empathy

84 – John Sloan – Experienced Listening

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with renowned trial lawyer John Sloan. They dig into the vast experience John has acquired in his 40-year career as a trial lawyer, focusing on how he got where he is today, using role reversal techniques to better understand both clients and defendants, and his jury verdict on what he calls his “favorite case ever.”

Michael and John start the episode with a look at where John started and how he became successful. He shares how his boss right out of law school told him to figure everything out for himself, something that was tough at the time (especially when he announced ready for a murder trial just 5 weeks after being sworn in!) but instilled in him a work ethic which has served him well. He continued to learn all he could from other prominent lawyers in town and work countless weekends until he built his skillset up enough to focus on personal injury cases. When it comes down to it, John insists there is no substitute to putting in the hard work of learning both your case and trial skills.

The pair continues this note with some advice for young lawyers who want to get in the courtroom. While John concedes that it’s harder to try cases than when he started, he insists the opportunities are out there if you’re willing to work for them. Michael agrees and adds that young lawyers need to be willing to “pay their dues” by trying some not-so-great cases before getting to try awesome cases. He and John then discuss how they cope with losing at trial, and even highlight a shocking benefit of taking cases to trial even if you lose them.

Michael then moves on to ask John about how he uses role reversal techniques to get to know his clients on a deeper level. It comes down to really taking the time to get to know your client, instead of just asking them questions to elicit facts about the case. It not only makes the attorney-client relationship more meaningful, but it also helps the lawyer be a better advocate for the client. John then elaborates why you don’t need to do a full-day psychodrama to use these techniques. You need to learn the skills first, but you and your staff can use role reversal techniques with your clients in everyday conversations.

Among those techniques is something John calls “listening with a 3rd ear,” which he describes as listening for the story beneath the words being spoken. It’s the emotional content of what you’re hearing from the client, whether it’s actually stated or not. Michael shares when he does this, he makes a point to check in with the client and confirm it’s actually representative of how they’re feeling. John agrees and adds some more interesting strategies for building this connection with your clients.

Michael then shifts gears to the defendant- can you use these role reversal techniques with the people on the other side of the case? John says, “Absolutely.” He explains how he likes to do this introspectively before a deposition. What would they say to their lawyer that they would never say to you? Then, frame the questions you ask around that. Michael tries to approach the defendant (especially the defendant driver) from a place of understanding, which allows the jury to get mad at the defendant company in their own time.

After a brief but insightful conversation about the importance of treating each of your cases as individuals, John and Michael discuss the power of saying no to cases which don’t suit you. John reflects on when he first started his own firm and would take any case just to bring some money in. To this day, that mentality has made saying no to a good case tough for him. But he and Michael agree there comes a point in your career where you need to prioritize your time.

If you’ve listened to Trial Lawyer Nation, you know Michael loves a good trial story; and John’s jury verdict in Tampa, Florida couldn’t be left undiscussed. Between being able to try the case with his nephew, the low-ball offer the defense made right before trial, and the client being one of the most genuine and hard-working people John had ever met, this trial story will resonate with every trial lawyer listening.  John says it was one of those trials where “everything just went right,” and the result is an inspiring way to end the episode.

If you’d like to learn more from John Sloan or contact him about a case, visit his website or give him a call at (800) 730-0099.

This podcast episode also covers why sharing information benefits everybody, the importance of training your staff to use role reversal techniques with clients, how to frame the defendant driver as a victim of the company, disciplining yourself to say no to cases, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

As a boy growing up in Henderson, John Sloan thought he might become a preacher some day. However, by the time he began his undergraduate studies at Baylor University, John made up his mind: He was going to be a trial lawyer.

John received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Baylor in 1977 and enrolled at Baylor Law School, where he began to hone his trial skills in the school’s renowned Practice Court.

He earned his J.D. in 1980 and returned to East Texas, joining a firm in Henderson.  John immediately began trying cases, including a murder trial just five weeks after he received his law license.

Two-and-a-half years after he started work at the law firm, John decided that he wanted to focus on personal injury cases. He moved to Longview and opened his own practice. He has been trying cases in East Texas and courts across the country ever since.

At the time he established Sloan Law Firm, John says, he wanted to create a law firm that would provide exceptional personal service to its clients.

“I wanted us to not be a mill where people are just numbers and don’t have a lot of contact with the lawyers,” he says. “I wanted to be able to know my clients personally.”

In addition to offering clients a personal touch, John also provides zealous advocacy. He has achieved several significant verdicts and settlements for his clients. His cases generally involve truck and auto accidents, defective products, and oilfield accidents. He also focuses on brain injury cases.

While courtroom victories are satisfying, John finds that his practice provides many other rewards.

“I like the people I get to work with—the clients—and I like the people here in the office. I like the variety. I like the competition, the battle, the mental gymnastics, being able to outwit and outwork my opponents,” John says.

John’s commitment to the trial lawyer profession has extended to the prestigious Trial Lawyers College. John attended the College in 1998 and joined the teaching staff in 2002. He was named to the Board of Directors in 2010 and as President in 2014.

John also engages in community service. For several years, he served on the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity. He has also worked with Justice for Children, which provides pro bono legal advocacy for criminally abused children. He has coached kids in just about every sport.

In his personal time, John enjoys being active and has participated in numerous triathlons. His primary interest is his small farm outside Longview, where he grows trees and unwinds from his busy law practice.  He is married to the former Dee Anne Allen from Tyler, Texas, and they have two children, Trey Sloan and Veronika Sloan.

 

77 – Gregory Cusimano – Understanding & Utilizing The Jury Bias Model

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial lawyer and consultant Gregory Cusimano. As one of the authors of “Winning Case Preparation: Understanding Jury Bias, Gregory has conducted a plethora of research on why plaintiff’s lawyers win and lose cases. He and Michael discuss his 10 part jury bias model in detail and how you can apply it to your own cases. 

They start off the episode with Michael asking Gregory how he first got involved with this research. He explains how it began as an AAJ committee which he co-chaired with attorney David Winters. The committee was instated because there had been a trend of good lawyers losing good cases, and they wanted to understand why it was happening. After conducting around 1,000 focus groups on every case type imaginable, they developed the foundations of the jury bias model. 

Gregory goes on to share how it didn’t take long to identify the five common anti-plaintiff biases, which they called “untried issues.” These are issues which are important to a jury, but not to the plaintiff’s lawyer, so most lawyers would try the case without ever addressing them. The initial 5 untried issues included personal responsibility, suspicion, victimization, “stuff” happens, and “blame the plaintiff.” While some of these may seem obvious, Gregory explains why understanding these issues is critical for your case 

Michael then asks Gregory what plaintiff’s lawyers can do about these issues, which he admits was the much harder answer to find. In time, he was able to come up with the “10 Commandments,” or 10 decision-making events or aspects that tend to work. He emphasizes that these are in no way a fool-proof formula to win every case, but instead are a way to use social science to present your case in the best way possible.  

The first (and incredibly important) step is to develop the trial storyThe story should be discovered through jury research. Then, you frame your trial story to be consistent with the beliefs of the potential jurors in your venue. Gregory then eloquently ties in the concepts of Fundamental Attribution Error and Availability principle to explain how important framing and ordering of the facts is to the success of your case.  

The next step is to elicit confirmation. Once you’ve found through research what the jurors in your venue believe, you need to present the case in a way which is “hand in glove” to what they already believe. When Michael asks Gregory how the lawyer should figure this out, his answer is fitting with the research he’s done: concept focus groups. If the case warrants it, this is the gold standard in Gregory’s opinion. If it’s a smaller case or you don’t have the funds to hire an outside consultant to hold the focus group, Gregory STRONGLY cautions against attempting to do it yourself. Instead, you should ask colleagues, friends, or family to participate in the process. This is because lawyers are already so invested in their own cases it’s nearly impossible to not project your own biases to your mock jury. Lastly, it’s important to remember that a focus group is qualitative, not quantitative research. A group of 10 is not a big enough sample size to conclude why you need a specific type of person on your jury. 

Another “commandment” is to “head the norm.” Gregory explains how this stems from the “norm principal,” and when applied to trial it means if the conduct of the defendant is “according to the norm,” juries are not likely to find liability. He shares an example of a case he had where a man was on the back of a garbage truck that crashed into another vehicle, amputating the man’s leg. He thought the case was perfect, but he kept losing in every focus group and mock trial. Eventually, he realized even though men standing on the back of a garbage truck is incredibly dangerous, every juror had seen people doing it. It was the norm, so they never found liability.  

They move on to discuss another commandment, “plan for hindsight bias.” This is framing your case in a way where a jury would think, “I knew that was going to happen.” For example, a product liability case begins in a corporate boardroom six years ago when they decided not to go with a safer option. As you share the subsequent meetings and decisions made, the jury already knows how the story is going to go when your client swerves to avoid a puppy in the road.  

The next commandment is to create empathy. ReferencingThinking Fast, Thinking Slowby Danny Kahneman, he explains how there are two distinct ways in which people make decisions – intuitive or logical and reasonable. It may seem backwards, but if you can get the jury to project empathy, they will begin to use more logic and analyze. Gregory then emphasizes empathy is NOT sympathy, and shares why it is such an important distinction. 

They move on to briefly discuss Michael’s favorite commandment, “drop the anchor” before the 10th and final commandment, “build the frame.” Citing Mark Mandell, Gregory elaborates that framing can be both overall and very minor. He and Michael both share examples they’ve used in cases which appear minor, but made a huge difference in the jury’s perception of a statement. 

They conclude the episode by discussing the third and final section of Gregory’s book, the new method for putting a case together. He describes how he uses the 10 commandments in such a clear and concise way anyone who puts in the work can do it. In fact, this strategy has been so successful that Gregory and his team have found it will move a good case 15-20% into the plaintiff lawyer’s favor! This incredibly informative episode is truly a must-listen for any plaintiff lawyer who wants a leg up with the jury!  

If you’d like to contact Gregory to learn more from him or to consult on a case, you can email him at greg@winningworks.com or call his office at 256-543-0400.  

 

Guest Bio:  

Gregory S. Cusimano is an owner of the law firm of Cusimano, Roberts, Mills & Knowlton, LLC in Gadsden, Al. and Winning Works LLC a national trial consulting firm. He concentrates his practice on serious personal injury and death cases.   He is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs throughout the country. Mr. Cusimano was twice elected to serve on AAJ’s Executive Committee and budget Committee, was chair of the ATLA Blue Ribbon Committee to study juror bias and continues to conduct research on tort reform rhetoric and juror attitudes.  He, along with David A. Wenner, developed the Jury Bias Model™ that many say revolutionized how cases are tried today. 

Cusimano has held every elected office in the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, including president. The Association has honored him with an annual Cusimano Symposium.  He was appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court to committees to rewrite Alabama Rules of Evidence, the Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions, and to revise the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. On two occasions, Mr. Cusimano was asked to be the plenary speaker at his State Bar Association’s annual meeting. He served on the President’s Council of the ATLA, (American Association for Justice – AAJ), and was the first to be made a Lifetime Member of the Board of Governors, 

Mr. Cusimano has published numerous articles in state and national magazines and contributed to articles in various treatises.  He is contributing editor of the two volume Alabama Tort Law book, through the fourth edition and co-edited the six-volume set Litigating Tort Cases. He is one of the authors to Winning Case Preparation  published by Trial Guides. He is listed in Best Lawyers of America and is a Life Member in the National Registry of Who’s Who in American Law. Cusimano was the second inductee into the Hall of Fame of the Small Office Practice Section of AAJ.  He is a Diplomate of the International Academy of Litigators and The American Board of Trial Advocates. The designation of Diplomat and Champion of Trial Advocacy was bestowed on him by AAJ’s National College of Advocacy.  He was inducted as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and the Alabama Law Foundation.  Cusimano served as Chairperson of the National College of Advocacy.  He was given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Leonard Ring Champion of Justice Award by AAJ. 

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