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83 – Cliff Atkinson – Beyond Bullet Points: The Art of Visual Storytelling

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with consultant Cliff Atkinson. Cliff has worked with some of the top trial lawyers in the country to help them better tell their clients’ stories. He and Michael discuss his path to success, what he’s found effective for telling stories at trial, how to use the visual medium to help tell a story and where to find good visuals, the creative process, and how Zoom effects our ability to present information.

Cliff and Michael begin the episode with a look at Cliff’s backstory. He shares how he first used PowerPoint for a business school project in the late 90’s, where he added bullet pointed information into the slides like everyone else. A few years later while looking at some blank slides, he realized it could be SO much more than that. As he began writing articles about using PowerPoint as a creative medium, he began receiving attention. After consulting with General Electric’s board, he was approached by Microsoft to write a book about using PowerPoint creatively, which became the bestseller “Beyond Bullet Points”. After Mark Lanier read his book and couldn’t put it down, he was brought in on his first case- Mark’s legendary $253 million verdict against Vioxx, and the rest is history.

Michael then digs deeper into what Cliff has found effective for telling our stories at trial. While Cliff is well-known for his PowerPoint prowess, he insists the story needs to be crafted before you can even THINK about the visuals. Once you have your story, the visuals ride on top of it, magnify it, and make it more powerful.

Michael notes how it can be a challenge to distill the vast number of facts in a case into a story, and asks Cliff for his advice on how to craft a compelling story. He starts with finding the structure using a 3-part story tool template. It’s about making it clear, concise, and powerful. But Cliff insists that it’s NOT about dumbing it down for the jury, it’s about distilling it down. Michael wholeheartedly agrees with this statement and adds that it’s about trusting and respecting the jurors – a recurring theme in this podcast. Cliff then refers to a concept from the book “Made to Stick” called “The Curse of Knowledge.” If you’ve been working on something for a long time and you’re explaining it to someone who hasn’t seen it before, you’re going to have a hard time looking at it like a beginner.

Cliff then begins to elaborate on how to incorporate the visual medium into your story. After sharing an inspiring example of this being done successfully in Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, Cliff eloquently explains this verbiage is the infrastructure for the visual. Once you find your engaging thematic element, the visuals are easy to find. He likes to keep images simple and shares an example from a very complex financial case. He used a blue bucket to demonstrate the key facts of the case, and it simplified the case so well the jurors were asking about it after the case and it undoubtedly helped the attorney win. The key is to make the experience fun and entertaining for the jury.

After a brief but insightful discussion of high tech vs. low tech visuals, Cliff highlights some of his favorite ways to find visuals. The largest source would be items you already have, including documents, PDFs, screen captures from Google Earth, and dashcam video. Once you have all of those visuals, you can do custom 3D constructions, or just do a Google image search to see what’s out there. If you find something close to what you’d like, you can easily hire a freelance graphic designer to create the image you want. Michael then shares some of his favorite low-budget visuals he’s created in his career, and urges listeners to think outside of the box before shelling out $20,000 for an elaborate model.

On the topic of creative thinking, Cliff highly recommends setting aside space in your office for a “creative room.” Keep all the courtroom toys in there, and encourage your lawyers to spend time exploring the visceral part of communication they can so easily feel removed from. Michael shares how some lawyers can be scared to get creative and break away from what’s been done in the past. Cliff agrees, and suggests those lawyers focus on wanting the jurors to have fun. Then, have fun with helping THEM have fun.

Lastly, Michael and Cliff discuss how to tell a story effectively over Zoom. Cliff’s main takeaways involve doing the little things to get an edge over the other side. Things like upgrading your webcam, microphone, and lighting can make a massive difference in your ethos and how the jury perceives your story. He likens a messy background in a Zoom meeting to wearing a crappy suit in court, it worsens your credibility.

To take it a step further, Cliff recommends looking into software you can use to enhance the experience even further. He highly recommends ECAMM or Manycam if you’re on a tighter budget. These tools allow you to be your own videographer and can even create a more engaging experience than if you were with them in person.

If you’d like to learn more about or work with Cliff Atkinson, visit his website. He offers full-day private workshops on storytelling and a course to teach you how to implement these techniques yourself, which Cliff believes is the future.

This podcast episode also covers more details on Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, how haikus can help you become a better advocate, why the “Rule of 3’s” exists, whether high tech or low tech visuals are more effective, how Zoom can be even better than in-person videography, and so much more.

Guest Bio:

Cliff Atkinson is an acclaimed writer, popular keynote speaker, and an independent communications consultant to leading attorneys and Fortune 500 companies. He crafted the presentation that persuaded a jury to award a $253 million verdict to the plaintiff in the nation’s first Vioxx trial in 2005, which Fortune magazine called “frighteningly powerful.

Cliff’s bestselling book Beyond Bullet Points (published by Microsoft Press) was named a Best Book of 2007 by the editors of Amazon.com, and has been published in four editions and translated into a dozen languages including Chinese, Korean, and Russian.  His work has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News.

 

76 – Benedict Morelli – Never Deviate: Telling the Truth, Trusting Your Instincts & Taking Risks

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with legendary trial lawyer Benedict Morelli. With several 8 and 9-figure verdicts under his belt from a wide range of civil litigation areas, Ben’s track record as an attorney and advocate is known across the country, from suing Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment and representing Tracy Morgan in his trucking case against Walmart. He and Michael discuss Ben’s story and path to success, a number of his high-profile cases, how he connects with the jury, and so much more.

Ben’s legal career started over four years before he passed his bar exam, while he was working at a law firm in an administrative role. There, he had the opportunity sit in on several jury trials and jury selections. Because of this, he had a head start in figuring out what strategies worked for him, namely authenticity in front of the jury. He continues to hone his craft today by researching other cases and their results. Interestingly, he doesn’t focus so much on the amount the jury awarded. Instead, he digs deeper into the facts of the case to analyze how great the verdict really was and encourages his team of young lawyers to do the same.

After Ben explains that he simply refuses to play by the insurance’s rules of offering about half of what you ask for, Michael digs deeper into where Ben gets his courtroom confidence from. Ben uses something he calls “Ben Morelli’s personal moot court” and seeks feedback from his friends and family. He also references Tracy Morgan’s trucking case against Walmart, eloquently stating “When I have a royal flush, I don’t play it as a pair of two’s.” If you have a strong case in a good venue, have the guts to stick to your number while also analyzing the risk vs. the reward.

Ben is now at the point in his career where his reputation precedes him, and he shares a SHOCKING story from his case against Live Nation where it worked to his advantage.

Michael then digs in to one of Ben’s biggest strengths, how skilled he is at connecting with the jury. His short answer is, “I am them. I’m exactly them.” He grew up like most of them, doesn’t talk down to them, and ALWAYS tells them the truth. He also NEVER uses jury consultants or a mock jury, which is in stark contrast with how many of our previous guests choose a jury. Instead, he goes into voir dire with no bag, paper, or even a pen and ALWAYS sticks to his theory. He insists that his own instincts and knowledge have served him better over the years, and that “When I bet on the jury, I win.” While a unique approach, this technique has served him so well that he’s been told my numerous judges that he won the case in jury selection. He concludes this topi by clarifying that the most important thing is that you stick to who you are, and find what techniques work for you instead of “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

Ben is also unique by today’s standards because instead of specializing his practice, he takes on a wide variety of cases in different practice areas. His philosophy on this is that if it’s a civil case, he can learn it. He also genuinely enjoys the challenge and takes a lot of pride in the diversity of his practice, something he urges other lawyers to consider before they specialize.

Michael then asks Ben how he motivates and educates his large team of young lawyers.  Ben describes his daily meetings with his lawyers and also with his staff. “I’m never too important,” he continues. Every attorney in the firm knows he will personally read every single thing they write. Michael agrees with this philosophy, and he and Ben discuss why it’s so imperative to stay involved in the litigation aspect of your firm, even after you’ve built up a great team.

The pair ends the episode by discussing two of Ben’s star-studded cases – Tracy Morgan’s trucking case against Walmart and suing Bill O’Reilly for sexual harassment. After sharing what it was like to represent a celebrity of Tracy Morgan’s caliber, he explains how suing Bill O’Reilly was one of the most nerve-wracking cases he’s ever had. They went after Ben, his wife, and his practice “with a vengeance.” The details of this story are shocking and Ben’s decision to stick with the case is truly inspiring.

This podcast also covers individual case lawyers vs. mass tort case lawyers, how Ben orders his witnesses (and why it’s SO important), how to internalize what your client’s been through, the power that plaintiff’s attorneys have, Ben’s record-breaking sexual harassment suit verdict, why Ben chose not to specialize his practice, and so much more. This episode is full of insightful and inspiring stories that are well worth the listen!

 

Guest Bio:

Benedict Morelli is one of the most successful plaintiff attorneys in the country, securing numerous multimillion-dollar results, including a $95M verdict in a sexual harassment case and a $102M verdict against Live Nation. He also helped negotiate a $265M settlement – the largest settlement for a passenger railroad accident in US history – for victims of the 2015 Amtrak train derailment. Mr. Morelli and his firm often litigate high-profile cases, including representing comedian Tracy Morgan in his lawsuit against Walmart and being one of the first to successfully sue Bill O’Reilly and Fox News for sexual harassment. He has deep experience in a variety of civil matters, including personal injury, truck and auto accidents, employment discrimination, medical malpractice, and product liability.

 

73 – Pat S. Montes – The Secret Weapon: Your Client’s Story & The Human Experience

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his good friend and “secret weapon,” Pat S. Montes. A practicing lawyer herself, Pat has developed a consulting business where she works with lawyers and their clients to help the clients tell their stories more effectively.  They’ll take an in-depth look at her process for depo and trial prep and why it is so effective (and healing) for clients to tell their whole story.

They begin by looking at Pat’s background and how she got into her consulting business.  A proud Mexican American and one of six siblings, she explains how her upbringing was hugely influential to her and played a substantial role in her success. She goes on to share how she attended the Trial Lawyers College in 2002 where she realized then that she didn’t really know her clients or their voices. She began a long journey of research and self-discovery, attending countless seminars on psychodrama and storytelling. While Pat does not do psychodrama herself, she utilizes many of the same techniques in her practice. She focuses on getting beyond the client’s outer layer to their inner layer, so they can show the jury what’s really going on inside them.

Pat continues by explaining what psychodrama is, which she simply defines as “finding truth in action.” In this process typically used for group psychotherapy, the “star” (the client) acts out scenes and stories from their life while the present group connects with that experience. In relation to the legal practice and our clients, it is a way of being able to connect with other humans and other human experiences and “finding the truth in the story.” Pat uses role reversal, teaches the clients how to “concretize” their feelings, and more to help them translate their feelings into a story for the jury.

They move on to dig into Pat’s process for preparing the lawyer and their client for deposition. Michael begins this section by asking Pat how she discovered that putting something into action helps the client describe it better. She shares how this process gets the client convicted about how they feel and always begins by asking about the effect of the crash on the client’s life. Their immediate answer to this first question reveals a lot about who they are and how they’ve processed this life-changing event. She will then dig deeper into that answer to uncover the “whole truth,” a process which Michael has seen Pat do with his clients many times and strongly believes is incredibly important to the case, cathartic for the client, and vital for the lawyer to fully understand their client. Michael also notes the importance of the client being completely honest with the jury, because “juries have great bullshit detectors” and will punish you if they sense you’re being dishonest.

Pat will then dig into the client’s “before,” something she thinks is crucial for the client to be able to explain vividly to the jury, saying “If the jury can feel the before, then the jury can feel the loss.” She goes on to say that it’s perfectly fine if the client’s “before” was less than perfect. For example, if the client was in a transition phase before the crash, the last thing they needed was a life-altering injury.

Another important part of Pat’s process is teaching the client how to describe their pain and how it makes them feel. This not only helps them explain it vividly to the jury, but it can even uncover injuries and ailments that have been unnoticed by doctors. She then explains how the lawyer should model this to the client by first describing a recent pain they’ve had. She provides her own example of dealing with Sciatica in such detail that listeners are sure to feel the exact sensation of her pain as she says it.

While this process is meant to build trust and understanding between the lawyer and their client, it also serves to prepare the client to bare the burden of proof for the jury. Many clients initially believe they shouldn’t have to prove anything, or that their story speaks for itself. But Pat will constantly remind the client of how what they say looks to a jury. For example, if the client doesn’t remember the date of the accident, that could appear incongruent with their assertation that “the crash was devastating.”

To help the client go into their deposition feeling emboldened or proud, Pat employs a number of insightful techniques. One example she gives even uses the client’s sense of smell to bring them into their “safe place” which has a number of useful applications in the courtroom and in life. This also makes their story more engaging to the jury and helps the lawyer connect with the emotions they felt in that moment.

Pat then notes the importance of the client describing the joy that their past activities brought to their life. For example, when she asks most clients about their past job, they’ll talk about how it brought them respect and made them feel fulfilled. They typically don’t even mention the money! And when we talk about what these things meant to the client’s life, Pat says that’s where we get the anguish and the “struggles.”

This leads Michael to ask her to explain more about “struggles” and what she means by that. Pat provides a common example of a client saying, “I can’t even walk,” when in reality they can. Many lawyers shut off at hearing this because they think the client is overexaggerating or overly complaining. But while they can walk, they are doing so in a lot of pain. She then makes it clear to the client that they shouldn’t diminish anything, but they should not exaggerate anything.

Michael also adds that when clients are overstating, they’re often scared that if they don’t exaggerate, nobody will listen to them. This is why trust between the lawyer and the client is key, and Michael credits Pat for helping build many of his most trusting relationships with clients. He poetically adds, “Even if it’s not the perfect story, the truth is so powerful in the courtroom.” Pat agrees and adds that the less you have, the more you lose. So even if the client’s “before” story is filled with missteps, it’s vital to tell the whole truth to the jury.

They move on to discuss an insightful way to find the best witnesses for the client. Part of this process is the client acting out scenes from their life, which inherently reveals some people in their life that were there for those moments. Usually, they’re not anybody who the client would list unprompted, but end up being the perfect person to attest to the client’s loss.  As Pat puts it, “It’s who knows your character, not who can speak to it.”

While most of this episode has been about Pat’s depo prep process, she and Michael briefly move on to discuss her trial prep process. This involves setting up a mock jury and having everybody rotate positions to be the jury, the defense lawyer, and the client. This prepares the client for the scrutiny of the defense and the jury, giving them the confidence they need to survive the brutal attacks that can happen in the courtroom. They’ll also cover things like eye contact, what a juror needs, practicing a direct, practicing a cross examination, and more. Between this and the depo prep described in this episode, the client will come out prepared, trusting, and sometimes even “healed” from their emotional wounds.

If you’d like to contact Pat Montes about consulting on a case, you can email her at patmontes@monteslaw.com. She is fluent in both English and Spanish. Michael hesitates to say this because he’s nervous about her getting booked up, but in the spirit of truthfulness, he highly recommends working with Pat to develop your clients’ trust and storytelling skills.

This podcast also covers how long this process takes, going to trial without medical bills, why you should ask your clients who influenced them to be the person they are, why the connection you share with your client should be your voir dire question, how acting out a scene can help clients understand the mechanics of their injury, how lawyers can learn more about this process, why the lawyer needs to be present for this to work, why the plaintiff lawyer should NEVER play the defense lawyer in a role play scenario, why this process feels like therapy, and so much more.

 

69 – David Koechner – Hit Your WHAMMY! The Power of Storytelling

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen and his Director of Marketing and Business Development Delisi Friday are joined by a VERY unique guest – David Koechner! David is a Hollywood actor and comedian who has starred in over 190 films and TV shows. He is best known for his roles as Todd Packer from “The Office” and Champ Kind from “Anchorman” and “Anchorman 2.” You may be wondering how David has any connection to attorneys, but we assure you this episode is full of timely advice for trial lawyers and is just what we need to hear right now. The trio will discuss David’s path to success and his advice for presenting to an audience (think: the jury) both in person and through a screen.

The episode begins with Michael briefly explaining the premise of this special episode. He explains how David comes from the TV/film world, and lawyers are now having to adjust from a live audience to an audience through Zoom. He shares how he’s excited to “learn how to communicate with other human beings through a screen,” or a jury spread out across a stadium or convention center for socially distant in-person trials.

Michael then asks David about his background and how he got into acting. David shares how he grew up in a small town in Missouri and began working for his father’s turkey coop manufacturing business at the age of 7, something he says instilled a strong work ethic in him from a young age. Being from a small town, David had no idea acting was a possibility for him having never met an actor himself. So, he decided to attend college with a political science major where he realized in his third year that “To be in politics, you either need to come from a political family, you’re incredibly wealthy, or you’re the smartest person in any room you walk into. I was none of those things.” He then dropped out of college and worked three jobs until he visited Chicago to attend a “Second City” performance and realized, “This is it. This is what I’m going to do.”

From that moment on, David spent the next 9 years on stage at least 4 nights a week, putting in his “10,000 hours” and citing the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell until he made it onto Saturday Night Live. Michael aptly compares this to up-and- coming trial lawyers – you have to try a lot of small cases before you get a shot at the big ones. They follow with an insightful discussion of the role of “luck” in being successful, which David believes is “really about hard work, isn’t it?”

They then move onto the topic on everybody’s mind right now – How do you effectively communicate with a jury when you’re either wearing a mask or limited to a screen? David recognizes the challenges of doing so, but emphasizes that the most important thing is always your connection to the story. He believes that is the compelling part of any presentation – whether in the courtroom or through a TV screen.

David continues with his recommendations for preparing to present while wearing a face mask. He suggests that lawyers preparing for an in-person trial in the COVID era start observing other people wearing face masks wherever they go. He explains how you can easily tell if someone is calm and purposeful, or agitated by looking at their body language.

Delisi then explains that Michael is going to be conducting voir dire in a football stadium in his upcoming trial. She asks David for advice on how to use your body in a venue that big to make everybody feel included. David suggests that Michael purposefully look at every single person he’s addressing, think about where his words will land, and pace around as he speaks so everyone feels included in the conversation. He also shares a very insightful strategy he uses when preparing for a show in a new venue, which will be helpful to every lawyer listening in future trials and other presentation preparation.

Michael then inquires as to how actors make the audience believe they’re reciting something for the first time when it’s actually been scripted and rehearsed countless times. David astutely replies – “I think that’s the point – rehearse.” He continues by explaining that if he has his lines completely down, he’s fully present and available because he’s not searching for his lines. This gives him (and every actor) the opportunity for “discovery” in a scene, where he is fully engaged with his scene partners and able to truly listen and react honestly to what they say. And it results in successful improv when he films with his comedy peers, like Will Ferrell and Steve Carell.

A brief discussion of the importance of letting silence sink in leads to a very interesting conversation about trusting your audience. Michael shares his experience of switching his mentality of “I need to say everything I have to say” to “It’s not about what I have to say, it’s about being heard,” and with that transition learning to trust the jury more and focus on telling the story, not on controlling the jury.

David then adds, “It’s about respect. You’re respecting the jury to make their own decisions. That will come across.” And while the difference between a crowd at a comedy show and a jury in a courtroom are apparent, the commonalities they share run deep. As Delisi so eloquently puts it, “at the end of the day you’re both storytellers.” David continues by explaining how if he hasn’t heard a laugh in 5 minutes, he knows he needs to change something about what he’s doing. While jurors don’t openly laugh or react, Michael insists “You know when you’re resonating with another human being. You feel it.”

They continue on this note to discuss coping with a loss. David shares how he always mentally prepares to fix what went wrong and assumes, “This is going to go well. Period.” David then describes his favorite adage to tell nervous actors, which is that you always hope the person presenting does well. While admitting it’s marginally different for lawyers, he insists that “they at least hope you’re competent,” which Michael agrees with wholeheartedly, ending this conversation by saying “People want to do the right thing.”

David, Michael, and Delisi end the episode by discussing David’s new business, “Hey, Good Meeting!” Michael and Delisi previously worked with David to surprise the audience at this year’s Big Rig Boot Camp with a comedic appearance by David. These types of events are exactly what Hey, Good Meeting specializes in and provides a unique experience with nationally recognized actors and comedians. If you’d like to book a live comedy experience customized for you and your guests at your next virtual event, holiday party, or referral partner gathering, go to www.heygoodmeeting.com for booking information.

This podcast also covers why all men are secretly 14 years old, what was so special about Chicago in 1996, the importance of listening, playing an outrageous character convincingly, applying the “Rule of 3” to the courtroom, David’s favorite improvised scene from “Anchorman,” using body language to communicate, how David deals with hecklers, and so much more.

 

 

Bio:

Actor, writer and producer David Koechner grew up in Tipton, Mo. working for his father in the family’s turkey coop manufacturing business. He studied political science at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan, and then transferred to the University of Missouri. After college, Koechner moved to Chicago, where he studied improvisation at the IO (formerly the ImprovOlympic) with Del Close and Charna Halpern. He went on to become an ensemble member of Second City Theater Northwest.

From there, Koechner spent one season in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” before moving to Los Angeles and landing guest appearances on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Reno 911” and a recurring role on “Still Standing.” He co-starred in indie films such as “Dill Scallion,” “Wakin’ Up in Reno,” “Dropping Out” and “Run Ronnie Run” while also turning solid performances in studio comedies such as “Out Cold,” “My Boss’ Daughter” and “A Guy Thing.” Koechner, along with Dave “Gruber” Allen, developed and performed The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show on stage at Club Largo in Los Angeles. The show later became a Comedy Central series.

Koechner’s first major film break came when he was cast as Champ Kind in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (a role he reprised in 2013’s “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”). Koechner has been seen in a variety of studio and independent films such as “Daltry Calhoun,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Waiting,” “Yours, Mine and Ours,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Snakes on a Plane,” “Let’s Go To Prison,” “Semi-Pro,” “Get Smart,” “My One and Only,” “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Extract,” “Final Destination 5,” “A Haunted House,” “Paul,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” “Priceless,” Legendary’s “Krampus,”  the animated feature “Barnyard,” the critically acclaimed “Thank You for Smoking,” and the film festival award-winning thriller “Cheap Thrills.” He also starred in the Fox Atomic comedy “The Comebacks.” Recent film projects include “Then Came You,” “Braking for Whales” and “Faith Based,” as well as the upcoming indie horror thriller, “Vicious Fun.”

Koechner currently plays Bill Lewis on ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and recently appeared on ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” CBS’s “Superior Donuts,” Showtime’s “Twin Peaks,” Comedy Central’s “Another Period” and IFC’s “Stan Against Evil.” He also voices reoccurring characters on FOX’s “American Dad” and Netflix’s “F is for Family” and “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.” Koechner is well-known for his character Todd Packer on NBC’s hit comedy “The Office.”

When not filming, Koechner performs live stand-up comedy across the country and creates original content videos for his YouTube channel, “Full On Koechner.” He also co-hosts Big Slick Celebrity Weekend – an annual charity event benefitting Children’s Mercy Hospital of Kansas City – with fellow KC natives, Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis and Eric Stonestreet. Koechner currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

 

68 – Chris Madeksho – Masked Justice: Part 2

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with another trail blazing trial lawyer, Chris Madeksho. Chris recently received a $13.9 million jury verdict on a Mesothelioma case tried in person using social distancing and other safety measures. They discuss Chris’s background, the details and challenges of the case he tried, the safety measures taken, and the numerous strategies Chris used to win this fantastic verdict in the age of COVID-19.

Chris specializes in toxic tort and was introduced to the area by his late father, who worked in asbestos installation when he was young and went on to become a trial lawyer. He began his practice in Texas, but later moved his principal office to California due to Texas tort reform. As most great trial lawyers do, he then attended the Trial Lawyers College and began learning from the other great trial lawyers and scholars in the arena, citing Sari de la Motte, Eric Penn, Nick Rowley, Keith Mitnik, and R. Rex Parris.

Michael then asks Chris about the details of the case he tried. Chris’s client was a 68-year old Mesothelioma patient who worked as an asbestos installer from ages 9 to 19. Because of some criminal details in his background, Chris was forced to drop the loss of consortium claim and only request damages in personal injury, BUT was still awarded $13 million in non-economic damages alone.

With this impressive verdict, Michael asks Chris if the defense wanted to try the case or not. Chris responds with a resounding, “No.” In fact, they even opposed Chris’s waiver of jury when he attempted to get a bench trial. So Chris pushed forward, complied with the judge’s orders, and was completely prepared for trial when the time came.

Chris then explains how the jury summons and voir dire process was handled safely. The summonses were sent out via email and included COVID-19 hardship questions. He shares how we know our most dangerous jurors are people who are not afraid of COVID-19, but our second most dangerous jurors are people who are there who don’t want to be. Eliminating people who don’t want to be there was very helpful in that respect.

But, a jury summons by email has its downfalls. The biggest being that the demographics of the jury pool were not representative of the populous. The resulting jury was more affluent, more connected with technology, and more conservative than a typical King County jury would be. But as Chris puts it, “When you have a client who’s going to die if you don’t try the case now, you just do the best you can.”

After summoning the jury pool, voir dire was conducted mostly through Zoom with only two panels attending in person due to security concerns. These in person panelists were separated by a 6-foot spacer and their voir dire took place in a convention center to allow for safe distancing. While Chris believes he connected better with the in-person panelists, the resulting jury ended up being comprised of 14 virtual panelists and only 1 in person panelist.

The pair then move on to discuss Chris’s storytelling strategy. Chris explains how he’s worked extensively with Sari de la Motte and employed many of her Hostage to Hero strategies to craft his opening and closing arguments. He also emphasizes the importance of being “at ease” when speaking to the jury with a mask on. He shares the perfect analogy of being in a dark room where you can only see the other person’s eyes – you’re going to focus heavily on what you can see, so your eyes need to appear honest and relaxed.

Chris’s opening also focused heavily on the conduct of the defendant, a story he told by choosing the “villain” to be a corporate representative who is still alive. He decided to use her as the villain because she is more tangible to the jury than someone who may have done a lot of harm, but isn’t alive to pay for their wrongdoings. Chris and Michael then have a very insightful conversation on if the villain needs to be a person, or if the villain can simply be the organization as a whole – a subject discussed on this podcast in the past.

Michael then asks about how Chris told the damages story at trial, which Chris boiled down to “This is a man who worked his entire childhood. Now that he’s in his final days, he’s living his childhood for the first time.” He then shares how this powerful story was made stronger by getting the defense doctor to share the horrors of Mesothelioma – a useful strategy which every listener needs to hear.

The pair ends the episode with the defense’s shocking (and unsuccessful) closing argument. The defense lawyer basically said, “A lot of people are going to be dying painful deaths in this COVID era. They’re not getting any money.” As he said that, the jury set their tablets down and nobody wrote for the remainder of his argument. Chris agrees to share the transcripts for the full details, but the defense effectively ostracized themselves from the jury at this exact moment. While plaintiff lawyers everywhere have been concerned about this being used successfully against them, Chris’s experience shows it was ineffective.

If you’d like to reach Chris Madeksho, you can email him at cmadeksho@madeksholaw.com or visit his website at www.madeksholaw.com. He’s been kind enough to make himself available to speak with any plaintiff attorney who’s looking to get back in the courtroom and wants to learn from his experience.

This podcast also covers the intricacies of asbestos cases, the importance of putting your family first, working through personal issues with clients, Chris’s courtroom layout, trusting the jury, Chris’s advice for trial lawyers who want to improve, and so much more.

 

Interested in hearing more COVID Era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Bio:

Chris is licensed to practice law in three states – Texas, California and Washington State, and he has a national reputation for managing asbestos and other toxic torts. He has represented mesothelioma and toxic injury clients in courtrooms from New York to California, and from the Midwest down to Texas.  Chris is a graduate of the nationally-renowned Trial Lawyers College and is a fluent Spanish and French speaker.

In addition to trying cases for victims of cancer and toxic torts, Chris routinely tries cases pro bono for low-income families facing eviction in the Los Angeles area. He participated as trial counsel and adviser to tenants in the largest rent strike in Los Angeles County history. The tenants prevailed in their strike and the landlord eventually dismissed his eviction lawsuits after losing several trials. Helping his community is a passion for Chris.

Outside of work, you’ll find Chris spending time with his family — they especially enjoy gardening, exploring the outdoors, making music, and enjoying good food together. Chris’s dream is to eventually use his time and resources to reforest American ecosystems.

 

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