case presentation

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.

 

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.