experience

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.

 

45 – Peter Kestner – Money and Strategy with “The Janitor”

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with acclaimed author, speaker, and trucking lawyer, Peter Kestner, for a conversation on going up against insurance companies. Peter’s experience is somewhat unique having started out in the insurance industry working for the second largest trucking insurer in the country, handling truck litigation claims.

Then, after going back to law school, he ran an excess program for a sister insurer under the Travelers Umbrella with 30 of the largest trucking concerns with self-insured retentions (SIR’s) where he would audit their claims files to make sure they had proper reserves. In some cases when it was a high exposure case, Peter would have to interject himself into the case to settle it or make the decision to take it to trial. He was even nicknamed “The Janitor” because he would “clean the messes up.” Not long after, he made a change to become a plaintiff’s lawyer when he decided he wanted to help people instead of defending corporations. Michael points out that Peter’s background and experience from the other side is extremely valuable since he’s been on the other side valuing and negotiating the cases and helping make the decisions.

One of the first insights Peter shines a light on is how much the insurance industry has changed over the years in that they now operate more like the banking industry where it is focused more on getting the premium dollars in to the company versus being in the business of risk management. Peter explains, those are dollars the insurance company works the hardest to bring in, as evidence by all the marketing campaigns aimed at bringing in new customers. They then can use those dollars to invest where, unlike the banking industry, there is little regulation as to what they can put in their portfolios as they are regulated at the state level. He clarifies why this is important looking back to 1991 and the advent to Colossus and Allstate, when the McKenzie company did an audit and determined that Allstate was paying too much in claims and suggested they reduce the amount of third party liability settlements in order to increase profits. The assertion of this being that if an insurer can find ways to bring the number of claim settlements down and pay less in overall claims, it would be an acceptable risk when the practice results in a rare bad faith case against the company, keeping more money overall available to invest. It’s obvious that this strategy has worked, as Peter points out that the insurers have grown substantially to where they are now Fortune 100 companies with billions in assets.

The conversation throughout the bulk of this episode focuses mainly on a deep dive insight on a few cases Peter has encountered and how insurance factored into them. One case referred to several times in this episode is a fascinating case which involved a 63-year-old retired Seal Team 6 member who was hit by an 18-wheeler on a dusty road in Nevada. The details surrounding this case are particularly interesting when you consider the two trucks involved were from the same company and Peter’s client was found to have been 8 feet over the center line and they were still able to settle the case, after 3 days of trial, for a sizable amount. Other details, which you need to hear to believe, involved conflicting positions on who caused the accident from within the company (the driver of the truck and the official position of the company) where a Facebook post helped solidify his client was not at fault.

Peter and Michael give some amazing advice to those taking on trucking cases and how to handle insurance companies including: strategies on how (and why) to separate yourself from the insurance negotiations and trial discussions; defense counsel bluffs – how to spot and call them without getting taken advantage of; how to leverage focus groups to put together the best case for your client, even if it means not entering all the client’s injuries; how 5 seconds of hard data can (and did) defeat a defense theory; and so much more. This episode concludes with a discussion around the top things Peter has seen plaintiff’s lawyers do which ends up leaving money on the table. His insider knowledge is extremely helpful when considering case strategy and the whole episode is worth listening to several times over.

 

BACKGROUND

Peter Kestner has extensive experience with truck accident cases, both as a private attorney and representative for trucking insurers. He is a co-founder of the law firm McEwen & Kestner.  Prior to founding his law firm, Peter served for 10 years as a claims adjuster and litigation manager with one of the largest tractor trailer insurers in the U.S. Peter earned his B.S. from Skidmore College in 1989, and his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in 2001. Peter now uses his defense experience to represent individuals injured by the negligent acts of trucking companies.  Peter has also served as personal counsel to policy holders in disputes with their insurers as well as serving as an expert witness in insurance litigation matters. He is the past-chair of AAJ’s Interstate Trucking Litigation Group, Chair of AAJ’s Bus Litigation Group, sits on the Board of Regents for the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, he is on the board of directors of Minnesota Association for Justice and he also holds a CPCU professional designation in insurance. He has litigated truck accident cases in 19 different states in both State and federal Court.  He is also Board Certified in Truck Accident Litigation by the National Board of Trial Advocates (NBTA)

  • Past Chair AAJ Trucking Litigation Group 
  • Chair AAJ Bus Litigation Group 2017-present
  • Co-Chair, Amicus Curiae Committee, AAJ Trucking Litigation Group 2011-present.
  • Minnesota Association for Justice Board of Directors 2012-present.
  • Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys- Board of Regents

 

LEGAL BACKGROUND

  • Admitted to Bar, 2001, Minnesota and US District Court of Minnesota
  • Appeared Pro-Hac Vice in Trucking Cases in the following jurisdictions: District of Colorado, Western District of Kentucky, Wyoming State Court, New York State Court, Iowa State Court, Illinois State Court, Wisconsin State Court, Kentucky State Court, South Carolina State Courts, District of North Carolina, Nevada State Court and North Dakota State Court, District of Utah, Texas State Courts, North Dakota State Courts, South Dakota State Courts, District of Mississippi.
  • Education: Skidmore College (B.S. 1989); William Mitchel College of Law (J.D. 2001)

 

PUBLICATIONS AND LECTURES

  • Speaker: AAJ Summer Convention, Understanding the Transport Cycle, Summer 2019
  • Speaker: AAJ Jazz Fest, Negotiation Matters, Winter 2019
  • Speaker: New Jersey Association for Justice, The Defense Perspective, Spring 2019
  • Speaker:  Stratford Webinar- Finding the Hidden Motor Carrier, Fall 2018
  • Speaker: Kentucky Association for Justice- The Broker Defense, Summer 2018
  • Speaker: AAJ Members Only Truck Group- Trial of a Punitive Damage Truck Case
  • Speaker:  New Jersey Association for Justice: Maximizing the Recovery in Truck Cases, Spring 2018
  • Speaker: 2018 Winter Convention AAJ, Negotiations Matter
  • Speaker: National Board of Trial Advocacy, Summer 2018) (Understanding Broker Cases
  • Speaker: Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, Summer 2018- (Understanding the Transportation Cycle
  • Course Chair and Lecturer- AAJ Trucking College, Spring 2018
  • Course Chair/Moderator:  AAJ Annual Convention, Summer 2017, Trucking Litigation Group.
  • Speaker: Ohio Association for Justice, Spring 2017- Trucking Insurance
  • Speaker: Florida Justice Association Winter 2016: Hell on the Highways, Maximizing the Recovery in Trucking Cases
  • Speaker: ATAA Fall 2016 “Truck Insurance 101”
  • Speaker/Course Chair: 2016 AAJ Trucking College
  • Speaker:  “Rules in Trucking Cases” (AAJ Summer Convention 2016)
  • Speaker: “Mediating the Trucking Case” (Minnesota Association for Justice May 2016
  • Speaker: “Maximizing Settlement in Auto Cases” (360 Advocacy Seminar Spring 2016).
  • Speaker: “Understanding the Transportation Cycle” (New Jersey Association for Justice-Boardwalk Seminar 2016)
  • Speaker: “Mediating Trucking Cases” (Minnesota Association for Justice- Spring 2016).
  • Co-author: “Potential Source of Recovery in Commercial Trucking Case”  The Advocate, Vol. 41 #5 (Kentucky Justice Association Sept./Oct 2013)
  • Author- “SIR vs Deductible” (AAJ Insurance Section Newsletter Fall 2015)
  • Speaker: “Discovery In Trucking Cases” Webinar (Fall 2015)
  • Speaker: “Insurance 101” (New Jersey Association for Justice Spring 2015)
  • Speaker: “Insurance 101” (North Carolina Association for Justice, Spring 2015)
  • Author- “Broker Liability for Negligent Selection of an Independent Contractor”, Minnesota Trial, Volume 37, No. 4 (Minnesota Association for Justice Fall 2012).
  • Author- “Broker Liability for Negligent Selection of an Independent Contractor”, Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Newsletter (Fall 2012)
  • Author- “The MCS-90 Endorsement: No Coverage? No Problem, Minnesota Trial (Minnesota Association for Justice Summer 2008)
  • Author- “Trucking Insurance Chapter” Truck Accident Litigation, 3rd Edition, (American Bar Association 2012)
  • Speaker- “Debunking the Broker Defense” Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Broker Shipper Liability Seminar, October 2013
  • Speaker- “Debunking the Broker Defense” Interstate Trucking Litigation Group Broker Shipper Liability Seminar, June 2013
  • Speaker- “Finding all Defendants in Wrongful Death Trucking Cases” Minnesota Association for Justice Wrongful Death Seminar, May 2013
  • Speaker- “Technology in Trucking Cases” New Jersey Boardwalk Seminar, April 2013
  • Speaker- “ Insurance Company Rules” 360 Advocacy Group, Trucking Litigation Seminar, May 2012
  • Speaker- “ Insurance Company Rules” Kentucky Justice Association, Trucking Litigation Seminar, June 2012
  • Speaker- “ Insurance Company Rules” Tennessee Justice Association, Trucking Litigation Seminar, March 2012
  • Speaker- “Maximizing Your Recovery: Finding Insurance Coverage, Minnesota Association for Justice Successfully Litigating the Commercial Truck Case, November 2010
  • Speaker- “Insurance Company Rules: Strategies for Maximizing Recovery- IPITLA Seminar, September 2009
  • Speaker- “Defense of Trucking Cases, Why Commercial Motor Vehicle Cases are Different, May 2007

34 – Sonia Rodriguez – Hindsight in the PI World

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Sonia Rodriguez, for another installment of TLN Table Talk to answer the questions of our listeners. This episode focuses on advice for our up-and-coming personal injury attorneys on the things we know now and wishes we knew earlier in our careers.

Starting right off in the broad sense of the industry, we start with a question about what advice would we give to a lawyer who is in the first 2 years of practice. Learning the hard way, Sonia states why it is critical for a successful personal injury law practice to understand the difference between a PI practice and a typical business practice when you are talking to bankers and lenders. The discussions you’ll have with bankers and lenders about lines of credit and assets in regards to your practice can sound like a foreign language to certain bankers, so you really need to find a bank that knows the PI practice and knows that many times the assets you have are going to be intangible, and are more likely to be in your file cabinet or on your server. Michael also points out how the banking regulations have also tightened up in recent years where it has become harder for PI lawyers to borrow against their case list. To this point, Sonia suggests once you have a few years under your belt, you should start saving/hoarding your money so you can borrow against your own investments and savings when you want to. They both agree once you hit your first big case, you don’t want to start living like that has become your new lifestyle every year or every month and you need to live below your means for a long time. Michael recalls avoiding the temptation to go buy the expensive Mercedes and shares how his first house was only $67,000, which was in stark contrast to other lawyers who went out and bought big houses and could barely pay their credit cards or make it month to month. It was with this foresight and now shared knowledge, that Michael reveals his early financial habits have led him to build the successful practice he has today.

Providing additional advice for PI lawyers just starting out, Michael weighs the pros and cons of gaining experience by starting in a district attorney’s office (hint – it’s not advised…and for good reason). He goes on to suggest several much better ways to gain experience and learn from other attorney’s experience, this podcast being one of them, which will prove to be more advantageous in building a solid foundation for a personal injury practice. Thinking from the other end of the spectrum, Sonia also offers advice regarding business relationships and how they are bound to change over time and shares the key factors you need to consider before entering into a partnership, regardless of the current or past relationships status. A lesson the majority of seasoned attorneys would likely agree with, hindsight being 20/20. Michael, being one of them, recounts one of the things he knows now that he wishes he knew earlier, and how he wishes he had spent a seemingly small amount of money early on to hire a lawyer to draft his agreements with other lawyers. Being lawyers, he says, “we think we can do it ourselves,” and in the process, we end up overlooking the holes in an agreement and only looking at it through rose-colored glasses as if nothing will ever change in the relationship. Michael reveals, in his own hindsight, the amount of money he’s paid out on legal fees to draft things for him now, has turned out to be less than 1% of what he’s paying people that he wouldn’t have had to pay had he had those agreements in place. LESS THAN 1%!

Sonia transitions by discussing the amount of stress brought on day-to-day in this industry. Our bodies were never designed to handle these amounts of mental or physical stress that can come with a heavy litigation practice, she says, and on the plaintiff’s side, it can also be very easy to become emotionally invested in our client’s cases. As a trial lawyer, you need to find a mechanism for an outlet, such as exercise, meditation (if it works for you), or even journaling, in order to maintain your mental health. Michael adds that you need to find a balance in order to internalize and feel your client’s pain without it taking you over. The Harvard Business Review published a great article about the stress and anxiety of being a perfectionist, as we tend to do in this line of work which also lays out several options for mental self-care.

Michael continues to state, as he has on many episodes of this show, to get out there and try more cases. There is never a shortage of cases to be tried in any firm. And no one will remember the cases you lose as you gain experience or even years into your practice for that matter. He goes on to say that you do not suffer a reputational hit for losing a trial and how he has actually lost more cases than some people have ever tried, but still has tons of referrals coming in because attorneys remember the ones he’s won.

Throughout the rest of this episode, Michael and Sonia discuss topics like: the power of saying “NO,” the importance of reputation; how to use a cost/benefit analysis to determine the right cases to take on; their opinions on paying for online profiles with various legal organizations, what to do in discovery when you think the other side is hiding something from you; how to (and more so, how not to) attract leads online; tricks to leveraging social media and pitfalls to avoid when using it; and many others along the way.

These Table Talk podcasts could not happen without the interaction and questions submitted by our listeners. We are eternally grateful and encourage you to continue to send us your thoughts, ideas, and questions as we love sharing our experiences with them.

“Please note the TLN19 discount code mentioned in this show has now expired.”

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