Episode

22 – Paul Byrd – Understanding Conservative Jurors

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with author, speaker, and seasoned trial lawyer, Paul Byrd from Arkansas for a deep dive into the minds of conservatives and what we can do to better communicate with them on juries. Kicking things right off, Michael and Paul agree that the likelihood of having a jury panel made up of only liberals is not only low, but likely not preferential either as Paul points out and sets the tone for the conversation.

As a self-proclaimed “Republican trial lawyer,” Paul talks about the juxtaposition of not being felt trusted in trial lawyer arenas because he is a Republican, while also not feeling trusted in Republican arenas because he is a trial lawyer. This is something he never really understood in terms of why they didn’t seem to fit together as he feels strongly there are many values that cross over between the two and has led to his study of conservatism in the courtroom.

Like many trial lawyers, Paul’s desire to reach jurors, and to reach voters who wanted to vote in the courtroom forum, has always been met with some resistance from those who are fiercely independent. Paul’s in-depth understanding of the interesting history of the Scotch/Irish in America, and how it paved the way for conservative thinking, helps to lay the foundation of working with conservatives in the courtroom. When asked how trial lawyers might learn from and relate to people who may have a more conservative value system than themselves, Paul suggests talking to experts in the field as well as using solid focus groups. Michael adds, from his own experience, that they can also take an introspective approach and work on themselves, learning to talk to people, listen nonjudgmentally,  and understand that conservatives are still good people by and large. In other words, take the time to listen to people, even if it’s not what you want to hear, in order to gain perspective.

In this day and age, it is hard NOT to bring up the topic of social media, given the politically charged climate on social platforms, to which Paul brings up a great point that although they tell jurors not to look on social media to find lawyers involved, they commonly still do. He goes on to describe how people will typecast you as much as you typecast them with the posts they may find in your social accounts, so it is likely best to stay away from partisan posts in today’s world. Michael adds how he tends to avoid posting political things to his feed as some juror could potentially be immediately turned off by it regardless of which side of the issues he’s on. He also goes on to say if you can start the conversation with an open mind, you may be able to convince someone one way or the other, but if they are turned off before you begin the conversation (perhaps by seeing a politically-charged post), the likelihood of there being any movement is slim.

Paul points out how some of the biggest verdicts have come from the most conservative juries and sometimes it simply becomes a matter of helping your jury understand what the rules are. He gives a great example regarding a case which involved horseplay around a pool where a man was pushed in, broke his neck, and drowned. His focus groups were leaning one way with the understanding that the man who was pushed in was the jokester; but once the rules were laid out by way of the pool manufacturer’s safety warnings and revealing the pusher was the homeowner, the case became much easier to solidify because the group understood what they were defining as the rules.

Michael asks Paul if there are any buzz words or behaviors which can alienate a conservative jury. To which Paul expresses how it can actually work against you if you focus too much on trying to make jurors feel sorry for a client because it was a horrific injury. He goes on to say that jurors have become hardened over the years having been exposed to so much that empathy or sorrow will not carry a case alone anymore. You really have to find the rule or the “why” moment in a case of how the wrongdoer should be held responsible.

The conversation culminates in a discussion about how “non-economic damages” are viewed by jurors and the conservative spin which has likely brought us to where we are today. Paul first directs his attention to the argument regarding the caps placed on non-economic damages in some states and how some view these decisions as unfair toward particular sets of people (ex: stay at home parents) where there is no pattern of lost wages or income. He then digs deeper in a couple of examples to really make you think a little harder about what’s “real” to those who have been catastrophically injured while using plain English to cut through partisan lines and strike the core of most every human. It’s truly fascinating how Paul thinks about these things and we were glad he was willing to share his thoughts and insights with us and the rest of the Trial Lawyer Nation.

Background on Paul Byrd

Paul Byrd has been representing deserving injured victims for almost 30 years.   After clerking for a trial court, Paul went into private practice in 1988. Paul’s practice has focused on civil litigation with an emphasis on representing consumers in product liability actions, both individually and in Mass Tort Litigation. He is the Immediate Past Chair of the AAJ Product Liability Section and on the Board of Governors of AAJ.   He has spoken on “How to Talk to Conservatives” all over the United States and has a current video on the topic published by Trial Guides.

In November of 2000, he was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal due to his work in the case of Brownlee/Whitaker vs. Cooper Tire and Rubber Company.  He also appeared in a Dateline NBC documentary regarding the same case in January of 2001.

Paul has also represented farmers in agricultural litigation regarding genetically modified crop contamination that had global as well as national and local implications.

Paul is a past President of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association. His message to his fellow members as President was “You went to law school to make a difference!”.

In 2012, Paul was a co-recipient of the Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

He is the managing member of the Little Rock, Arkansas office of Paul Byrd Law Firm, PLLC.

He has an “AV” rating in the Martindale-Hubble Legal Directory, has been recognized by the Mid-South Super Lawyers, and is also a life member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

Affiliations

  • Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association
  • American Association for Justice
  • American Bar Association
  • Arkansas Bar Association
  • Pulaski County Bar Association
  • St. Thomas More Society

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/

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