In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Founding Partner at The Penn Law Firm, Eric Penn. To start things off, Eric describes his decision to focus on trucking cases and how it came from the simple fact that we can all relate to them. In fact, everyone (including attorneys) share the road with 18 wheelers. Eric goes on to point out that the general viewpoint of “cases never looking better than when you first work them up,” while true at times, seems to go the other way with trucking cases where they get consistently better the more you roll up your sleeves and dig into them.
Speaking of rolling up sleeves and digging in … Michael and Eric pull back the curtain on what turned out to be an $89.6M verdict for the bulk of this podcast, which in and of itself is enlightening, educational, and impactful.
The brief synopsis of the case would likely have many attorneys passing on the case from the very start considering how things looked on the surface – A mother with 3 children in the car, running errands on a Texas highway, hit a patch of black ice, loses control of their vehicle sending them through the median into oncoming traffic and is struck by an 18 wheeler, and the police report indicating that there was no fault to be placed. Michael suggests that more than 98% of personal injury attorneys in the state would likely not take on such a case and the others might even look at it and see a $1-2M settlement, which obviously wouldn’t be enough once you hear the unfortunate circumstances the victims faced moving forward. But not Eric!
Eric’s reasoning behind taking the case stemmed from getting to know the case on a deeper level, understanding that the injuries were dramatic, and having an in-depth knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (the green book) and CDL Manual’s Safety Rules that are in place to protect all of us who share the road with 18 wheelers, citing one of the chapter’s intent is literally to “prevent crashes and save lives.” One might think that this type of case would revolve around the approximate 3-second sequence of the crash itself, but Eric’s explanation of how their focus became everything but those 3 seconds really shed a light on how this type of case can quickly grow to a much more substantial and just verdict. Spoiler Alert: Eric notes that EVERY case he has come into has 100% of the time been about the company behind the truck driver and how that company operates its fleet, making them much more responsible than they may like to admit. The compassion Eric demonstrates in describing his mental process in the decision to take on a case like this is palpable.
The details surrounding this case that Michael and Eric discuss are apt to be a significant learning tool from which any attorney can stand to learn.
Background on Eric Penn
Eric T. Penn believes that in order to keep our families and communities safe, we have to hold people or corporations who choose to violate safety rules accountable for the injuries and conditions they create. That is why he has been an outspoken advocate for seriously injured people for more than seventeen (17) years. He represents people who have been permanently and seriously injured through no fault of their own.
Eric is a born and raised Texan. He is a 1998 graduate of Baylor University. He received his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Baylor University School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Texas and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in 2001.
A Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) graduate, Eric is a frequent lecturer on Trucking litigation throughout the country. He is a member of American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation section, Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG), Academy of Trucking Accident Attorneys (ATAA) and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA).
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By Michael Cowen — 1 year ago
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.
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.Post Views: 3,082
By Michael Cowen — 4 months ago
In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen and his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday are joined by a VERY unique guest – David Koechner! David is a Hollywood actor and comedian who has starred in over 190 films and TV shows. He is best known for his roles as Todd Packer from “The Office” and Champ Kind from “Anchorman” and “Anchorman 2.” You may be wondering how David has any connection to attorneys, but we assure you this episode is full of timely advice for trial lawyers and is just what we need to hear right now. The trio will discuss David’s path to success and his advice for presenting to an audience (think: the jury) both in person and through a screen.
The episode begins with Michael briefly explaining the premise of this special episode. He explains how David comes from the TV/film world, and lawyers are now having to adjust from a live audience to an audience through Zoom. He shares how he’s excited to “learn how to communicate with other human beings through a screen,” or a jury spread out across a stadium or convention center for socially distant in-person trials.
Michael then asks David about his background and how he got into acting. David shares how he grew up in a small town in Missouri and began working for his father’s turkey coop manufacturing business at the age of 7, something he says instilled a strong work ethic in him from a young age. Being from a small town, David had no idea acting was a possibility for him having never met an actor himself. So, he decided to attend college with a political science major where he realized in his third year that “To be in politics, you either need to come from a political family, you’re incredibly wealthy, or you’re the smartest person in any room you walk into. I was none of those things.” He then dropped out of college and worked three jobs until he visited Chicago to attend a “Second City” performance and realized, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”
From that moment on, David spent the next 9 years on stage at least 4 nights a week, putting in his “10,000 hours” and citing the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell until he made it onto Saturday Night Live. Michael aptly compares this to up-and- coming trial lawyers – you have to try a lot of small cases before you get a shot at the big ones. They follow with an insightful discussion of the role of “luck” in being successful, which David believes is “really about hard work, isn’t it?”
They then move onto the topic on everybody’s mind right now – How do you effectively communicate with a jury when you’re either wearing a mask or limited to a screen? David recognizes the challenges of doing so, but emphasizes that the most important thing is always your connection to the story. He believes that is the compelling part of any presentation – whether in the courtroom or through a TV screen.
David continues with his recommendations for preparing to present while wearing a face mask. He suggests that lawyers preparing for an in-person trial in the COVID era start observing other people wearing face masks wherever they go. He explains how you can easily tell if someone is calm and purposeful, or agitated by looking at their body language.
Delisi then explains that Michael is going to be conducting voir dire in a football stadium in his upcoming trial. She asks David for advice on how to use your body in a venue that big to make everybody feel included. David suggests that Michael purposefully look at every single person he’s addressing, think about where his words will land, and pace around as he speaks so everyone feels included in the conversation. He also shares a very insightful strategy he uses when preparing for a show in a new venue, which will be helpful to every lawyer listening in future trials and other presentation preparation.
Michael then inquires as to how actors make the audience believe they’re reciting something for the first time when it’s actually been scripted and rehearsed countless times. David astutely replies – “I think that’s the point – rehearse.” He continues by explaining that if he has his lines completely down, he’s fully present and available because he’s not searching for his lines. This gives him (and every actor) the opportunity for “discovery” in a scene, where he is fully engaged with his scene partners and able to truly listen and react honestly to what they say. And it results in successful improv when he films with his comedy peers, like Will Ferrell and Steve Carell.
A brief discussion of the importance of letting silence sink in leads to a very interesting conversation about trusting your audience. Michael shares his experience of switching his mentality of “I need to say everything I have to say” to “It’s not about what I have to say, it’s about being heard,” and with that transition learning to trust the jury more and focus on telling the story, not on controlling the jury.
David then adds, “It’s about respect. You’re respecting the jury to make their own decisions. That will come across.” And while the difference between a crowd at a comedy show and a jury in a courtroom are apparent, the commonalities they share run deep. As Delisi so eloquently puts it, “at the end of the day you’re both storytellers.” David continues by explaining how if he hasn’t heard a laugh in 5 minutes, he knows he needs to change something about what he’s doing. While jurors don’t openly laugh or react, Michael insists “You know when you’re resonating with another human being. You feel it.”
They continue on this note to discuss coping with a loss. David shares how he always mentally prepares to fix what went wrong and assumes, “This is going to go well. Period.” David then describes his favorite adage to tell nervous actors, which is that you always hope the person presenting does well. While admitting it’s marginally different for lawyers, he insists that “they at least hope you’re competent,” which Michael agrees with wholeheartedly, ending this conversation by saying “People want to do the right thing.”
David, Michael, and Delisi end the episode by discussing David’s new business, “Hey, Good Meeting!” Michael and Delisi previously worked with David to surprise the audience at this year’s Big Rig Boot Camp with a comedic appearance by David. These types of events are exactly what Hey, Good Meeting specializes in and provides a unique experience with nationally recognized actors and comedians. If you’d like to book a live comedy experience customized for you and your guests at your next virtual event, holiday party, or referral partner gathering, go to www.heygoodmeeting.com for booking information.
This podcast also covers why all men are secretly 14 years old, what was so special about Chicago in 1996, the importance of listening, playing an outrageous character convincingly, applying the “Rule of 3” to the courtroom, David’s favorite improvised scene from “Anchorman,” using body language to communicate, how David deals with hecklers, and so much more.
Actor, writer and producer David Koechner grew up in Tipton, Mo. working for his father in the family’s turkey coop manufacturing business. He studied political science at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan, and then transferred to the University of Missouri. After college, Koechner moved to Chicago, where he studied improvisation at the IO (formerly the ImprovOlympic) with Del Close and Charna Halpern. He went on to become an ensemble member of Second City Theater Northwest.
From there, Koechner spent one season in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” before moving to Los Angeles and landing guest appearances on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Reno 911” and a recurring role on “Still Standing.” He co-starred in indie films such as “Dill Scallion,” “Wakin’ Up in Reno,” “Dropping Out” and “Run Ronnie Run” while also turning solid performances in studio comedies such as “Out Cold,” “My Boss’ Daughter” and “A Guy Thing.” Koechner, along with Dave “Gruber” Allen, developed and performed The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show on stage at Club Largo in Los Angeles. The show later became a Comedy Central series.
Koechner’s first major film break came when he was cast as Champ Kind in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (a role he reprised in 2013’s “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”). Koechner has been seen in a variety of studio and independent films such as “Daltry Calhoun,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Waiting,” “Yours, Mine and Ours,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Snakes on a Plane,” “Let’s Go To Prison,” “Semi-Pro,” “Get Smart,” “My One and Only,” “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Extract,” “Final Destination 5,” “A Haunted House,” “Paul,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” “Priceless,” Legendary’s “Krampus,” the animated feature “Barnyard,” the critically acclaimed “Thank You for Smoking,” and the film festival award-winning thriller “Cheap Thrills.” He also starred in the Fox Atomic comedy “The Comebacks.” Recent film projects include “Then Came You,” “Braking for Whales” and “Faith Based,” as well as the upcoming indie horror thriller, “Vicious Fun.”
Koechner currently plays Bill Lewis on ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and recently appeared on ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” CBS’s “Superior Donuts,” Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” Comedy Central’s “Another Period” and IFC’s “Stan Against Evil.” He also voices reoccurring characters on FOX’s “American Dad” and Netflix’s “F is for Family” and “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.” Koechner is well-known for his character Todd Packer on NBC’s hit comedy “The Office.”
When not filming, Koechner performs live stand-up comedy across the country and creates original content videos for his YouTube channel, “Full On Koechner.” He also co-hosts Big Slick Celebrity Weekend – an annual charity event benefitting Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City – with fellow KC natives, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Eric Stonestreet. Koechner currently resides in Los Angeles, California.Post Views: 1,620
By Michael Cowen — 10 months ago
In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Sonia Rodriguez. They discuss pushing cases during COVID-19, educating the defense and clients on Zoom, the increased need for technology in law firms, finding creative solutions, the effect of the pandemic on jury attitudes, and strategies to safely return to the office.
The discussion begins on the topic of pushing cases and overcoming defense delay tactics during COVID-19. Sonia emphasizes the need to continue to move cases, even if you’re met with objections from the defense, saying “The wheels of justice don’t come to a complete halt.” Sonia suggests offering a clear, transparent proposal for technology to the defense prior to depositions. Fellow Cowen Rodriguez Peacock attorney Jacob Leibowitz has created guides for Zoom for Depositions and Zoom for Mediations which have been helpful in easing uncertainty surrounding this new technology. Michael has also found success in offering practice sessions to the defense counsel, noting that this works well when people are acting in good faith.
Unfortunately, not all defense attorneys are acting in good faith with their objections to this technology and will try to drag the case out. In these situations, Sonia encourages attorneys to file a Motion to Compel Deposition. She has found success in this because courts in Texas have been utilizing the technology themselves. This makes it hard for defense attorneys to suggest depositions by Zoom aren’t appropriate when the hearing may very likely be held by Zoom. Sonia and Michael agree that it’s in every firm’s best interest to keep their cases moving during COVID-19 and to find creative solutions to problems which may arise.
The conversation shifts to a discussion of preparing clients for Zoom depositions. Sonia insists the process isn’t much different, other than a loss of “relationship feel” between the client and the attorney during deposition prep. The important factor in this is ensuring you create a comfort level for your client that makes them feel prepared.
Sonia and Michael agree the biggest roadblock they’ve faced regarding client preparation is a lack of available technology for the client. Many clients do not have a laptop, Wi-Fi, or a room where they can sit privately and quietly for a 3-4-hour deposition. Their firm has mitigated this issue by sending tablets to clients who need them and emphasizing technology training during deposition prep. They note that this strategy does not always work, and some depositions will inevitably need to be delayed until we can meet in person again. The underlying goal is to keep 95% of your cases moving.
Michael and Sonia move the conversation to the overall increased level of understanding regarding video conferencing technology like Zoom. Sonia describes her experience with sharing exhibits through Zoom, and her trial and error of doing so. She’s noticed how advanced the knowledge of this technology is for many court reporters and mediators and has learned through their advice as well. She then shares a story of when she served a witness with a Zoom deposition subpoena. She expected a lengthy process of explaining the technology to the witness, who shockingly replied that she was well-versed in Zoom through her children’s virtual school courses. Michael notes that he doesn’t know how enforceable a Zoom deposition subpoena would be, but again emphasizes the goal to move 95% of cases and save the rest for when we return to normal. Sonia echoes this by explaining the duty we have to our clients to move cases and represent them earnestly. While we cannot guarantee their trial date will go through, we can guarantee we are continuing to work on their case.
Michael makes the point that we all only have a given amount of energy to spend in the day. While it’s easy to get caught up in things outside of your control, it’s crucial to not let this suck up your energy. He emphasizes the importance of spending your energy on what you can control right now- moving your cases. Sonia agrees and adds that as trial lawyers, we are wired to be creative and tackle the unexpected in our cases and in the courtroom. She shares a brilliant example of this comparing today’s landscape with an elmo projector.
There has been much speculation around how COVID-19 will affect jurors’ perceptions in the long run. In Sonia’s opinion, this will depend on the economic situation once juries come back. If people have been out of work and cannot afford to be there because of their economic situation, this will not be good for the plaintiff’s side. She believes if the economy can stabilize, jurors may feel a heightened sense of civic duty and comradery around rallying on a jury. Michael has hesitations about trying a case where the jurors feel endangered by being present, but has a positive outlook on the long term effects, stating “Americans have an incredibly short memory.” He notes the worries of juror perception after events like 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse, which had no long-term negative effect.
Sonia and Michael conclude with a discussion of how and when firms will begin to gather in a physical office space again. Sonia says our top priority needs to be to keep our clients and our families safe. Michael shares his hesitation to open too quickly by saying, “We sue companies for putting profits above people” and we should hold ourselves to this same standard.
This podcast also covers ethical concerns with virtual depositions, when to provide hard copies of exhibits in virtual depositions, bench trials via Zoom, overcoming technical issues, and much more.Post Views: 1,363