catastrophic injury

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.

 

58 – Nick Rowley – Brutal Honesty

In this long-awaited podcast, Michael sits down with renowned trial lawyer Nick Rowley. They discuss Nick’s journey to success, how he came up with “brutal honesty,” his book “Running With the Bulls,” the secret to settling high value cases, saying “no” to the defense, and Nick’s advice for how to become a better trial lawyer.

The conversation begins with Nick sharing his path to becoming the record-breaking trial lawyer he is today. Nick describes himself as a “juvenile delinquent” when he was a child. He was bullied a lot in school and expelled from every school he attended. After graduation, he decided to join the military to “kill bad guys,” but ended up becoming a medic. It was this role that fueled him with purpose. Using his GI Bill, Nick finished his bachelor’s degree and attended law school to continue his desire to help others, which he describes as an addiction.

Nick was never afraid to take tough cases to trial and losing, because he grew up getting beat up. He adds that even if he does lose, he learns more from his losses than his wins and they help make him a better lawyer. Michael echoes this sentiment and agrees that losses hurt in the short-term, but don’t bother him in the long run.

The conversation shifts when Michael shares how he’s noticed most top trial lawyers weren’t “born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” to which Nick wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s about life experience,” Nick states. He goes on to explain how if you’ve never had to work hard, experience failure, been afraid, or gone without, you don’t have the same “hunger” as someone who has. Nick emphasizes the importance of inner drive and notes trial lawyers who grew up without anything know if they don’t put in the work, no one else is going to do it for them. Michael also explains how it’s easier to feel comfortable in a client’s home when you’re used to the environment most of them live in. Both share stories of getting to know clients on a personal level and how this translates to a successful jury verdict.

Michael then transitions by asking Nick which case he is most proud of in his established career. Instead of talking about his largest verdict, he shares a story of a smaller verdict on a particularly challenging case. After being called upon by a lawyer having severe health issues the day before his trial was set to begin, Nick flew out to Santa Monica to help get the case continued. The defense lawyer was uncooperative and lacked the slightest bit of sympathy for the attorney, so Nick decided to try it without any prior knowledge of the case. His description of voir dire and addressing what he saw as the pain points of the case with brutal honesty is riveting and concludes with a $1.5 million verdict based solely on non-economic damages.

Nick is highly regarded as a trial lawyer for many reasons, but he is probably most famous for coining the term “brutally honest” in jury selection. Nick shares the story of how he came up with the term and explains why it works so well. He emphasizes the importance of asking jurors to define “brutal honesty” themselves, then asking them to please be brutally honest with you. This strategy has made a huge difference in Nick’s jury selection process. As an example, Michael role plays as a juror who doesn’t believe in money for pain. Through this example, Nick shows how he would address a juror with these views. Michael and Nick both agree stereotyping jurors immediately is an ineffective strategy and should be avoided.

The conversation shifts into a discussion of Nick’s book, “Running With the Bulls.” Michael inquires as to why Nick decided to write a book about settling cases when he is most famous for trying cases. Nick answers simply, “I do settle cases.” Nick insists the secret to settling cases for high value is “having the balls to go to trial.” He describes his frustration with not getting paid after a jury verdict and started thinking of ways to preemptively strike against this, so as soon as he gets his jury verdict he is “able to collect it immediately.” This resulted in Nick crafting a process to “expose the bullshit” and the insurance company puppet masters, a process he shares with fellow plaintiff attorneys to help raise the bar for everyone.

Michael shares the chapter of the book which resonated with him the most, “The Power of No.” He explains how he still feels bad for saying “no” to the defense, even though he knows better. Nick believes most trial lawyers are gentle, accommodating people by nature. He shares a strategy for re-framing this mindset when it comes to the defense, ending with, “They are the enemy, because they’re working for the enemy … be kind and accommodating. But when it comes to money, don’t hold anything back.”

The two transition into a discussion of criteria for accepting cases. Nick states there aren’t criteria. For him it is asking himself – Do I feel something inside? Is there something I can do for this person? Can I imagine myself standing in front of the jury? He notes that in an ideal world, he would only work on large cases, but argues the small cases are just as important, stating “If I’m not willing to take these cases, who else is?” For example, a case where a child was killed in a state with a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages is still a case worth fighting for. Nick emphasizes the need for industry leaders to set an example for other lawyers by taking on these worthy cases, even if they don’t lead to a huge payout.

The conversation ends with Michael asking Nick what he thinks a lawyer needs to do to be the next Nick Rowley. Nick states, “I want the lawyer who has the drive to do whatever it takes.” He emphasizes the importance of learning everything available from industry experts, listing off a multitude of names including Keith Mitnik, David Ball, Randi McGinn, and many more. He adds that having the guts to try difficult cases, learning from your losses, and breaking the mold are incredibly important in the journey to becoming a successful trial lawyer.

If you’d like to learn more from Nick Rowley, subscribe to the Trial By Human and Trial By Women list serves, attend his seminars, or visit his website to find more information about bringing Nick in on a case. You can also support Nick’s political efforts to fight the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages by visiting fairnessact.com.

This podcast also covers taking care of yourself during trial, lifting state caps on non-economic damages, the pain of trying a wrongful death case, where Nick is trying to improve, and so much more.

 

BACKGROUND ON NICK ROWLEY

Many consider Nicholas C. Rowley to be the most accomplished trial lawyer of his generation. He has extensive courtroom experience representing victims of serious injuries and medical malpractice, especially those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, and chronic pain. In 2009 and 2010, the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) named Nick as a finalist for its prestigious “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award. Nick was also recognized by the Los Angeles Daily Journal for winning a “Top Verdict of 2010” for his $31.6 million jury verdict for the victim of a traumatic brain injury. In 2012, Nick was a finalist for the “Consumer Attorney of the Year” award, given by CAOC (Consumer Attorneys of California). In 2009, the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego awarded Nick its “Outstanding Trial Lawyer” award. In 2013, Nick was honored with the organization’s top award – “Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year“.  Also Some of Nick’s other recent successes include a record-setting $74,525,000 verdict for a victim of medical malpractice, a $38,600,000 jury verdict for a young man who fell from a hotel balcony while intoxicated, a $17,000,000 win for woman who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a fall from a hotel window and a $13,860,000 win for a mild traumatic brain injury caused by an automobile crash.

Nick has served as an instructor at Gerry Spence’s famed Trial Lawyers College and delivers keynote addresses nationwide on his revolutionary approach to voir dire and damages. Other lawyers, faced with low settlement offers from insurance companies, frequently bring Nick into their cases just before trial. Nick is a relentless warrior who has prevailed in the courtroom time and time again. He prides himself on his caring and empathetic approach to working with his clients and their families, and his ability to help juries find the truth and deliver justice to the injured.

Nick is on the Board of Directors of the Imagination Workshop, which is a non-profit theater arts organization committed to using the unique power of the theater to provide life-changing artistic opportunities to the mentally ill, homeless veterans, senior citizens, and ‘at-risk’ young people. IW programs give troubled people, frequently alienated or overlooked by society, a safe way to express themselves and gain insight that often helps make their lives more successful.

Nick is also on the Honorary Board of Governors of TLC, Los Angeles Trial Lawyers’  Charties, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to make a positive difference in the quality of life for people within the greater Los Angeles area, focusing on issues related to education, children, battered women, persons with disabilities, and homelessness, by providing financial assistance to needy persons and groups in the greater Los Angeles area.

Nick is the author of the book Trial By Human, where he candidly shares his approach that brings brutal honesty and humanity into the courtroom.

 

54 – Michael O’Neill – Delivering Justice: From UPS Defense Attorney to Plaintiff Trial Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with former defense attorney for UPS and current plaintiff attorney, Michael O’Neill. This show covers an array of topics, including the defense’s advantages in catastrophic injury cases, why O’Neill switched sides of the courtroom (and why it made him such a good plaintiff attorney), what companies can’t defend against, and why referring out cases can make you more money.

The episode kicks off with Cowen asking O’Neill why large companies use the same defense firm for cases around the country. O’Neill says the lawyer needs to know a very specific field, know the company well, and have a consistent defense. O’Neill would receive a call in the middle of the night or on a weekend and would need to travel immediately to the scene of a crash. UPS would refer to this as “boots on the ground.” He emphasizes that marshalling evidence while it’s fresh is pertinent to the success of any case. O’Neill shares a story of a time where he went to the scene and pointed out a detail the police missed which would have hurt their case on liability. He was also there while the police were writing their reports and describes how he could influence what was written. Cowen and O’Neill discuss the defense’s role in shaping the narrative of the case from the start, the role of psychology with the first responders, the defense’s advantage in this, and what plaintiff lawyers CAN (but most DON’T) do to combat this.

Cowen then asks what everyone’s thinking; why did O’Neill switch to the plaintiff’s side? O’Neill replies that the curiosity has always been there. He then describes a scenario, not uncommon to him, where he had a defense verdict on a case he believed “that’s an easy 7-figure case that should have been won and we zeroed them.”

The conversation shifts to what companies CAN’T defend. Both agree on exposing poor training programs as the key to winning “nuclear verdicts” in commercial vehicle and trucking cases. They discuss this and other factors which make the case about the 3 months before, as opposed to the 5 seconds before the crash. O’Neill then brings up a defense trucking podcast by FreightWaves which recently discussed the defense’s fear of “the second lawyer” and the impact of referral attorneys on the insurance industry. As a “second lawyer” himself, Cowen shares a recent example of an insurance company who learned once he became involved all prior negotiations at a much lower number were out the window.

One of the most important details for a successful catastrophic injury lawyer to accomplish is to make the case about the company, not the individual. Cowen shares a story of a case where the CMV driver was high on meth at the time of the accident. The case against the driver was already strong, but when asked by a colleague why he was working so hard on the case Cowen replied, “It doesn’t take much money to teach a meth head a lesson. It needs to be about the company and what it takes to teach the company a lesson.” O’Neill echoes this with another great example of a strong case that he made even stronger by putting in the work.

O’Neill and Cowen then praise trucking trial lawyer Joe Fried and how instrumental he has been on creating the current “abundance mentality” of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). The ATAA abundance mentality encompasses the idea that there are plenty of trucking cases to go around, and we all perform better when we share information and establish good law. “The tide raises good ships,” O’Neill eloquently responds. When comparing this to the defense bar, O’Neill says the difference is night and day. Information on the defense side is kept from one another because there are fewer clients and essentially everyone can be your competition. He goes as far as to say that the way the plaintiff’s bar shares information “terrifies the defense.”

They then move into a discussion on the transition process from defense to plaintiff lawyer. Cowen asks O’Neill what it has been like changing into a role where he works at a firm that now funds cases and isn’t paid by the hour. O’Neill discusses some transitional difficulties, but insists he has been made confident through his experiences as a defense attorney, stating, “You start giving big checks to mediocre lawyers and you start to wonder, why am I not on the other end of this conversation?” Cowen then describes his history of funding cases by sharing his expertise in finance management and smart firm growth.

The conversation concludes with a discussion on package car cases- What makes them different from trucking cases? Why can they be so complicated? O’Neill highlights the necessity for specialized knowledge in this area, stating, “There’s a million ways to skin a cat, but you have to know how to skin the cat.” Because shipping companies usually work with subcontractors as delivery drivers, it can be difficult to make the case about the company. O’Neill shares valuable insight into how he’s overcome this barrier.

This podcast also covers efficient docket size, the order of your depositions, networking, direct to public marketing versus B2B marketing, and much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

A northeastern Pennsylvania native, Attorney Michael O’Neill handles catastrophic injury litigation, including representing those who were in motor vehicle and truck accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and premises liability. A former senior litigation associate at DLA Piper LLP, and a founder partner at a national litigation boutique law firm, O’Neill has served as first chair trial attorney in over 25 jury trials, or their equivalent, in ten different states. All of these complex litigation matters involved disputes of seven figures or more and resulted in successful verdicts or settlements.

With more than 20 years of complex litigation experience, O’Neill has appeared multiple times on NBC-10 television in Philadelphia, numerous radio broadcasts and national podcasts as a legal expert and to discuss cases he is handling on behalf of catastrophically injured people.

O’Neill is admitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Supreme Court of New Jersey, and the Supreme Court of New York, as well as the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Pennsylvania, District of New Jersey, and the Northern District of Texas.

O’Neill also has a distinguished military service record as a veteran of the United States Army. He is an honors graduate of the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and the U.S. Army Aviation and Warfighting Center, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and trained to fly helicopters for the Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard. He remained active in the National Guard until 2005 and is a member of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, one of the oldest recognized organizations in the United States military.

O’Neill earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Scranton and received his Juris Doctor from the Villanova University School of Law in 1998. While at Villanova, he focused on litigation-related curriculum and after graduation taught trial advocacy for seven years as an adjunct professor. A lifelong athlete, he played collegiate football and baseball and was inducted into the Wayne/Pike County Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. He also has held a civilian aviation license for more than 30 years.

Michael O’Neill joined the offices of Fellerman & Ciarimboli in Philadelphia on March 1st.. He can be reached by phone at (215)776-5070 or by email at mjo@fclawpc.com.

 

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