Episode

44 – Natalie Arledge and Dylan Pearcy – Insights on the 2019 ATAA Symposium

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with two attorneys from Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Natalie Arledge and Dylan Pearcy, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to discuss the questions on the minds of our listeners. Today’s topics focus specifically on the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA) annual symposium and our biggest takeaways from attending.

A brief background on today’s guests reveals that Natalie has been with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock for almost two years after having come from a defense background where she worked on trucking cases, among others, from the other side. Dylan also came from the defense side of things where his docket was roughly 70% small car accident cases of which roughly 50% were trucking cases.

Seeing as the ATAA symposium was a multi-day event, Michael wonders which presentations Natalie and Dylan found the most value in. Natalie explains how she found Robert Collins “What is safety for a trucking company” presentation to be the most valuable for her. In that presentation, they explored many forms and regulations to better identify what safety culture really is for a company whereas previously it had been less defined for her. In other words, not just looking at an individual negligent act, but more so the question of – does this company really care about safety? On the other hand, Dylan gravitated more toward Ken Levinson’s presentation on representing a truck driver as a plaintiff where he gained a deeper perspective on trucking cases. He felt that Ken did a “good job of going into some details about how specific factors come into play when the truck driver is the plaintiff and how they might look at an accident and their responsibilities on the road differently than maybe somebody else would.” Michael points out that Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock has also represented a number of truck drivers over the years and having done so, has learned the nuances that come into play when a truck driver is the plaintiff.

Natalie also found Jay Vaughn’s presentation on inspecting trucks particularly valuable as it was aimed at better preparing lawyers to know what to look for and ask about when examining a truck. She also gained useful insights on what he carries with him to better understand what he’s looking at, citing that there is always value in looking at a truck or the scene to fully understand the scale of what occurred. Dylan adds to this topic, sharing his experience of truck inspections describing the importance and value of getting dirty and getting involved in the inspection to bring some validity and credibility to the case down the road. This is in contrast to the attorneys who show up to an inspection in a suit while standing back and just observing an expert inspection.
The conversation shifts to technology with an observation by Dylan in regards to what was being used in presentations and how it was being received by the attorneys in the room. The observation is a critical one at it’s core as it is much like what we do in a courtroom when we either use or don’t use technology to deliver our story to the jury and keep them engaged and interested in what we’re presenting for our clients. Michael recalls one of his side conversations at the seminar with Michael Leizerman where he describes part of our job in the courtroom is to entertain the jury in order to keep them engaged, otherwise they’ll tune out.

Dylan flips the script and asks Michael what some of his takeaways from the seminar were to which he describes some of the smaller, yet extremely valuable, tidbits he picked up on in presentations that he’s already heard in the past, but found new value in by catching things he hadn’t heard before. Michael also explains the value he’s received from the seminars just by talking and networking with others in the hallways and at the mixers. He goes on to talk about the relationships he’s built over the years and how his network of attorney friends, now allows him the ability to bounce ideas off of some of the best in the industry, find experts, get insights on other state’s laws, etc., all with just a phone call or an email that is answered fairly quickly.
The conversation wraps up with a discussion on what first time attendees might consider or keep in mind when they attend their first multi-day seminar like the ATAA symposium and how to best leverage the tools and resources available at such conferences.

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

43 – Joseph Camerlengo – The Complexity and Rewards of Operating a Specialized Law Firm

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Joe Camerlengo, an extremely successful trucking lawyer from Jacksonville, FL, who is also the outgoing president of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA), for a deep dive conversation on the specialization of trucking law.

Joe’s start as a lawyer began after being a finance major in undergrad, going to law school to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and then falling in love with being a trial lawyer after taking a trial practice course. From there he only interviewed at defense firms and only wanted to be a defense lawyer, having “drank the Koolaid,” and thinking people were exaggerating their claims, lying, and cheating. But his perspective changed after his then-girlfriend, now wife got T-boned in her car and suffered a soft tissue injury which he quickly realized are very real and hurt. At that point he started to plan his exit although he didn’t want to leave, having only been at a defense firm for two and a half years. What he really wanted, was to wait until he tried cases and learned more about excess coverage in multiple layers and multiple defendants, which he did, and then waited until he was on the eve of being a partner at the defense firm and left to start his own plaintiffs firm.

Michael wastes no time in asking Joe how he became a trucking specialist, to which it all started with a single case Joe recalls vividly. The Tony and Johnson case was a case where a 19-year-old girl was killed by a double trailer truck which was driving on a small county road. Joe immediately dove into the regulations, bought Michael Leizerman’s book, The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, went to seminars, and fell in love with the complexity and being able to do real justice in that first trucking case. While the results of that case would obviously never bring Tony back, he was able to resolve it in a way that brought justice to her family and further pushed the trucking company to agree to not drive their double trailers on county roads anywhere in the state of Florida.

Michael then contrasts this with automobile cases where the driver who caused the wreck is a major factor. You can resolve those cases or if you try them, you rarely get full justice because a large percentage of responsibility is going to go to someone else. Plus, when you try them, you’re not going to win them as often, so the settlement values are such that instead of fully taking care of somebody, you are helping them more than they would have been helped had you not been there, but not really getting them full justice. As an example, he points to award a couple of million dollars for a quadriplegic over a lifetime is not really going to take care of them, as opposed to a trucking case. They both agree that with trucking cases there’s more likely to be a situation where the trucking companies are at fault, they DO have the resources, you can actually do more complete justice and in some cases, when you really have a good case, you can force them to agree to safety changes as part of a settlement and it just feels better knowing the impact you’ve had beyond the case itself.

Joe talks through the financial ups and downs of having your own practice and the discipline it takes to stay the course and be focused on the cases you are looking to take on while maintaining the expenses of the rest of your practice. Michael goes on to describe the conversation he had with Michael Leizerman when Cowen wanted to know how he got to the point where he only had good trucking cases and recalls Leizerman’s simple words, “I just said no to everything else.” Michael and Joe continue to talk about what goes into building a successful firm in direct relationship to the profitability of narrowing the scope of cases they’re willing to take on, which in large part, includes a firm’s capacity. Joe brings up a point that’s so often overlooked where you cannot run your people or yourself at 100% capacity. “That’s when you will break down. That’s when you’ll burn out. That’s when you’ll make mistakes,” Michael explains. Joe describes the need to have space in your inventory for that new call, because if you’ve said yes to some of those smaller cases because you had capacity at the time, and now you’re almost at capacity when the 9-figure case calls, the firm will likely not be in a position to do its best work on that case or the others. You need to have some capacity in your life, in your firm to take on arising unknown opportunities. The unfortunate side of the self-imposed stress placed on people when running at capacity all the time is the drugs, alcohol, suicide, infidelity, and everything else people do when they’re managing the stress in a bad way. You have to do what’s right for you and develop a stress level to where you’re still having quality time with your family and you’re not overworking yourself or your people. Joe recalls “they say people make you money,” whereas his theory at his firm is “happy people make you more money,” strongly suggesting the need to give your people support and “treat them like they’re gold.”

Michael and Joe continue to talk through a variety of topics regarding the solid building blocks they’ve both used in building successful practices including: Systems within the firm (intake checklists, forms, etc.) and the idea that when you follow the systems, it frees you up to do the creative stuff; The necessity to never neglect the business side of your firm and the impact it can have on your clients; Savvy accounting tips for lawyers who focus specifically on phantom income and their associated taxes; and several other important factors for law firms to consider.

This jam-packed podcast concludes with an in-depth look at one of Joe’s latest trial successes that have been 8½ years in the making and culminated with an astonishing $11.32M verdict for, of all things, a car wreck case involving their firm’s long-time IT employee. Joe is gracious enough to share so many details about the trials and tribulations of this case, and they were plentiful over the course of the life of the case.

BACKGROUND

Joe Camerlengo is a founding partner of The Truck Accident Law Firm where he maintains a nationwide trial practice specializing in the areas of serious personal injury and wrongful death caused by trucking, bus, and commercial motor vehicle crashes.   He is extremely hardworking and a passionate advocate for his clients.   Joe is board certified in truck accident law by the National Board of Trial Advocates and board-certified in civil trial law by both the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocates.   Joe is a member of ABOTA, has achieved a preeminent AV rating by Martindale Hubbell and has been voted a Florida Super Lawyer in Civil Trial and Personally Injury Law every year since 2008.  Joe serves as the President of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, the Education Chair for the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group, Chair of the Florida Justice Association’s Trucking and CMV Crash Section and serves on the board of the National Board of Trial Advocates and the National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates.  Joe speaks all over the country on issues relating to handling Trucking Crash cases and advanced trial techniques.  He has been a repeat speaker for the American Association for Justice, the Florida Justice Association, the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, the 360 Advocacy programs, and many other trial lawyer organizations.

An extremely hardworking and passionate advocate for our clients, Joe Camerlengo specializes in the areas of serious personal injury and wrongful death caused by a tractor-trailer and commercial motor vehicle crashes.  Joe is board certified in civil trial law by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocates.  Joe lectures other attorneys on handling tractor-trailer crashes all over the county and has served as faculty at the AAJ Truck Litigation College.  Joe has achieved a preeminent AV rating by Martindale Hubbell and has been repeatedly voted by his peers as a Florida Super Lawyer, a member of Florida’s Legal Elite and a National Trial Attorneys top 100.

Joe is passionate about making our roads safer by pursuing and helping other attorneys pursue, bad trucking companies and dangerous truck drivers.  Joe remains actively involved in the leading trucking litigation attorney organizations.  He is the President and Board Member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys; the Education Chair and Board Member of the American Association for Justice Interstate Truck Litigation Group; a board member of the National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates; and Co-Chair of the Florida Justice Association’s Trucking Litigation Group.

Joe began his legal career defending insurance companies and corporations for 7 years before founding the Camerlengo Law Group in 2001 to focus on civil justice.  He has been representing plaintiffs in serious injury and death cases since then and enjoys the challenge of taking on large corporations and insurance companies. In 2014, Joe and his team joined Coker, Shickel, Sorenson, Posgay, Camerlengo & Iracki.  In 2017, Joe joined forces with leading trucking trial attorneys Michael Leizerman and Joe Fried to form The Truck Accident Law Firm, handling trucking crash cases all over the country from the home office in Jacksonville, Florida.

Joe is a double Gator, having received his B.S.B.A. in Finance in 1991 and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1994, both with honors. Joe has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1994 and is also admitted to the United States District Court, for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida and the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Joe is actively involved in the Florida and Jacksonville Bar and his community and is a recognized leader on diversity and inclusion issues.  Joe currently serves on a Florida Bar Grievance Committee.  He has served on the Florida Bar’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee since its inception, serving as chairman in 2011-2012.  He is a Past President of the Jacksonville Bar Association. Joe also supports several charitable and community organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Jacksonville Human Society, the Jacksonville Host Committee for Florida’s Children First and Leadership Jacksonville.  He enjoys coaching kids’ sports, playing golf, working out, surfing and, most importantly, spending time with his wife and their daughters.

Joe can be reached at jvc@truckcrashlaw.com

Additional Information:

EDUCATION
The University of Florida, Warrington College of Business, B.S.B.A. in Finance with honors (1991), Levin College of Law, Juris Doctorate with honors (1994)

CERTIFICATIONS
Board Certified in Civil Trial Practice, The Florida Bar, Board Certified in Civil Trial Practice, National Board of Trial Advocates

BAR ADMISSIONS
Florida Bar, member since 1994, Board Certified in Civil Trial since 2011, U.S. District Court, Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

PROFESSIONAL HONORS, ACTIVITIES & AFFILIATIONS: 
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
President (2018 – 2019), Vice President (2017-2018), Board of Regents (2016 – present)

National Board of Trial Advocates
Board Member (2016-present)

National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates
Board Member (2016-present)

American Association for Justice, Interstate Trucking Litigation Group
Education Chair (2018-present), Membership Chair (2017-2018), AAJ Truck Litigation College Co-Chair (2018), Vision Zero Committee (2016-present), Side Underride Committee (2015-present)

Florida Justice Association,
Trucking Litigation Section Co-Chair (2016-present), Eagle Member, since 2006

American Board of Trial Advocates, since 2015

Jacksonville Bar Association, since 1994
Chair – Diversity Committee (2010-2011), President (2008-2009), Founder, Diversity Symposium (2009), President-Elect (2007-2008), Board of Governors (2000-2006), Co-Chair, Entertainment and Sports Law Committee (2004-2005), Foundation Advisory Committee (2001-2005)

President, Young Lawyers Section (2000-2001), President-Elect, Young Lawyers Section (1999-2000), Secretary, Young Lawyers Section (1998-1999), Board of Governors, Young Lawyers Section (1996-1998), Sports Commissioner, Young Lawyers Section (1994-1996)

Founder, 4th Judicial Circuit Trial Docket (2000-2001)
Florida Bar Association, since 1994
Executive Council, Florida Bar Standing Committee on Diversity & Inclusion (current), Chairman, President’s Special Statewide Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2011-2012), Appointed to President’s Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2010)

American Bar Association, since 1994
American Association for Justice, since 2001
Jacksonville Justice Association, since 2001
Treasurer (2006-2009), Secretary (2005)

University of Florida Bull Gator, Since 2006

Frequent CLE Presenter on Trucking and Trial Strategies

Certified NFL Agent (2000-2005)

 

RECOGNITIONS

Martindale Hubbell AV Rated, National Trucking Lawyers Top 10, 2017-present, National Trial Lawyers of the Year Top 100; 2012-present, Florida Super Lawyer, Plaintiff’s Personal Injury & Civil Trial; 2008-present, Florida Trend’s Legal Elite, 2014 to present, AVVO Superb Rating – 10 out of 10; 2008-present, Leadership Jacksonville, Class of 2010, Jacksonville Business Journal, 40 under 40, 2009, Florida Justice Association Bronze Eagle Award, 2008, Florida’s Legal Elite, Civil Trial Practice, FLORIDA TREND Magazine, 2006, Million Dollar Trial Advocates, Member since 2003

 

CIVIC ACTIVITIES:
Assumption Catholic School League Soccer Coach (2011-present), Armada Jacksonville Football Club Soccer Coach (2014-present), Arlington Football Club Soccer Coach (2010-2014), Leadership Jacksonville, Class of 2010, Jacksonville Host Committee, Florida’s Children First (2004-present), Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Volunteer, Sulzbacher Center Volunteer

REPRESENTATIVE CASES:
Tractor Trailer Wrongful Death:  Settled $8.8 million total recoveries, Tractor Trailer vs. Motorcycle serious injury:  Settled $6 million Policy Limits

10 level Spinal Fusion:  Judgment $5.86 Million, Rear End Collision by parts delivery truck:  Jury Verdict $4.85 Million, Tractor Trailer Head-On Collision:  Settled $3.975 Million, Tractor Trailer Rear-End Collision on Interstate:  Settled $3.5 Million, Head-On Collision with Limo Van:  Settled $2.65 Million, Tractor Trailer vs. Motorcycle Wrongful Death:  Settled $2.6 million, Tractor Trailer Tire Came Off:  Settled $2.2 Million, Head-On Collision with Small CMV:  Settled $2.05 Million, Commercial Vehicle vs. Pedestrian crash:  Settled $2 Million, Fatal Bus vs. Pedestrian Crash:  Settled $1.65 Million, Intersection Collision:  Settled $1.43 Million, Intersection Collision:  Jury Verdict $1.2 Million, Intersection Collision:  Jury Verdict $1.1 Million, Commercial Vehicle Crash at Port:  Settled $1.1 Million

QUOTE:
“I have been privileged to represent many families that have suffered greatly at the hands of bad tractor-trailer companies or overworked commercial drivers.  The more I know about semis, tractor-trailers and their companies, the greater my passion to pursue justice for the harms and losses they cause.  Trucking experience is critical.  Do not call a car crash lawyer to handle your trucking case.  Our firm specializes in Tractor Trailer and Commercial Vehicle crash cases and has the knowledge, experience, and resources to achieve full justice for you and your family.”

RESOURCES

Be the CEO of Your Law Firm

Authored by Alexandra Lozano 
Mentioned by Joe Camerlengo

42 – Cynthia Rando – Human Factors: How Space Station Precision Leads to Courtroom Results

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cynthia Rando, a Certified Human Factors Professional who also operates as an expert witness on human factors in the courtroom.

Knowing she always wanted to run her own business, Cynthia started her career at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas as a human factors engineer, working with the space station program where some of her work is still flying in space, assisting the crew it their missions. Michael notes the space station as an environment where the margin of error is small, and the consequence of error is huge to which Cynthia describes them as one of the most hostile environments you could ever have to design for and in the most stressful safety type environment.

Digging right in, Michael asks the question which is likely to be on most listeners minds – what exactly is “human factors?” Cynthia describes human factors as an extremely broad science that deals with how people interact and perceive their environment, the things they use in that environment, and also how they interact in work with other people. She goes on to boil it down to two things:  1. helping people optimize what they do well, whether it’s through design or understanding of human behavior, and also your physical body shape and limitations and, 2. mitigate what we don’t do well to avoid risk of injury or human error. For example, she describes driving perception, where a lot of people have issues on the roadway taking turns, so it is considered a very high cognitive load task. The human factors look at the process and procedure that the person took in taking a turn, the visibility of oncoming traffic, what that person or reasonable driver could have been able to see, and if all conditions were perfect, did they take the right steps.

Michael and Cynthia continue to explore examples and how they determine these scenarios retrospectively. It’s interesting to hear how her firm, Sophic Synergistics, doesn’t do accident reconstruction, but rather often works extremely close with the accident reconstructionist on the case. Cynthia describes her process of going out to conduct a site visit in order to look at the environment, the design of the roadway, where the vehicles were, and the vantage points for all the drivers or entities involved, including pedestrians, which establishes what everybody could see from their vantage point in a reasonable fashion. From there, she’s looking for the best line of facts which line up in corroboration with each other and which make the most sense in terms of probability based on what you know as human factors. Examples of this would be whether there is a question of reaction time, perception, performance, or if speed was involved or not. She describes it as dissecting the actions, behaviors, as well as the cognitive processes, to know what was possible or what wasn’t, based off the actual physical environment. In other words, it leads to understanding what the facts are telling you, and where they align and where they don’t.

To understand more on how this might work in other types of cases, Cynthia describes a product liability case which involved a consumer product marketed to adults but ended up being used by children. She describes the product’s design as having been so attractive to little children that the children ended up becoming the primary users despite all the company’s efforts to say this product isn’t for kids. She goes on to describe how labeling is also hard to use as a strong enough warning because we, as human beings, are bad at seeing risk and how it pertains to us, making it very difficult to convince people via labeling. A great example Michael brings up of how those risks impact our behaviors is wearing your seatbelt, because there have always been consequence of dying, looming among us all if we don’t wear our seatbelt, but it wasn’t until laws were passed which extended the consequence to something as simple as getting a $200 ticket became associated with it, sparking more people to relate to it. Cynthia goes on to explain why this example worked saying “you need to believe the consequence, and if the consequence has never happened to you or you’ve never known someone to experience it, then you don’t really think it will happen to you.” IE: Perhaps you might not know someone who has died from not wearing their seatbelt, but you likely have experienced being pulled over, or know someone who has been, making the $200 ticket a more “real” potential consequence.

Michael and Cynthia continue to explore several other examples of human factors and how they become introduced in courtroom cases, as well as the many other areas Cynthia’s full-service human factors consulting firm works with using human factors in a wide variety of other industries. The detail to which they discuss human factors in this episode goes well beyond the surface and provides a great understanding in how they play a seemingly granular role with potentially momentous impacts … not unlike how they pertain to space stations.

 

BACKGROUND

Cynthia Rando is the Founder/CEO of Sophic Synergistics, LLC, a Human Factors consulting firm that is focused on optimizing human performance and experience in any environment- Building Better Businesses by Design.TM. Cynthia introduced the SOPHIC Conceptual model to the field, a model that utilizes human factors/human centered design as a profitable business model and strategy.

She has spent 17+ years in the field of Human Factors Design including 12 years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. During this time, she provided extensive leadership to the organization addressing several critical areas in Human Factors and Human Centered design including: user interface design, ergonomics, safety and risk mitigation strategies, usability and user experience, accident investigation and root cause analysis activities.  During this time, she was instrumental in spearheading several culture change initiatives and innovative solutions for the agency including: the U.S. Governments’ first use of crowdsourcing as a disruptive business model and the development of the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation and the NASA Human Health and Performance Center.

Cynthia is a Certified Human Factors Professional and the Vice President of the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Human Factors Engineering from Clemson University and an MBA from Northeastern University.  She has served as an associate professor at University of Houston Clearlake providing instruction in Human Factors and Ergonomics course material.  Currently, she provides Human Factors consultation to the Texas Medical Center Innovation Incubator assisting medical device and software startup companies.   She also serves on the board of advisors to ORintel for Human Factors and Ergonomics.

41 – Malorie Peacock – Resources, Doctor Referrals, and Process-based Focus

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, for another TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on resources for trial lawyers, doctor referrals, and the process behind highlighting what’s most important to your case.

The first question brought to the table is about what the best resources for newer lawyers starting out in the personal injury trial lawyer world. Michael notes his favorite books today would likely not be his favorites for someone just starting out. Having said that, he recommends starting with books like the AAJ Deposition book by Phillip Miller and Paul Scoptur, pointing to the reality in which 90% of cases are likely going to settle and this book focuses on taking good depositions, increasing the likelihood of a higher value settlement for your clients. He also recommends David Ball’s book, Damages 3, which breaks down how to argue a case in a logical and coherent format, avoiding holes in your story, as well as Rules of the Road by Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone, that focuses on simplifying cases. As a follow up to reading all these great books which are meant to help simplify cases, Malorie poses the question of why it is important for lawyers just out of law school (where everything is so complex)  to make the transition to presenting to a jury where you have to make things simple, and why it is so difficult. Michael explores this idea and feels that it takes a lot more work to make things simple, and the complexity is what we hide behind to mask our own insecurities. They both agree that complexity and confusion are great defense tools and by presenting a bunch of confusing ideas to a jury could end up playing right into the defense’s hands. To top off the discussion about resources, Michael adds several other courses, trial colleges, information exchange groups, and other programs that are offered and can help lay the foundation for up and coming trial attorneys and also suggests choosing an area to really focus on, since no one can really know everything about everything.

Beyond books and seminars, Malorie brings up the idea of going to trials and second chairing trials as another great way to gain real life learning experiences. Michael also describes his approach to pairing up attorneys with each other based on where they are in their career to gain practical experience in the courtroom. It’s also noted, in cases where your might be trying them on your own, it can still be beneficial to bring in other attorneys who have done what you are about to do, to strategize and help you prepare. Malorie talks about a specific instance of this coming up for her, where she plans to help a friend through voir dire in their upcoming case. Michael also reminisces about several times back in his early days, enticing friends to come over and practice voir dire and openings with pizza and beer in exchange for their feedback. Although, these weren’t professionals or experts, this practice did help him get more comfortable with talking to people while getting useful feedback.

Another question from our listeners is about lawyers referring people to doctors and the perceived issue that the people getting referred are not actually injured but are being sent to a doctor who will work up some medical documentation to make them look like they’ve sustained an injury in order to make more money for the lawyer. Michael describes his personal experience with this issue in that, he faces it head on and is upfront about it, thereby avoiding any awkwardness or perceived deviance on his part. For him, it basically boils down to having a client in pain, who asks for advice on what doctor to go see. They’re not sure what doctor to go see. They don’t know any specialists in this area. What should I do? Most people would say, tell them to go see a doctor and give them a name. In other words, if you own it, you’re not ashamed of it, and you haven’t done anything wrong and just talk about it, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. He also points out that he’s never lost a case on this issue. Malorie also notes, whatever you make a big deal about to a jury, is likely going to be what they think needs to be a big deal, and by confronting it in a matter of fact type way, people take your cues that it is not something to harp on but rather, just being human to one another.

The next question from our listeners is why is it so important for lawyers to make the case about the company and not the low-level employee, and how do you do that? Malorie digs right in, talking through how there are really two main reasons why the company is the bigger villain in a case: 1. The company is where the deep pocket is, and 2. Oftentimes, the individual that did something wrong is likeable. It becomes much “easier for people to dislike a company than it is to dislike an individual who made a mistake,” Malorie explains. Furthermore, “when a company puts an individual in a position where it’s inevitable that they’re going to make those mistakes, and it’s inevitable that they’re going to hurt someone, then it really is the company’s fault.” Michael expands on this idea with an example of a defendant driver, who is usually making a mistake over a period of seconds. Whereas companies that don’t have good safety programs and often make choices, not mistakes, over a period of months or years. So, “it’s just harder to forgive them, whereas it’s easy to forgive someone for making a mistake, for taking your eye off the road for a second, for being distracted for a minute, for driving a little too fast. It’s harder to forgive someone for knowing that you need to have a company safety program and you just don’t do it.” Malorie continues to explore the many types of negligence that can be aimed at companies in how they treat their employees (IE: negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent monitoring, negligent entrustment, etc.). They continue to explore the “how” to make the case about the company, which brings up some truly fascinating ideas and tactics.

Michael and Malorie continue to explore several other topics throughout this episode like testing theories and hypotheses, root cause analysis, reassessing your case throughout the process, and the curse of knowledge. They also explore the processes of walking people through your case one step at a time so that on their own, it inevitably leads to the conclusion of who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, what’s right, and what’s wrong. It takes a lot of work to get there, but Michael and Malorie agree, it’s so worth it.

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

40 – Ken Levinson – Focus Groups and Metaphors

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Ken Levinson, a successful trial attorney who is also very active with his trial consultant focus group practice, for a discussion on how his unique practice is getting big results in the courtroom. Ken selfishly loves his “split practice” primarily because of its process of constant learning which comes with both sides of his practice, noting that he’d never want to give either of them up.

The conversation begins by exploring focus groups, as Ken talks through how they help in cases because lawyers are able to find out what resonates with people and then test it before ever stepping into the courtroom. “Over time, I’ve learned the better approach is to accept what people tell you. Listen, and in a neutral way, find out what’s going on.” Ken goes on to say “I don’t want to fall in love with my case or a witness or a theory without really stepping back and almost looking at your case in a different way” which is exactly what focus groups help him do while pointing to the teachings of Michael Leizerman [link to Michael Leizerman episode] of needing to have a “Zen mind” or a beginners mind. He adds “I think we get lost in the language of being a lawyer and I’ve really tried to train myself to talk like real folks in everyday life about our cases.” Michael then points out how it is incredibly important to be yourself, noting the power that authenticity brings to human communication both inside and out of the courtroom.

After working with so many great lawyers, Michael wonders what Ken has seen separates the good from the elite. Ken points out two factors he’s seen in elite lawyers: 1. They know their cases inside and out and although they may seem to talk very casually about things in the courtroom, they actually work extremely hard; and 2. The better trial lawyers he’s gotten to know are always learning. Ken goes on to point out there are some firms he might do 20+ focus groups for in a given year, and although they have been getting multi-million dollar verdicts for decades now, they are always learning, testing, reading, revising, and thinking about how to improve.

Michael speaks to his own experiences on learning and how over the years, while there are some basic human things that don’t change, many things do change over time and thus, lawyers need to be open to continuing to learn in order to be effective in the courtroom. Ken follows up to describe some of the other things he’s doing to continually get better, such as reading a lot on decision-making, psychology, and metaphors, then discussing what he’s learned with friends and colleagues, testing things for himself in focus groups, case preparations, depositions, and in the courtroom. He also goes to seminars and holds in-house trainings. Ken also discusses some of the ideas he’s learned from R. Rex Parris [link to Rex episode] on metaphors and how he’s been able to incorporate them into his courtroom proceedings.

Talking more about Ken’s experiences with focus groups and testing theories within them, he describes a few exercises he’s used to better understand the imagery that focus group juries associate with their case using simple techniques. Then he takes things a step further to discuss the findings, one-on-one, with the focus group participants. Through this process, he’s discovered many great metaphors and images that have helped his cases as well as some that needed to be tweaked or reworked for a case, noting that it’s better to find out and understand things which can negatively impact your case prior to trial, than during it, of course.

Beyond running his law firm and focus groups, Ken has also written books and articles, which begs the question – how does he have time for all of this? Ken describes his methods of time management which include getting up several hours before his wife and kids, but also includes time blocking and scheduling things based on his own understanding of the best times for him to get work done, which he details more in this episode. Michael also talks through the structures he’s implemented in his life and his firm to help to “move the ball forward” toward accomplishing his goals.

Michael turns the conversation toward what lawyers can do to set themselves up to achieve their goals, whether it is getting a $43 million verdict or a $6 million settlement, to which Ken turns the table a little bit and points out some great advice he had heard from Michael about taking on the right cases and turning away the others. Michael elaborates on this point and discusses the juxtaposition of the normal mentality associated with turning down cases, which really hits the nail on the head in terms of getting more of the types of cases lawyers want to get and building their practice.

Their conversation rounds out in a discussion revolving around the terms Ken has seen come up over and over in focus groups involving trucking cases specifically. Ken talks about terms he’s found to be important to focus groups and juries alike such as “professional driver,” and ideas revolving around vision and forgiveness. Truly insightful information that Ken discusses more in depth, which not only brings perspective to trucking cases at their face value, but also the impact focus groups can have in helping to bring another element of humanity into our cases by getting the perspectives of what’s important in the eyes of others.

 

BACKGROUND

Ken Levinson is a passionate advocate for accident survivors and child safety. For more than 20 years, he has represented disenfranchised clients against corporate giants. By using the law, the court system and his skill as a lawyer, his goal is to level the playing field for those facing the most challenging times of their lives.

 

Leadership

  • Former Section Chair of the American Association for Justice  Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section
  • Vice Chair of the American Association for Justice Trucking Group
  • Board Member of the American Association for Justice National College of Advocacy
  • Co-chair of Overcoming Jury Bias Litigation Group
  • Regional Coordinator of the American Association for Justice Chicago Student Trial Advocacy Competition
  • American Association of Justice Board of Advocates
  • American Association for Justice Law Schools Committee
  • American Association for Justice Voter Protection Committee
  • Committee Chair of the American Association for Justice Litigation Group Coordination Committee
  • Press Advisory Board American Association for Justice
  • Chair Chicago Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee

Ken also serves as chair of the section’s Practice Resources Committee, which compiles documents such as pleadings, research, expert reports and other information that might be helpful to fellow trial lawyers. As part of AAJ, Ken acts as Secretary of Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway, and Premises Liability Section and Chair of the newsletter committee; he has served as Education/CLE Vice-Chair of the Trucking Litigation Group (2014–2015) and Co-chair of Publications Committee (2013-2014). Additional memberships include the Chicago Bar Association, where Ken has also been the Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee Chair from 2009-2019, Vice Chair (2008 – 2009), and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, where he is currently a member of its Board of Managers. Under ITLA, Ken is also a co-chair of the legislative committee. In 2010, Ken was elected to serve a three-year term on the Trial Lawyers College Alumni Board. He is currently serving on the editorial board of The Warrior, the Trial Lawyers College magazine.

Ken has written numerous articles for prestigious lawyer publications and spoken at dozens of conventions for trial lawyers and American Bar Association organizations. Ken also recently appeared on an episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast.

 

Honors and Awards

Ken is currently the Vice Chair of the American Association of Justice Trucking Group. Ken also formerly served as Chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section and  Illinois Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice, a designation that carries Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) Board status. He has been recognized by Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers magazines as one of the top attorneys in Illinois, including the Super Lawyers Top 100 in 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. He is the co-author of Litigating Major Automobile Injury and Death Cases, a two-volume reference series designed to help attorneys build strong cases for their clients by highlighting real-life case studies related to Major Auto Injury and Death. The book is published by AAJ Press/Thomson Reuters.

Named one of The 40 Lawyers Under 40 to Watch in Illinois by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company, Ken is among a select group of trial attorneys that has graduated from legendary lawyer Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College, which is dedicated to training and educating lawyers who represent people against corporate and government oppression. Ken is one of only 100 trial lawyers from Illinois selected for The American Trial Lawyers Association, where membership is by invitation only.

 

Education

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hobart College in 1989 and his Juris Doctor in 1992 from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Ken was appointed an Assistant Illinois Attorney General, representing state agencies and employees in civil matters, including both personal injury and civil rights cases. He has been admitted to practice before the Illinois Supreme Court and the Northern District of Illinois, United States District Court since 1992. Levinson is also admitted to the Federal Trial Bar.

 

Personal

Ken volunteers his time and resources to a variety of community and charitable organizations in the Chicago area, such as sponsoring the Tristin Speaks Benefit, which raised funds for autism awareness. Ken is a former member of The Citizens’ Council of LaGrange, a non-partisan community group that promotes better government through the recruiting and evaluation of candidates for local public office, having co-chaired the Council’s Qualifications Committee. Ken participated in the 39-mile, two-day Avon Breast Cancer Walk and the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer. Ken also supports Art in Motion, an event hosted by the Associate Board to raise funds for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now known as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Ken is an area native, born in Chicago and currently living in LaGrange, IL. He is happily married and the father of three boys, keeping him very active in youth and sports-related activities. One of his favorite pastimes is to go with his wife to their sons’ high school varsity games and in-state and out of state tournaments for basketball and volleyball.

Ken can be reached at all hours via email: Ken@LevinsonStefani.com

 

RESOURCES

How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman

Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers by Gerald Zaltman

Metaphors We Live By author George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

 

 

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