Body Language

69 – David Koechner – Hit Your WHAMMY! The Power of Storytelling

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen and his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday are joined by a VERY unique guest – David Koechner! David is a Hollywood actor and comedian who has starred in over 190 films and TV shows. He is best known for his roles as Todd Packer from “The Office” and Champ Kind from “Anchorman” and “Anchorman 2.” You may be wondering how David has any connection to attorneys, but we assure you this episode is full of timely advice for trial lawyers and is just what we need to hear right now. The trio will discuss David’s path to success and his advice for presenting to an audience (think: the jury) both in person and through a screen.

The episode begins with Michael briefly explaining the premise of this special episode. He explains how David comes from the TV/film world, and lawyers are now having to adjust from a live audience to an audience through Zoom. He shares how he’s excited to “learn how to communicate with other human beings through a screen,” or a jury spread out across a stadium or convention center for socially distant in-person trials.

Michael then asks David about his background and how he got into acting. David shares how he grew up in a small town in Missouri and began working for his father’s turkey coop manufacturing business at the age of 7, something he says instilled a strong work ethic in him from a young age. Being from a small town, David had no idea acting was a possibility for him having never met an actor himself. So, he decided to attend college with a political science major where he realized in his third year that “To be in politics, you either need to come from a political family, you’re incredibly wealthy, or you’re the smartest person in any room you walk into. I was none of those things.” He then dropped out of college and worked three jobs until he visited Chicago to attend a “Second City” performance and realized, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”

From that moment on, David spent the next 9 years on stage at least 4 nights a week, putting in his “10,000 hours” and citing the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell until he made it onto Saturday Night Live. Michael aptly compares this to up-and- coming trial lawyers – you have to try a lot of small cases before you get a shot at the big ones. They follow with an insightful discussion of the role of “luck” in being successful, which David believes is “really about hard work, isn’t it?”

They then move onto the topic on everybody’s mind right now – How do you effectively communicate with a jury when you’re either wearing a mask or limited to a screen? David recognizes the challenges of doing so, but emphasizes that the most important thing is always your connection to the story. He believes that is the compelling part of any presentation – whether in the courtroom or through a TV screen.

David continues with his recommendations for preparing to present while wearing a face mask. He suggests that lawyers preparing for an in-person trial in the COVID era start observing other people wearing face masks wherever they go. He explains how you can easily tell if someone is calm and purposeful, or agitated by looking at their body language.

Delisi then explains that Michael is going to be conducting voir dire in a football stadium in his upcoming trial. She asks David for advice on how to use your body in a venue that big to make everybody feel included. David suggests that Michael purposefully look at every single person he’s addressing, think about where his words will land, and pace around as he speaks so everyone feels included in the conversation. He also shares a very insightful strategy he uses when preparing for a show in a new venue, which will be helpful to every lawyer listening in future trials and other presentation preparation.

Michael then inquires as to how actors make the audience believe they’re reciting something for the first time when it’s actually been scripted and rehearsed countless times. David astutely replies – “I think that’s the point – rehearse.” He continues by explaining that if he has his lines completely down, he’s fully present and available because he’s not searching for his lines. This gives him (and every actor) the opportunity for “discovery” in a scene, where he is fully engaged with his scene partners and able to truly listen and react honestly to what they say. And it results in successful improv when he films with his comedy peers, like Will Ferrell and Steve Carell.

A brief discussion of the importance of letting silence sink in leads to a very interesting conversation about trusting your audience. Michael shares his experience of switching his mentality of “I need to say everything I have to say” to “It’s not about what I have to say, it’s about being heard,” and with that transition learning to trust the jury more and focus on telling the story, not on controlling the jury.

David then adds, “It’s about respect. You’re respecting the jury to make their own decisions. That will come across.” And while the difference between a crowd at a comedy show and a jury in a courtroom are apparent, the commonalities they share run deep. As Delisi so eloquently puts it, “at the end of the day you’re both storytellers.” David continues by explaining how if he hasn’t heard a laugh in 5 minutes, he knows he needs to change something about what he’s doing. While jurors don’t openly laugh or react, Michael insists “You know when you’re resonating with another human being. You feel it.”

They continue on this note to discuss coping with a loss. David shares how he always mentally prepares to fix what went wrong and assumes, “This is going to go well. Period.” David then describes his favorite adage to tell nervous actors, which is that you always hope the person presenting does well. While admitting it’s marginally different for lawyers, he insists that “they at least hope you’re competent,” which Michael agrees with wholeheartedly, ending this conversation by saying “People want to do the right thing.”

David, Michael, and Delisi end the episode by discussing David’s new business, “Hey, Good Meeting!” Michael and Delisi previously worked with David to surprise the audience at this year’s Big Rig Boot Camp with a comedic appearance by David. These types of events are exactly what Hey, Good Meeting specializes in and provides a unique experience with nationally recognized actors and comedians. If you’d like to book a live comedy experience customized for you and your guests at your next virtual event, holiday party, or referral partner gathering, go to www.heygoodmeeting.com for booking information.

This podcast also covers why all men are secretly 14 years old, what was so special about Chicago in 1996, the importance of listening, playing an outrageous character convincingly, applying the “Rule of 3” to the courtroom, David’s favorite improvised scene from “Anchorman,” using body language to communicate, how David deals with hecklers, and so much more.

 

 

Bio:

Actor, writer and producer David Koechner grew up in Tipton, Mo. working for his father in the family’s turkey coop manufacturing business. He studied political science at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan, and then transferred to the University of Missouri. After college, Koechner moved to Chicago, where he studied improvisation at the IO (formerly the ImprovOlympic) with Del Close and Charna Halpern. He went on to become an ensemble member of Second City Theater Northwest.

From there, Koechner spent one season in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” before moving to Los Angeles and landing guest appearances on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Reno 911” and a recurring role on “Still Standing.” He co-starred in indie films such as “Dill Scallion,” “Wakin’ Up in Reno,” “Dropping Out” and “Run Ronnie Run” while also turning solid performances in studio comedies such as “Out Cold,” “My Boss’ Daughter” and “A Guy Thing.” Koechner, along with Dave “Gruber” Allen, developed and performed The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show on stage at Club Largo in Los Angeles. The show later became a Comedy Central series.

Koechner’s first major film break came when he was cast as Champ Kind in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (a role he reprised in 2013’s “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”). Koechner has been seen in a variety of studio and independent films such as “Daltry Calhoun,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Waiting,” “Yours, Mine and Ours,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Snakes on a Plane,” “Let’s Go To Prison,” “Semi-Pro,” “Get Smart,” “My One and Only,” “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Extract,” “Final Destination 5,” “A Haunted House,” “Paul,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” “Priceless,” Legendary’s “Krampus,”  the animated feature “Barnyard,” the critically acclaimed “Thank You for Smoking,” and the film festival award-winning thriller “Cheap Thrills.” He also starred in the Fox Atomic comedy “The Comebacks.” Recent film projects include “Then Came You,” “Braking for Whales” and “Faith Based,” as well as the upcoming indie horror thriller, “Vicious Fun.”

Koechner currently plays Bill Lewis on ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and recently appeared on ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” CBS’s “Superior Donuts,” Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” Comedy Central’s “Another Period” and IFC’s “Stan Against Evil.” He also voices reoccurring characters on FOX’s “American Dad” and Netflix’s “F is for Family” and “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.” Koechner is well-known for his character Todd Packer on NBC’s hit comedy “The Office.”

When not filming, Koechner performs live stand-up comedy across the country and creates original content videos for his YouTube channel, “Full On Koechner.” He also co-hosts Big Slick Celebrity Weekend – an annual charity event benefitting Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City – with fellow KC natives, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Eric Stonestreet. Koechner currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

 

60 – Matthew Pearson – A New Era: A Look Inside the First Zoom Jury Trial

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by Matthew Pearson, the plaintiff’s lawyer in the highly publicized first Zoom jury trial in the country. They discuss the trial in detail including how Matthew’s case was selected, how a summary jury trial works, the jury selection process, case presentation, and what (if anything) Matthew would do differently.

The episode begins with a discussion of Matthew’s background and how he became involved in the nation’s first Zoom jury trial. He specializes in first party insurance cases in construction defect from the property owner’s side. Michael notes this is different from most of his other guests, but Matthew identifies some parallels in what he does with other plaintiff’s lawyers.

The case he tried by Zoom involves a commercial building hit by a hailstorm in Collin County, Texas where the insurance company did not want to pay out the claim. As part of Collin County’s ADR process, the parties must hold a summary jury trial before they are allowed a full jury trial. The goal is for a settlement in mediation after the summary jury trial. Matthew’s summary jury trial was originally set for July, but he was asked (or “volun-told”) to move it forward to May 18th and do it virtually. He was a little nervous, but excited overall for the opportunity.

Michael and Matthew then briefly discuss how a summary jury trial is nonbinding and has far less rules than a full jury trial. Each side has an hour and a half to put on their case, then the jury deliberates and comes back with a non-binding verdict. Both sides can then ask the jury questions about the verdict and their deliberation. Matthew finds this approach to be a great opportunity for feedback and to identify areas to improve should the case go to full trial.

Diving right into the jury selection process, Matthew describes how typically in a summary jury trial the mediator will select the jury and only dismiss jurors “on the fringe” of either side. When the court noticed the publicity surrounding this Zoom trial, they decided to give each side 15 minutes to do voir dire (on the Friday evening before the Monday trial no less). Michael asks Matthew how a Zoom jury would do things like raise their hands when asked a group question, a process Matthew describes as “The Brady Bunch on steroids.”

The conversation continues with a look at case presentation. Michael asks if Matthew presented his case differently than he would in an in-person trial. Matthew says he tried to go about it like a regular trial as much as possible. He typically uses PowerPoint for his opening, which worked perfectly for the virtual presentation. He utilized Trial Director software to talk the client though evidence and instructed his expert to use PowerPoint to present key documents as well. The expert also used a digital pen to circle key points and blew up pictures as he presented. Michael notes he typically tries to avoid using too much PowerPoint during trial but agrees it would be necessary when presenting virtually.

The importance of building strong group dynamics in a jury has been discussed in the podcast often. Is it possible to create group bonds when everybody is sitting in their own homes? Matthew notes it wasn’t vital for a one-day non-binding trial but agrees this would be difficult for a week-long trial. He describes how the jurors ate lunch by themselves and when the day is over, they just turn off their computers without interacting with the rest of the jury (it would be improper for them to communicate via phone once the day is over).

Whether a strong group or not, the jury did deliberate for 30 minutes and reached a unanimous verdict. Matthew was pleasantly surprised by the fact they found his expert to be credible, even over Zoom. Leading both to agree on the huge cost savings down the line if trial lawyers no longer needed to pay for experts to travel to a trial.

In Matthew’s case, the damages were all economic. Looking at it from a personal injury perspective, Michael worries about jurors’ ability to assess pain in a virtual trial. He gives an example of people who are more moved by a 30-minute TV show than they are by most trials and sees an opportunity for a new group of consultants to emerge from this. An interesting comparison to Saturday Night Live is mentioned that you have to tune in and hear in order to fully appreciate.

Now for the big question: Would Matthew do a Zoom trial if the result was binding? He’s not so sure if he would. While this experience went very smoothly, it was only a one-day experiment. All the jurors were able to find a quiet place without interruptions and they had no technical issues. If this was a full-blown trial it would go on for much longer. He’s also not confident the results could be replicated for such a large endeavor. And has doubts a jury could go through so much evidence and make a decision based off the evidence virtually. Michael and Matthew discuss possible solutions to this but agree this would be a huge concern.

They close off the episode with Michael asking, “Would you do anything differently?” Matthew replies he would present the same way, with an opening, putting on witnesses, and a modified closing. But he would change his use of technology. He urges listeners to have at least two screens set up and to leave the jury on one screen for the entirety of the trial to monitor their reactions. He would also have his paralegal join to help control documents, like he would in a regular trial. Lastly, they both agree while they are very hesitant to hold a binding trial via Zoom, they may be forced to if this goes into 2021.

This podcast also covers jury engagement, body language, whether Zoom trials can provide a representative jury pool due to the technology involved, the importance of trial consultants, how to share lengthy exhibits with jurors, Matthew’s appearance in Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero Facebook group, and more.

If you’d like to reach Matthew to discuss his virtual trial experience or discuss a case with him, visit his law firm’s website at pearsonlegalpc.com or email him at mpearson@pearsonlegalpc.com.

 

Bio

Matthew Pearson is the founder of Pearson Legal PC based out of San Antonio, Texas.  He has over 25 years of experience litigating matters in federal and state courts throughout Texas and the United States.  He has extensive experience in cases involving insurance law, construction defects, business disputes and employment law, and has earned a reputation for successfully representing his clients in the courtroom.  Mr. Pearson was recognized by Verdict Search for receiving the largest insurance verdict in Texas two years in a row. Verdict Search also recognized Mr. Pearson for receiving the fifth largest contract dispute verdict in Texas and the second largest employment verdict in Texas.

Mr. Pearson is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  Mr. Pearson also writes articles and frequently speaks on insurance and construction law issues.

 

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