7-figure verdict

89 – Michael M. Guerra – From Guts to Glory

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with McAllen, TX trial attorney, Michael M. Guerra, to discuss his multiple 7 and 8-figure verdicts & settlements, recent “monster” settlement in a “legally tough case,” and advice on how to achieve verdicts like these in your cases.

Cowen and Guerra begin the episode by discussing Guerra’s background and how he got into doing plaintiff’s work. Guerra begins by explaining that he had an Allstate defense firm job waiting for him after law school and was “quickly terminated,” citing that his heart was not in it. Seeing as he was married right before starting law school, had a baby on the way and a mortgage to pay, he quickly took a job as a court-appointed lawyer; a position leading him to over 100 jury verdicts.

In 1995, Guerra was appointed Guardian Ad Litem in a death case in Plainview, TX, where he would meet Mikal Watts. This meeting would ultimately lead to Guerra opening Watts’s McAllen office, where we would work alongside Watts before going off on his own.

“Pushing trials and then just going in there and watching good defense lawyers do what they did. I learned a lot [from them].” – Michael M. Guerra

Guerra then goes into a harrowing story of a case he took on just after going off on his own; a case involving the death of his friend’s father, a high-ranking Sergeant Major in the Army who was killed after his RV exploded when he lit his morning cigarette. The explosion was due to a gas leak in the RV trailer.

Guerra began the case by enlisting the help of several experts; namely Mike Schultz (Illinois) to look at the trailer and Tim Dunn (Georgia) to investigate the gas system. Shortly after beginning the case, a call from a Sheriff’s deputy would change everything for Mike. “He [said], ‘Hey, Guerra, I’ve got to tell you. When we got into the trailer…we found the [gas] burner in the ON position.’” Understanding that the Sergeant Major had most likely left the stove on by accident, Mike’s original thought of a defect or leak causing the explosion was called into question. He couldn’t believe it.

Continuing past this unfortunate revelation, Mike began researching the trailer and oven manufacturers and came upon an interesting, and ultimately crucial, piece of information: the company sold the exact same trailer in Australia with one key difference, their stoves contained a “flame failure device.” This device, which automatically shuts off the gas once the flame goes out, was absent from American models of this trailer; a safety feature that would’ve cost the company only 99 cents per burner to install.

That case consumed me for 10 months, [as] we got it set for trial.” – Michael M. Guerra

The case was settled a week into trial for an amazing result and, more importantly, saw the trailer manufacturer agree to include the “flame failure device” safety feature in all future models.

The two then move on to discussing Guerra’s latest case out of the Port of Brownsville; a case involving “ship breaking,” the process of dismantling a ship to reuse parts or extract materials, a flash fire, and 2 men who suffered significant burns (one who was burned on over 80% of his body and passed away).

After discussing details of the case including the ship owner filing a Limitation of Liability Act, getting removed to federal court, and then returning to state court, the two begin to discuss Guerra’s invaluable 2-day, 36-person mock trial, which gave him the confidence to ask for huge numbers ($250-$300 million) in voir dire; a task that, Guerra confessed, scared him.

“It took a lot, for me personally, to [ask] for that kind of money; knowing people would throw hand grenades at me.” – Michael M. Guerra

When everything was said and done, calmed and confident from his meditations, prayers, and with some last-minute motivation from a Nick Rowley CD in his car on the morning of trial, Guerra couldn’t wait to get started. The jury was selected on Friday, presenting evidence was scheduled to begin on Monday, yet they would not have a chance to begin, as the case was settled on Saturday evening.

Cowen then shifts the conversation to what Guerra did to pressure the defense in the case. Guerra responds, “most jurisdictions from coast to coast have laws that create a duty for insurance carriers to use good faith when settling cases. In Texas, we call it the Stower’s Doctrine, which says that if an insurance company refuses to settle a case, that reasonably should have been settled within policy limits, the insurer can sue that carrier and they can be on the hook for the entire amount of verdict even above their policy limits.”

“It’s an everchanging, very dynamic area of law, in my opinion” – Michael M. Guerra

Guerra closes the discussion by talking about how he hired several different policy lawyers, including coverage lawyers specializing in reading insurance contracts, to help draft a demand to the carrier. “That really paid off in the end,” he says as he reflects on the impact of hiring those lawyers, including a quick note on the defense commenting on how expertly done the demands had been.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of working with and learning from great lawyers, advice for handling “monster” cases, why you should give your cell phone number to everyone, and much more.

Guest Bio

Michael M. Guerra was born and raised in McAllen, Texas. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University in College Station and a law degree from Texas Southern University in Houston. While at A&M, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets. In law school, Mr. Guerra was an American Jurisprudence Award recipient in Constitutional law. Mr. Guerra has been licensed to practice law since 1993. He is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Personal Injury Trial Law and has served as a member of the Exam Commission. Mr. Guerra began his career by successfully trying dozens of criminal trials to jury verdict. He transitioned his practice to representing plaintiffs in civil litigation, including representing hundreds of landowners in an aquifer contamination case and representing the Plaintiffs in America’s first Ford Explorer – Firestone tire case to reach a jury. Since then, his efforts have been instrumental in compelling safety improvements in product manufacturing and premises management. Over his almost 30 year career, Mr. Guerra has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in recoveries for his deserving clients. His efforts have achieved astonishing results, including a $33 million injury verdict which was the record verdict in Texas for a case of its type, as well as multiple settlements of more than $20 million.

Mr. Guerra has been featured as a speaker in numerous civil litigation seminars and his articles have been featured in national publications. His cases have been profiled by, or he has been quoted by numerous major news organizations such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Fox News.

Mr. Guerra is a fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA,) as well as the Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG). He has been named Texas Monthly – Texas Super Lawyer in multiple and consecutive years and he was named to The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial lawyers. Mr. Guerra is on the Advisory Board of the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership (TALL) program and is on the Advisory Board of the McAllen Pregnancy Center. He is also a member of the President’s Board of Visitors for the Cadet Corps at Texas A&M University. Mr. Guerra was selected as the 2018 Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award recipient by The Texas Bar Foundation. The award recognizes a trial lawyer who, in his or her practice, has demonstrated high ethical and moral standards and has demonstrated exceptional professional conduct, thus enhancing the image of the trial lawyer.

Michael Guerra is married to Mindy Guerra and has three children.

 

51 – Malorie Peacock – Preparing Yourself and Your Case for Trial

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss trial prep. Trial prep has been a topic many of our viewers asked to hear more about, so this episode covers everything from file organization, to witness prep, opening and voir dire, visuals, your exhibit list, and the mental toll trial can have on you personally.

To begin, Malorie starts with how important it is to be organized. She begins her organization process 30 days out by putting her exhibits together, printing out the jury charge and witness list, then looking at everything and thinking about the game plan. Her goal from there is to create a 1 or 2 page “order of proof for trial” with exhibits, list of witnesses, and the key points to be made in the trial. Michael agrees and shares a common mistake he sees a lot of lawyers make when they “put every possible piece of paper from the case on their exhibit list.” He suggests lawyers ask themselves: A) is this an exhibit necessary for the jury to see, or B) do I need this to protect the record? Then review how many exhibits you have and what is their order. “If the focus of your case is trying to get the medical bills in your case, then your first exhibit is a summary of all of the medical bills and the medical treatment in the past … so the jury knows when they open the binder ‘this is what we’re focusing on and this is the focus of the case.’” Malorie continues.  Michael also shares how he organizes his complete list of exhibits on his laptop, so if at any point in trial he needs to pull up an exhibit on the fly he can quickly find it.

It takes a lot of time and energy to write a good opening and prepare for voir dire. Which is why Michael and Malorie discuss how changes in your story throughout a case, can affect the opening and voir dire work you do early on. Michael gives an example of this on a case he will try in February with Malorie. Months before trial they worked with a consultant on the case, had a theory on the case, graphics already prepared, then after they developed all of the evidence they decided it wasn’t the best story to tell. Creating a new story and theory may be extremely difficult to do after investing lots of time, money, and energy, however it’s an important part of the trial preparation process.

Which leads to a conversation on storyboarding, creating visuals, and how Sari de la Motte helped Michael rethink his use of the phrase “a simple case” when talking to the jury and using visuals. Malorie brings up just how important it is to tell your witnesses where they should be looking when they answer questions. We as attorneys may think it’s obvious a witness should talk to the jury when answering a question, but in reality it’s normal for you to look at the person you are talking to. “I think people believe that trial lawyers are natural public speakers, but if you’ve ever been to a conference you know that’s not true,” Malorie explains. You might think “it’s only 12 people,” but when your entire case relies on those 12 people, on a really important matter, and your client is watching you, the nerves start to creep in so you have to practice. And practice does not apply simply to speaking, Michael shares his reasoning for adding several solid black slides in his PowerPoint in order to command the attention of the jury when visuals are involved.

Michael then transitions the conversation by expressing his opinions on why every case will have a different order of witnesses. You should determine the order of witnesses based on each case, start strong, think about a witness who can prove the defendant did something wrong, think about when a witness goes on (time of day and when the jury has low energy), and be sure to end with a message of the harm that was caused but a hope of what a verdict can do to help. But emergencies happen and people are late to court, so Malorie reminds you to be flexible.

And the only way you can be flexible is when you are mentally and emotionally prepared for trial. Malorie suggests you spend time with family and decompress the day before trial. Which Michael agrees with because you “spend so much time during trial staying up until 2 am” preparing for that next day, you cannot risk the exhaustion and mental fog and need to be in bed at a decent hour and fully rested.

Being aware of your energy after trial, is equally important whether you win or lose the case. You need to take a day off and recognize it is not possible to be 100% on every day. Or maybe you come in to work and just talk to people in your office. But Michael very bluntly shares “it’s hard because when you’re in trial all the other shit piles up” so when you’re out of trial you feel like you need to play catch up. “It’ll wait a day you need to take care of yourself,” he adds. After each case you should re-evaluate the parts that went great and where you can improve in your next trial, but again it’s important to give yourself space. Michael’s NFL quarterback analogy for this is spot on and reminds attorneys not to value yourself differently after a trial, instead focus on the work you put in.

This podcast on trial prep truly is detailed and also discusses: thinking about your clothes, glasses, how to prep lay witnesses, saving money on images by using Google and Adobe, thinking about the Rules of Evidence, and trying cases with other people. And with Michael and Malorie’s jury trial (mentioned in this episode) resulting in a 7-figure verdict, podcast listeners can expect to hear another episode discussing trial soon!

35 – R. Rex Parris – Cognitive Science and the Persuasion of Jurors

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down an accomplished trial lawyer, speaker, and Mayor of Lancaster, CA, R. Rex Parris, for a conversation revolving around the intersection of cognitive science and the persuasion of jurors. Having acquired his knowledge over the course of his career, Rex has been able to leverage his deep understanding of cognitive science in obtaining dozens of 7, 8, and 9-figure verdicts and settlements, along with a historic and record-breaking $370,000,000 defamation jury verdict.

Michael’s curiosity starts the conversation off by asking Rex what he did do to obtain the skills he’s developed; which Rex breaks down his journey into its simplest form stating he first had to learn it was a “skill.” Many individuals think there are only a certain number of people who are born to be trial lawyers when the reality is they are just skills to be learned. Rex goes as far as to say that anybody who gets through law school has the capacity to learn those skills and do a magnificent job in the courtroom. He shares how he went on to Trial Lawyers College and continued on to attend many CLE seminars, public speaking and voice seminars, and began studying a lot of cognitive science, all of which to learn how people make decisions, how to persuade people, and how to interact and engage people. Michael shares how the more people he meets at the top of the industry, the more he sees the commonality of their constant desire to learn more.

Focusing on the things Rex has learned through his studies of cognitive science, Michael turns his attention to finding out the things most helpful to Rex in the courtroom. As Rex sees it, everything from where he stands, to where he looks, and what he does with his hands and body is important. He goes on to talk about keeping his fear level down by controlling his heartbeat, which he knows he wants to keep between 90-100 bpm in order to stay in “the zone.”   He also knows how to lower his heart rate when it goes over 100 through a technique called “combat breathing” along with taking note of several other observations within the moment, in order to snap back into the present refreshed and ready to go. To that point, Michael shares how when he’s in a trial, he tries to feel the joy of being in trial and let the outcome take care of itself stating “the more I want to win and worry about the outcome, the less I trust the jurors,” which inevitably comes through in your body language or eye contact. Instead, Michael purposely decides he’s going to trust the jurors to do the right thing, and it always seems to work out better.

Rex then discusses his views on utilizing a classic reversal in the courtroom where he describes it as “in every scene of every movie or play there is a reversal of value” (using the example of how Star Wars starts in the desert and in the next scene you’re in the empire) the greater the contrast the better. In the courtroom, Rex talks through how he uses a lottery ticket analogy, where his client holds the “winning ticket” to the super big jackpot and the only thing he needs to claim it is to give up some things. He then proceeds to talk through all the things his client has to give up, stating everything that has been given up as a result of their injury without talking about the things that have been done to his client. The reversal then comes into play at the end, where Rex turns to the jury and asks if any of them want that ticket. They continue to discuss the differences of what a client has gone through and what they’ve lost, and Rex recognizes that most lawyers have been trained to present cases in a pain and suffering context as to what’s been done to their client but, he points out, in most cultures, “bad stuff” doesn’t have a value. Well-being is what equals wealth in America, citing what Steve Jobs would have given for a pancreas that worked. Which is why during the trial, Rex tends to focus on the parts of his client’s well-being which have been taken away. He also notes that juries are also much more inclined to compensate a plaintiff for things that have been taken away or the things they have been denied, rather than the things that have happened to them. Rex also goes so far and will sometimes even tell juries NOT to give his client a dime for the pain and suffering, just compensate his client for what was taken from them. The conversation continues as they talk about how you as a lawyer discover what exactly was taken from your client. Rex takes this well beyond the usual “get to know your client” and shares a technique even Michael is somewhat surprised at, but can’t wait to try. Rex points out, when it comes to relationships, “we’re not nearly as complex as we like to think we are.”

Keeping on the same path, Michael asks Rex how exactly he presents what’s been taken from his clients. Rex discusses why you don’t present it through your client, you present it through their relatives and neighbors in an effort to find the signals of trust for the jury that cuts through the general noise of a trial. He goes on to explain how there is no better way to send those signals of trust than through those who know your client best. As they discuss the topic further, Rex also reveals why he strives not to keep witnesses on the stand too long and tends to use a lot of video depositions to keep the case moving forward. In fact, he surprises Michael by sharing he uses as much video as possible when he goes to trial and his strategy to do so comes from learning “that the shorter the trial the bigger the verdict tends to be.”

Rex also shares some of the techniques and strategies he and his firm have been developing in the last few years based on a conversation he had with Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinologist from Berkley and the author of “Behave – The Biology of Humans at our best and worst.” He later shares his technique for helping the jury value all that has been taken away from his client by relating those things to diamonds, and not just in his closing, but all throughout the trial starting in voir dire.

The conversation shifts to look at how lawyers don’t want their experience to work against them in looking that much better than the other side, as Michael puts it “you don’t want to look like Goliath.” And while Rex used to subscribe to this thinking, he has learned to move past that and focus solely on his credibility in the courtroom when it comes to the jury and being able to maintain his credibility throughout the trial. Rex explains that he is more than willing to admit in front of the jury when he is wrong, such as when an objection comes up and he realizes they are right, which helps to maintain his credibility. He also goes as far as memorizing the evidence section codes, not for the benefit of the judge, but again for the jury, so they can continue to look to him as the most knowledgeable and credible source in the courtroom.

Michael and Rex end the podcast by discussing extremely valuable topics such as: using the Warren Buffet method in regards to case selection; mind mapping to prepare for trial; visuals in the courtroom; why Rex avoids using “tricks”; the most important thing Rex does every day and how he balances work, life, and being a city Mayor; insights from Rex’s recent case which resulted in a $41.6M verdict; the extraordinary measures Rex’s firm has taken to practice EVERYTHING; the skills every lawyer needs to learn; Rex’s views on neckties (which is actually surprisingly insightful); and so much more.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

Pursuing a career that helps others has always been R. Rex Parris’ first choice and for good reason. Growing up, Rex’s father lost his leg in a motorcycle accident because of someone else’s negligence. He witnessed firsthand what happens to a family when the pillar of the household is severely injured through no fault of their own. This tragic event inspired Rex to pursue a life that helps people overcome the physical and financial burdens that result from any kind of accident.

Rex never had it easy growing up. His father left at a young age and his mother worked as a waitress to support him and his three brothers. They often had to collect welfare to make ends meet. Rex dropped out of high school and got a job as a busboy, but shortly after started using drugs and nearly ended up in jail. When he realized he had to make a change, he went back to school and turned his life around.

In 1977, Rex received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law & Society from the University of California Santa Barbara, where he was a member of the prestigious UCSB Scholars’ Program.  After receiving his Juris Doctor in 1980 from Southwestern School of Law in Los Angeles, he was certified as a Master Advocate in 1991 by The National Institute for Trial Advocacy in Washington, D.C.  He has been a member of the California Bar since 1980 and is a member of several federal and appellate courts and multiple trial attorney associations.

In 1985, Rex and his wife Carrol founded PARRIS Law Firm, a personal injury law firm that has helped thousands of families recover from life-altering accidents. PARRIS Law Firm also helps aggrieved workers who have been wronged by their employers, and those affected by environmental catastrophes. Rex handles a wide variety of other cases as well, ranging from class actions to products liability and business torts.

Since its founding, Rex has tried over 50 civil jury trials in courts throughout California and has recovered more than $1.4 Billion in verdicts and settlements for his clients. He made history by being the first lawyer to obtain a million-dollar verdict in Kern County. Years later in 2009, Rex was lead counsel in obtaining a historic defamation jury verdict of $370 million against George Marciano, the founding designer of Guess jeans. Not only has he faced off against some of the world’s largest companies, he consistently wins.

At the start of 2018, Rex went into back-to-back trials and totaled a combined $94 million for his clients in a matter of just 90 days. During both of these cases, Rex worked tirelessly for years and demanded justice on behalf of his clients, obtaining $52,708,374 for two brothers and $41,634,170 for a young quadriplegic whose life will never be the same because of someone else’s actions. Although these clients’ lives will never be whole again, Rex never stopped fighting to restore their well-being. The strength and courage he showed during these trials allowed jurors to hear the real stories of the people behind the lawsuits.

Another one of Rex’s most notable cases involves the largest gas well blowout in U.S. history. Rex, along with thousands of residents of Porter Ranch, are still demanding answers almost three years after a massive gas well blowout was discovered near their neighborhood. Gas was injected underground by Southern California Gas Company into illegal wells. A well experienced a massive failure and blowout in October 2015. This was predicted by Southern California Gas based on public records. Public health officials still do not know if it is safe for people to live there. Residents have been experiencing major health problems, and many have relocated because of the dangerous gases contaminating the air. Rex and his team are dedicated to helping these residents get the financial compensation they need to get their lives back on track after this terrible catastrophe. In November 2018, the California Court of Appeal Second District called into question why Southern California Gas Company and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office rushed into a plea deal that denied criminal restitution to the victims. Rex will see that they justify why the victims wait to recover their losses when the constitution says otherwise.

In addition to personal injury, environmental and employment cases, Rex has also served as counsel on cases involving the California Voting Rights Act. In 2012, Rex served as co-counsel and advisor to attorney Kevin Shenkman and Milton Grimes for a lawsuit against Palmdale, California in order to amend its election process to district voting. This lawsuit was on behalf of the diverse population of the Antelope Valley to have better representation in its city officials.

In November 2018, Rex obtained another successful verdict for the people of Pico Neighborhood in Santa Monica. The judge ruled that Santa Monica’s elections were intentionally designed to discriminate against minority voters. The Plaintiffs fought for Pico Neighborhood to have equal representation on the Santa Monica City Council to ensure accountability for the City’s actions. This ruling will allow the residents of the Pico Neighborhood to finally be heard.

PARRIS was the first law firm to file a class action lawsuit against Southern California Edison for starting the historically catastrophic Woolsey Fire in November 2018. The Plaintiffs are seeking economic and non-economic damages inflicted upon homeowners, renters, and businesses. Hundreds of people lost everything, and it is Rex’s mission to help restore the balance in these people’s lives.

As a successful civil justice attorney, entrepreneur, speaker, and published author, Rex is highly sought after to speak both nationally and internationally. Rex speaks at trial attorney seminars across the country, where he often teaches about the intersection of cognitive science and the persuasion of jurors. He always prepares for trial by using the latest science in persuasion skills. He regularly shares this knowledge as a guest lecturer at Loyola, Pepperdine, and Baylor Law Schools as well as state bar associations across the country.

In the midst of growing his practice into a legal powerhouse, Rex became the third directly-elected mayor of his hometown of Lancaster, California. Since his initial election, he has been re-elected three times, receiving 67% of the popular vote in 2016. Within two years of taking office, Lancaster’s crime rate plummeted 32% and gang violence declined by 81%. Rex has revitalized Lancaster’s historic downtown district and has been universally praised for establishing a family and business-friendly atmosphere. In 2013, Lancaster was named the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s Most Business-Friendly City in Los Angeles County for the second time in six years.

Rex travels around the world to share his vision of making Lancaster the Alternative Energy Capital of the World, and his successes in this arena have repeatedly garnered worldwide media attention. In October 2018, Rex traveled to Australia to be the international keynote speaker for the Cities Power Partnership Summit, Australia’s leading local government climate change forum. In partnership with Solar City, Rex successfully made City Hall the first building to use all solar power. The benefits were instant, as the cost of power dropped by half for the municipal building. Within two years, the technology was saving the city of Lancaster tens of thousands of dollars in utility costs and brought in close to $400,000. In 2017, the California State Senate designated the city of Lancaster as an Alternative Energy Research Center of Excellence.

As mayor, Rex launched a dynamic economic development division that aggressively pursued and successfully attracted manufacturing giants BYD and Morton Manufacturing, creating hundreds of jobs for the community. After gaining Morton Manufacturing, the city of Lancaster attracted high-tech manufacturing company Innovative Coatings Technology Corporation, which also brought new jobs that contributed greatly to the local economy. Rex’s economic development division continues to transform Lancaster through its Medical Main Street, LED Streetlight Conversion, and Green Energy Public Transportation initiatives. After partnering with IBM Watson the City of Lancaster projections for 2019 are for an additional 45-50% reduction in crime with the use of artificial software and technology. GQ magazine designated him one of America’s 10 most influential Mayors.

Rex also focuses his energy on philanthropy. He and his wife Carrol are the founders of the Parris Institute of Professional Development at Pepperdine Law School, and he is frequently a featured speaker and on the board of Gerry Spence’s famed Trial Lawyers’ College. In 2001 the high school district named the newest school R. Rex Parris High school in the city of Palmdale. The primary mission of R. Rex Parris High School is to serve those students who are significantly behind in meeting their high school graduation requirements so they can still graduate on time. He is the founder of a number of local charities including Lancaster Child Abuse Task Force, Antelope Valley War on Gangs, and Valley Volunteers Program. His law firm has a sister brand called PARRIS Cares, where he and his team focus on making a positive difference in the Antelope Valley through charities and local organizations.

Rex is a green energy champion, economic hero, and one of the most successful practicing attorneys and victim’s rights advocates in California. In addition to all of this, he has found the time to provide assistance and startup funding for a biotech company called Carthronix.  A true champion of justice, Rex will continue to innovate and work tirelessly in everything he does to improve the service and results of his community, clients, and family.

 

RESOURCES

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
By Chris Voss with Tahl Raz

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
By Simon Sinek

In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions When It Counts
by Jerry Weissman

 

29 – Keith Mitnik – Thoughtful Prep for Winning Cases

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with renowned attorney, host of the Mitnik’s Monthly Brushstrokes podcast, and author of Don’t Eat the Bruises – How to Foil Their Plans to Spoil Your Case published by Trial Guides. With a $90M verdict, ten 8-figure verdicts, and a ton of 7-figure verdicts under his belt, Keith’s vast knowledge of trying civil court cases is truly extraordinary, to say the least.

Michael hits the rewind button right up front to ask Keith how he learned to become a trial lawyer. Keith recalls how he knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a lawyer, but always assumed he would become a criminal lawyer. It wasn’t until he asked a professor of his about connecting with some of the best lawyers in Orlando, which happened to be partners of his professor, that Keith learned about other opportunities outside of criminal law. His journey to becoming a civil trial lawyer was organic but swift, having interned for the lawyers his professor introduced him to, and trying his first case only 2 months after becoming licensed with the firm. Keith attributes much of his learning back then to being allowed to dig right in and learn from being “in the trenches” versus following someone around for 10 years before getting any “real” experience. It also helped that both his mentors were exceptional lawyers who came from opposite schools of thought, where one was the type to turn over every stone and simply outwork the other side, and the other was a brilliant free thinker in the courtroom. Michael also points out the myth that it is hard to get trial experience these days, whereas he suggests doing what he did in the beginning: get out there and tell other lawyers you’ll try their Allstate cases, and there are a lot out there to get experience from. It is also important to recognize there is value to taking a case to trial well beyond the verdict or settlement that is reached, especially for attorneys looking to get experience. Keith also advises young lawyers going into the courtroom that “it’s not about being pretty.” Jurors are not deciding about things based on how polished you are. They are deciding it based on your integrity, believability, honor, honesty, AND the preparation you did to get there. Not just in the hard work, but in the mental preparation of thinking through how it’s all going to play out and putting yourself in the best framework to maximize your chance of winning. And all of that happens outside of the bright lights and intimidation of the courtroom.

Michael notes that one of the things he’s taken away from Keith’s books, podcast, and other teachings, is that he really takes the time to think through his cases and the best way to present them, but asks Keith exactly how he structures his life in a way that allows him to have enough uninterrupted time and deep focus to do the case right. Keith says anyone can learn to be a good talker, but what separates you from the pack is the thinking that goes on before you enter the courtroom. Most of the good talkers he’s seen have just gotten good at repeating the same, somewhat canned “routine,” or have gotten good at memorizing those lines. Whereas the exceptional lawyers separate themselves from the others because of the mental process of planning before they ever walk in and recognizing that the other side is going to put up a good defense, as they always do. Essentially preparing to dismantle their defense and ideally leave them with nothing. Keith goes on to explain not only will that set you apart, but it’s also the fun part of trying a case because you can be working toward solving the problems of the case no matter where you are in litigation. Keith then reminds us of Sherlock Homes and how his greatest gifts were not his analytical strengths or his extraordinary knowledge of science, the arts, math and physics, but rather it was his ability to focus on a problem long enough to solve it. Ideas and practices like this are good reminders not to shortchange yourself on one of the true joys of trial work and will likely also be included in Keith’s upcoming book. Before leaving the topic, Keith talks about one other core principle that he uses on every contested point of a case, which he calls “the wisdom of the whys,” where he asks why are we right and why are they wrong? Of course, you need to be brutally honest with yourself with these points, so you can see the times when the opposition is right on a point here or there, and then be able to take things one step further for those points to ask, even though they are right on one point, how are we still right overall, which Keith refers to as the million dollar question.

The conversation shifts to talk about the methods used to persuade a jury to give full damages in a case, or as Keith refers to it, maximum justice. Keith uses a two-pronged approach for this, the first being that you as the attorney need to believe in the number you are fighting for, and the second being that you need to present the jury with a reasonable damage model. This approach of believing and validating to the jury why your client deserves the damages you are asking for, and in some cases may seem like an extremely high number at first, allows the jury to gain perspective on the numbers instead of smelling the fear of those who might be inclined to just pick a big number out of the air that even they don’t understand or believe their client is deserving of. Keith also suggests if you can lay out a damages model that the jury can understand, even if they disagree with it, they can at least have the ability to discuss it in a format that makes sense instead of punishing you or your client for damages no one believes are just. To drive the point home even further, Keith describes the “pep talk” he’s given himself in the past about why he is trying this case in the first place and the thoughts he needs to be overcome, especially in the early years of a practice, in order to have the full and deserving confidence for what is being fought for in the courtroom. Truly inspiring and passionate words.

Keith and Michael are able to fit almost a full day’s worth of topics into this episode that every lawyer is likely to learn from including connecting with the jury through the power of analogy, tips and tactics for approaching voir dire to establish the ideal jury, the burden of proof, and the detailed strategy Keith uses to prepare for closing that gives him all the confidence in the world by design. Keith also is kind enough to offer an emailed version of a memo he drafted internally for his office regarding putting an end to the defense belittling the pain of your client just because you can’t see it. Michael had a terrific time talking with Keith and is excited to share this episode with everyone.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

 

BACKGROUND ON KEITH MITNIK

 

Keith Mitnik is the author of Trial Guides’ bestselling book, DON’T EAT THE BRUISES:  How to Foil Their Plans to Spoil Your Case. https://www.trialguides.com/products/dont-eat-the-bruises

He is also known for his popular audio tape series “Winning at the Beginning” and for his monthly podcasts.

He is a frequent keynote speaker at seminars for trial lawyers across America.

Keith is Senior Trial Counsel for Morgan & Morgan. In that role, he is in trial almost every month, often times 2 or 3 times a month, trying everything from suits against cigarette companies, medical malpractice, and product cases to car crashes and premises cases.

His list of verdicts is staggering.

He has been a commentator on many national television broadcasts and has been interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.

Keith is recognized for creating and teaching systems that simply work – for any lawyer, in any case.

Lawyers all over the country attribute significant verdicts to his methods.

 

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

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, 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 podcast 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

 

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