catastrophic injury

97 – Chris Finney – Maximizing Value In Your Life & Law Practice

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael speaks with St. Louis trial attorney Chris Finney, to discuss his recent $750,000 jury verdict on a non-catastrophic injury case, the different voir dire techniques he used, his path towards personal development, and so much more.

The episode begins with Chris sharing his story about how he became a trial lawyer. Being the son of a plaintiff’s lawyer, Chris knew becoming a lawyer was something he would do. After law school he took a job working at the prosecutor’s office, but left when he was offered a job paying much more money at a defense firm. His time working on the defense side was limited and he quickly realized he was destined to be a plaintiff’s lawyer.

“We can get him out of this mess in like 5 seconds. Just call the plaintiff’s lawyer, ask him what he wants, and we’ll give it to him … and I didn’t get the best response.” – Chris Finney

Michael transitions the conversation and brings up the topic of development, asking Chris what he has done to excel in his career. Chris shares everything from regionals with Trial Lawyers College, Trial By Human, ethos with Rick Friedman, working with Sari de la Motte, Trial School, attending Trial Guides seminars, and reaching a comfort level with who he is when he tries cases. This brings up the topic of therapy, with Chris sharing how many of the lawyers he would meet at CLEs were divorced. Being happily married and a father to 5 kids, Chris knew he had to find a way to make it all work. Michael agrees and points out that being a trial lawyer means you have to trust a jury, realize the amount of influence you have on the success of a case, understand you cannot control everything, speak with clients and their families when they have been through something traumatic, and all of this can take a real toll on you. “You don’t have to sacrifice your entire life to do this and be good at it,” Chris adds, “you have to find some kind of balance.”

“There’s no better investment than investing in yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Part of the journey in development is also realizing you will not win them all. Which is why the conversation then turns to this topic, one repeatedly mentioned on the show. Chris shares that he has realized, “No one is going to remember your losses.” To which Michael likens this to professional football players. If Tom Brady is described as one of the best quarterbacks of our time, no one is going to expect him to win every single game, so why should lawyers expect the same of themselves? You give it your all and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t always go your way.

“It’s either too complicated or the jurors are very bored. Brevity and being concise about what’s important, has really helped us a lot.” – Chris Finney

The conversation then shifts to the topic of simplicity with Chris and Michael both agreeing on the importance of this in trial. “Any case is a simple case, it just takes a lot of work to get there,” Michael shares. The trust to do this and the trust in your teammates for it to be a success takes work and as Chris points out it’s done “in your personal exploration.”

Running a successful law practice includes having a great team and Chris brings up the importance of letting his staff know that “nothing they do will sink us.” Empowering staff to make decisions instead of running to your office every 5 minutes, allows you to be more productive and focus. Michael adds that in this current employment climate, keeping your staff is more important than ever. To which Chris takes a step further, sharing why it is also important to make sure when the office is gearing up for trial everyone is there and everyone puts in the work. The effort is done as a cohesive team.

The podcast then transitions into a detailed discussion on Chris’s recent jury verdict of $750,000 on a broken arm case. Briefly outlining the case, Chris explains how his client was driving when a vehicle veered into her lane, hit her head on, and her right arm sustained a fracture. His client had surgery and was then released from treatment. Thinking the case would settle for policy limits of $100,000, Chris initiated settlement negotiations before spending money on animations and the doctor deposition. But defense didn’t respond to him until the day before the doctor deposition, which was too late. It was then, with only a $70,000 offer on the table, that Chris decided this case would need to be tried. For Chris, the fact that his client was a great client helped make going to trial an easy decision.

“Jurors take money from people they don’t like and give it to people they do.” – Chris Finney

Starting off with voir dire, Chris goes into “creating a designed alliance,” which he defines as “managing and meeting expectations” and learned from Sari de la Motte (a two-time podcast guest). Chris brings up his learnings from Jason Selk, the renowned performance coach, and his belief in relationships failing because of missed expectations. For Chris one of this goals was to set the expectations with his jury panel and place himself in a powerful teacher mode. Michael then asks about the use of experiential, or issue-based, questions in jury selection. These are 1 or 2 questions (at the most) based on your fears of the case. In this case the two questions Chris wanted to ask involved: 1) seeing a surgeon and having plates or screws put in you, and 2) medical records.

Continuing with jury selection, Michael asks Chris to describe “the box.” Chris suggests everyone go to Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero group on Facebook and listen to her interview with Mark Wham to learn more about this. Chris used “the box” in trial and explained to the jury panel, because liability had been accepted, they would only decide damages that were “fair and reasonable” and that was “inside this box.” Everything else like if there is insurance, who would pay, etcetera, would be up to the judge. After trial one of the jurors approached Chris and said when those topics came up he reminded his fellow jurists, “that is not our role we have to stay inside the box.” Elated, Michael responds, “I’m definitely going to use that!”

“There is an element of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Chris Finney

With the jurors only being out for 15 minutes, not asking for a single exhibit, Chris clearly did a great job putting on his case for the jury. He adds how in the last 5 years he has noticed jurors are more comfortable talking about their relationships and have no issue with non-economic pain and suffering; in fact, they see a tremendous value in it. Michael adds his belief that the isolation we’ve had the last 2 years has changed the value we put on relationships. Before recently we may have taken friendships and time spent with others for granted, but now we want those interactions and will make it a point to carve out time for them. Leaving listeners with the question, has our recent experience increased the value we, and others, hold in our personal relationships – and will this increase values in jury verdicts?

The podcast also discusses drawing healthy boundaries, being patient with yourself, the power of saying “no,” waving economic losses, showing up in the right mindset, the importance of breathing, and why eye contact is crucial in connecting with the jurors.

 

93 – Hans Poppe – David vs. Goliath: Winning the Uphill Battle

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with Kentucky-based trial attorney, Hans Poppe, to discuss his recent cases, the difficulty of trying med mal cases, and much more.

The episode begins with Hans going into his history as a trial lawyer. Hans began his practice in Louisville, Kentucky, and currently runs a small, 100% referral-based firm, focusing on catastrophic injury cases. He goes on to explain that he started his firm 4 years out of law school and gradually built his practice through the years by focusing on case selection and making sure everybody knew what he was interested in by utilizing marketing methods such as CLEs to maintain relationships and monthly newsletters.

Following a brief discussion on CLEs, Michael inquires on Hans’ trial record on med mal cases, to which Hans responds, “We’ve won 3 of the last 4 med mal trials, [and have] gotten punitive damages in all 3 of [those wins].” He goes on to say that he’s been focused on trying these cases differently.

To this, Michael asks Hans to explain more about his recent wins, adding that med mal cases are tough for plaintiff attorneys. Hans agrees and adds, in Kentucky, the defense win-rate is 80-90%, and how there’s a very small group of attorneys in the state who take these cases to verdict. He goes on to say even the top lawyers who are doing very well are still losing 80% of the time.

“You’ve got to be able to put $100,000 on the line and know there’s an 80% chance that you’re going to lose it.” – Hans Poppe

Continuing the discussion of the difficulty and uphill battle of med mal cases, Hans expresses the importance of being “hyper-focused” on case selection and realizing “every case is actually 3 cases,” (meaning the case you sign up on day one, the case you prepare for, and the case you try; none of which are the same) and how those factors need to be top of mind during case selection.

Building on the topic of trying med mal cases, Hans goes on to explain if you go into the courtroom and try against a physician just based on medicine, you’re going to lose. He outlines how defense lawyers who handle med mal cases are very good lawyers and work those cases hard, and how you need to “find something else” to bring to the table.

“If you can get past the medicine… and find [focus in on] the other angle… the other side is not used to that.” – Hans Poppe

To explain the concept of “getting past the medicine,” Hans goes into detail on his most recent case involving the suicide death of his client. He shares why it was an impossible case, considering his client committed suicide, but he chose to frame the case so it started before the suicide. He describes the business practice of this particular pain management clinic and the unavoidable outcome it produced of patients not receiving the care they need. This was due to patients only seeing doctors on their first visits and mid-level providers in subsequent visits.

In this case, the prescription given to his client was written 4 days before he’d even seen the provider and was for half of his normal dose. “What we focused on were the business decisions that were being made,” Hans says before delving deeper into the unethical business practices of this clinic. This case ultimately resulted in a $7 million verdict and was a zero-offer case, which Hans adds, “the defense had no idea.”

There were 15 doctors, and the doctors aren’t seeing the patients… each doctor has 4-5 nurses under him, they see a patient every 15 minutes, and so the doctor bills 4-5 doctor’s visits every 15 minutes.” – Hans Poppe

Following this discussion, Michael and Hans go into another of his recent wins, a $21.3 million verdict case involving an unnecessary pacemaker. In this case, Hans and his team focused on the business practices of the hospital, and how it entangled with cardiologists and encouraged them to perform heart procedures; essentially disincentivizing proper care in favor of profit-focused business practices. “You know what the problem is with incentives?” Hans says, “They work.”

He and Michael continue the topic by delving into the ugly side of the medical business, and how it really changes the dynamic of a case when you can focus jury’s attention on something other than “the white coat and the stethoscope,” before moving on to Hans’ 3rd recent case.

In this case, the audit trail (document that hospitals and physician’s offices are required to maintain, tracks every time the chart is logged into, and if any edits are made) revealed several days after the patient died, the PA got into the patient’s chart and modified the history. The PA had no idea during his deposition that Hans had the audit trail, and not only that, but Hans never asked him about it … UNTIL TRIAL!

“We’re not trying a case about what happened  the exam room … we’re trying a case on what business decisions were made and how those impact patient care [and leads to] a bad outcome.” – Hans Poppe

During trial, the PA had no explanation as to why he was changing the patient chart several days later. Hans had also obtained evidence the PA had a productivity bonus and had been running behind on the day his client was seen; a fact Hans argued was the reason he didn’t do a physical examination of the patient.

This episode also covers the willingness to risk losing and why the ability to recover is so important, the impact of your mindset, appearance, and self-confidence, how incentives can go bad and how to highlight it in your case.

 

Guest Bio

Hans is licensed in Kentucky and Indiana; however, he has a national reputation for handling catastrophic injury and death cases as well as contingency fee business-to-business litigation.

While lots of lawyers hold themselves out as “trial lawyers,” Hans actually is one.  According to the 2020 Kentucky Trial Court Year in Review, only three plaintiff lawyers in Kentucky have tried more cases to verdict than Hans since 2005.

In fact, since 1998, only four lawyers in Kentucky have more verdicts over one million dollars than Hans (2020 Kentucky Trial Court Year in Review.) Hans had the largest Kentucky verdict in 2016 and the second largest Kentucky verdict in 2008. Hans has multiple seven and eight figure verdicts and settlements in medical malpractice, insurance bad faith, and FELA cases.

In 2016, ALM VerdictSearch Top 100 Verdicts of 2016 recognized Hans’ $21,274,786 verdict in Wells v Catholic Health Initiatives, Inc as the 94th largest verdict in the United States.  The Wells case was one of over 400 cased filed by the Poppe Law Firm in London, KY alleging unnecessary cardiac procedures were performed in order to boost profits.  Three more cases went to trial and ultimately all the cases were globally settled the night before the verdict in the Owens v. CHI trial.  The work done by Hans and his team also contributed to a $16,500,000 Medicare qui tam recovery from the hospital and $380,000 from two doctors.  Additionally, the work done by the Poppe Law Firm helped lead to the arrest and federal conviction of two other cardiologists for Medicare fraud.  One was sentenced to 42 months and the other was sentenced to 30 months.

At the same time he was handling the London unnecessary procedure litigation, Hans and his team found a similar fact pattern in Ashland, KY involving King’s Daughter’s hospital.  Hans filed over 500 lawsuits in Ashland also alleging unnecessary cardiac procedures. Two months later the Department of Justice reached a $41,000,000 settlement with King’s Daughers for allegations of unnecessary procedures. The civil suits were settled in a 2019 confidential global settlement.  The work done by Hans and his team also helped lead to the conviction of a third cardiologist who was sentenced to 5 years and $1,000,000 in restitution.

Hans was selected by his peers as the 2020 Lawyer of the Year in Medical Malpractice-Louisville by Best Lawyers®. Only a single lawyer in a specific practice area and location is honored with a “Lawyer of the Year” designation. Additionally, Hans was recognized in the same edition of The Best Lawyers in America for his work in Personal Injury Litigation and Professional Malpractice Law.

Hans was named a 2021 Top 50 Kentucky Super Lawyer by the prestigious Thomson-Reuters Super Lawyer peer review rating system.

Also in 2020, Hans was nominated and elected by his legal peers to be President of the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates’ Kentucky Chapter.

Hans’ advocacy and professionalism recently led the U.S News & World Report to recognize The Poppe Law Firm as a 2021 Best Law Firms in Kentucky-First Tier Law Firm.

In addition to being a courtroom trial lawyer, Hans has had five cases go before the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Contact Hans:

E-mail:  hans@poppelawfirm.com
Phone: 502-895-3400
Website: www.poppelawfirm.com

87 – John Fisher – A Profound Impact

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with accomplished author and New York trial attorney, John Fisher. He and Michael discuss everything from developing real core values and living by them to techniques and practices to better connect with jurors.

Michael and John begin the episode by delving into John’s past and how we became the man he is today. After graduating from law school and facing the inevitable question of “what now?” John was approached by a 30-year-old man who told his story of being “horribly brain-damaged in a bus wreck;” an apparently problematic case that lawyers wouldn’t go near. Thus began John’s interest in personal injury law.

This case would go on to trial, settle for an admittedly “not good amount” after a week of trial, but would serve an even grander purpose of selling John on pursuing this path.

“This is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, which was not personal injury law; it was serving the most severely disabled people and having a profound impact in their lives.” – John Fisher

After discussing another of John’s previous cases, his criteria for accepting cases, and why he loves having a small caseload (28 active files at the time of recording), Michael asks John how he’s able to sustain his business model with only big damage cases. John responds by saying that they don’t just turn away small or moderate cases, they just don’t handle them; opting instead to refer them out to other attorneys and split the fees. John prefers it this way so that the smaller cases don’t take away from the catastrophic injury cases, which require much more time and attention. That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule.

John goes on to explain that, keeping in line with the mission and core values of his firm, he does accept smaller cases on occasion simply because “it’s the right thing to do.” He believes that practicing law goes beyond compensation for injuries (calling that a “small part of what we do”) and is about improving the quality of care for others in the future.

“I got money for people, but is that what the practice of law is really about?” – John Fisher

Following Michael and John’s agreement that it’s much more powerful to affect changes than to focus solely on the money, Michael follows up on the core values of John’s firm and asks him to elaborate on them. John outlines his firms core values as follows:

  • We only represent the injuries of people who’ve been catastrophically injured
  • We’re brutally honest with our clients
  • We do not accept cases that have questionable merit
  • We will NEVER agree to a confidential settlement

After sharing his own firm’s core values, Michael admires John’s concrete goals in regards to the dates he sets to have a certain number of referral attorneys. When asked where he got the idea for that, John eagerly reorients his camera to show the large gong situated in his office. After explaining the ritual of ringing the gong when his firm attains a new referral attorney, he begins to talk about the “epiphany” he had as a young lawyer.

“My clients [are] not injury victims. My clients are attorneys who can send us a steady stream of cases.” – John Fisher

Michael then redirects the conversation back to John’s core values, explaining that they fascinate him and asking how John came up with them. “There’s a critical difference between aspirational values, meaning what we think we should be doing, and real values which is what are you currently doing.” John explains this premise further by talking about the aspirational values his firm adopted (such as “we treat our clients like family”) and how those were changed completely with his new philosophy.

After further elaborating on his core values and the importance of your team embodying your firm’s values, John goes on to explain the importance of mastering the business of law; a subject that led to the creation of his both of his books: The Power of a System and The Law Firm of Your Dreams. (Note: While both books are available on Amazon, John asks that you message or call him personally, and he will send you a signed copy of either or both books! You can email him at jfisherlawyer@gmail.com or call his cell at 518-265-9131.)

“When you give away everything you that know… it comes back to you in spades.” – John Fisher

Following a brief discussion on the importance of absorbing knowledge from “masterminds,” Michael shifts the conversation to an equally important element for success: mindset. Similar to several topics discussed in Ep 86, John highlights the process of changing your mindset (or “Challenging your Paradigm,” as Joe Fried would put it) when it comes to the cases you accept, why you feel that you should accept them and how that may be wrong.

The conversation topic then shifts from Michael and John sharing their methods for dealing with and moving on from a loss, settlements and moving cases to trial, how they prepare for a trial in the weeks before, the importance of collaborating with fellow attorneys, and John’s MasterMind Experience.

“When you stand up in front of the jury for the first time, what is the most important thing you can do? Screw your notes, throw [them] in the garbage can and bond with the jury.” – John Fisher

John concludes the episode in spectacular fashion by not only giving his contact information, but also giving our listeners access to all of his firm’s policies and procedures via Fisherpedia.com!

Login credentials for Fisherpedia.com coming soon! (please check back for updates)

If you’d like to contact John Fisher you can email him at jfisherlawyer@gmail.com or call his cell at 518-265-9131.

 

Guest Bio

John Fisher is the owner and founder of John H. Fisher, P.C., where he limits his practice to catastrophic injury law for injury victims in New York State.  Over the last 20 years, John’s practice has been limited to the representation of catastrophically injured persons.

John has been cited as a legal expert on numerous occasions by TRIAL magazine of the American Association for Justice and the New York Law Journal, and he speaks frequently for the New York State Bar Association, The National Trial Lawyers, PILMMA, Great Legal Marketing, and county and regional bar associations concerning law practice management, internet marketing for lawyers, referral-based marketing and trial skills.

 

81 – Mallory Storey Ulmer – Baptism by Fire: When Tenacity Defeats Tenure

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Mallory Storey Ulmer from the Walton Law Firm in Auburn, Alabama. Mallory is a young lawyer who recently achieved a $15 million settlement for her clients in a not-so-plaintiff-friendly state. She and Michael discuss her path to such early success, the details of how she worked up the case, and her advice for other young lawyers who want to make a big impact on a big case.

They begin the episode with a bit on Mallory’s background. After working as a paralegal for 8 years, she decided to go to law school with the intention of becoming an insurance defense lawyer. While in law school, she received a prestigious internship at a plaintiff firm and fell in love with plaintiff work, stating “once you’re on the right side, you can’t switch over.” She and Michael then discuss the emotional toll of plaintiff work, especially in a state like Alabama that’s “no plaintiff’s paradise,” but agree the satisfaction of representing people who need it most can’t be beat (as long as you have the right mindset).

This leads Michael to ask Mallory what she’s done to develop her skillset. She says that one of the best decisions she made was joining an excellent firm with a great reputation. Walton Law Firm has robust systems, great lawyers, and makes education a top priority. She’s been able to learn from some of the best minds in the legal industry both in her office and through a wide variety of legal seminars.

While these opportunities helped build her knowledge base, she and Michael agree at some point you just have to jump in and start trying some cases (or as Mallory calls it, “baptism by fire.”) Michael also notes the importance of networking with other lawyers, to which Mallory agrees. Because of her networking and impressive resume of cases, she is now being invited to speak more often at legal conventions.

Next, the pair jumps into the nitty gritty of the $15,000,000 case Mallory recently settled. While she can’t share too many details due to a confidentiality agreement, she agrees to share what she can within those boundaries. This case had an incredibly complex liability sequence, which stemmed from a series of car wrecks and resulted in catastrophic injuries to her client. In fact, her client’s crash occurred when the defendant driver was not driving a commercial vehicle, further complicating the regulatory guidelines for the company.

Another difficult aspect of this case concerns the venue: Alabama, which is no “plaintiff’s paradise” and has contributory negligence, similar to North Carolina as discussed in our episode with Karonnie Truzy. In short, this means if the client is ANY part at fault for the wreck (even 1%), they cannot receive any compensation. This causes worry in any case, but in a case of this size, Mallory knew she needed a plan to combat this defense if the case went to trial.

She then describes a genius argument of wanton (willful) conduct which would have taken away the contributory negligence defense. While she was never able to use the argument because the case settled, this is an incredibly impressive strategy she plans to “keep in her pocket” for future use.

After discussing the importance of discovery and depositions in the case, Mallory shares why she decided to frame the case as a “systems failure.” This boils down to the fact that juries don’t like to award a large verdict against one driver; they’d much rather award a large verdict to a company where the driver was a victim as well.

Michael and Malorie then have a brief conversation about why it’s necessary to work with others (even if you don’t agree). This starts with politics and ends with an astute observation from Mallory about how this also applies to defense lawyers.

Moving back to Mallory’s case, Michael asks how Mallory found rules and systems to apply to her case when the defendant was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the crash. She decided to fall back on the company’s materials, training, and supervision. Regardless of the type of vehicle the defendant was driving, those standards should still apply.

Michael chimes in that his firm’s strategy for a case like this is “compared to what?” He will look at what other similar companies do and argue that while something may not be a regulation, it is certainly the industry standard. Mallory agrees with this strategy and adds that those publications are perfect for getting excellent sound bites in depositions and appealing to an educated jury pool who may sympathize with business owners but understand companies should care about and know these things.

The episode concludes with Mallory’s tips for other lawyers who get a big case like hers. Her first piece of advice is to posture aggressively from the beginning, meaning to act like you’re taking the case to trial. This is especially true in a case with large damages because there’s too much at stake. She insists that this is scary for defense lawyers who don’t want to try the case. Her second piece of advice is to “prepare, prepare, prepare.” She’s found this shuts out any fear that may creep in. It takes a LOT of time and energy, but it has always worked to her advantage as the defense is never as prepared as she is.

Mallory’s last piece of advice is to know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to pull somebody else in if you need help. She urges other young lawyers to not be afraid of “looking stupid,” and be willing to spend the money you need to on experts and co-counsel. “You will most likely earn that back three-fold, and you’ll be glad you did it.” In the end, pulling in people who are experienced to guide you will result in a better fee for you and a better result for your client. Then next time, you can use what you learned, and you may not need to get as many people involved.

If you’d like to get in touch with Mallory to discuss a case, ask her to speak, or to learn more about this case, you can reach her by email at mallory@waltonlaw.net, or by phone at 334-321-3000. She’s happy to talk strategy or help in any way.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of discovery and depositions in Mallory’s case, proposed Texas House Bill 19, why you should try to work with defense attorneys (and what to do when they’re unbearable), Mallory’s approach to jury research, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Mallory Storey Ulmer is an attorney at Walton Law Firm, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama. Prior to joining Walton Law Firm, P.C., Mallory gained experience in whistleblower, fraud, and employment litigation while working at Beasley Allen Law Firm, with some of those cases gaining national attention on merit. Mallory’s current practice is focused on representing victims in personal injury litigation, including the areas of wrongful death, motor vehicle and trucking litigation. She has experience handling cases in the Southeast and Midwest at state and federal court levels. Mallory recently obtained a $15 million settlement in a contested liability case arising from a crash that caused catastrophic injuries to our client.

Mallory is an advocate of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, which provides resources for members of our communities affected by traumatic brain injuries, and she is passionate about representing people who have been seriously injured and families of those killed as a result of the negligence of others.

Mallory and her husband, Dr. Matthew J. Ulmer, and their daughter, Amory, reside in Auburn. They enjoy traveling, visiting with family, finding good local eateries, and being outdoors.

 

71 – Richard Newsome – Mixed Method Advocacy: A Hybrid Approach to Sharpen Your Trial Skills

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his old friend and seasoned trial lawyer Richard aka Rich Newsome. Rich specializes in automotive product liability cases and is one of the top lawyers in this area in the country. They discuss Rich’s journey to success, his Trial School, the importance of young lawyers trying cases, how to move on and learn from a loss, and coping with fear and anxiety in the courtroom.

They begin the episode with Michael asking Rich about his journey to becoming one of the best automotive product liability plaintiff lawyers in the country. Rich explains how he began working in a federal prosecutor’s office right out of law school, then transitioned into working at a civil defense firm doing automotive product liability work. His transition into plaintiff’s work came after deposing a family in a particularly heartbreaking seat belt failure case. In that pivotal moment, he realized he needed to be working for the other side and representing people instead of massive corporations. He joined a small practitioner and began “knocking on doors” of other plaintiff lawyers to start trying product liability cases as their co-counsel.

Michael then brings up how automotive product liability is a tough field to get into on the plaintiff’s side, to which Rich whole-heartedly agrees. They discuss the difficulties of product liability cases and offer several recommendations for young lawyers looking to get into product liability including “getting plugged in” through AIEG, working for an experienced lawyer with the capital to try these notoriously expensive cases, and many more.

With the field being this tough and cases being so expensive to try, Michael asks Rich about his case selection process. He replies simply, “At the end of the day, you can’t try a product case for less than half a million dollars.” With that being said, the case needs to meet two guidelines: 1) There needs to be a catastrophic injury, and 2) there needs to be a clear fact pattern showing the plaintiff should not have sustained a catastrophic injury. He goes on to explain how even though “this whole area is fraught with mine fields,” the work is incredibly important for society in regards to policy changes and consumer safety.

Rich and Michael then discuss the importance of taking cases to trial and refusing to settle quietly, which leads them to every trial lawyer’s worst fear – taking a big case to trial and losing. They trade “war stories” of their most memorable losses which still haunt them to this day, but reflect on what they learned from those early losses and how they made them better trial lawyers. As Rich puts it, “When you take a big loss, it forces you to improve your game.”

Rich ultimately blames his biggest trial loss on picking a bad jury, which was surprising to him because he was following the voir dire method of some of the most successful trial lawyers in the country. This led him to get 30 of these great lawyers together for a 3-day focus group to try out different voir dire methods. They found that the most effective method was really a combination of a variety of methods, which is now known as “Mixed Method Advocacy.” Michael agrees and shares his experience of learning that one lawyer, no matter how great they are, does not have the ultimate answer of how to try a case. The real growth is in practicing and learning which methods work best for you, then being willing to constantly adapt and learn new things.

This discovery of Mixed Method Advocacy led Rich to start Trial School, a community of trial lawyers who freely share information for the betterment of the plaintiff bar. Trial School is free to join (yes, completely free), easy to access, and full of incredibly useful information for any trial lawyer.

The conversation then comes full circle to where Rich is today after applying the information he learned from those other great trial lawyers. He shares a story of a wrongful death case he tried in an extremely conservative county. He applied everything he had learned from both other lawyers and his own experiences, which resulted in the largest wrongful death verdict ever in that county. They dive into the details of the case and the numerous techniques he applied, which make this verdict even more impressive.

Michael then asks Rich about how he conquers the fear and anxiety associated with going to trial, a topic which Rich describes as “the great elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.” He admits to experiencing it and explains how it stunts your performance in the courtroom. He outlines numerous ways to cope with this including beta blockers, “batting practice,” and many more interesting strategies (even learning some from a hypnotist!). Rich feels so strongly about the need for better fear management in the legal industry that he’s dedicating Trial School’s spring program to the topic.

Michael continues on this point by sharing the strategies he’s learned over the years, to which Rich replies that Michael has a huge advantage over a lot of young lawyers due to his experience in the courtroom. Rich explains this by using an extremely helpful analogy about Nascar drivers which you need to hear to fully appreciate, but concludes with “I think one of the biggest solutions to fear is practice.”

They conclude the episode by discussing the need for young lawyers to get experience trying cases. While this can be a challenge, Michael insists that if you offer to try a firm’s small cases they’ll let you. He explains how if you get in there and lose a few times, you learn that you can survive a loss and gain invaluable confidence along the way.

If you’d like to join Trial School, visit www.trialschool.org to apply. You will need two plaintiff lawyer references and to fill out an affidavit stating you only represent people, but it is 100% free and an incredibly valuable resource to every trial lawyer, both young and seasoned.

This podcast also covers the “gifts” they were given throughout their careers, the importance of visuals in trial, the voir dire technique Rich used in his big verdict, avoiding dogma in trial techniques, and so much more.

Bio:

Rich Newsome is the senior partner of the Newsome Melton law firm and represents people and families in complex civil litigation.

After graduating from the University of Florida College of Law in 1989, Rich worked as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida. Rich left the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1993 and went to work for a large product liability defense firm in Orlando, Florida where he represented manufacturers. After defending a manufacturer in a case brought by a family who lost a child, Rich felt compelled to leave the defense practice and began representing only families and individuals. Since then, for more than 25 years, Rich’s practice has focused on representing people who have suffered catastrophic or fatal injuries.

In 2001, Rich was appointed by the Florida Governor to the Fifth District Court of Appeals Judicial Nominating Commission and served as the JNC’s Chairman during his term. He is a Past-President of the Orlando Federal Bar Association, Past-President of the Florida Justice Association, Past-Member of the Board of Governors of the American Association for Justice, Past-President of the Central Florida Trial Lawyers Association, and is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocacy.

Rich is a graduate of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyer’s College and was invited to serve as a member of the College Faculty. Rich is a member of the Florida, Texas, New Mexico, and Oregon Bar Associations.

In 2016, Rich was selected as the “Orlando Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers, a peer review publication. In 2015, Rich received the Steven C. Sharpe Public Service Award from the American Association for Justice, in recognition of his representation of Corey Burdick who was severely injured by a defective Takata airbag. The Steven C. Sharpe Award is awarded annually to one attorney and their client.

In 2017, Rich was appointed to the Constitution Revision Commission by Richard Corcoran, the Speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives. The 37 member Commission drafted and submitted 32 amendments to the Florida Constitution which were placed on the ballot and approved by Florida voters to be part of the Florida Constitution in November 2018.

In 2019, Rich was recognized by the National Law Journal as having won two of the Nation’s 100 largest verdicts in 2018.

Rich is a member of the Summit Council, a national group of America’s best plaintiff trial lawyers. Membership is limited to less than thirty trial lawyers from across the country, is by invitation only, and is extended to lawyers who have a proven record of large jury verdicts and are recognized as leaders of the national plaintiffs bar.

Rich is a founding faculty member of Trial School, Inc., a not-for-profit organization which seeks to foster collaboration between lawyers on today’s best trial advocacy methods and to provide free education and practice for trial lawyers who exclusively represent people and families.

 

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