COVID-19

62 – John Campbell – The Empirical Jury: Big Data with Big Results

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by attorney, law professor, and founder of Empirical Jury, John Campbell. They sit down for a conversation about big data for trial lawyers, what John’s company “Empirical Jury” does, legal “urban legends” and their validity (or lack thereof), the most interesting findings he has discovered working on specific cases, and an in-depth look at the effects of COVID-19 on jury attitudes.

The episode starts off with Michael asking John how he got into the field of jury research. John describes his path of starting out as a teacher and deciding to go back to school to become a lawyer. He then joined Denver Law School as a professor studying tort reform in an academic setting, founded the Denver Empirical Justice Institute, and discovered his passion for big data. There, he studied civil justice issues and how jurors behave, but wondered if he could apply scientific methods and big data to law based on an individual case. Basically, he wanted to know what would happen if he had 400 people look at a case instead of the traditional 10-15 people you get with a focus group.

Thus, Empirical Jury was born. John describes the process as working like a “gig economy.” He will share an ad along the lines of, “be a mock juror and get paid to do it,” and is able to recruit hundreds of workers in one day. The work is all done online in their own time, and costs much less per juror than a traditional focus group. With numbers like that, Michael asks what everyone must be thinking – how representative can your jury pool be? Are the respondents all underemployed young people? John says it’s more representative than you’d think. He explains how many people take online surveys for fun, like playing Sudoku. His participants range between 18-80 years old, very conservative to very liberal, and typically earn up to $150,000 a year.

Michael then inquires about the many “urban legends” of law applied to jurors, specifically are any of them true? The short answer is no, but John dives into some surprising details. The moral of the story is to avoid stereotyping based on factors like race or gender, but to instead focus heavily on their responses to bias questions. A juror who believes the burden of proof is too low for the plaintiff’s lawyer being placed on the jury can have detrimental effects on the outcome of the case.

John goes on to share some of his most interesting findings. The first addresses the idea that if you ask for more, you get more. He has found this to be true based on the anchoring principle, with an interesting caveat – the amount you ask for directly affects liability. Typically, the liability climbs the more you ask for until you hit “the cliff.” He shares a shocking example of this in practice and concludes with, “You’re your own damage cap.”

The conversation shifts to the highly debated topic of COVID-19 and its effects on jury attitudes. John has conducted extensive research on this topic, including a survey of 1,500 jurors asking questions about COVID-19 and trial options. He lists a number of shocking statistics and concludes that to seat a jury today you would have to account for a loss of 50% of jurors before asking a single voir dire question not related to COVID-19. Knowing this information, another vital question remains – do the remaining 50% of jurors skew towards the defense or the plaintiff? John explains how the answer is more complicated than most people think, but goes on to share some in-depth findings which have huge implications for the future of jury trials.

John continues by describing another study he conducted where he asked 1,200 jurors how they would prefer to participate in a jury, including a variety of in-person and virtual options. The respondents had a surprising favorite – the option to watch the case via video recording from home, on their own time. While this may sound far-fetched, John describes a series of strategies which could be used to make this a success.

With virtual trials becoming a new possibility, many plaintiff’s lawyers are wondering if a jury can award a big damage verdict without attending the trial in person. With an absence of body language or eye contact, will damages decrease? John doesn’t think so. He cites multiple studies he has conducted in the past where he’s been able to predict huge verdicts within 10% of the actual verdict. He believes if you show jurors real evidence such as day in the life videos, jurors take that seriously and award damages accordingly. He compares this to watching a movie and crying, to which Michael adds, “You just have to change the presentation.” Michael and John both agree that lawyers may have to go to trial this year whether they want to or not, and they reflect on the best strategies lawyers who face this should take.

Another concern commonly noted by plaintiff’s lawyers faced with the possibility of a trial in the era of COVID-19 is if jurors are forced to attend court in person, do they blame the plaintiff because they filed the lawsuit? While some early research indicated they may, John has not found this to be true. His research showed jurors blame the plaintiff and the defense in equal numbers, but the most common answer was, “I don’t blame anyone. I understand this has to happen.” John summarizes the COVID-19 effect on jurors by stating, “While there are some effects on who will show up for jury duty, what we don’t see is a blame for the plaintiff’s attorney.”

This podcast also covers the role of traditional focus groups, using instincts in trial, jury consultant costs, the Fusion Effect, jury attitudes towards medical malpractice cases, how to test if online jurors are paying attention and if their responses should be accepted, what the defense already does with big data, and so much more.

If you’d like to work with John Campbell on a case or would like to learn more about Empirical Jury, you can visit their website at www.empiricaljury.com or email John directly at john@empiricaljury.com.

Click here to view the COVID-19 research PDF John mentions on the show.

 

Bio:

John Campbell, JD is a trial and appellate lawyer turned law professor turned jury researcher.

John trained as a trial lawyer under John Simon, a member of the Inner Circle of Advocates, and then went on to become a successful consumer attorney.  John’s verdicts and settlements exceed $350 million.  John has also handled appeals in the Eighth, Second, Tenth, and Fourth Circuit, as well as the United States Supreme Court and a variety of state courts.  Most recently, John served as lead counsel in a series of class actions against municipalities, including Ferguson, Missouri, who engaged in policing for profit.  The cases led to the eradication of many predatory fees targeted at minorities and the working poor.   John remains a member of Campbell Law LLC.

For eight years John served as a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.  While there, he founded the Civil Justice Research Initiative, dedicated to better understanding jury behavior through rigorous empirical research.  He continues to run CJRI at the University of Denver and teaches as an adjunct professor.

John’s academic work led to demand for him to study individual cases for plaintiff attorneys.  He ultimately founded Empirical Jury.  In only a few years, Empirical Jury has emerged as a cutting-edge firm that uses big data and scientific approaches to equip attorneys to obtain the best result possible for clients.  Empirical Jury has been involved in verdicts in excess of $550 million and is routinely called on to analyze some of the most complex consequential cases in the country.

During the Covid-19 era, Empirical Jury is also leading the way on understanding the Covid Effect through careful data gathering and analysis.  To date, Empirical Jury has surveyed over 1,200 jurors on topics relating to Covid-19, virtual trials, and jury duty.

 

59 – Malorie Peacock – Discover Your “Why”: Committing to Organizational Health

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock. They discuss their recent “deep dive” 2-day management retreat, the organizational health of your law firm, Zoom jury trials, and implications of the shut down on future business.

The episode begins with a review of their firm’s recent 2-day management retreat, which was a “deep dive” into their firm’s core values, focus, and goals based off the book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” by Patrick Lencioni. The retreat starts off with a seemingly simple question: Why does our law firm exist? Michael admits he was worried everyone would think the idea was “hokey,” but Malorie insists she was surprised at how complex the question really was. Michael, Malorie, and the rest of their management team spent significant time reflecting on this and decided their firm’s purpose is to “provide a ‘Special Forces’ level of representation to people who are hurt.” Michael recognizes this as an extremely high aspirational standard (which is why he hesitated at first to share) and sees this as their goal for the firm.

After deciding the firm’s purpose, their team was tasked with choosing the firm’s core values. Both Michael and Malorie emphasize the importance of choosing values you will embrace and commit to. As an example, Michael highlights the common PI lawyer core value of safety. He asks, “What do you do when you get a 5 million dollar offer without a safety change, or 1 million dollars with a safety change?” If the firm’s core value is safety, they should take the lower offer. Malorie echoes this sentiment and adds that PI lawyers face a lot of backlash from society, so they tend to overcompensate by expressing an unrealistic emphasis on safety over getting justice for their clients. The key is choosing values that truly represent your firm and its goals.

On the note of goal setting, Michael explains the importance of choosing one large goal and sticking to it. Citing Gary W. Keller’s book “The One Thing,” Michael reflects on past experiences of having lots of great ideas, but something would always come up and they would be forgotten. By choosing the one area which adds the most “bang” to your law firm, you can truly focus on that area and strive towards your goal every day. This strategy requires buy-in and personal work from every attorney at your firm, but when achieved is very effective.

Michael and Malorie then reflect on the implications of states re-opening and how it affects their ability to conduct legal work remotely. Malorie has already had opposing counsel insist on doing things in person again, but worries about what she’ll do down the line if the court forces her high-risk client to have an in-person deposition. Michael shares these concerns, stating “eventually I’ll be ordered to do something I’m not comfortable doing.”

As they switch to the topic of Zoom jury trials, Michael is quick to share his hesitance towards the idea. His concerns include a lack of nonverbal communication, distractions, a loss of group dynamics, and the inability to obtain a representative jury pool by excluding citizens without adequate internet or access to childcare. He does add that online focus groups have shown the numbers aren’t very different from in-person jury trials, but he would like to see more research before committing to one. Malorie also notes an interesting difference between an in-person trial and a virtual trial. In a virtual trial you have to sit in the same place for the entirety of the case, which means you can’t have witnesses act things out, do demonstrations, or have multiple ways of showing people information. This makes it more difficult to keep the attention of the jury. Michael and Malorie end this discussion by agreeing if this goes on for years, they will eventually have to adapt. And Michael ends by agreeing to try a jury trial case via Zoom with a podcast fan, an offer you’ll have to tune in to hear all of the details.

They finish off this episode with a conversation about future business implications because of this shut down. Malorie has noticed more people on the roads recently and only anticipates a 3-4 month lull in new cases, but believes it will pick back up quickly. Michael agrees and adds that people are getting stir crazy, and driving more recklessly than before, stating “gear up and get ready.” With that being said, Michael and Malorie encourage scrutiny when deciding what cases to invest in right now. Malorie believes small insurance companies may be less willing to pay out claims, and Michael is being very cautious with cases involving a risk retention group or a self-insured company. Many are currently teetering on insolvency and may not be able to pay out claims.

This podcast also covers answering legal questions for friends, “Zoom fatigue,” time management, return-to-office prep, and more.

 

 

 

57 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Digital Frontier: Technology, Roadblocks & Creative Solutions

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Sonia Rodriguez. They discuss pushing cases during COVID-19, educating the defense and clients on Zoom, the increased need for technology in law firms, finding creative solutions, the effect of the pandemic on jury attitudes, and strategies to safely return to the office.

The discussion begins on the topic of pushing cases and overcoming defense delay tactics during COVID-19. Sonia emphasizes the need to continue to move cases, even if you’re met with objections from the defense, saying “The wheels of justice don’t come to a complete halt.” Sonia suggests offering a clear, transparent proposal for technology to the defense prior to depositions. Fellow Cowen Rodriguez Peacock attorney Jacob Leibowitz has created guides for Zoom for Depositions and Zoom for Mediations which have been helpful in easing uncertainty surrounding this new technology. Michael has also found success in offering practice sessions to the defense counsel, noting that this works well when people are acting in good faith.

Unfortunately, not all defense attorneys are acting in good faith with their objections to this technology and will try to drag the case out. In these situations, Sonia encourages attorneys to file a Motion to Compel Deposition. She has found success in this because courts in Texas have been utilizing the technology themselves. This makes it hard for defense attorneys to suggest depositions by Zoom aren’t appropriate when the hearing may very likely be held by Zoom. Sonia and Michael agree that it’s in every firm’s best interest to keep their cases moving during COVID-19 and to find creative solutions to problems which may arise.

The conversation shifts to a discussion of preparing clients for Zoom depositions. Sonia insists the process isn’t much different, other than a loss of “relationship feel” between the client and the attorney during deposition prep. The important factor in this is ensuring you create a comfort level for your client that makes them feel prepared.

Sonia and Michael agree the biggest roadblock they’ve faced regarding client preparation is a lack of available technology for the client. Many clients do not have a laptop, Wi-Fi, or a room where they can sit privately and quietly for a 3-4-hour deposition. Their firm has mitigated this issue by sending tablets to clients who need them and emphasizing technology training during deposition prep. They note that this strategy does not always work, and some depositions will inevitably need to be delayed until we can meet in person again. The underlying goal is to keep 95% of your cases moving.

Michael and Sonia move the conversation to the overall increased level of understanding regarding video conferencing technology like Zoom. Sonia describes her experience with sharing exhibits through Zoom, and her trial and error of doing so. She’s noticed how advanced the knowledge of this technology is for many court reporters and mediators and has learned through their advice as well. She then shares a story of when she served a witness with a Zoom deposition subpoena. She expected a lengthy process of explaining the technology to the witness, who shockingly replied that she was well-versed in Zoom through her children’s virtual school courses. Michael notes that he doesn’t know how enforceable a Zoom deposition subpoena would be, but again emphasizes the goal to move 95% of cases and save the rest for when we return to normal. Sonia echoes this by explaining the duty we have to our clients to move cases and represent them earnestly. While we cannot guarantee their trial date will go through, we can guarantee we are continuing to work on their case.

Michael makes the point that we all only have a given amount of energy to spend in the day. While it’s easy to get caught up in things outside of your control, it’s crucial to not let this suck up your energy. He emphasizes the importance of spending your energy on what you can control right now- moving your cases. Sonia agrees and adds that as trial lawyers, we are wired to be creative and tackle the unexpected in our cases and in the courtroom. She shares a brilliant example of this comparing today’s landscape with an elmo projector.

There has been much speculation around how COVID-19 will affect jurors’ perceptions in the long run. In Sonia’s opinion, this will depend on the economic situation once juries come back. If people have been out of work and cannot afford to be there because of their economic situation, this will not be good for the plaintiff’s side. She believes if the economy can stabilize, jurors may feel a heightened sense of civic duty and comradery around rallying on a jury. Michael has hesitations about trying a case where the jurors feel endangered by being present, but has a positive outlook on the long term effects, stating “Americans have an incredibly short memory.” He notes the worries of juror perception after events like 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse, which had no long-term negative effect.

Sonia and Michael conclude with a discussion of how and when firms will begin to gather in a physical office space again. Sonia says our top priority needs to be to keep our clients and our families safe. Michael shares his hesitation to open too quickly by saying, “We sue companies for putting profits above people” and we should hold ourselves to this same standard.

This podcast also covers ethical concerns with virtual depositions, when to provide hard copies of exhibits in virtual depositions, bench trials via Zoom, overcoming technical issues, and much more.

56 – Marc Whitehead – Build Your Lifestyle Law Firm: Optimizing Your Practice, Strategy, & Mindset

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with disability attorney and business coach Marc Whitehead. The two discuss disability law, running a firm using systems, marketing strategies, case selection, building a great team, finding opportunity in chaos, and how to run a “lifestyle law firm” that works for you.

Michael and Marc begin by discussing disability law, which Marc defines as representing disabled workers and veterans for disability benefit claims. Marc began as a PI lawyer and decided to make the switch to disability law after referring out a lot of disability cases. He realized how much he enjoyed disability law and stopped taking PI cases altogether. Marc’s “5-Star” cases are disability insurance claims for dentists and doctors, but he notes how veterans seeking retroactive benefits can be very lucrative as well. He also refers to social security claims as his “bread and butter” because of their quantity. And he encourages personal injury lawyers to be mindful of clients who will have continued medical issues, as those clients may have a disability case and need additional legal help. Marc sums up his goals in disability law by stating, “If you haven’t been hugged by your client this week, you’re not doing your job.”

The conversation then shifts its focus to business management and running a law firm, which Marc coaches other lawyers on. Marc shares a story sure to resonate with many young lawyers, describing a cycle of winning a large verdict, then going broke again three months later. After stepping back and evaluating his business, he decided “The practice should serve me, I shouldn’t be serving the practice.”  Marc believes you have a duty to yourself and your clients to be profitable so you can do your best work for them.

On the note of profitability, Michael asks Marc what he did to make his firm profitable. Marc emphasizes the importance of time management, which he refers to as “focus management.” Marc chooses to live in his calendar instead of living in his inbox, which lets him dictate his own day instead of “constantly putting out fires.” Doing this allows you to focus your productivity and prioritize the best use of your time as a business owner.

Marc then shares his experience of learning to delegate tasks to other people. While Michael and Marc both agree this can be difficult at times, Marc insists learning to do this will allow you to spend your time where it’s most valuable. Marc practices delegation in his firm by developing checklists and flow charts for every task. This implements consistency throughout his firm and allows Marc to spend his time where it adds the most value.

Besides his law firm management and coaching prowess, Marc is well-known for his newsletter “The Successful Barrister.” Marc’s strategy is not to advertise his firm or bore lawyers with updates on disability law. Instead, he aims to provide a funny (he and his lawyers are shown as caricatures), informative resource lawyers will actually read and enjoy. Marc sends the newsletter to a list of 4,000 lawyers and has found great success in this, which leads Michael to share his experience sending a magazine to 1,600 lawyers and the challenge of accurately identifying its ROI. Michael and Marc discuss other successful marketing strategies and how to tailor your marketing approach to a high-volume firm vs. a “high-end, niche” firm.

Choosing to accept or reject a case is a complicated process. Marc has streamlined this process by establishing a separate intake department and removing lawyers and paralegals from the process. This intake team uses a set of checklists and flow charts to determine acceptance or denial of most cases, so Marc only has his hand in dictating the most difficult decisions. Michael agrees with this strategy and finds if he is involved in all the decisions, he will take on cases he shouldn’t because he knows he could find a way to win the case. Upon more reflection, Michael has found accepting these cases leads to unhappy clients and disappointed referral partners. Marc and Michael discuss letting go of the “hero mentality” and not accepting every case they could win. Marc now only accepts strong cases which work with his systems and workflow and refers out many winnable cases to other attorneys. Michael agrees with this strategy, saying, “All the time you’re working on that case, you’re not working on another case where you could add real value.”

Michael then asks Marc how he manages time between running a practice and coaching. Marc describes how he’s built a high-quality team to run his systems, which grants him the time to focus on marketing the firm and coaching. To build this team, Marc invests money into his hiring process. He utilizes an extensive interview process and two personality tests – the DISC Assessment and the Hiring MRI. While searching for the perfect candidate, Marc uses temp agencies to fill the vacant positions and strongly believes in the “hire slow and fire fast” mentality. Even though temps will cost him more money in the short term, Marc says it’s worth it to find the right candidate in the long run.

This transitions Michael and Marc into a discussion of COVID-19 adaptation. While many firms are laying off employees, this gives other law firms an excellent opportunity to hire previously unavailable, top talent. Marc describes COVID-19 as a great pressure test for your firm’s systems.  This will expose any weaknesses and allow you to fix systems that are not working. And he firmly believes, “Where there’s chaos, there’s opportunity.”

Marc has put together numerous resources for business and marketing in a way that builds a law firm that serves your life. He offers all of them for free because, as stated so many times on Trial Lawyer Nation, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” To receive a free copy of Marc’s marketing plan template or subscribe to “The Successful Barrister,” email him at marc@marcwhitehead.com.

This podcast also covers case management software, the differences between a high-volume firm and a niche firm, running a more efficient intake department, book writing, and so much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

Marc Whitehead is double board certified in both Personal Injury Trial Law and Social Security Disability Law.  He dedicates his practice to disability law, specializing in long-term disability insurance denials, Social Security Disability and Veterans Disability.  He has authored multiple books on the topic of disability benefit claims and litigation.  Based in Houston, Texas, Marc runs a national practice and has successfully litigated disability claims in 44 states and counting plus Puerto Rico.

Marc is the editor and publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter, “The Successful Barrister–Marketing, Management & Life Skills that Probably Won’t Get You Disbarred.” Marc is an adjunct practice advisor for Atticus, through which he advises and coaches other lawyers on running successful practices.

Mr. Whitehead is a past president of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association (HTLA), and a member of the Board of Directors of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA). He is actively involved in the American Association for Justice (AAJ) where he was a past chair of the Insurance Law Section. He was also a member of AAJ’s Marketing and Practice Development Committee among many others. Mr. Whitehead generously donates to AAJ as a PAC Eagle and his firm is an AAJ Leaders Forum member.

 

55 – Jacob Leibowitz – Overcoming COVID-19: Working Remote & Staying Afloat

In this special Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael discusses COVID-19 with fellow trial lawyer Jacob Leibowitz. This episode focuses on adapting your firm to function in an ever-changing crisis situation, including insights on safety, remote work, technology, cash flow, and employee morale.

The show begins with a discussion on using technology to keep cases moving. Jacob emphasizes the importance of continuing to have depositions utilizing video conferencing technology. Their firm has chosen to use Zoom for depositions, mediations, and client meetings, and they have been successful with it. They discuss the pros and cons of Zoom, highlighting many useful features including video recording, “breakout rooms,” options to increase audio quality, and a way to share exhibits that Jacob argues is even better than the in-person method. The challenges of this technology for depositions, and in many states across the U.S., is the person who swears in the witness needs to be in the same room to make the oath sufficient. Jacob shares how the Supreme Court of Texas has assisted with this. The use of online notaries is also discussed and both Michael and Jacob implore the listeners to reach out in their respective state to determine if this can be a solution.

Originally, Jacob believed mediations via video conferencing would be extremely complicated, but he has been pleasantly surprised by the ease of using breakout rooms in Zoom. While some mediators have resisted, Michael is confident they will come around soon, telling them “Either you’re not getting paid or you’re going to do it this way.” Jacob echoes this thought by stating, “It’s here right now, and we have to adapt to it.” They apply this same reasoning to defense counsel who may have objections. Michael strongly believes if the defense doesn’t bill, they don’t make money, and they don’t survive. Jacob thinks it is the plaintiff lawyer’s responsibility to push the case, educate all parties involved on how to use the technology, and has been kind enough to create a Zoom Deposition Guide to share with everyone. This guide can be shared with defense counsel, mediators, and anyone else hesitant with this process. (A Zoom video tutorial for clients has also been created and can be found here)

The conversation shifts to remote work and how their firm of over 30 employees in different office locations has navigated the transition of physical office space to a virtual office space. The process began with Michael deciding to purchase company laptops for staff who did not have one. This was necessary because his IT company would only allow access to the server through a private VPN on a company-owned computer for security reasons. They discuss other challenges of remote work during a quarantine, including working with kids at home, server capacity, and cloud migration. Jacob then shares valuable advice for other firms to mitigate these challenges by advising “You just need to go full force into this, because you’re going to end up learning a whole lot, and you need to.” The reality is no one knows how long social distancing and a nationwide quarantine will last, so lawyers need to adjust accordingly.

On a serious note, Michael recognizes that regardless of technological innovations, the COVID-19 pandemic will disrupt firms’ cash flow. He shares his experience with a market panic and how he has been proactive in protecting the firm’s finances through pulling out money ahead of time and watching his finances very carefully. He also cautions other firms against laying employees off too soon, citing the proposed stimulus bill (which has now passed) would provide loan forgiveness to small businesses who use the money for payroll. He also understands that sometimes, you have to do whatever is right for your firm to stay afloat during these challenging times.

With all these sudden and extreme changes, employee morale can fall to the wayside. Jacob asks Michael what many listeners must be wondering – How do you keep employee morale up during this process? Michael simply states: “We’re overcommunicating.” His firm has focused on having consistent and frequent video conference calls to communicate on daily tasks, collaborates on larger projects, and even gather socially for a Friday evening virtual happy hour. He explains how important it was to tell his staff they could financially handle a 3-4 month quarantine and not have layoffs, and ensure staff of his focus on keeping everyone safe, be it their health or job security. Jacob compliments Michael on his efforts so far and adds that he feels morale has actually increased since the beginning of this crisis, noting that employees can see the massive amount of effort and reassurance given so far. Michael also believes “overcommunicating” applies to clients and referral attorneys and has made an effort to touch base with everyone in his network. This has led to his firm continuing to receive case referrals because they are being proactive.

Lastly, Jacob and Michael discuss their main takeaways during COVID-19. Jacob sees this time as an opportunity to gain skills to better your practice, spend more time with your family, and push your abilities as an attorney. Michael agrees and adds that it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself physically and mentally. He also emphasizes the importance of patience and thankfulness during these difficult times. Michael ends on a powerful note: “We all need to step up and be leaders – leaders for our firms, leaders for our clients, and leaders for our communities.”

This podcast also covers virtual court hearings, telemedicine, self-insured retentions, Microsoft Teams, why clients are liking the face time with attorneys using Zoom, virtual document signing (www.notarize.com), and the efficiency of technology.