American Association of Justice

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

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, 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 with 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

 

32 – Jim Adler – Building a Firm on Reputation

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with prominent Texas attorney, Jim Adler, AKA “The Texas Hammer,” for a discussion on building a law practice on a solid reputation.

Running an efficient law firm that has allowed him the ability to spend quality time with his large family (4 kids and 9 grandkids) didn’t happen overnight. Having started his practice doing everything by himself, learning to delegate and understanding the business and marketing side of running a firm are two areas where Adler has focused on the most to build the successful law firm he has today.

Adler recalls back in “those days,” when he was starting out, thinking that it would have been ridiculous to believe he would ever make $100,000. When he started, he was struggling to support his family and manage to do everything himself. He initially started advertising in the “green sheets” and got a little business. But it was when he started using a company called “Lawyers Marketing Services,” that he saw more success. He was told to “try it, you’ll like it,” and went into TV advertising which quickly had his phone ringing off the hook. Of course, it didn’t come without its fair share of social pressures not to advertise to the public back then, due to the stigma that other attorneys attached to the tactic. Adler has also found himself bearing the brunt of parodies on TV, even being referenced on Beavis & Butthead as “Joe Adler.” To which Michael points out, “you know you’ve made it when a national tv show is referencing you.”

Now going on his 5th generation of TV viewers, The Texas Hammer has found himself up against finding the attention of younger people who don’t want to pay for TV, AKA “cord cutters.” These are the individuals who are watching entertainment on their Slingbox, Roku, PlayStation, Netflix, and YouTube, which makes it especially hard to reach them. People don’t have “TV” anymore, so you have to find them elsewhere, which is why Adler has a saying in his firm, “if we’re not changing, we’re dying.” It is this mindset and desire to continue to learn and adapt (more on that later in the episode), which continues to keep his name and brand so strong.

The conversation then turns to when Adler became partners with a well-known U.S. District Judge, Robert O’Connor, who wanted to get back into practice. Judge O’Connor knew that Adler was wasting his time doing divorces, bankruptcy, and real estate and this was “the age of the specialization.” Taking that advice and focusing on personal injury cases has grown his firm to a staggering 30 attorneys and roughly 300 staff! Michael and Adler both agree that having so many people working for the firm is a lot of moving parts. But as Michael points out, it can be “a lot harder to run a business than to be a lawyer.”

Adler goes on to describe the way his firm has created a departmentalized system to take care of clients every step of the way. His intake department has specialists that only take new client calls and are separated from an operator who accepts all calls. His case management department with case managers who are assigned to each case and are supervised by a lawyer essentially works like a mini law practice within his law firm. The packaging department with specialists in preparing settlements and gathering all the hospital records, are all just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the organization he’s built.

In fact, evolution has been long and everchanging with the times. Adler recalls how all of these departments work well, but he received feedback that clients hated being passed around. Since then he has utilized his case managers to tee up the transition better and give the client a clear sense of what each step in their case is going to be. He goes on to describe their closing department, as well as their administrative departments and accounting departments, a strong litigation department, and an internet department, which ties into the firm’s marketing efforts. Over time, the evolution from having one secretary and an assistant, to set up all the different departments, developed through the use of statistics and formulas. From assessing how many cases a case manager could handle, to how many calls can an intake person handle, to how many cases can a lawyer try and/or settle, all of his operations were fine-tuned through statistical analysis. Adler describes himself to be a big believer in customer service and tries to promote their “service marketing” agenda to everyone throughout the firm in order to provide “over the top service” to their clients. He points out that if a lawyer does a good job for a client, he or she will likely be referred, 7 new people. Whereas the “bad-mouthers” are likely to tell 100 people if they didn’t have a good experience, regardless of the end result of their case.

Michael becomes curious about whether Adler had to figure these things out on his own or if he brought in any kind of consultants. Adler shares how he has read tons of books on business, such as The CEO Nextdoor by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell, Good to Great by Jim Collins, FOCUS by Daniel Goleman, as well as many other business publications like The Wallstreet Journal and Forbes Magazine. Thinking back to law school, Adler also recalls that they teach you how to be a good lawyer, but they don’t teach you how to become a good business owner. Adler has learned a lot from talking to people who were trying to sell him something, talking to other lawyers about how they do things, and going to TTLA meetings. Michael points out his own evolution from the mentality of being “a great lawyer and people should just line up at our firm’s door” to opening his mind to see other successful practices like Adler’s, and how they keep clients happy and run their firm in general. He also notes that although he doesn’t do TV advertising, he still spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing to his referral partners.

Both Adler and Michael reflect on the importance of treating people with respect and dignity, even down to the importance of returning a phone call. The 45 seconds you take to let someone know you received their call and you are looking into their question or concern, can have a dramatic impact on the attorney/client relationship, even if just to tell them that you are in trial and will get back to them as soon as possible. Adler also goes a step further to ask for referrals when a case concludes and to remind their clients of all the different cases they handle.

The conversation certainly would have been remiss if Michael hadn’t brought up the obvious question – How did you come up with the name “The Texas Hammer?” Adler explains that it was Hayden Bramleigh, from the lawyer marketing service, who first suggested to him that he needed a trademark, similar to how every big brand has a trademark. Moreover, “The Texas Hammer” went through some evolution of its own through various focus groups and seeing how people around the country responded to the name being associated with other lawyers in different states. Admittedly, although some people might not know Adler’s name, they can still associate him with “The Texas Hammer” which is still an effective marketing tactic for him. Adler also points out that it’s been a long road, fighting battles with others who don’t agree with legal advertising, which oddly enough, he points out, tend to be other lawyers and not the end consumer.

The conversation with Adler goes on to talk about his strategies on developing lawyers in his firm, the tests they give to new lawyers joining their firm, transparency in reporting to the firm on settlements and new cases, professional training they’ve developed, the resources they use for case management, getting over the fear of public speaking, and so much more. The organization that Adler has built over the years is nothing less than astounding and we are so appreciative of the time he spent with us on this episode.

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

 

BACKGROUND ON JIM ADLER

Famously known as “The Texas Hammer,” injury lawyer Jim Adler has been hammering for victims for over 40 years, championing “the little guy” against big corporations and big insurance companies which would deny their legal rights.

That mission is why he launched his own law firm in 1973 with a one-man office in downtown Houston. Today, Jim Adler & Associates has offices in Houston’s Uptown/Galleria area, Channelview, Dallas, and San Antonio, with two dozen attorneys and more than 250 legal support staff. They share Jim Adler’s mission of helping injured Texans get the money they deserve from those who were at fault.

 

Family Man, Giving Back

You may know Jim Adler only from his media appearances and tough-talking TV ads. But he’s more than that. He’s also a family man who loves children and devotes much time and his firm’s resources to children’s charity causes.

In 2009, former Houston Mayor Bill White appointed Jim Adler to the Board of Directors of the Joint City/County Commission on Children, recognizing his lifelong devotion to helping children.

“I believe we all should give back to our communities,” said Adler, a Dallas native who speaks fluent Spanish. “I believe in helping people and doing good works.”

In fact, unlike his fierce TV image, Jim Adler is “a people person. I enjoy being around people from all walks of life. I love the joy of life – of just being alive.”

He’s also even more active than his busy legal work suggests.

“I love to sweat,” says the avid tennis player, snow skier, jogger and golfer. “I love sports of all kinds, and I work out five or six days a week — 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weightlifting. I’m also really big on nutrition and watching what I eat.”

Boosted by this commitment to health, he has no plans to retire — even now that son Bill Adler has joined the firm as an attorney.

 

Son at His Side

“Having my son at my side at the firm is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Jim Adler says. “He’ll ensure that all the work I’ve put in over the years and the family’s tradition of serving underdogs will continue.”

That family includes Jim Adler’s wife of 38 years, their four children and their five grandchildren.

Bill Adler was raised in Houston, but Jim Adler was raised in Dallas. He went to Austin to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, followed by his law degree from the UT School of Law.

He then served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy and was appointed a judge for the Office of Civilian Health and Medical Programs United Services (OCHAMPUS), adjudicating health and medical disputes for Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel. He then launched his law practice in Houston, home of his principal office today.

Jim Adler was admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of Texas and is licensed to practice in the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit and U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Eastern, Northern and Western Districts of Texas.

He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, Houston Bar Association, Texas Bar Foundation, Dallas Trial Lawyers Association, Dallas Bar Association, American Bar Association, and American Trial Lawyers Association.

He’s also a director of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Houston Trial Lawyers Association.

As a passionate advocate for injury victims, Jim Adler has handled lawsuits involving auto accidents, trucking accidents, offshore accidents, Jones Act cases, refinery accidents, construction injuries, burn injuries, brain injuries, on-the-job accidents, slip-and-fall cases, railroad accidents, electrical accidents and many other types of personal injury.

Getting payments for victims can be a battle. But Jim Adler became a lawyer to fight those battles.

“I always had a desire to help underdogs, the little guy, against big corporations and big insurance companies, and to level the playing field for accident victims,” he says.

 

Charitable Works

Jim Adler’s good works also include many charitable causes. He’s contributed to the American Cancer Society, Armed Forces Relief Trust, Association for Community Television, Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders, Arthritis Foundation, American Heart Association, American Health Assistance Foundation, Special Olympics, Child Advocates of Fort Bend County, The Center for Hearing & Speech, Covenant House, Easter Seals Society and Galena Park Choir Boosters.

Still more of his causes include the Habitat for Humanity, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Federation of Greater Houston, Guild for the Blind, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, March of Dimes, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Primera Rosa De Saron, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Texas Bar Foundation, Texas Children’s Hospital, US Olympic Committee, University of Texas Law School Foundation and UTMB Burn Care Research.

“I wish there were more hours in the day,” says Jim Adler. “I always want to do more.”

“Basically I believe in doing good works. Seeing families whose child was injured by an 18-wheeler or a defective drug puts me in a fighting mode. My good works then are about helping them recover financially. Those good works are my life’s mission.”

Thus, after decades of fighting for justice, Jim Adler is still on the case, helping those who need it the most. As thousands of injured Texans have learned when he fought for their legal rights, there’s only one “Texas Hammer.”

21 – Sonia Rodriguez – Winning (or Losing) a Case in Deposition

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With overwhelmingly positive feedback from our listeners, TLN Table Talk is back again! This time featuring fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion mainly focused on how to win (or lose) a case in a deposition.

Michael is quick to note that many cases tend to settle before going to trial, making depositions an integral part of the process. Oftentimes it comes down to knowing the documents better than the defense attorneys while also knowing the right documents to order, which in many cases the defense may not have. It can also come down to a witness’s ability to know and articulate the truth in a deposition, which is frequently a direct reflection on those who have helped to prepare the witness (defense or plaintiff).

So how do Michael and Sonia prepare for depositions? Sonia explains her strategy of always looking back on the jury charge to see what exactly she is trying to gain from a witness, scour the defense record from production to find nuggets of useful information, dig into the footnotes, fine print, and back of pages to find what others might miss. She has also found social media to be useful to learn as much as you can on the person being deposed including who their friends and other contacts are, companies they’ve worked for, and digging in to find info on company manuals or other ways to authenticate them as an authority coming from a witness. Michael, on the other hand, points out the importance of networking and collaborating with other plaintiff’s lawyers as “we’re good at getting things and sharing information” such as prior admissions, reports, or testimony. There’s likely nothing more embarrassing for a witness, especially paid ones than to be cross-examined with contradictory testimony they gave in the past. Sonia, who recently had a deposition with a defense doctor, shares how his past testimony was the exact opposite of what he was testifying to in her case, which obviously played to her favor.

When it comes to the right length of a deposition, Sonia shares her wish to someday be able to take a short depo, but currently has her attention to detail and thoroughness to “blame” for the style of her depositions, one which sometimes drives opposing counsel mad. She tends to feel unsatisfied leaving a depo if she hasn’t covered a lot of ground, knowing the jury will likely not hear most of it. She has also found that many times when she’s taking a deposition, she’s not just doing a trial depo of a witness, but also trying to prepare in advance for a summary judgment response and how they can also be helpful to lay the groundwork for what she might need from another witness. In contrast, Michael prides himself on short but thorough depositions stating how it really depends on the witness and subject matter. He also admits the danger of taking shorter depositions in relation to “having a beginner’s mind” vs. the “curse of knowledge” where you might already know something, the defense already knows it, and the defense witness knows it, but the jury does not, and could lead to talking over the jury with jargon they might not understand. Both agree 100% no matter how you approach a deposition, you need to be actively engaged in listening to the responses and not just running down questions on an outline where you would likely miss the truly important parts of what the witness is saying, or not saying, which could make your case.

The conversation shifts to a lively debate heard in many firms of weighing the idea of “going for the kill” in the deposition vs. saving things for trial when you know the witness will be there in person. With different experiences from both Sonia and Michael prior to them partnering, each brings a unique perspective to the table from their mentors as well as from their personal experiences. Of course, they agree these tactics both have their place, but Michael also brings up the point how oftentimes with expert witnesses, if they don’t know something at a deposition, they tend to come to trial more prepared with a response.

Michael and Sonia jam pack the second half of their discussion with everything from preparing their own clients for deposition, videotaping depositions, deposing the other side’s experts, guiding medical experts to slow down their testimony while not losing the jury with industry terminology, and exceptions to all of the above.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future, as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

Find out more about Michael Cowen here.

Find out more about Sonia Rodriguez here.

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

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, Alexander Begum, who has offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo and McAllen. Alex admits early on in his conversation with Michael that he didn’t originally know he wanted to be a lawyer. He didn’t have any immediate connections to the law field, and friends and family members initially forced him to study for his MBA as a fallback. A blessing in disguise, this actually helped him to bring a business perspective to the field of law.

From early on, Alex found himself valuable by leveraging his business and finance education. He turned down a $75k/yr position at a defense firm, has his sights on something better, only to take 4 years to break the $100k mark. He first started with just about any case he could bring in the door from child custody to divorce to criminal and corporate, but eventually transitioned to personal injury when he got a big “break” from an owner of a managing agency who saw him in the courtroom as a defense lawyer who won a settlement against the plaintiff through a counterclaim. They liked what they saw so much they essentially fired another firm they had been working with and sent all their car wreck defense cases to his office. Listening to him tell the story is reminiscent of something from the movies with a van full of case files, in varying stages of pre-lit and litigation, being dropped at their front doorstep. Jumping right into the cases, it didn’t take long for him to see the limitless potential in the personal injury world. After having been exposed to several practice areas of law and through the process of elimination, Alex landed on plaintiff personal injury. The fact that his father was an immigrant further solidified his decision to fight for the small guy, beat all odds and led him into representing people who had been victimized in some way.

The conversation fast-forwards and switches to a more “tactical” view of trial strategy involving the practice of NOT including medical bills in a trial. The studies that Michael and Alex have both reviewed are striking, but the actual implementation of this in Alex’s practice has proven to be successful with 6 and 7-figure verdicts on cases – some of which have $4k of medical bills! The explanation from Alex on why he thinks this practice works is extremely insightful, to say the least, and shows that litigation without medical bills may become the standard practice by necessity. Michael points out that, ironically, he believes the industry is going to end up with bigger recoveries. They also talk through the effects the different strategies have on juries in awarding damages and how one of the tactics can anchor down the numbers, whereas the other can allow jurors to think about the true impact of what’s been taken from a client and their family.

Alex shares some of his insights on how he balances the administration of running his firm and keeping cases on track with trying cases himself. He shares everything from the software they use to his endless checklists, which Michael is able to draw a parallel to form a brief past in aviation where pilots are known for going through their checklists regardless of how many times they’ve flown the airplane – all in the name of quality control.

Michael asks Alex about the journey of advertising, which they both agree is “painful.” But, Alex goes on to talk about the evolution of advertising in the legal industry and the importance of dominating a niche market with examples like “The Jewish Lawyer,” “The Hammer,” or in his own case, “The Law Giant.” He talks about a significant focus group he conducted that helped him realize the overwhelming weight given toward recalling a branded nickname/persona more than any other factor in an attorney’s practice. In Alex’s view, things like trial experience, verdict history, or even the name of the attorney play very little into the public’s perspective of who to call. Some of the examples he gives of niche type tactics are tried and true when it comes to advertising on everything from billboards down to business cards.

Michael wraps up the episode by asking on behalf of all the aspiring PI lawyers listening, “How did you get to where you are?” Alex’s reply is priceless and timeless all at once: “It’s funny how the harder I work, the luckier I become.”

Background on Alexander Begum

Alexander Begum is a founding shareholder of the Begum Law Group LLC, with offices in San Antonio, Brownsville, Laredo, and McAllen. Mr. Begum completed his undergraduate studies at Trinity University in San Antonio earning a double major in marketing and finance. Thereafter, he attended Harvard University in Boston where he studied finance and legal writing. Following the completion of his undergraduate studies, Alex acquired a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in finance from Texas Tech University.

After graduating from law school, Alex did not cease in his quest for learning and improving his skills. In 2010 Mr. Begum was chosen to be among the elite few who are accepted into the Trial Lawyers College. This intense program is intended to push each individual student toward a greater understanding of themselves and others. Every attorney that graduates from the Trial Lawyers College walks away knowing they have improved not only their skills as attorneys but have improved their “personhood” as well. Attending such a program is not an easy task. Alexander Begum made the choice to be away from his home, family and law practice to devote the time to attend and graduate from the Trial Lawyers College. He willingly made this sacrifice for a singular purpose. He wanted to be better able to help his clients and serve his community.

For more information on Alex Begum, visit https://www.texaslegalgroup.com/Attorneys/Alexander-Begum.shtml

 

13 – Ben Glass – Great Legal Marketing

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with the great legal marketing mind and Owner of Great Legal Marketing, LLC, Ben Glass. As an attorney and owner of his own law firm, Ben Glass Law, Ben shares a unique insider’s perspective on what marketing works and what doesn’t in the legal industry that many attorneys can appreciate.

Having started his legal career like most young attorneys do, by working in someone else’s firm, Ben recalls that first big step when he ventured out and started his own firm, remembering that he was good at trying cases but suffered, as most do when they start a firm of their own, in bringing on new cases. This led him to start thinking about how to attract clients without breaking the bank, noting that of course you can throw all kinds of money at your marketing, but he knew there had to be a better way. At that point, Ben began to study the impacts of marketing on legal firms and more specifically, looking outside of the lawyer world to what other successful businesses were doing and ultimately finding that achieving results didn’t require being the highest spender.

Michael and Ben discuss the critical stages of legal marketing, not only deciding what kind of practice you want for yourself but conversely, what type of cases you don’t want and getting over the mental hurdle of turning those cases away. The views from both Michael and Ben, looking back at their own implementation of these steps, are surprisingly similar and fortunately not as “scary” as either of them may have thought they were initially. Ben also tends to remind the attorneys he works with that there is no need to succumb to any peer pressure on the types of cases they need to take on. Similarly, Michael adds his own unique perspective on his firm’s transition to becoming one that only accepts the larger cases that they can add value to in that suddenly (along with his experience as an attorney) he became the one other attorneys now refer those larger cases to consistently, versus the smaller fender bender cases, just by the acknowledgment of the types of cases he will and will not accept. Furthermore, Ben explains, having a referral relationship with someone who specializes and loves taking on the types of cases you don’t, can also be highly beneficial to your practice as well as to the clients that are seeking your expertise in helping their case. Essentially creating a win-win-win marketing strategy by setting the standard on the cases that come into your firm and having a plan to guide the rest of the cases in the right direction toward those who are better equipped to provide value to them.

In digging a little deeper into legal marketing, Ben points out that many clients have never really given a thought about finding a lawyer prior to actually needing one – usually no real knowledge of what might constitute the best attorney for their situation, no experience in dealing with claims adjusters, etc… Many times, life is just moving along happily until that disaster strikes, totally disrupting their life, and thrusting them toward suddenly needing an attorney but, when that time comes, they don’t necessarily care (in Ben’s opinion) how many years you’ve been practicing law, or how many awards you’ve had, but rather the fact that they have a problem to solve – doctors are calling, insurance adjustors are calling, their family is giving advice on what to do, and they don’t know what to do. This is where Ben’s informational marketing comes into play, by providing useful information to help those people with what they need to know now, versus the other attorneys who are basically shouting “hire me” and “look at all my awards.” This dissemination of useful info, along with MANY other legal marketing topics Ben discusses with Michael, helps to build trust with you and your firm when trying to appeal to prospective clients in their unexpected time of need. Michael also relates this tactic to his own firm’s dissemination of valuable information to other lawyers through presentations well beyond the local bar association meetings others might be waiting to get invited to.

Michael wraps up the interview with a brief discussion on the tools and resources Ben offers through Great Legal Marketing, which Ben admits, no matter where you are with your practice, getting more leads and getting more cases is frankly not that hard or expensive once you know what to do. Ben is truly a talented resource to the legal community and his impact spreads far and wide to all those we are all passionate about serving.

Background on Ben Glass

Ben has spent his career practicing law in the courtrooms throughout Northern Virginia. He is a nationally-recognized, board-certified personal injury, medical malpractice, and disability insurance attorney in Fairfax, Virginia. He graduated from George Mason University School of Law in 1983 and has devoted his career to representing individuals against the insurance companies.

Through Ben’s experience in testing various marketing techniques for his own firm, he has discovered what truly works and has implemented his knowledge into the creation of Great Legal Marketing in 2005. Hundreds of lawyers in the United States and Canada have already joined Great Legal Marketing and are watching their practices take off.

For more info on Ben Glass visit:

https://www.greatlegalmarketing.com/bio/ben-glass1.cfm

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