Episode

21 – Sonia Rodriguez – Winning (or Losing) a Case in Deposition

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With overwhelmingly positive feedback from our listeners, TLN Table Talk is back again! This time featuring fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion mainly focused on how to win (or lose) a case in a deposition.

Michael is quick to note that many cases tend to settle before going to trial, making depositions an integral part of the process. Oftentimes it comes down to knowing the documents better than the defense attorneys while also knowing the right documents to order, which in many cases the defense may not have. It can also come down to a witness’s ability to know and articulate the truth in a deposition, which is frequently a direct reflection on those who have helped to prepare the witness (defense or plaintiff).

So how do Michael and Sonia prepare for depositions? Sonia explains her strategy of always looking back on the jury charge to see what exactly she is trying to gain from a witness, scour the defense record from production to find nuggets of useful information, dig into the footnotes, fine print, and back of pages to find what others might miss. She has also found social media to be useful to learn as much as you can on the person being deposed including who their friends and other contacts are, companies they’ve worked for, and digging in to find info on company manuals or other ways to authenticate them as an authority coming from a witness. Michael, on the other hand, points out the importance of networking and collaborating with other plaintiff’s lawyers as “we’re good at getting things and sharing information” such as prior admissions, reports, or testimony. There’s likely nothing more embarrassing for a witness, especially paid ones than to be cross-examined with contradictory testimony they gave in the past. Sonia, who recently had a deposition with a defense doctor, shares how his past testimony was the exact opposite of what he was testifying to in her case, which obviously played to her favor.

When it comes to the right length of a deposition, Sonia shares her wish to someday be able to take a short depo, but currently has her attention to detail and thoroughness to “blame” for the style of her depositions, one which sometimes drives opposing counsel mad. She tends to feel unsatisfied leaving a depo if she hasn’t covered a lot of ground, knowing the jury will likely not hear most of it. She has also found that many times when she’s taking a deposition, she’s not just doing a trial depo of a witness, but also trying to prepare in advance for a summary judgment response and how they can also be helpful to lay the groundwork for what she might need from another witness. In contrast, Michael prides himself on short but thorough depositions stating how it really depends on the witness and subject matter. He also admits the danger of taking shorter depositions in relation to “having a beginner’s mind” vs. the “curse of knowledge” where you might already know something, the defense already knows it, and the defense witness knows it, but the jury does not, and could lead to talking over the jury with jargon they might not understand. Both agree 100% no matter how you approach a deposition, you need to be actively engaged in listening to the responses and not just running down questions on an outline where you would likely miss the truly important parts of what the witness is saying, or not saying, which could make your case.

The conversation shifts to a lively debate heard in many firms of weighing the idea of “going for the kill” in the deposition vs. saving things for trial when you know the witness will be there in person. With different experiences from both Sonia and Michael prior to them partnering, each brings a unique perspective to the table from their mentors as well as from their personal experiences. Of course, they agree these tactics both have their place, but Michael also brings up the point how oftentimes with expert witnesses, if they don’t know something at a deposition, they tend to come to trial more prepared with a response.

Michael and Sonia jam pack the second half of their discussion with everything from preparing their own clients for deposition, videotaping depositions, deposing the other side’s experts, guiding medical experts to slow down their testimony while not losing the jury with industry terminology, and exceptions to all of the above.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future, as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

Find out more about Michael Cowen here.

Find out more about Sonia Rodriguez here.

20 – Alexander Begum – A Practice Built by The Law Giant

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, Alexander Begum, who has offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Alex admits early on in his conversation with Michael that he didn’t originally know he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t have any immediate connections to the law field, and friends and family members initially forced him to study for his MBA as a fallback. A blessing in disguise, this actually helped him to bring a business perspective to the field of law.

From early on, Alex found himself valuable by leveraging his business and finance education. He turned down a $75k/yr position at a defense firm, has his sights on something better, only to take 4 years to break the $100k mark. He first started with just about any case he could bring in the door from child custody to divorce to criminal and corporate, but eventually transitioned to personal injury when he got a big “break” from an owner of a managing agency who saw him in the courtroom as a defense lawyer who won a settlement against the plaintiff through a counterclaim. They liked what they saw so much they essentially fired another firm they had been working with and sent all their car wreck defense cases to his office. Listening to him tell the story is reminiscent of something from the movies with a van full of case files, in varying stages of pre-lit and litigation, being dropped at their front doorstep. Jumping right into the cases, it didn’t take long for him to see the limitless potential in the personal injury world. After having been exposed to several practice areas of law and through the process of elimination, Alex landed on plaintiff personal injury. The fact that his father was an immigrant further solidified his decision to fight for the small guy, beat all odds and led him into representing people who had been victimized in some way.

The conversation fast-forwards and switches to a more “tactical” view of trial strategy involving the practice of NOT including medical bills in a trial. The studies that Michael and Alex have both reviewed are striking, but the actual implementation of this in Alex’s practice has proven to be successful with 6 and 7-figure verdicts on cases – some of which have $4k of medical bills! The explanation from Alex on why he thinks this practice works is extremely insightful, to say the least, and shows that litigation without medical bills may become the standard practice by necessity. Michael points out that, ironically, he believes the industry is going to end up with bigger recoveries. They also talk through the effects the different strategies have on juries in awarding damages and how one of the tactics can anchor down the numbers, whereas the other can allow jurors to think about the true impact of what’s been taken from a client and their family.

Alex shares some of his insights on how he balances the administration of running his firm and keeping cases on track with trying cases himself. He shares everything from the software they use to his endless checklists, which Michael is able to draw a parallel to form a brief past in aviation where pilots are known for going through their checklists regardless of how many times they’ve flown the airplane – all in the name of quality control.

Michael asks Alex about the journey of advertising, which they both agree is “painful.” But, Alex goes on to talk about the evolution of advertising in the legal industry and the importance of dominating a niche market with examples like “The Jewish Lawyer,” “The Hammer,” or in his own case, “The Law Giant.” He talks about a significant focus group he conducted that helped him realize the overwhelming weight given toward recalling a branded nickname/persona more than any other factor in an attorney’s practice. In Alex’s view, things like trial experience, verdict history, or even the name of the attorney play very little into the public’s perspective of who to call. Some of the examples he gives of niche type tactics are tried and true when it comes to advertising on everything from billboards down to business cards.

Michael wraps up the episode by asking on behalf of all the aspiring PI lawyers listening, “How did you get to where you are?” Alex’s reply is priceless and timeless all at once: “It’s funny how the harder I work, the luckier I become.”

Background on Alexander Begum

Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, with offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo, and McAllen. Mr. Begum completed his undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio earning a double major in marketing and finance. Thereafter, he attended Harvard University in Boston where he studied finance and legal writing. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Alex acquired a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Texas Tech University.

After graduating from law school, Alex did not cease in his quest for learning and improving his skills. In 2010 Mr. Begum was chosen to be among the elite few who are accepted into the Trial Lawyers College. This intense program is intended to push each individual student toward a greater understanding of themselves and others. Every attorney that graduates from the Trial Lawyers College walks away knowing they have improved not only their skills as attorneys but have improved their “personhood” as well. Attending such a program is not an easy task. Alexander Begum made the choice to be away from his home, family and law practice to devote the time to attend and graduate from the Trial Lawyers College. He willingly made this sacrifice for a singular purpose. He wanted to be better able to help his clients and serve his community.

For more information on Alex Begum, visit https://www.texaslegalgroup.com/Attorneys/Alexander-Begum.shtml

 

19 – Malorie Peacock – Trial Tips: Voir Dire, Visuals, and Technology

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Every month, our podcast receives questions from our listeners (which we love by the way, keep them coming) and we take the time to respond to each individually. After 8 months of being on the air, we thought it might be fun and valuable to dedicate an episode to reflect and respond to some of these questions in a new series we’re calling “TLN Table Talk.” In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, sought-after trial lawyer and fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Malorie Peacock, flips the script and puts Michael in the “hot seat” for an open discussion to answers questions from our listeners.

Malorie digs right in with a note from a listener that asks – “Knowing that we all need to try more cases to get better, and sometimes you just can’t get to trial for one reason or another, how do you practice for the big moment of going to trial?” Michael reveals how he personally prepares for each trial and his approach toward different types of cases and jurors, along with his thoughts on prepared scripts. He goes on to share outstanding insights about planning and practicing for voir dire, where you don’t know what the jury panel is going to say; and allowing the truth to be acknowledged without letting it throw you off your intended path. Interestingly enough, Michael’s use of pizza and beer to get a deeper understanding of a case, while simple in practice, can also be incredibly useful in the courtroom. Michael also opens up about his rekindled respect for inclusive voir dire with a recent example of a case that turned a $125k offer into a $1.25M verdict, seemingly built in voir dire, before any evidence was ever discussed.

From there, Malorie talks with Michael about the firm’s strategy in trying most cases in pairs and asks him why he believes it’s better. His answer is perhaps not what you might expect, and the discussion shifts toward courtroom perceptions. Michael and Malorie both agree that every perception matters: from how you dress, to how you interact with your staff, to how people see you drive away in the parking lot. The same goes for your client too! Both also agree that understanding visual communication is extremely important as a trial lawyer.

Trial technology seems to be a hot topic for our listeners with all kinds of questions around what types we use, how we utilize them, and the thoughts around why we use them (or not). Michael is quick to point out that we all need to remember the purpose of the tech and the need to tailor the tech to the case, so you don’t look too slick when the other side brings in a manila folder and a legal pad. He does recommend that if the courtroom, and your budget, allows, there are some specific pieces of technology that are far better in his opinion in helping jurors understand pieces of evidence, so long as you are comfortable with it and prepared to proceed when it doesn’t work.

Michael and Malorie close the conversation in talking through strategies on figuring out how much money to ask a jury for and how to actually ask for it, the details of which you’ll have to listen to learn. Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

For more information about Michael Cowen, go here.

For more information about Malorie Peacock, go here.

18 – Jude Basile – A Trial Lawyer’s Favorite 2 Words: All Rise

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with well-established and extremely accomplished trial lawyer, Jude Basile, from San Luis Obispo, CA. Growing up, Jude knew early on he had a tremendous desire to become a trial lawyer, a profession he describes as one where he can talk to ordinary people about what’s right and what’s wrong.

Jude’s passion for jury trials is palpable from the very beginning of his conversation with Michael where he describes the evolution of how our “enemies” approach us and the power of the jury. He talks about the numerous delay tactics to drag things out, throw broad nets in discovery, and other roadblocks to stop us from getting to trial. And he reveals the power a jury has to level the playing field, which is getting hard to hold on to. In fact, if there was one thing he could change, he says it would be some legislative enactment where we could limit those obstacles so we could have easier access to a jury, because it seems like the only cases which can go to jury now are very big and very expensive cases. This is likely why his two favorite words are “all rise.” He goes on to describe how the 7th amendment has seemingly evolved over the years into the right to present a case to an arbitrator, or to an adjuster, or a mediator. Of course, there are cases that reach a jury but there is a tremendous fight to get to a jury trial, in his experience. Michael notes this fight also tests your determination and desire to get there, because not everyone has it and there are different forces at work with each case.

Michael asks Jude his advice for aspiring trial lawyers on the things to be done to develop trial skills. Like many great attorneys will tell anyone looking to become a trial lawyer, continuous education is important (as he notes several of the great authors of the books in his office such as Moe Levine, Jim Perdue, Mark Mandell, and others), but there is no substitute for trial experience. Jude recommends starting by working with a local prosecutor or public defender’s office. He suggests if you can try a DUI case you can likely try any type of case: they have direct and circumstantial evidence, eye witness testimony, expert testimony, breathalyzers and other scientific equipment, chain of custody, blood samples, and you can learn all the evidentiary components in a case.

Trial lawyers are great story tellers to which Michael explores how to find the right story to tell. Described as the fundamental understanding in which all communication is a “story,” Jude explains the importance of understanding our own story first before trying to understand the other side’s story. He recalls a trial where understanding his own story helped him essentially win a case during jury selection after a potential juror questioned if Jude was “in it for the money.” His answer was not only truthful and heartfelt, but also brilliant, proving that sometimes the most difficult moments during a trial allow the most powerful things happen. Michael also points out when you deny truths, even when they are inconvenient, you lose credibility. Jude goes on to share another story about a case he is looking forward to trying in the coming months where the impact of money is of little importance versus the non-monetary considerations important to be met. Both Michael and Jude agree sometimes there are factors more important than money such as education, or the impact of change which can lead a case in the direction of betterment of everyone, which make them truly satisfying cases.

Michael and Jude conclude their conversation with a discussion on the fears (and successes) of turning down cases. This is a hard practice to implement, but the benefits can be surprisingly tremendous toward living the life you want to live… a habit few understand and even fewer are successfully able to implement.

For more information about Jude Basile, visit: http://www.basilelaw.com/

Jude Basile has been instrumental in developing and presenting compelling case stories to move juries to do right. His practice is based out of San Luis Obispo California. He concentrates on working with other lawyers, throughout the state, as lead trial counsel, to continue to share, develop and expand the method of simple, yet powerful truth telling.

He has received 6 Outstanding Trial Lawyer awards from Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, including Trial Lawyer of the Year. He has been named California Central Coast Trial Lawyer of the year 3 times. He is past president of the Trial Lawyers College having been personally selected by legendary trial lawyer Gerry Spence.

His verdicts include 7 and 8 Ligure results against corporations and governmental entities, on behalf of individuals and families. He is an invited member of the prestigious Inner Circle of Advocates limited to 100 of the best plaintiff trial lawyers in the nation. He belongs to the exclusive membership of the Black War Bonnet Society, which stands for high achievement and discipline in the pursuit of physical mental and spiritual wellness.

He is a frequent, invited presenter to Trial Lawyer and Bar Organizations throughout the country.

He has practiced trial law since 1982. A member of the United States Supreme Court, California, Georgia and Federal bars.

He lives on the doorstep to Big Sur California with his wife and 3 children and enjoys hiking, and contemplation in the Coastal Mountains.

For more information about Jude Basile, visit: http://www.basilelaw.com/

17 – Jesse Wilson – Turning Victims into Victors in the Trial Lawyer Theatre

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with communications specialist, speaking coach, and jury trial consultant, Jesse Wilson. As a student of Julliard and with a background in theatre, TV, and film, Jesse’s transition to the trial lawyer consulting world doesn’t seem ironic at all seeing as every courtroom shows us different characters. Ask him what he does, and his answer is “I help human beings become human beings in front of other human beings,” describing his talent to a “T.”

From his early studies in theatre, one technique he was taught using masks made such an impression on him that he continues to use it to this day. Literal face masks are a powerful communication tool as well as a strong metaphor for the masks we wear in our lives, Jesse says. As the old saying goes, “what we resist, persists,” and they (masks) allow us to turn toward the dark and deplorable and use them as an opportunity. Jesse describes his initial success using masks came while directing inmates in jailhouse theatre where they were able to play different roles in order to understand different perspectives.

Today, Jesse uses these techniques with trial lawyers and clients alike to aid in showing the human spirit in the courtroom and fighting against the natural urges to cast themselves as the “characters” they think the jury wants to see them as. He discusses in more depth the need not to show emotion but rather to be emotionally available and the need to show that your client knows joy, can feel joy and is fighting for joy. If you don’t do that, then you end up becoming your own audience member and the jury no longer has the ability to become the “hero.” It’s the worst thing that can happen to an actor as well as for a trial lawyer. In the end, our job as lawyers is to show what our clients have lost, and in order to do that, we need to show the jury what they had by talking about the times of joy. We and the jury can feel the loss 1,000 times more through the joy than through the grief. In other words, Jesse points out, we don’t need to show their grief or tears, we need to show that they are a fighter, and the subtext in this paradox is revealed that the one thing that is more powerful than a man crying is a man trying not to cry.

The process Jesse uses isn’t cookie cutter by any means: he spends as much time as possible with the client being the human sponge and soaking up all the information he can and then “squeezes the orange” to formulate the narrative, language, and themes. By using movie questions like What’s your favorite movie? Who’s the main character? What is his main obstacle (the thing that is holding them back from what they want)? This helps to create an understanding of the story while avoiding talking about their own life in order to put them on common ground. He goes on to ask – if you took away the main obstacle, would you want to see the movie? Most, of course, say no without hesitation because it would be really boring and the story would have no place to go. Kind of like in the movie Jaws if you were to take away the shark. This conversation then sets the stage and helps clients to understand the importance of the struggle and the value of the story in its entirety, which eventually leads to talking about the details of their own story.

Michael relates a similar example where a client lost her right arm and was right-handed. In the beginning, they were just showing liability and mentioned the amputation and the focus group felt that “sure the case is worth $1M and she is probably trying to cash in and doesn’t want to work anymore” and a lot of other negative things. Then they showed video of her doing cross fit, saying she’s not going to let this beat her, lifting more weight with her left hand than she used to with both hands, and the focus group numbers just skyrocketed for what they were willing to give. All because she was no longer playing the “victim.” Michael refers to it as displaying the hope dynamic where if you are asking the jury to help you, they need to see what you are doing to help yourself.

Of course, no amount of money will ever make our clients’ lives whole again, but what you’re doing is helping them to continue to get better. They discuss that it’s really a tough position to be in during a trial because clients feel like they need to stay hurt and not move forward, yet they are really hurting themselves more by NOT continuing to move forward. Jesse also points out that it is one thing to work with someone who has had a lifetime of joy and then (bam!) it’s lost due to a death or injury, but it is another to work with someone who might have a lifetime of abuse or neglect or has a negative self-image and needing to somehow get them to the point in the eyes of a jury where we can understand the extent of their loss. Certainly, a deep and difficult discussion to have for anyone, but an important one to uncover the emotional evidence in a case.

Michael and Jesse conclude their conversation discussing the other “roles” that need to be cast in the trial story like the villain, along with the characteristics and conduct that reveal them as villains. Truly a powerful and enlightening peek behind the curtain of the great work Jesse is bringing to the courtroom in some of the country’s biggest cases.

For more info on Jesse Wilson visit: www.tellthewinningstory.com

 

Workshop Discount: Trial Lawyer Nation listeners are able to receive a 10% discount on any of Jesse’s workshops in 2018 or 2019. To take advantage of this discount, please sign up for a workshop through his website and use the access code PODCAST.

 

Jesse Wilson is a communication specialist, speaking coach, and jury trial lawyer consultant. A Juilliard Theater graduate, after 20 years of working in the world of theater, TV, and film, he has created “Tell The Winning Story” to empower trial lawyers to deliver high-impact presentations, as well as rapidly transform their communication and collaboration skills to effectively prepare clients and witnesses to testify. Jesse was inspired to create “Tell The Winning Story” after co-developing a Theater-Behind-Bars program for inmates.  The program helped inmates make powerful changes in their lives.

The true power of a story always comes from inside us, the storyteller… And the path to developing a winning story begins with the lawyer owning their own story. “Tell The Winning Story” provides the lawyer the difference between telling a “hidden, safe, ‘surface’ story,” and powerfully connecting to a story that goes right to the heart of their audience, whomever that audience happens to be.

Jesse’s hands-on training are featured in his seminars, law firm retreats, intensives, workshops, and webinars.

For more info on Jesse Wilson visit: www.tellthewinningstory.com

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