhood to have equal representation on the Santa Monica City Council to ensure accountability for the City’s actions. This ruling will allow the residents of the Pico Neighborhood to finally be heard.

PARRIS was the first law firm to file a class action lawsuit against Southern California Edison for starting the historically catastrophic Woolsey Fire in November 2018. The Plaintiffs are seeking economic and non-economic damages inflicted upon homeowners, renters, and businesses. Hundreds of people lost everything, and it is Rex’s mission to help restore the balance in these people’s lives.

As a successful civil justice attorney, entrepreneur, speaker, and published author, Rex is highly sought after to speak both nationally and internationally. Rex speaks at trial attorney seminars across the country, where he often teaches about the intersection of cognitive science and the persuasion of jurors. He always prepares for trial by using the latest science in persuasion skills. He regularly shares this knowledge as a guest lecturer at Loyola, Pepperdine, and Baylor Law Schools as well as state bar associations across the country.

In the midst of growing his practice into a legal powerhouse, Rex became the third directly-elected mayor of his hometown of Lancaster, California. Since his initial election, he has been re-elected three times, receiving 67% of the popular vote in 2016. Within two years of taking office, Lancaster’s crime rate plummeted 32% and gang violence declined by 81%. Rex has revitalized Lancaster’s historic downtown district and has been universally praised for establishing a family and business-friendly atmosphere. In 2013, Lancaster was named the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s Most Business-Friendly City in Los Angeles County for the second time in six years.

Rex travels around the world to share his vision of making Lancaster the Alternative Energy Capital of the World, and his successes in this arena have repeatedly garnered worldwide media attention. In October 2018, Rex traveled to Australia to be the international keynote speaker for the Cities Power Partnership Summit, Australia’s leading local government climate change forum. In partnership with Solar City, Rex successfully made City Hall the first building to use all solar power. The benefits were instant, as the cost of power dropped by half for the municipal building. Within two years, the technology was saving the city of Lancaster tens of thousands of dollars in utility costs and brought in close to $400,000. In 2017, the California State Senate designated the city of Lancaster as an Alternative Energy Research Center of Excellence.

As mayor, Rex launched a dynamic economic development division that aggressively pursued and successfully attracted manufacturing giants BYD and Morton Manufacturing, creating hundreds of jobs for the community. After gaining Morton Manufacturing, the city of Lancaster attracted high-tech manufacturing company Innovative Coatings Technology Corporation, which also brought new jobs that contributed greatly to the local economy. Rex’s economic development division continues to transform Lancaster through its Medical Main Street, LED Streetlight Conversion, and Green Energy Public Transportation initiatives. After partnering with IBM Watson the City of Lancaster projections for 2019 are for an additional 45-50% reduction in crime with the use of artificial software and technology. GQ magazine designated him one of America’s 10 most influential Mayors.

Rex also focuses his energy on philanthropy. He and his wife Carrol are the founders of the Parris Institute of Professional Development at Pepperdine Law School, and he is frequently a featured speaker and on the board of Gerry Spence’s famed Trial Lawyers’ College. In 2001 the high school district named the newest school R. Rex Parris High school in the city of Palmdale. The primary mission of R. Rex Parris High School is to serve those students who are significantly behind in meeting their high school graduation requirements so they can still graduate on time. He is the founder of a number of local charities including Lancaster Child Abuse Task Force, Antelope Valley War on Gangs, and Valley Volunteers Program. His law firm has a sister brand called PARRIS Cares, where he and his team focus on making a positive difference in the Antelope Valley through charities and local organizations.

Rex is a green energy champion, economic hero, and one of the most successful practicing attorneys and victim’s rights advocates in California. In addition to all of this, he has found the time to provide assistance and startup funding for a biotech company called Carthronix.  A true champion of justice, Rex will continue to innovate and work tirelessly in everything he does to improve the service and results of his community, clients, and family.

 

RESOURCES

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
By Chris Voss with Tahl Raz

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
By Simon Sinek

In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions When It Counts
by Jerry Weissman

 

34 – Sonia Rodriguez – Hindsight in the PI World

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on advice for our up-and-coming personal injury attorneys on the things we know now and wishes we knew earlier in our careers.

Starting right off in the broad sense of the industry, we start with a question about what advice would we give to a lawyer who is in the first 2 years of practice. Learning the hard way, Sonia states why it is critical for a successful personal injury law practice to understand the difference between a PI practice and a typical business practice when you are talking to bankers and lenders. The discussions you’ll have with bankers and lenders about lines of credit and assets in regards to your practice can sound like a foreign language to certain bankers, so you really need to find a bank that knows the PI practice and knows that many times the assets you have are going to be intangible, and are more likely to be in your file cabinet or on your server. Michael also points out how the banking regulations have also tightened up in recent years where it has become harder for PI lawyers to borrow against their case list. To this point, Sonia suggests once you have a few years under your belt, you should start saving/hoarding your money so you can borrow against your own investments and savings when you want to. They both agree once you hit your first big case, you don’t want to start living like that has become your new lifestyle every year or every month and you need to live below your means for a long time. Michael recalls avoiding the temptation to go buy the expensive Mercedes and shares how his first house was only $67,000, which was in stark contrast to other lawyers who went out and bought big houses and could barely pay their credit cards or make it month to month. It was with this foresight and now shared knowledge, that Michael reveals his early financial habits have led him to build the successful practice he has today.

Providing additional advice for PI lawyers just starting out, Michael weighs the pros and cons of gaining experience by starting in a district attorney’s office (hint – it’s not advised…and for good reason). He goes on to suggest several much better ways to gain experience and learn from other attorney’s experience, this podcast being one of them, which will prove to be more advantageous in building a solid foundation for a personal injury practice. Thinking from the other end of the spectrum, Sonia also offers advice regarding business relationships and how they are bound to change over time and shares the key factors you need to consider before entering into a partnership, regardless of the current or past relationships status. A lesson the majority of seasoned attorneys would likely agree with, hindsight being 20/20. Michael, being one of them, recounts one of the things he knows now that he wishes he knew earlier, and how he wishes he had spent a seemingly small amount of money early on to hire a lawyer to draft his agreements with other lawyers. Being lawyers, he says, “we think we can do it ourselves,” and in the process, we end up overlooking the holes in an agreement and only looking at it through rose-colored glasses as if nothing will ever change in the relationship. Michael reveals, in his own hindsight, the amount of money he’s paid out on legal fees to draft things for him now, has turned out to be less than 1% of what he’s paying people that he wouldn’t have had to pay had he had those agreements in place. LESS THAN 1%!

Sonia transitions by discussing the amount of stress brought on day-to-day in this industry. Our bodies were never designed to handle these amounts of mental or physical stress that can come with a heavy litigation practice, she says, and on the plaintiff’s side, it can also be very easy to become emotionally invested in our client’s cases. As a trial lawyer, you need to find a mechanism for an outlet, such as exercise, meditation (if it works for you), or even journaling, in order to maintain your mental health. Michael adds that you need to find a balance in order to internalize and feel your client’s pain without it taking you over. The Harvard Business Review published a great article about the stress and anxiety of being a perfectionist, as we tend to do in this line of work which also lays out several options for mental self-care.

Michael continues to state, as he has on many episodes of this show, to get out there and try more cases. There is never a shortage of cases to be tried in any firm. And no one will remember the cases you lose as you gain experience or even years into your practice for that matter. He goes on to say that you do not suffer a reputational hit for losing a trial and how he has actually lost more cases than some people have ever tried, but still has tons of referrals coming in because attorneys remember the ones he’s won.

Throughout the rest of this episode, Michael and Sonia discuss topics like: the power of saying “NO,” the importance of reputation; how to use a cost/benefit analysis to determine the right cases to take on; their opinions on paying for online profiles with various legal organizations, what to do in discovery when you think the other side is hiding something from you; how to (and more so, how not to) attract leads online; tricks to leveraging social media and pitfalls to avoid when using it; and many others along the way.

These Table Talk episodes could not happen without the interaction and questions submitted by our listeners. We are eternally grateful and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

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