defense attorney

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

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.

 

46 – Tim Whiting – The Journey of a Trial Lawyer with Perseverance

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Tim Whiting, of the Whiting Law Group in Chicago, for a conversation exploring the journey which has led to Tim’s outstanding $9M settlement on a recent trucking case.

While Tim primarily handles trucking cases in his practice, this wasn’t always the case. Tim’s story begins from humble beginnings and feeling “poor” as a young boy. When given a homework assignment about what he wanted to be when he grew up, the only thing he could think of was not to be poor. In the process of researching what he wanted to be, he stumbled upon a book by Melvin Belli, a prominent lawyer known as “The King of Torts” which immediately locked him into the desire to become a lawyer and not feel poor.

Tim went on to law school on a wrestling scholarship, which also led to an introduction by his wrestling coach to a well-connected attorney who ultimately introduced Tim to his first job at a large insurance defense firm in Chicago. After about 5 years, feeling miserable as ever, still struggling financially, and watching some good and not so good plaintiff lawyers win large sums of money for their clients, Tim decided “that was the side of the fence I needed to be on” which led to his decision to be a plaintiff lawyer. Ironically, when he told his then boss that he was quitting to start his own plaintiff’s firm, his boss not only laughed at him, but also told him he’d fail within 6 months and he’d keep his chair open for when he comes back.

Starting his firm from his apartment, Tim was hungry for success and started calling up defense and plaintiff lawyers that he had met and taking them out to coffee to give them his sales pitch and tell them he would be very available to their clients and get great results for them. One case led to another and he found some success which led to his nomination for the Top 40 under 40 award in Chicago. Things continued to grow as he moved into an office suite, hired his first assistant, and brought on 4 other lawyers all to find himself several years later still feeling pretty unhappy, even though he was no longer poor. Having a kind of one-on-one intervention with himself, he thought inside “if this is what it looks like the rest of the way, this is not what I want” as he was running rampant doing all kinds of cases with a large docket and feeling some self-doubt having never really experienced any formal trial training. This is when he decided to scale back to 3 lawyers and take on about half the number of cases.

Feeling better already during this process, he happened to take on a trucking case where the company had $1M but the losses were much more. Having never been a part of any attorney organizations before, and as fate would have it, the AAJ conference was in Chicago that year and Tim decided to go. For those who have been to an AAJ conference before, you can imagine all the great information Tim was able to absorb through AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group listening to people like Michael Leizerman and other top trucking lawyers speak, and also chasing down Joe Fried in the hall (a story that lives in infamy to this day). Tim credits this conference, Joe Fried, Michael Leizerman, and other great trucking attorneys for inspiring him to make the leap and have a more trucking focused practice.

This podcast continues through Tim’s journey going to Trial Lawyers College later in his career, with he and Michael then sharing their opinions on when is the right time for an attorney to devote the time and energy to Thunderhead Ranch. Tim also shares a quote he used to have on his mirror in his wrestling years “Champions aren’t born, they’re built” and how he continues to build himself in a way that is insightful and meaningful every day. His genuine and very honest conversation in this episode makes it clear Tim is proud of his work and has not only excelled in his journey to becoming a successful trial lawyer, he is still on his journey. Michael agrees that the journey is never over and adds, “You can’t just go to one program and become a master.” You need to continually be learning, bringing the conclusion of this episode together where Tim’s journey has resulted in a recent $9M trucking case and he describes how his continued learning has led to it all.

 

BACKGROUND

Timothy M. Whiting is a Nationally board-certified truck accident* trial attorney. Tim has received Board Certification in Truck Accident Law from The National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA). To qualify for this prestigious certification, Mr. Whiting was required to demonstrate extensive legal experience in truck accident law, as well and meet rigorous objective quality standards as required by the NTBA.

He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School and is licensed to practice in both Illinois and Wisconsin. As a trial lawyer, Tim has represented victims of trucking accidents, auto accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice and serious personal injury cases across the country, winning jury verdicts and settlements in over 10 counties across four states. Since 2019, Tim has committed solely to the representation of individuals or their loved ones who have been harmed in trucking crashes.
To further his own understanding of representing victims of truck accidents, Tim obtained a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). After passing intense testing and driver training, Tim is legally qualified to drive a 18-wheeler truck. This experience has allowed Tim to have a better understanding of how to safely operate a semi-truck and trailer and what may have gone wrong that led to his clients or their loved ones being harmed in a trucking accident.

Due to Tim’s success and commitment in handling serious truck wrecks in Illinois, Wisconsin and in several of the other parts of the United States, he is regularly sought out by other lawyers around the country to either co-counsel or consult on their respective clients’ cases who were harmed in serious trucking accidents.
Tim has been invited to join the nationally recognized Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College (TLC) as part of the class of July 2019 – the 37th class to graduate from their 3-week program since the College began in 1994. 1,976 graduates have preceded Tim, and with an ever-increasingly rigorous pool of candidates, his selection was of the highest honor of a trial lawyer in the country.
As a result of his accomplishments in representing victims of truck accidents and serious personal injury, Tim has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Illinois by the National Trial Lawyers Association since 2008.

In 2015, he was named a Leading Lawyer for Personal Injury Law, an honor earned by fewer than 5% of attorneys in Illinois.

Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, a top legal publication rating lawyer’s abilities, ranked Tim AV Preeminent, the highest rating a lawyer can receive for Legal Ability and Success in personal injury. (AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment – a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.)

In 2018, Tim was named as one of the – Top 10 trucking accident trial lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers Association, for his tireless work and proven success in protecting the rights of those injured or killed in truck crashes.

Previously, Tim had been named by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company as one of the Top 40 Lawyers Under Age 40 in Illinois.

Tim has been appointed to the Executive Board, the Board of Regents, and the chair of the New Lawyers Division for the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA).

Tim also serves on the Executive Board of the American Associations of Justice (AAJ) Interstate Trucking Litigation Group.

Tim serves on the Board of Catholic Charities and its Legal Advisory Committee. He is also active in the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois by fundraising and raising awareness about kidney disease and live kidney donation. Tim serves on the Advisory Council for the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Transplant Center to promote and advance the mission of transplants to save lives. He also is committed to his local communities, by personally supporting a number of local organizations and their efforts to provide for the homeless and underprivileged people of Chicago.

Website: www.wlglaw.net
Email: twhiting@wlglaw.net
Phone: (312) 372-1655
Address: 901 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 400, Chicago, IL 60607

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