confidence

76 – Benedict Morelli – Never Deviate: Telling the Truth, Trusting Your Instincts & Taking Risks

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with legendary trial lawyer Benedict Morelli. With several 8 and 9-figure verdicts under his belt from a wide range of civil litigation areas, Ben’s track record as an attorney and advocate is known across the country, from suing Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment and representing Tracy Morgan in his trucking case against Walmart. He and Michael discuss Ben’s story and path to success, a number of his high-profile cases, how he connects with the jury, and so much more.

Ben’s legal career started over four years before he passed his bar exam, while he was working at a law firm in an administrative role. There, he had the opportunity sit in on several jury trials and jury selections. Because of this, he had a head start in figuring out what strategies worked for him, namely authenticity in front of the jury. He continues to hone his craft today by researching other cases and their results. Interestingly, he doesn’t focus so much on the amount the jury awarded. Instead, he digs deeper into the facts of the case to analyze how great the verdict really was and encourages his team of young lawyers to do the same.

After Ben explains that he simply refuses to play by the insurance’s rules of offering about half of what you ask for, Michael digs deeper into where Ben gets his courtroom confidence from. Ben uses something he calls “Ben Morelli’s personal moot court” and seeks feedback from his friends and family. He also references Tracy Morgan’s trucking case against Walmart, eloquently stating “When I have a royal flush, I don’t play it as a pair of two’s.” If you have a strong case in a good venue, have the guts to stick to your number while also analyzing the risk vs. the reward.

Ben is now at the point in his career where his reputation precedes him, and he shares a SHOCKING story from his case against Live Nation where it worked to his advantage.

Michael then digs in to one of Ben’s biggest strengths, how skilled he is at connecting with the jury. His short answer is, “I am them. I’m exactly them.” He grew up like most of them, doesn’t talk down to them, and ALWAYS tells them the truth. He also NEVER uses jury consultants or a mock jury, which is in stark contrast with how many of our previous guests choose a jury. Instead, he goes into voir dire with no bag, paper, or even a pen and ALWAYS sticks to his theory. He insists that his own instincts and knowledge have served him better over the years, and that “When I bet on the jury, I win.” While a unique approach, this technique has served him so well that he’s been told my numerous judges that he won the case in jury selection. He concludes this topi by clarifying that the most important thing is that you stick to who you are, and find what techniques work for you instead of “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Ben is also unique by today’s standards because instead of specializing his practice, he takes on a wide variety of cases in different practice areas. His philosophy on this is that if it’s a civil case, he can learn it. He also genuinely enjoys the challenge and takes a lot of pride in the diversity of his practice, something he urges other lawyers to consider before they specialize.

Michael then asks Ben how he motivates and educates his large team of young lawyers.  Ben describes his daily meetings with his lawyers and also with his staff. “I’m never too important,” he continues. Every attorney in the firm knows he will personally read every single thing they write. Michael agrees with this philosophy, and he and Ben discuss why it’s so imperative to stay involved in the litigation aspect of your firm, even after you’ve built up a great team.

The pair ends the episode by discussing two of Ben’s star-studded cases – Tracy Morgan’s trucking case against Walmart and suing Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment. After sharing what it was like to represent a celebrity of Tracy Morgan’s caliber, he explains how suing Bill O’Reilly was one of the most nerve-wracking cases he’s ever had. They went after Ben, his wife, and his practice “with a vengeance.” The details of this story are shocking and Ben’s decision to stick with the case is truly inspiring.

This podcast also covers individual case lawyers vs. mass tort case lawyers, how Ben orders his witnesses (and why it’s SO important), how to internalize what your client’s been through, the power that plaintiff’s attorneys have, Ben’s record-breaking sexual harassment suit verdict, why Ben chose not to specialize his practice, and so much more. This episode is full of insightful and inspiring stories that are well worth the listen!

 

Guest Bio:

Benedict Morelli is one of the most successful plaintiff attorneys in the country, securing numerous multimillion-dollar results, including a $95M verdict in a sexual harassment case and a $102M verdict against Live Nation. He also helped negotiate a $265M settlement – the largest settlement for a passenger railroad accident in US history – for victims of the 2015 Amtrak train derailment. Mr. Morelli and his firm often litigate high-profile cases, including representing comedian Tracy Morgan in his lawsuit against Walmart and being one of the first to successfully sue Bill O’Reilly and Fox News for sexual harassment. He has deep experience in a variety of civil matters, including personal injury, truck and auto accidents, employment discrimination, medical malpractice, and product liability.

 

73 – Pat S. Montes – The Secret Weapon: Your Client’s Story & The Human Experience

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his good friend and “secret weapon,” Pat S. Montes. A practicing lawyer herself, Pat has developed a consulting business where she works with lawyers and their clients to help the clients tell their stories more effectively.  They’ll take an in-depth look at her process for depo and trial prep and why it is so effective (and healing) for clients to tell their whole story.

They begin by looking at Pat’s background and how she got into her consulting business.  A proud Mexican American and one of six siblings, she explains how her upbringing was hugely influential to her and played a substantial role in her success. She goes on to share how she attended the Trial Lawyers College in 2002 where she realized then that she didn’t really know her clients or their voices. She began a long journey of research and self-discovery, attending countless seminars on psychodrama and storytelling. While Pat does not do psychodrama herself, she utilizes many of the same techniques in her practice. She focuses on getting beyond the client’s outer layer to their inner layer, so they can show the jury what’s really going on inside them.

Pat continues by explaining what psychodrama is, which she simply defines as “finding truth in action.” In this process typically used for group psychotherapy, the “star” (the client) acts out scenes and stories from their life while the present group connects with that experience. In relation to the legal practice and our clients, it is a way of being able to connect with other humans and other human experiences and “finding the truth in the story.” Pat uses role reversal, teaches the clients how to “concretize” their feelings, and more to help them translate their feelings into a story for the jury.

They move on to dig into Pat’s process for preparing the lawyer and their client for deposition. Michael begins this section by asking Pat how she discovered that putting something into action helps the client describe it better. She shares how this process gets the client convicted about how they feel and always begins by asking about the effect of the crash on the client’s life. Their immediate answer to this first question reveals a lot about who they are and how they’ve processed this life-changing event. She will then dig deeper into that answer to uncover the “whole truth,” a process which Michael has seen Pat do with his clients many times and strongly believes is incredibly important to the case, cathartic for the client, and vital for the lawyer to fully understand their client. Michael also notes the importance of the client being completely honest with the jury, because “juries have great bullshit detectors” and will punish you if they sense you’re being dishonest.

Pat will then dig into the client’s “before,” something she thinks is crucial for the client to be able to explain vividly to the jury, saying “If the jury can feel the before, then the jury can feel the loss.” She goes on to say that it’s perfectly fine if the client’s “before” was less than perfect. For example, if the client was in a transition phase before the crash, the last thing they needed was a life-altering injury.

Another important part of Pat’s process is teaching the client how to describe their pain and how it makes them feel. This not only helps them explain it vividly to the jury, but it can even uncover injuries and ailments that have been unnoticed by doctors. She then explains how the lawyer should model this to the client by first describing a recent pain they’ve had. She provides her own example of dealing with Sciatica in such detail that listeners are sure to feel the exact sensation of her pain as she says it.

While this process is meant to build trust and understanding between the lawyer and their client, it also serves to prepare the client to bare the burden of proof for the jury. Many clients initially believe they shouldn’t have to prove anything, or that their story speaks for itself. But Pat will constantly remind the client of how what they say looks to a jury. For example, if the client doesn’t remember the date of the accident, that could appear incongruent with their assertation that “the crash was devastating.”

To help the client go into their deposition feeling emboldened or proud, Pat employs a number of insightful techniques. One example she gives even uses the client’s sense of smell to bring them into their “safe place” which has a number of useful applications in the courtroom and in life. This also makes their story more engaging to the jury and helps the lawyer connect with the emotions they felt in that moment.

Pat then notes the importance of the client describing the joy that their past activities brought to their life. For example, when she asks most clients about their past job, they’ll talk about how it brought them respect and made them feel fulfilled. They typically don’t even mention the money! And when we talk about what these things meant to the client’s life, Pat says that’s where we get the anguish and the “struggles.”

This leads Michael to ask her to explain more about “struggles” and what she means by that. Pat provides a common example of a client saying, “I can’t even walk,” when in reality they can. Many lawyers shut off at hearing this because they think the client is overexaggerating or overly complaining. But while they can walk, they are doing so in a lot of pain. She then makes it clear to the client that they shouldn’t diminish anything, but they should not exaggerate anything.

Michael also adds that when clients are overstating, they’re often scared that if they don’t exaggerate, nobody will listen to them. This is why trust between the lawyer and the client is key, and Michael credits Pat for helping build many of his most trusting relationships with clients. He poetically adds, “Even if it’s not the perfect story, the truth is so powerful in the courtroom.” Pat agrees and adds that the less you have, the more you lose. So even if the client’s “before” story is filled with missteps, it’s vital to tell the whole truth to the jury.

They move on to discuss an insightful way to find the best witnesses for the client. Part of this process is the client acting out scenes from their life, which inherently reveals some people in their life that were there for those moments. Usually, they’re not anybody who the client would list unprompted, but end up being the perfect person to attest to the client’s loss.  As Pat puts it, “It’s who knows your character, not who can speak to it.”

While most of this episode has been about Pat’s depo prep process, she and Michael briefly move on to discuss her trial prep process. This involves setting up a mock jury and having everybody rotate positions to be the jury, the defense lawyer, and the client. This prepares the client for the scrutiny of the defense and the jury, giving them the confidence they need to survive the brutal attacks that can happen in the courtroom. They’ll also cover things like eye contact, what a juror needs, practicing a direct, practicing a cross examination, and more. Between this and the depo prep described in this episode, the client will come out prepared, trusting, and sometimes even “healed” from their emotional wounds.

If you’d like to contact Pat Montes about consulting on a case, you can email her at patmontes@monteslaw.com. She is fluent in both English and Spanish. Michael hesitates to say this because he’s nervous about her getting booked up, but in the spirit of truthfulness, he highly recommends working with Pat to develop your clients’ trust and storytelling skills.

This podcast also covers how long this process takes, going to trial without medical bills, why you should ask your clients who influenced them to be the person they are, why the connection you share with your client should be your voir dire question, how acting out a scene can help clients understand the mechanics of their injury, how lawyers can learn more about this process, why the lawyer needs to be present for this to work, why the plaintiff lawyer should NEVER play the defense lawyer in a role play scenario, why this process feels like therapy, and so much more.

 

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