grief

102 – Michael Leizerman – The Value of Life: Understanding What Was Taken

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with the Zen Lawyer, Michael Leizerman, for his second time on the show. They’ll cover the importance of language in trial, the difference between something being “taken” vs. “lost,” connecting with your client, Leizerman’s upcoming Zen Lawyer workshop, and so much more.

The episode begins with Cowen asking Leizerman how he’s doing, then immediately retracting the question because he just asked it. Leizerman says this is actually the perfect way to begin the episode, because they’re going to talk about habits. Phrases like “pain and suffering,” harms and losses,” and others have become the go-to for trial lawyers everywhere – but that doesn’t mean they’re the most effective phrases to communicate your client’s injuries. Instead, Leizerman encourages you to think about it a different way; how the defendant took something from your client. 

Diving into further detail, Leizerman uses the example of how you feel when you lose your phone, versus when someone took your phone. When someone takes something from someone else, you feel like they need to either give it back or compensate them for their loss. In the personal injury world, there is no way for the defendant to give back what they took, so they must pay the value of what was taken.

This strategy also changes how the jurors see it. Jurors know it’s wrong for someone to take something. When you give them an active wrongdoer, and describe what they took, it can be very powerful.

Next, Leizerman shares the importance of describing what the defendant took from your client. This goes much deeper than the medical diagnosis, where most lawyers stop. If the client can’t work anymore or can’t play little league with their daughter, this goes down to the very state of their being, and you need to make this very clear to the jury.

“[The jury’s] sole job is to put a value on what was taken from [my client].” – Michael Leizerman

This discussion naturally flows into a topic frequently covered on the podcast – the case is about what we choose to make it about. Using the example of a herniated disc case, where the defense almost always claims there was degeneration prior to the incident, Cowen describes how he uses the treating doctor’s deposition to describe what the client’s life was like before the incident and what was taken from them. Leizerman loves this example and describes how he uses the defense’s medical expert to make the same point brilliantly, citing an impressive recent $10,988,000 jury verdict in a herniated disc case.

After discussing why it’s so important to spend time with a client in their own home, they transition to the concept called “companioning,” where you are present for someone’s pain without trying to fix it. Leizerman shares a deeply personal experience with his mother, who is currently in hospice, where he held her hand and sat with her for a long time. Applying this to lawyering, Leizerman says he has many phone calls with the client where he only speaks about 5% of the time. He simply listens, lets them speak, and every time they thank him for the conversation.

Cowen then adds that one of the greatest self-imposed sufferings in his life has been his “need to fix.” Over the years, he has gone on a journey to accept that his job is not to fix – it’s to get the client as much money as he can. Leizerman deeply relates to this feeling and gives it the term “empathetic distress.” Flipping the script, Leizerman then asks Cowen to dig a little deeper into how he’s coped with his need to fix. He gives an insightful answer and shares a meaningful example from a recent wrongful death trial, where the verdict gave the spouse such a feeling of validation. Leizerman agrees and had a very similar trial recently, where simply being heard was the most important thing for the client.

“My job is to reduce suffering in the world, and that includes reducing suffering in my own life.” – Michael Leizerman

Cowen then asks Leizerman what skills he has used to comfort people who are grieving. Leizerman describes how he is truly present with his client in their pain and aware of their energy. He recognizes the concept of energy may sound “wacky” to some, but he believes it works for him and makes a real difference in his connection with his clients. This has served him well in depos, where the defense will want to take a break as soon as his client begins crying or showing strong emotion. The clients feel supported enough to continue through the tears and pain of that moment, often resulting in a very powerful deposition.

They end the episode by discussing Leizerman’s workshop on Zen meditation. Cowen has attended before, and credits it to a huge jump in his skills and mindset. It has helped him be more present in the moment and make him an overall happier person. Leizerman appreciates this, and adds that Zen Buddhism is non-theistic and not about being calm all the time, but being truly present in a moment. Michael Cowen encourages all lawyers listening, especially lawyers with some experience under their belt, to attend.

Michael Leizerman’s next workshop will be held October 19th-22nd in Toledo, Ohio. You can learn more about the workshop and register here.

This podcast episode also covers why you shouldn’t beat yourself up when you misspeak in trial, why you need to tie the wrongdoing to what was taken, the details of both Cowen and Leizerman’s most recent wrongful death trials, why it’s important to look for non-portrait photos of your client before the incident, Michael Cowen’s experience at Michael Leizerman’s Zen workshop, and much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Michael Leizerman is a partner at The Law Firm for Truck Safety, which handles truck accident litigation across the United States.  He is the co-founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). He concentrates his practice in select catastrophic injury truck collision cases across the country.

Michael was the first Chair of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group. He and his wife and law partner, Rena, wrote the 4,000+ page treatise Litigating Truck Accident Cases. Together, they also spearheaded efforts in partnership with the NBTA and the ATAA to obtain the first and only American Bar Association-accredited board certification in truck accident law in the country.

Michael has taken 13 truck and bus cases to trial since 2006. He has received record-breaking truck accident settlements and verdicts across the country, including multiple verdicts with punitive damages. He and his firm have received multi-million-dollar results in over 50 settlements and verdicts.

Michael is also the author of the Trial Guides book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, published in 2018.

 

31 – Malorie Peacock – Proven Techniques for Proving Damages

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, to answer the questions of our listeners. This show focuses on how to prove your client’s harms and losses at trial.

The first listener question is regarding the idea of whether 3X the medical bills is typically what you use to determine damages or does that only apply in certain cases? Michael recalls being taught the 3X “rule of thumb” back when he was first starting as a trial lawyer, but since then, no longer does for several reasons. First and foremost, times have changed along with insurance company practices. If an insurance company or defense attorney does start to talk to you about 3X medical bills, it’s likely because your case is worth a lot more than that. Instead, Michael focuses on what a jury might do when they look at each element of damage (pain, mental anguish, impairment, or whatever the measure of damage is in a particular state) individually and determine what they feel compelled to put in each blank. That, paired with what Michael calls “piss off factors” based on things the defense might do to compel a juror to give full justice for, becomes a number he’d like to keep as high as possible. Of course, he also takes into account whether his client is for some reason not likable or the defense is super likable, which can also affect the jury’s motivation in an adverse way for his case. Malorie also brings up another important note on the effects of jurors taking into consideration the percentage of fault even though they are instructed not to do so. To which Michael elaborates a little more on how to potentially work the messaging of that to the jury.

The next question by our listeners is how do you work up damages, especially in a smaller case that doesn’t warrant bringing in experts or producing lots of exhibits? Michael starts to answer this question by clarifying that experts generally do not help work up damages, but rather help to prove calculations on future medical expenses or a vocational loss. Having said that, with regard to the human and non-economic damages, he believes people who come in and talk about your client, how they were before, what they went through, and what they are like now can have the biggest impact. This also doesn’t cost any money toward the case. It does, however, take a lot of time in order to visit with these people to talk through what they know of the client before, during, and after, as well as collect photos or videos showing the client in a different state prior to suffering damages, etc. Michael discusses how this approach, even by taking the time to meet with people and learning your client’s story better, will make you more authentic in the courtroom which can have a profound impact on your case. Malorie sums this point up reminding us that all of our clients are more than just their injuries.

The next question they explore is regarding a wrongful death case without economic damages, which Malorie takes the reins on and starts with conveying just how hard it is to put a number on life when no amount of money will ever replace someone’s loved one. She goes on to elaborate that although you can do focus groups, they are not truly predictive. It will always boil down to the 12 jurors you get on any specific day in court who will ultimately put that number on a case. Michael adds that liability is what really tends to drive the number in wrongful death cases and it sometimes becomes very hard to have a conversation with the surviving family member(s) on the difference in the value of life versus the value of a case. He also shares how going to trial in a death case is extremely tough for the family as they relive one of the most painful events in their lives, which places a real responsibility on us as lawyers to make sure we are doing the right thing. Whether that means turning down an offer that is not sufficient to go to trial to fight for more and making an informed choice while understanding upfront the process and pain that will likely come with going through the details all over again. Malorie also describes the importance of knowing your client (a common theme throughout this episode) and understanding their goals, hopes, and struggles for their future to be able to help guide them through the conversation about money.

Proving grief is another topic Michael and Malorie explore with the belief from some jurors that everyone dies at some point. They both agree that there is a definite difference between dying when it’s time and dying when it’s not your time because of a tragic incident. Michael also points out the balancing act that occurs when you don’t want to “torture” your client and make them cry by bringing up all the pain and suffering they encounter now that their loved one is no longer here vs. focusing on the hopes that were and the plans for the future that have now changed because of the actions of someone else. He also points out that this is a good time to utilize experts like grief counselors and let them talk about the pain and suffering your client is, and will, experience due to the loss as well as the grieving process and the natural cycle of grieving to help paint an appropriate picture for the jury. They also give several other examples of ways to express the pain and loss without having to pull tears out of the surviving family members directly.

Michael and Malorie continue their abundance mentality by sharing so much great information in this episode on topics like when to submit and when not to submit a medical bill toward damages; avoiding the status quo and navigating a case to motivate a jury to give your client the justice they deserve; where do your client’s harms and losses fit into the greater story of the trial; an ideal “3 act” trial story through the juror’s eyes; how not to present your client’s harms and losses in a vacuum; how to get your client’s actual story (hint – it’s not what you might think); tips on utilizing psychodramatic methods; expediting the process of spending time with your client to understand their story; how Pareto’s Law can be applied to your docket; and so much more.

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

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

17 – Jesse Wilson – Turning Victims into Victors in the Trial Lawyer Theatre

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with communications specialist, speaking coach, and jury trial consultant, Jesse Wilson. As a student of Julliard and with a background in theatre, TV, and film, Jesse’s transition to the trial lawyer consulting world doesn’t seem ironic at all seeing as every courtroom shows us different characters. Ask him what he does, and his answer is “I help human beings become human beings in front of other human beings,” describing his talent to a “T.”

From his early studies in theatre, one technique he was taught using masks made such an impression on him that he continues to use it to this day. Literal face masks are a powerful communication tool as well as a strong metaphor for the masks we wear in our lives, Jesse says. As the old saying goes, “what we resist, persists,” and they (masks) allow us to turn toward the dark and deplorable and use them as an opportunity. Jesse describes his initial success using masks came while directing inmates in jailhouse theatre where they were able to play different roles in order to understand different perspectives.

Today, Jesse uses these techniques with trial lawyers and clients alike to aid in showing the human spirit in the courtroom and fighting against the natural urges to cast themselves as the “characters” they think the jury wants to see them as. He discusses in more depth the need not to show emotion but rather to be emotionally available and the need to show that your client knows joy, can feel joy and is fighting for joy. If you don’t do that, then you end up becoming your own audience member and the jury no longer has the ability to become the “hero.” It’s the worst thing that can happen to an actor as well as for a trial lawyer. In the end, our job as lawyers is to show what our clients have lost, and in order to do that, we need to show the jury what they had by talking about the times of joy. We and the jury can feel the loss 1,000 times more through the joy than through the grief. In other words, Jesse points out, we don’t need to show their grief or tears, we need to show that they are a fighter, and the subtext in this paradox is revealed that the one thing that is more powerful than a man crying is a man trying not to cry.

The process Jesse uses isn’t cookie cutter by any means: he spends as much time as possible with the client being the human sponge and soaking up all the information he can and then “squeezes the orange” to formulate the narrative, language, and themes. By using movie questions like What’s your favorite movie? Who’s the main character? What is his main obstacle (the thing that is holding them back from what they want)? This helps to create an understanding of the story while avoiding talking about their own life in order to put them on common ground. He goes on to ask – if you took away the main obstacle, would you want to see the movie? Most, of course, say no without hesitation because it would be really boring and the story would have no place to go. Kind of like in the movie Jaws if you were to take away the shark. This conversation then sets the stage and helps clients to understand the importance of the struggle and the value of the story in its entirety, which eventually leads to talking about the details of their own story.

Michael relates a similar example where a client lost her right arm and was right-handed. In the beginning, they were just showing liability and mentioned the amputation and the focus group felt that “sure the case is worth $1M and she is probably trying to cash in and doesn’t want to work anymore” and a lot of other negative things. Then they showed video of her doing cross fit, saying she’s not going to let this beat her, lifting more weight with her left hand than she used to with both hands, and the focus group numbers just skyrocketed for what they were willing to give. All because she was no longer playing the “victim.” Michael refers to it as displaying the hope dynamic where if you are asking the jury to help you, they need to see what you are doing to help yourself.

Of course, no amount of money will ever make our clients’ lives whole again, but what you’re doing is helping them to continue to get better. They discuss that it’s really a tough position to be in during a trial because clients feel like they need to stay hurt and not move forward, yet they are really hurting themselves more by NOT continuing to move forward. Jesse also points out that it is one thing to work with someone who has had a lifetime of joy and then (bam!) it’s lost due to a death or injury, but it is another to work with someone who might have a lifetime of abuse or neglect or has a negative self-image and needing to somehow get them to the point in the eyes of a jury where we can understand the extent of their loss. Certainly, a deep and difficult discussion to have for anyone, but an important one to uncover the emotional evidence in a case.

Michael and Jesse conclude their conversation discussing the other “roles” that need to be cast in the trial story like the villain, along with the characteristics and conduct that reveal them as villains. Truly a powerful and enlightening peek behind the curtain of the great work Jesse is bringing to the courtroom in some of the country’s biggest cases.

For more info on Jesse Wilson visit: www.tellthewinningstory.com

 

Workshop Discount: Trial Lawyer Nation listeners are able to receive a 10% discount on any of Jesse’s workshops in 2018 or 2019. To take advantage of this discount, please sign up for a workshop through his website and use the access code PODCAST.

 

Jesse Wilson is a communication specialist, speaking coach, and jury trial lawyer consultant. A Juilliard Theater graduate, after 20 years of working in the world of theater, TV, and film, he has created “Tell The Winning Story” to empower trial lawyers to deliver high-impact presentations, as well as rapidly transform their communication and collaboration skills to effectively prepare clients and witnesses to testify. Jesse was inspired to create “Tell The Winning Story” after co-developing a Theater-Behind-Bars program for inmates.  The program helped inmates make powerful changes in their lives.

The true power of a story always comes from inside us, the storyteller… And the path to developing a winning story begins with the lawyer owning their own story. “Tell The Winning Story” provides the lawyer the difference between telling a “hidden, safe, ‘surface’ story,” and powerfully connecting to a story that goes right to the heart of their audience, whomever that audience happens to be.

Jesse’s hands-on training are featured in his seminars, law firm retreats, intensives, workshops, and webinars.

For more info on Jesse Wilson visit: www.tellthewinningstory.com

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