Episode

74 – Ed Ciarimboli – Masked Justice: Part 3

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with fellow trial lawyer Ed Ciarimboli from Pennsylvania. Ed is part of the elite class of lawyers who have been able to take a case to trial in the COVID era. And with the final witness testimony being so monumental to the case that they settled immediately after he left the witness box, this trial story is one you need to hear to believe!

They begin with a brief discussion of Ed’s background and how he started trying cases. A partner at a 12-lawyer and 3 location firm, Fellerman & Ciarimboli, Ed mainly focuses on commercial motor vehicle cases. He got into the AAJ speaking circuit about 9 years ago, where he began to really hone his skills as a lawyer. It was a couple of years after that when he was told he needed to become great at trying cases. When Ed asked why, the other lawyer responded, “Because you’re the worst lawyer I’ve ever seen at settling a case.” So, Ed took the advice and has since focused his energy on being as comfortable as possible in the courtroom.

When asked to elaborate on what he did to develop his skills as a trial lawyer, Ed insists the biggest factor was his investment in his education. He urges young lawyers to do more than join a webinar- they should go to conferences and workshops to truly focus on the different aspects of trial and HOW they’re doing it. Body language and movement are crucial to a lawyer’s performance in the courtroom, and after working with a long list of consultants and gurus on these topics, Ed encourages everyone who wants to be a great trial lawyer to put the effort into this.

He then clarifies that this doesn’t mean following the dogmatic approach of one pro- it’s about learning the fundamentals (taking depositions, cross-examinations, etc.) then studying different approaches to storytelling and choosing the best one for your particular case.  This approach requires much more work than a cookie-cutter strategy, but both Ed and Michael agree that it’s well worth the effort.

Michael then starts to dig into the facts of Ed’s case, which was unique and incredibly tragic. Ed explains how the defendant company purchased a huge molding machine from a broker. The defendant company signed the paperwork and assumed responsibility for the machine, then hired a crane company for the rigging and transportation of said machine. The crane company was told nothing about the details of the machine, notably the 55-gallon drum of hydraulic fluid still inside the machine. In the process of moving the machine onto the flatbed truck for transportation, the hydraulic fluid sloshed to the side and caused the machine to tip over onto Ed’s client, killing him instantly.

Ed then explains how they ended up suing the company who purchased the machine and shares how his extensive work on commercial motor vehicle cases set him up for success on this case. Ed knew the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations “100 million times better than the defense,” which he used to his advantage in placing the blame on the defendant company whose only real defense was, “We hired this company.”

Michael continues the conversation by asking Ed how jury selection was handled. Ed shares how voir dire was conducted in a large old theater instead of a courtroom in order to allow for safe spacing between the potential jurors. And while he admits he was more nervous for this jury selection than any he’s ever done before, the process went incredibly smoothly. He gives high praise to the judge, his jury consultants, and the jurors themselves, stating, “I truly believe we won this case in jury selection.” He also notes that the demographic composition of the jury pool was not skewed, something which will surprise listeners who believed COVID would cause people to resist sitting on a jury.

Ed then shares the setup of the courtroom, which included the jurors sitting in the gallery with two large screens in front of them. He explains in-depth the lengths he and his team went to effectively present to a jury largely spaced out, including the widespread use of visuals that any trial lawyer trying to get back in the courtroom needs to hear.

Michael then digs deeper into Ed’s sequencing of the case and presentation to the jury, which is something he did with incredible craft and thoughtfulness. He began by simply stating, “George James went to work one day and never came back. Why?” before introducing the jury to the company, who was very experienced in dealing with hazardous materials. He then boiled this complex case down into one simple graphic of the transportation cycle, highlighting the defendant company was both the shipper and the receiver of the machine.

Ed then called the corporate representative as his first witness, who did “TERRIBLE,” and came off smug, angry, and unwilling to accept the responsibility which was so clearly his. Next was their expert, then the moment which Ed was most concerned about, the client’s blue-collar co-workers from the crane company. His fears were quickly abandoned as these witnesses talked plainly and honestly about their lack of experience with hazardous materials, further securing the blame on the defendant company who assumed the responsibility. But the most powerful moment of all was seeing the way they all talked about Ed’s client and how amazing of a person he was, causing many of them to break down on the stand.

As the trial went on, the defense kept offering more money to settle the case, but it was nowhere near enough. Ed had rested and was ready for closing until the defense called their final witness, an economic expert. While Ed had chosen to leave economic damages out of the case completely, the defense thought it wise to have their witness testify that based on the client’s income and life expectancy, his life was only worth $61,000.

Considering the client was such an upstanding person that his EX-WIFE was one of the key damage witnesses, this was a shocking move. After Ed’s brutal cross-examination of this witness (which you need to hear to fully appreciate), he was rushed in the hallway by corporate counsel eager to settle for the amount he wanted. Ed agreed and the case was settled right before closing.

While Ed’s trial story and success in the age of COVID are admirable, Michael wants to know – would Ed recommend other lawyers to push their cases to trial, or should they wait until COVID has passed? Ed simply states, “I say do it.” It’s scary filled with uncertainty, but as lawyers, we are not doing our jobs if we are not pushing our cases.

As a follow-up, Michael curiously asks, “What about if your only option is a Zoom trial?” to which Ed is a bit more hesitant. They go back and forth discussing the merits and limitations of Zoom trials, which Michael is set to partake in starting February 1st. Ed praises Michael for taking this leap and wishes him luck in this upcoming trial.

This podcast episode also covers why sequencing your witnesses properly is so important, using experts, how Ed found his “best jurors,” the details of the FMCSR’s on transporting hazardous material, what the jurors said when Ed reached out to them post-trial, and so much more. This is truly an inspiring trial story that you DON’T want to miss!

 

Interested in hearing more COVID era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Guest Bio:

Attorney Edward Ciarimboli is a founding partner at Fellerman & Ciarimboli Law PC. He graduated from Wilkes University with a dual degree in political science and engineering and applied science. While at Duquesne University School of Law, he was admitted to the Order of Barristers for Excellence in Courtroom Advocacy and was named a national semi-finalist in the American Trial Lawyers Association Moot Court Competition.

After receiving his Juris Doctor, Attorney Ciarimboli served as a law clerk to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Attorney Ciarimboli concentrates his practice on trucking and auto collision and medical malpractice litigation. He is active in many professional organizations, including the American Association for Justice, the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and the Luzerne County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations. He serves on AAJ’s National College of Advocacy Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania Association of Justice, donates to AAJ’s PAC, and is a member of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group; Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability; Insurance Law; and Professional Negligence sections.

Attorney Ciarimboli has been selected for inclusion in the Pennsylvania Super Lawyers® list every year since 2008. He was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers Association and named to the Top 10 National Trial Lawyers’ Trucking Trial Lawyers Association. He was also named as one of the Nation’s Top One Percent by the National Association Distinguished Counsel.

In addition to his extensive trial practice, Attorney Ciarimboli frequently teaches lawyers across the country on both deposition and trial skills.

Attorney Ciarimboli is also an active member of his community. With his partner, Attorney Greg Fellerman, he began the Safe Prom Pledge in 2010 as a way to promote a drug-free and alcohol-free prom night for students throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. To date, they have spoken to more than 25,000 high school students on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Attorney Ciarimboli lives in a 115-year-old farmhouse with his wife, Jennifer, their children, two dogs, two cats, countless chickens, roosters, and an occasional pheasant.

 

73 – Pat S. Montes – The Secret Weapon: Your Client’s Story & The Human Experience

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his good friend and “secret weapon,” Pat S. Montes. A practicing lawyer herself, Pat has developed a consulting business where she works with lawyers and their clients to help the clients tell their stories more effectively.  They’ll take an in-depth look at her process for depo and trial prep and why it is so effective (and healing) for clients to tell their whole story.

They begin by looking at Pat’s background and how she got into her consulting business.  A proud Mexican American and one of six siblings, she explains how her upbringing was hugely influential to her and played a substantial role in her success. She goes on to share how she attended the Trial Lawyers College in 2002 where she realized then that she didn’t really know her clients or their voices. She began a long journey of research and self-discovery, attending countless seminars on psychodrama and storytelling. While Pat does not do psychodrama herself, she utilizes many of the same techniques in her practice. She focuses on getting beyond the client’s outer layer to their inner layer, so they can show the jury what’s really going on inside them.

Pat continues by explaining what psychodrama is, which she simply defines as “finding truth in action.” In this process typically used for group psychotherapy, the “star” (the client) acts out scenes and stories from their life while the present group connects with that experience. In relation to the legal practice and our clients, it is a way of being able to connect with other humans and other human experiences and “finding the truth in the story.” Pat uses role reversal, teaches the clients how to “concretize” their feelings, and more to help them translate their feelings into a story for the jury.

They move on to dig into Pat’s process for preparing the lawyer and their client for deposition. Michael begins this section by asking Pat how she discovered that putting something into action helps the client describe it better. She shares how this process gets the client convicted about how they feel and always begins by asking about the effect of the crash on the client’s life. Their immediate answer to this first question reveals a lot about who they are and how they’ve processed this life-changing event. She will then dig deeper into that answer to uncover the “whole truth,” a process which Michael has seen Pat do with his clients many times and strongly believes is incredibly important to the case, cathartic for the client, and vital for the lawyer to fully understand their client. Michael also notes the importance of the client being completely honest with the jury, because “juries have great bullshit detectors” and will punish you if they sense you’re being dishonest.

Pat will then dig into the client’s “before,” something she thinks is crucial for the client to be able to explain vividly to the jury, saying “If the jury can feel the before, then the jury can feel the loss.” She goes on to say that it’s perfectly fine if the client’s “before” was less than perfect. For example, if the client was in a transition phase before the crash, the last thing they needed was a life-altering injury.

Another important part of Pat’s process is teaching the client how to describe their pain and how it makes them feel. This not only helps them explain it vividly to the jury, but it can even uncover injuries and ailments that have been unnoticed by doctors. She then explains how the lawyer should model this to the client by first describing a recent pain they’ve had. She provides her own example of dealing with Sciatica in such detail that listeners are sure to feel the exact sensation of her pain as she says it.

While this process is meant to build trust and understanding between the lawyer and their client, it also serves to prepare the client to bare the burden of proof for the jury. Many clients initially believe they shouldn’t have to prove anything, or that their story speaks for itself. But Pat will constantly remind the client of how what they say looks to a jury. For example, if the client doesn’t remember the date of the accident, that could appear incongruent with their assertation that “the crash was devastating.”

To help the client go into their deposition feeling emboldened or proud, Pat employs a number of insightful techniques. One example she gives even uses the client’s sense of smell to bring them into their “safe place” which has a number of useful applications in the courtroom and in life. This also makes their story more engaging to the jury and helps the lawyer connect with the emotions they felt in that moment.

Pat then notes the importance of the client describing the joy that their past activities brought to their life. For example, when she asks most clients about their past job, they’ll talk about how it brought them respect and made them feel fulfilled. They typically don’t even mention the money! And when we talk about what these things meant to the client’s life, Pat says that’s where we get the anguish and the “struggles.”

This leads Michael to ask her to explain more about “struggles” and what she means by that. Pat provides a common example of a client saying, “I can’t even walk,” when in reality they can. Many lawyers shut off at hearing this because they think the client is overexaggerating or overly complaining. But while they can walk, they are doing so in a lot of pain. She then makes it clear to the client that they shouldn’t diminish anything, but they should not exaggerate anything.

Michael also adds that when clients are overstating, they’re often scared that if they don’t exaggerate, nobody will listen to them. This is why trust between the lawyer and the client is key, and Michael credits Pat for helping build many of his most trusting relationships with clients. He poetically adds, “Even if it’s not the perfect story, the truth is so powerful in the courtroom.” Pat agrees and adds that the less you have, the more you lose. So even if the client’s “before” story is filled with missteps, it’s vital to tell the whole truth to the jury.

They move on to discuss an insightful way to find the best witnesses for the client. Part of this process is the client acting out scenes from their life, which inherently reveals some people in their life that were there for those moments. Usually, they’re not anybody who the client would list unprompted, but end up being the perfect person to attest to the client’s loss.  As Pat puts it, “It’s who knows your character, not who can speak to it.”

While most of this episode has been about Pat’s depo prep process, she and Michael briefly move on to discuss her trial prep process. This involves setting up a mock jury and having everybody rotate positions to be the jury, the defense lawyer, and the client. This prepares the client for the scrutiny of the defense and the jury, giving them the confidence they need to survive the brutal attacks that can happen in the courtroom. They’ll also cover things like eye contact, what a juror needs, practicing a direct, practicing a cross examination, and more. Between this and the depo prep described in this episode, the client will come out prepared, trusting, and sometimes even “healed” from their emotional wounds.

If you’d like to contact Pat Montes about consulting on a case, you can email her at patmontes@monteslaw.com. She is fluent in both English and Spanish. Michael hesitates to say this because he’s nervous about her getting booked up, but in the spirit of truthfulness, he highly recommends working with Pat to develop your clients’ trust and storytelling skills.

This podcast also covers how long this process takes, going to trial without medical bills, why you should ask your clients who influenced them to be the person they are, why the connection you share with your client should be your voir dire question, how acting out a scene can help clients understand the mechanics of their injury, how lawyers can learn more about this process, why the lawyer needs to be present for this to work, why the plaintiff lawyer should NEVER play the defense lawyer in a role play scenario, why this process feels like therapy, and so much more.

 

72 – Delisi Friday – The Evolution of Our Marketing: What Worked, What Didn’t, & Where We Are Now

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday to discuss their firm’s marketing strategies. They start at the very beginning of Michael’s career for a full-circle look at why they chose to market B2B (business to business) instead of B2C (business to consumer), what to look for in a marketing professional and a marketing agency, how to market without spending money, the pros and cons of working with a marketing agency, and why they decided to move their marketing in-house.

They begin the episode by explaining why they only market to other law firms (B2B) instead of marketing directly to consumers (B2C). Michael shares that he’s had people tell him he’s insane for only marketing to other law firms for referrals because he only gets part of the attorney fees, but he insists it works better for his firm’s needs. He explains how he used to do B2C marketing, but after putting pen to paper and analyzing the profitability of his cases, he found that even after paying out the referral fee, he made about 3x as much money per hour on the cases that came from referrals. He also doesn’t have to spend astronomical amounts of money to advertise on TV in an extremely competitive market.

Delisi and Michael then briefly touch on their experiences and struggles with the burgeoning area of digital marketing, before Delisi asks Michael about the evolution of his marketing prior to bringing a marketing professional into the firm. Michael starts at the beginning, dating back 20 years ago when he had practically no marketing budget. He tried numerous methods, from taking out an ad in the yellow pages, to writing a free book for consumers and buying a corresponding TV ad which was not very successful (he only gave away 10 copies to consumers. The rest were to other lawyers and judges).

Michael then reflects on his past in-house marketers and why they didn’t work out. He begins simply by stating, “There’s a lot of flaky people in marketing.” He goes on to explain how he is an “idea person,” so he needed someone with tenacity to balance him out and ensure his ideas were followed through on and not forgotten 3 months down the line. Delisi echoes this sentiment and adds that with marketing, sometimes you have to give initiatives time to see if they will work- something she calls both the “fun and scary” part of marketing.

Delisi then asks the question sure to be on every listener’s mind- what should you look for when hiring an in-house marketing professional? Michael first reiterates that he needed someone with tenacity to follow through on initiatives and adds that it’s important to find someone with the poise and class necessary to communicate with lawyers professionally. Many firm owners are tempted to hire someone based on their looks because “they can get in the door,” but he firmly believes finding someone who can fit in and have a conversation with referring lawyers is much more important for him. Delisi agrees and adds her personal experience with hiring assistants and interns – they can be inexperienced in legal but need to be able to communicate with lawyers and have strong writing skills to succeed long-term.

They then move on to discuss Delisi’s advice for lawyers who are just getting started with marketing and have a very small budget. She highly recommends sitting down and looking at where every single case you got this year came from. While the task is tedious, she insists it’s necessary in order to fully understand what works, what doesn’t, and what you need to do more of going forward. Michael agrees and urges listeners to focus on their relationships to gain referrals. Some lawyers are close with their pastors and have found success within their congregation. Others like Michael who focus on attorney referrals should put time and effort into growing their relationships with those attorneys. They both agree that client reviews and testimonials, as well as providing excellent customer service, are crucial to your credibility and long-term success.

Once you have a more established firm and a marketing budget to match, there are multiple routes you can take to expand your marketing initiatives. Michael notes that at some point, you’ll be tempted to hire an outside marketing agency for help and asks Delisi what she thinks the pro’s and cons of that are. Delisi replies why it really depends on the firm and their needs, but when her and Michael chose to hire an agency it was initially beneficial because she and Michael needed support with graphics to make their ideas a reality. The graphics and creative support they received were crucial for testing out different strategies and figuring out what worked best.

One of the biggest cons of hiring a marketing agency is the cost. This varies depending on the agency, but after you pay each person for their services it’s usually not cost effective vs. doing it yourself. Michael and Delisi urge listeners who do not want to hire an agency to utilize contractor services such as Upwork to hire freelance designers and copywriters, or contract local talent. They also discuss why they parted ways with their marketing agency and Michael’s #1 tip for what to avoid when deciding to hire an agency.

After parting ways with their agency, Delisi and Michael decided it was time to hire more employees for their marketing department, namely a full-time graphic designer. They discuss their initial concerns with doing so, they both agree the numerous benefits for both marketing initiatives and case graphics have far outweighed those concerns.

Delisi and Michael conclude this episode by discussing where they are now and why it works for them. In addition to managing the firm’s marketing, Delisi now manages the intake department as well. They discuss how this has improved the performance of both departments and why it’s important for your marketing and intake departments to be in sync. It also helps that Delisi is on the management team at the firm, something Michael notes as a major difference between in-house marketing and having a marketing agency. Since Delisi is a part of every major firm decision, she is invested in the firm’s well-being, not just making the marketing department look good.

Michael emphasizes that while this was a 20-year process in the making, the goal should be to do at least some of your marketing in-house to invest in yourself and your firm so you can get the cases that YOU deserve.

This podcast also covers why digital marketing didn’t work for their firm, how lettuce on a McDonald’s quarter pounder is wrong, tax write offs, the initial challenges of moving your marketing in-house, utilizing Facebook groups and the Nextdoor app for organic leads, how they conduct their annual marketing meeting (and why you need to have one), and so much more!

 

71 – Richard Newsome – Mixed Method Advocacy: A Hybrid Approach to Sharpen Your Trial Skills

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his old friend and seasoned trial lawyer Richard aka Rich Newsome. Rich specializes in automotive product liability cases and is one of the top lawyers in this area in the country. They discuss Rich’s journey to success, his Trial School, the importance of young lawyers trying cases, how to move on and learn from a loss, and coping with fear and anxiety in the courtroom.

They begin the episode with Michael asking Rich about his journey to becoming one of the best automotive product liability plaintiff lawyers in the country. Rich explains how he began working in a federal prosecutor’s office right out of law school, then transitioned into working at a civil defense firm doing automotive product liability work. His transition into plaintiff’s work came after deposing a family in a particularly heartbreaking seat belt failure case. In that pivotal moment, he realized he needed to be working for the other side and representing people instead of massive corporations. He joined a small practitioner and began “knocking on doors” of other plaintiff lawyers to start trying product liability cases as their co-counsel.

Michael then brings up how automotive product liability is a tough field to get into on the plaintiff’s side, to which Rich whole-heartedly agrees. They discuss the difficulties of product liability cases and offer several recommendations for young lawyers looking to get into product liability including “getting plugged in” through AIEG, working for an experienced lawyer with the capital to try these notoriously expensive cases, and many more.

With the field being this tough and cases being so expensive to try, Michael asks Rich about his case selection process. He replies simply, “At the end of the day, you can’t try a product case for less than half a million dollars.” With that being said, the case needs to meet two guidelines: 1) There needs to be a catastrophic injury, and 2) there needs to be a clear fact pattern showing the plaintiff should not have sustained a catastrophic injury. He goes on to explain how even though “this whole area is fraught with mine fields,” the work is incredibly important for society in regards to policy changes and consumer safety.

Rich and Michael then discuss the importance of taking cases to trial and refusing to settle quietly, which leads them to every trial lawyer’s worst fear – taking a big case to trial and losing. They trade “war stories” of their most memorable losses which still haunt them to this day, but reflect on what they learned from those early losses and how they made them better trial lawyers. As Rich puts it, “When you take a big loss, it forces you to improve your game.”

Rich ultimately blames his biggest trial loss on picking a bad jury, which was surprising to him because he was following the voir dire method of some of the most successful trial lawyers in the country. This led him to get 30 of these great lawyers together for a 3-day focus group to try out different voir dire methods. They found that the most effective method was really a combination of a variety of methods, which is now known as “Mixed Method Advocacy.” Michael agrees and shares his experience of learning that one lawyer, no matter how great they are, does not have the ultimate answer of how to try a case. The real growth is in practicing and learning which methods work best for you, then being willing to constantly adapt and learn new things.

This discovery of Mixed Method Advocacy led Rich to start Trial School, a community of trial lawyers who freely share information for the betterment of the plaintiff bar. Trial School is free to join (yes, completely free), easy to access, and full of incredibly useful information for any trial lawyer.

The conversation then comes full circle to where Rich is today after applying the information he learned from those other great trial lawyers. He shares a story of a wrongful death case he tried in an extremely conservative county. He applied everything he had learned from both other lawyers and his own experiences, which resulted in the largest wrongful death verdict ever in that county. They dive into the details of the case and the numerous techniques he applied, which make this verdict even more impressive.

Michael then asks Rich about how he conquers the fear and anxiety associated with going to trial, a topic which Rich describes as “the great elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.” He admits to experiencing it and explains how it stunts your performance in the courtroom. He outlines numerous ways to cope with this including beta blockers, “batting practice,” and many more interesting strategies (even learning some from a hypnotist!). Rich feels so strongly about the need for better fear management in the legal industry that he’s dedicating Trial School’s spring program to the topic.

Michael continues on this point by sharing the strategies he’s learned over the years, to which Rich replies that Michael has a huge advantage over a lot of young lawyers due to his experience in the courtroom. Rich explains this by using an extremely helpful analogy about Nascar drivers which you need to hear to fully appreciate, but concludes with “I think one of the biggest solutions to fear is practice.”

They conclude the episode by discussing the need for young lawyers to get experience trying cases. While this can be a challenge, Michael insists that if you offer to try a firm’s small cases they’ll let you. He explains how if you get in there and lose a few times, you learn that you can survive a loss and gain invaluable confidence along the way.

If you’d like to join Trial School, visit www.trialschool.org to apply. You will need two plaintiff lawyer references and to fill out an affidavit stating you only represent people, but it is 100% free and an incredibly valuable resource to every trial lawyer, both young and seasoned.

This podcast also covers the “gifts” they were given throughout their careers, the importance of visuals in trial, the voir dire technique Rich used in his big verdict, avoiding dogma in trial techniques, and so much more.

Bio:

Rich Newsome is the senior partner of the Newsome Melton law firm and represents people and families in complex civil litigation.

After graduating from the University of Florida College of Law in 1989, Rich worked as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida. Rich left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1993 and went to work for a large product liability defense firm in Orlando, Florida where he represented manufacturers. After defending a manufacturer in a case brought by a family who lost a child, Rich felt compelled to leave the defense practice and began representing only families and individuals. Since then, for more than 25 years, Rich’s practice has focused on representing people who have suffered catastrophic or fatal injuries.

In 2001, Rich was appointed by the Florida Governor to the Fifth District Court of Appeals Judicial Nominating Commission and served as the JNC’s Chairman during his term. He is a Past-President of the Orlando Federal Bar Association, Past-President of the Florida Justice Association, Past-Member of the Board of Governors of the American Association for Justice, Past-President of the Central Florida Trial Lawyers Association, and is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocacy.

Rich is a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College and was invited to serve as a member of the College Faculty. Rich is a member of the Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Oregon Bar Associations.

In 2016, Rich was selected as the “Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers, a peer review publication. In 2015, Rich received the Steven C. Sharpe Public Service Award from the American Association for Justice, in recognition of his representation of Corey Burdick who was severely injured by a defective Takata airbag. The Steven C. Sharpe Award is awarded annually to one attorney and their client.

In 2017, Rich was appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission by Richard Corcoran, the Speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives. The 37 member Commission drafted and submitted 32 amendments to the Florida Constitution which were placed on the ballot and approved by Florida voters to be part of the Florida Constitution in November 2018.

In 2019, Rich was recognized by the National Law Journal as having won two of the Nation’s 100 largest verdicts in 2018.

Rich is a member of the Summit Council, a national group of America’s best plaintiff trial lawyers. Membership is limited to less than thirty trial lawyers from across the country, is by invitation only, and is extended to lawyers who have a proven record of large jury verdicts and are recognized as leaders of the national plaintiffs bar.

Rich is a founding faculty member of Trial School, Inc., a not-for-profit organization which seeks to foster collaboration between lawyers on today’s best trial advocacy methods and to provide free education and practice for trial lawyers who exclusively represent people and families.

 

70 – Malorie Peacock – The Method: Our 9-Step Process for Evaluating & Working Up A Case

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock for an exciting preview of his upcoming Trial Guides book on trucking law. They’ll cover Michael’s 9-step method for case evaluation and detail each of those steps, so you can start applying them to your own case evaluation process.

They jump right into this episode with Step 1- initial triage. Michael explains how he derived the term from battlefield medicine, where patients are triaged based on the severity of their injuries and care is prioritized for the patients who need it most. He explains how trial lawyers only have a finite amount of resources, and the decision to put work into a case or not will effect more than just that case. It also takes those resources away from other cases and your personal life.

Michael then shares an example of how he used to work on automotive product liability cases, but his firm has since moved away from them. He has recently rejected five of these cases, even though they were all worthy cases someone will make money from. He chose to do this because these cases don’t fit in with his current docket, and there are other lawyers who will take them and excel at them because they do suit their dockets. Michael even sends his referral attorney to these other lawyers when the referral attorney brings him a case that he knows they will excel on – something that used to terrify him, but he’s since learned it builds an even stronger relationship between him and the referral attorney.

Before moving on to the next step, Michael clarifies that “Initial Triage” is NOT making a final decision on whether or not to accept the case. This step is simply deciding whether you want to look further into the case. In fact, Malorie clarifies that a lawsuit is typically not even filed until about Step 7 in this process.

Step 2 of “The Method” is to gather all the initially available information on the case. This information varies dramatically depending on the type of case it is, but the main goal of this step is to determine a general idea of the liability stories and issues with the case. Michael also explains the importance throughout this process of continually evaluating the case and asking, “Knowing what I know today, is this a case I would take?” If the answer is ever no, consider dropping the case. They conclude this step by discussing a recent example Malorie had of a case where the client was a great person and genuinely deserving, but the facts they discovered during this process made it a case that did not work on her docket.

Step 3 is to identify and analyze all potential immediate causes. Michael explains this as a brainstorming exercise where you record every possible immediate cause of the crash, even the causes that seem unlikely but are possible (for example, a bee in the vehicle). You then divide these potential causes into columns of “winners” and “losers.” Winners are causes which, if proven, help you win the case. Losers are causes which, if proven, mean you lose the case (or need to neutralize them).

After identifying the winners and losers in the case, you move on to Step 4 – conducting a root cause analysis. Michael explains how this concept was first developed by Mr. Toyota, the founder of Toyota Motor Company. Mr. Toyota decided that instead of fixing things when they went wrong, he would try to find the reason these things were going wrong by asking the “5 Why’s.”

To apply this to a case, you take the “winners” discussed in Step 3 and keep asking “Why?” until you find your ultimate root cause. Michael then shares an example from a rear-end case where he took the winner of “the truck driver rear-ended my client” and found “the company did not take the time or effort to train the driver” to be the root cause of the crash. He continues this process for every “winner” and develops multiple theories before he decides which theory he is going to use.

Malorie then re-emphasizes the fact that in an ideal world, you will not have filed the lawsuit yet at this point. They both agree there are times you need to file the lawsuit early to avoid any destroying of evidence, but if possible you should wait.

They move on to Step 5 – drafting the jury instructions. Michael shares how he used to feel doing this so early on was silly, but has since realized it really helps him design the case because he knows what he needs to prove. Malorie adds that doing this also better prepares you for depositions because you know what questions you need to be asking. She also emphasizes to not only look at liability instructions but also damage instructions. This all boils down to, “What do you have to prove?”

The next step in “The Method” is Step 6 – finding rules and anchors. These are authoritative sources for the rules, answering the question “says who?” Michael explains that this is one of the reasons he loves doing trucking cases, because there are so many rules and publications to use as anchors. The more sources that say a rule the better, because defendants are left with two choices: to say they know the rule and broke it, or to say they disagree with all those sources and have their own rule. Michael and Malorie then discuss numerous examples from different types of cases, showing that this method can be used on much more than trucking cases.

Malorie then asks Michael to clarify what an “anchor” is for those who don’t know. He explains an anchor as what you are “anchoring” your rules to. This is an authoritative source or publication of the rule, such as the CDL Manual, a driving company’s textbook, a store’s rules, an OSHA rule, and more. He then concludes this section by explaining how to arm your expert with these anchors to get the most out of their testimony.

Step 7 is to formulate the discovery plan. This is also where you draft the complaint or petition and plead what you need to get the discovery. For example, if you believe the root cause is negligent training, you need information to prove they have a negligent training system. Then, you formulate the discovery plan based on that. Michael cautions strongly against asking another lawyer for their interrogatories before drafting your own. You need to formulate your own based on your theories to prove what you need to prove. You can then use a form to double check and make sure you didn’t miss anything. Michael and Malorie then agree on a fantastic practice tip which makes this process a lot easier and discuss the importance of brainstorming with colleagues.

As discussed earlier, now is the ideal time to file the lawsuit. Then, step 8 is to continually re-evaluate the case. Malorie highlights the need to do this throughout each of the steps as well and to keep notes on what you’ve done so far to avoid repeating any unnecessary work. Michael then explains how as new facts, research, depositions, and discovery emerges, your initial root cause might not be the best strategy anymore and that’s okay. Malorie echoes this statement and adds that too many lawyers are afraid to ask for what they really want in discovery, and more lawyers should be specific and ask for specific documents referenced in other documents.

The above steps were mostly completed before you have all of the information about the case, which Michael cites to further emphasize the point that re-evaluation is key. He then shares some techniques he’s developed at his firm to ensure this gets done by all of his lawyers.

Michael and Malorie conclude the episode with the final step in “The Method”- test the case. Michael explains how the method of which you test the case varies depending on the value of it and lists a number of unconventional methods to do this on a budget. He then lists the advantages and disadvantages of other more conventional methods, including in-person focus groups and online studies like John Campbell’s Empirical Jury. While no method is 100% accurate, they can give you a good idea of where you stand.

This podcast also covers why you should file a FOIA request immediately, how implementing “vulnerability-based trust” by Patrick Lencioni has helped his firm, how to disprove or neutralize “losers” in a case, how Michael applies parts of this method to his employees, why you should research rules BEFORE hiring an expert, why you need to be constantly re-evaluating your case, and so much more.

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