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105 – Keith Mitnik – Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with legendary Morgan & Morgan trial lawyer, podcast host, and author, Keith Mitnik, for a second time. They discuss Keith’s recently released book, “Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work from Winning Workups to Thumbs-Up Verdicts,” new voir dire techniques, and the importance of words.

Jumping right into the podcast episode, Michael asks Keith how he gets full damages on cases with no obvious villain. Keith shares a recent example where he framed everything around the statement, “It’s not about how much she’s going to get. It’s about what was taken, and what’s a fair value for what was lost.” He draws an insightful connection between our modern-day justice system and the “eye for an eye” justice system of the past. The “brutal” eye for an eye system was never about the punishment, but about recognizing fully what was taken from the person who was wronged. He’ll explain this concept to the jury, and the results are powerful.

Keith continues by explaining the evolution of his voir dire process over the years, including how and when he gets the jury to get a discussion going. He’s tried many methods throughout the years and shares their flaws, but feels very good about his current strategy, which he calls “The First Big 3.” He’ll set up voir dire with the story about full recognition, then start questioning the jury on the big 3 types of bias:

  1. Feelings against this type of lawsuit.

  2. Feelings against the non-economic part of pain and suffering.

  3. Feelings against large verdicts.

After asking the jury about these 3 items, he’ll share the idea that it’s not about how much was taken, but how much was lost, and ask how it felt when they heard that.

Continuing this line of thought, Keith adds another change he sometimes makes to his voir dire, which is asserting that the jury’s job is not to assess the income of your client – it’s about the value of his or her health, which is way more precious than income. These changes have made for a great dialogue between Keith and the jury.

Michael then asks Keith about something he loved in the book – having the client create a list of the “little things.” Keith explains how we often base damages around the big things that are important to the client – but especially with hobbies, those things are rarely important and are often unrelatable for the jury.

To assist with this process, Keith gives clients a small notepad and a homework assignment- to write down every little thing they notice has changed due to their injury. This includes things they continue to do but in a different way and things they do but now it hurts. Then, he’ll sit down with the client to choose a list of the best ones. By the time the client is deposed, the client is able to readily provide a laundry list of relatable examples of how the crash has changed their life, and the defense lawyer is highly motivated to settle the case.

This leads Keith to share a brief but heartfelt story of a recent trial where he decided to ask the jury in voir dire about race, and why he plans to do it again in the future. It’s a story sure to resonate with any trial lawyer hesitant to bring up a sensitive topic in voir dire.

If you follow Keith Mitnik, you know he’s a man of many words – a self-proclaimed “word nerd.” So Michael asks the next logical question – why do words matter, and how does he come up with the words he uses? Keith explains the process he uses to find the best anchor words, where he circles any words he feels might not be the best, then turns to one of his many trusty thesauruses to see what else is available (He recommends either Word Hippo for iPhone or Wordflex for iPad). He shares some real-life examples before explaining the difference between inert words and activator words:

     Inert Words – Ambiguous words with different meanings to different people.

Activator Words – Consistently activate a particular meaning and a feeling.

From there, a word can be either a positive or a negative activator word, meaning it can work in your favor or against you if you aren’t careful. Keith shares numerous examples of inert and activator words, and how he chooses them based on the person he’s addressing.

Moving away from “Deeper Cuts,” Michael asks Keith what his strategy is for going into a case that someone else worked up to try it. Keith highlights the obvious disadvantages as well as the not-so-obvious advantages of this – notedly that he’s able to experience the case “in one, overwhelming wave, just like it will with the jury.” It provides a truly fresh perspective. His one requirement is that he needs to spend time with the client before the trial begins, to connect with them in his heart.

He continues by sharing the different ways he’s split cases up with other lawyers before, and how it varies depending on the other lawyer’s experience and skillset – though as you probably know, he almost always takes the voir dire, opening, and closing.

Michael and Keith then wrap up the episode with a promise to have Keith return soon. In the meantime, you can purchase his books Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work from Winning Workups to Thumbs-Up Verdicts and Don’t Eat the Bruises, listen to Keith’s own podcast “Mitnik’s Monthly Brushstrokes,” and even join his listserv. To join, email Keith at kmitnik@forthepeople.com and copy his assistant Mary Arnold at marnold@forthepeople.com asking to join. They’ll even send you the past editions if you ask!

This podcast episode also covers why it’s important to emphasize your client’s injuries were brought to them “unnaturally,” a story from a recent trial where Keith had to improvise with a client on the stand, how to combat a convincing defense expert, why Keith almost always does both voir dire and opening, and much more, including numerous stories of Keith’s real-life trial experiences.

 

Bio:

Keith Mitnik is the author of Trial Guides’ bestselling book, Don’t Eat the Bruises:  How to Foil Their Plans to Spoil Your Case.

He is also known for his popular audiotape 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, oftentimes 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.

 

68 – Chris Madeksho – Masked Justice: Part 2

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with another trail blazing trial lawyer, Chris Madeksho. Chris recently received a $13.9 million jury verdict on a Mesothelioma case tried in person using social distancing and other safety measures. They discuss Chris’s background, the details and challenges of the case he tried, the safety measures taken, and the numerous strategies Chris used to win this fantastic verdict in the age of COVID-19.

Chris specializes in toxic tort and was introduced to the area by his late father, who worked in asbestos installation when he was young and went on to become a trial lawyer. He began his practice in Texas, but later moved his principal office to California due to Texas tort reform. As most great trial lawyers do, he then attended the Trial Lawyers College and began learning from the other great trial lawyers and scholars in the arena, citing Sari de la Motte, Eric Penn, Nick Rowley, Keith Mitnik, and R. Rex Parris.

Michael then asks Chris about the details of the case he tried. Chris’s client was a 68-year old Mesothelioma patient who worked as an asbestos installer from ages 9 to 19. Because of some criminal details in his background, Chris was forced to drop the loss of consortium claim and only request damages in personal injury, BUT was still awarded $13 million in non-economic damages alone.

With this impressive verdict, Michael asks Chris if the defense wanted to try the case or not. Chris responds with a resounding, “No.” In fact, they even opposed Chris’s waiver of jury when he attempted to get a bench trial. So Chris pushed forward, complied with the judge’s orders, and was completely prepared for trial when the time came.

Chris then explains how the jury summons and voir dire process was handled safely. The summonses were sent out via email and included COVID-19 hardship questions. He shares how we know our most dangerous jurors are people who are not afraid of COVID-19, but our second most dangerous jurors are people who are there who don’t want to be. Eliminating people who don’t want to be there was very helpful in that respect.

But, a jury summons by email has its downfalls. The biggest being that the demographics of the jury pool were not representative of the populous. The resulting jury was more affluent, more connected with technology, and more conservative than a typical King County jury would be. But as Chris puts it, “When you have a client who’s going to die if you don’t try the case now, you just do the best you can.”

After summoning the jury pool, voir dire was conducted mostly through Zoom with only two panels attending in person due to security concerns. These in person panelists were separated by a 6-foot spacer and their voir dire took place in a convention center to allow for safe distancing. While Chris believes he connected better with the in-person panelists, the resulting jury ended up being comprised of 14 virtual panelists and only 1 in person panelist.

The pair then move on to discuss Chris’s storytelling strategy. Chris explains how he’s worked extensively with Sari de la Motte and employed many of her Hostage to Hero strategies to craft his opening and closing arguments. He also emphasizes the importance of being “at ease” when speaking to the jury with a mask on. He shares the perfect analogy of being in a dark room where you can only see the other person’s eyes – you’re going to focus heavily on what you can see, so your eyes need to appear honest and relaxed.

Chris’s opening also focused heavily on the conduct of the defendant, a story he told by choosing the “villain” to be a corporate representative who is still alive. He decided to use her as the villain because she is more tangible to the jury than someone who may have done a lot of harm, but isn’t alive to pay for their wrongdoings. Chris and Michael then have a very insightful conversation on if the villain needs to be a person, or if the villain can simply be the organization as a whole – a subject discussed on this podcast in the past.

Michael then asks about how Chris told the damages story at trial, which Chris boiled down to “This is a man who worked his entire childhood. Now that he’s in his final days, he’s living his childhood for the first time.” He then shares how this powerful story was made stronger by getting the defense doctor to share the horrors of Mesothelioma – a useful strategy which every listener needs to hear.

The pair ends the episode with the defense’s shocking (and unsuccessful) closing argument. The defense lawyer basically said, “A lot of people are going to be dying painful deaths in this COVID era. They’re not getting any money.” As he said that, the jury set their tablets down and nobody wrote for the remainder of his argument. Chris agrees to share the transcripts for the full details, but the defense effectively ostracized themselves from the jury at this exact moment. While plaintiff lawyers everywhere have been concerned about this being used successfully against them, Chris’s experience shows it was ineffective.

If you’d like to reach Chris Madeksho, you can email him at cmadeksho@madeksholaw.com or visit his website at www.madeksholaw.com. He’s been kind enough to make himself available to speak with any plaintiff attorney who’s looking to get back in the courtroom and wants to learn from his experience.

This podcast also covers the intricacies of asbestos cases, the importance of putting your family first, working through personal issues with clients, Chris’s courtroom layout, trusting the jury, Chris’s advice for trial lawyers who want to improve, and so much more.

 

Interested in hearing more COVID Era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Bio:

Chris is licensed to practice law in three states – Texas, California and Washington State, and he has a national reputation for managing asbestos and other toxic torts. He has represented mesothelioma and toxic injury clients in courtrooms from New York to California, and from the Midwest down to Texas.  Chris is a graduate of the nationally-renowned Trial Lawyers College and is a fluent Spanish and French speaker.

In addition to trying cases for victims of cancer and toxic torts, Chris routinely tries cases pro bono for low-income families facing eviction in the Los Angeles area. He participated as trial counsel and adviser to tenants in the largest rent strike in Los Angeles County history. The tenants prevailed in their strike and the landlord eventually dismissed his eviction lawsuits after losing several trials. Helping his community is a passion for Chris.

Outside of work, you’ll find Chris spending time with his family — they especially enjoy gardening, exploring the outdoors, making music, and enjoying good food together. Chris’s dream is to eventually use his time and resources to reforest American ecosystems.

 

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