coach

91 – Sara Williams – Beyond Discomfort: Pushing Through & Seizing Opportunities

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with award-winning trial attorney, professor, and trial coach, Sara Williams, to discuss Sara’s history and transition into plaintiff law, the importance of pushing through discomfort, her recent monster case, and much more.

The episode begins with Sara talking about her “army brat” upbringing, including living in various places such as Germany and Holland, before attending law school in Birmingham, Alabama at Cumberland School of Law. She practiced insurance defense for the first 7 years of her career (including a trucking defense practice) until she “could not do it anymore,” resulting in her move to plaintiff law with Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys.

Michael then inquires further about what made Sara want to be a plaintiff lawyer. To this, Sara responds, “When I was in law school I wanted to be a plaintiff’s lawyer, but, at that time, plaintiff firms in our market weren’t really hiring directly out of law school.” Sara then goes into the story of her last big case as a defense lawyer, a wrongful death case involving the drowning of a 9-year-old. Less than a year after winning the case, she would leave defense law.

It didn’t sit well with me… it was the first time I ever won a trial, went home and did not celebrate it.” – Sara Williams

After discussing Michael’s disbelief at Sara labeling herself an introvert, the conversation shifts to the differences between what is needed to be a successful plaintiff lawyer as opposed to a defense lawyer. “What I do now is so much harder,” Sara responds, before referencing the view on the defense side in retrospect, “[…] the bar was not as high, I feel, now that I’ve done it on both sides.” She goes on to say that she’s done so much more to develop and hone her skills as a plaintiff lawyer than she ever did as a defense attorney.

The two then go into several of the methods Sara has found the most useful to develop her trial skills, which include:

“When we’re in the right state of mind … that’s when we can really tap into the emotions, the empathy, the vulnerability, and best communicate that to a jury.” – Sara Williams

The conversation then shifts to Sara’s work as a professor and trial coach with Trial Advocacy. She explains her love for teaching students, especially those like her when she was starting out: quiet, shy, and introverted. “When they realize and cross over from good to great, and they own themselves, and they’re just being who they are; that really motives me.” She goes on to say that coaching also keeps her skills sharp when she’s not in trial herself.

After covering topics ranging from Sara’s partnership with Alexander Shunnarah, to the importance of making connections at conferences and really utilizing your time in those environments, the topic shifts to Sara’s recent $12 million verdict.

Sara then outlines the details of the case, in which a bus driver in Birmingham, AL fainted while driving, causing the bus to turn over and fall into a ravine. She goes on to talk about the primary plaintiff, a woman whose injuries resulted in the amputation of her leg above the knee, and how she tried to gain control of the bus after noticing the driver had fainted, which ultimately resulted in the handicap ramp falling onto her leg when the bus turned over. This woman was one of 17 plaintiffs in the case.

“When [our primary plaintiff] limped up, I will never forget it, there were people in our panel laughing at her […] we knew we had an uphill battle in terms of developing the emotion of the case.”– Sara Williams

Sara continues by discussing the facts of the case, including the drivers history with fainting spells, and what they did to get the jury mad at the defense. “We knew [from] depositions that they had no system for tracking prior medical conditions of their drivers … since that time, they had NOT developed any!” Sara admits she assumed they had not implemented this system, noting that though she was taught to never ask a question if you don’t know the answer, her intuition led her to ask. Sara believes this was a pivotal turning point for the jury in the case.

“I don’t know what it is,” Michael says in agreeance with Sara’s decision to follow her intuition, “I don’t know if it’s God or magic – but you get in a space when you’re in the moment at trial, and you feel it … 9 times out of 10, you get gold when you do it.”

The episode concludes with the pair discussing what’s next for Sara. She explains that she’s at a point in her life where she’s focused on her legacy and the impression she’s going to leave on the world besides the number of cases tried. She goes on to discuss the challenges that women in the legal industry face and how she aims to be a mentor and inspiration for them to seize the opportunities they’re given without fear.

This episode also covers taking care of yourself and maintaining a healthy mindset, being a confident leader in the courtroom, Sara’s inspirational social media presence, and how the loss of connection in the digital age can affect us in the courtroom.

Guest Bio

Sara Williams currently practices at Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, where she handles primarily trucking litigation and wrongful death litigation. Sara has collected over $30 million in verdicts and settlements on behalf of her clients, including a $12 million dollar verdict against the Birmingham Max Bus system in 2017.

In 2017 at the age of 37 Sara took over as managing attorney of the firm. During her tenure the firm more than doubled in size. Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys now has offices in 9 states. In 2021 Sara made the decision to step away from the managing role to focus on her campaign to increase the visibility of women trial lawyers and return to litigation.

Sara is an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Cumberland School of Law where she teaches Advanced Skills in Trial Advocacy-Civil and Depositions and Technology. She also serves as a coach for Cumberland School of Law’s nationally ranked mock trial teams. She is a 2003 graduate of Florida State University and a 2006 graduate of Cumberland School of Law.

Contact Sara:
E-mail: swilliams@asilpc.com
Phone: 205-983-8140
Website: www.sarawilliamsesq.com

50 – Sari de la Motte – Voir Dire & Opening: Forming The Best Jury Possible

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen invites Sari de la Motte back to the show. Sari was one of our top episodes in 2019, so to celebrate 50 episodes and over 100,000 downloads we invited her to be our first returning guest. This show will cover voir dire, opening, the concept of group communication, and how all of these concepts help you form the best jury for your case.

To start things off, Sari shares that her book “From Hostage to Hero: Captivate the Jury by Setting Them Free” is now available for purchase. She reveals how her desire to help trial lawyers understand why jurors “don’t want to be there” (summoned for jury duty), how to deal with this, and then lead them from their “hostageness – their inability to say no to this process” to choosing to be a part of the jury, was how the idea for the book began. Michael adds how initially this reminded him of Carl Bettinger’s book “Twelve Heroes, One Voice” in that both Carl and Sari believe it is important to help your jury become the hero in the case. But after working with Sari, Michael sees how she focuses more on the hostage aspect, shows you how to release the jury panel from this, works to help you understand how important nonverbal communication can be, and gives practical tips to use in the courtroom.

Jumping right in Michael introduces the highly debated topic of “inclusive voir dire” versus “exclusionary voir dire.” He reveals how in the past he has used exclusionary voir dire to find his bad jurors, but understanding Sari’s thoughts on the “hostage mentality” has made him rethink his voir dire technique. Putting it bluntly Sari gives the example of “when you come in with the mindset of ‘who here is out to kill me and how do I kill them first’ that is like a poison and a disease” which then spreads and has your potential jurors wanting to find a way to get out of being selected for your jury.  A different mindset where you find the people who want to help you can change this and Sari’s analogy involving hiring a new paralegal and sorting through resumes helps put everything into perspective.

Michael pivots the conversation into how important mindset is for trial lawyers. Sari truly believes “how you’re thinking, affects how you act, which affects your results” and explains how the CTFAR model can help. Michael gives the example of his mindset before his upcoming jury trial and how he is reminding himself “jurors are good people and want to do the right thing and help my client.” This example leads to Sari sharing just how useful the mindset of “the jurors love me” was for a client of hers and how the success of this led to a $10 million dollar jury verdict. And if you are thinking “this is bullshit” Sari explains the communication science behind it and why it works.

Moving from mindset back to voir dire, Sari and Michael discuss how frustrated potential jurors are in the jury selection process. When jurors are not sure why they are there and what is happening it’s critical to get to the point and say what they are in court to do. The next step is to then think about voir dire as a group process and not an individual process, because you are there to create a group and you want a group to reach a verdict in your case not 12 individuals. Michael adds how equally important it is to think about the information you share with the group, the order in which you share it, and how you shape the conversation. The order in which you share your information is crucial and your timing is too, which leads to Sari explaining how jurors will immediately think whatever principle or fact (good or bad) you bring up first is the most important part of your case.

Michael wraps up this episode with a discussion on managing energy. He shares his experiences as a trial lawyer by describing his energy level as a young attorney as being extremely high energy at all times, but then when he tried to slow down he came across as “low energy and passionless,” and now he has learned about “managing energy” to keep the jury engaged and never bored. “Ringing the bell” is an engaging way for attorneys to keep the jury on the edge of their seat and is described as a tool for great storytelling in your opening. However, these techniques are not natural and as Michael points out you have to practice before you do this in front of the jury successfully. Practice should not be confused with scripting an opening, so Sari reminds listeners this is for “the ease and the delivery of information not rehearsing it word for word.”

The podcast is filled with additional great advice ranging from the importance of videotaping yourself, why it is imperative to rehearse saying the dollar amount you want a jury to award, thinking about the principles in your case, how journaling can help you in your mindset, using devils advocate questions, thinking about voir dire and how it connects jurors to you in your opening, and so much more. It’s truly a show any attorney will want to listen to more than once.

 

BACKGROUND ON SARI DE LA MOTTE

Sari de la Motte is a nationally recognized coach, speaker, and trial consultant. She has trained extensively with an internationally recognized authority in nonverbal communication and is an expert in nonverbal intelligence.

Sari specializes in helping trial attorneys communicate with jurors.

Sari speaks to audiences of a few dozen people to audiences of over a thousand. A sought-after keynote speaker, Sari is often asked to headline conferences across the United States.

Sari consults with trial attorneys all over the country, assisting with trial strategy, voir dire and opening statement. She conducts mock trials in her studio in Portland, Oregon and assists with jury selection on-site.

Sari has spoken for, and works with, several members of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group consisting of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. She’s has been a featured columnist for Oregon Trial Lawyer’s Magazine, Sidebar, and has also written for Washington State Association of Justice, Oregon Criminal Defense Attorney, and other legal publications. She provides CLEs for various state association of justices around the country.  Because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves, she has been dubbed “The Attorney Whisperer.”

Sari is regularly interviewed on TV, radio, and in print, and has appeared in the Atlantic, Huffington Post, The Oregonian, Willamette Week and other publications. Her book, From Hostage to Hero: Captivate the Jury by Setting Them Free was released by Trial Guides in November, 2019.

For more information on Sari de la Motte you can visit http://www.saridlm.com/

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