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105 – Keith Mitnik – Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with legendary Morgan & Morgan trial lawyer, podcast host, and author, Keith Mitnik, for a second time. They discuss Keith’s recently released book, “Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work from Winning Workups to Thumbs-Up Verdicts,” new voir dire techniques, and the importance of words.

Jumping right into the podcast episode, Michael asks Keith how he gets full damages on cases with no obvious villain. Keith shares a recent example where he framed everything around the statement, “It’s not about how much she’s going to get. It’s about what was taken, and what’s a fair value for what was lost.” He draws an insightful connection between our modern-day justice system and the “eye for an eye” justice system of the past. The “brutal” eye for an eye system was never about the punishment, but about recognizing fully what was taken from the person who was wronged. He’ll explain this concept to the jury, and the results are powerful.

Keith continues by explaining the evolution of his voir dire process over the years, including how and when he gets the jury to get a discussion going. He’s tried many methods throughout the years and shares their flaws, but feels very good about his current strategy, which he calls “The First Big 3.” He’ll set up voir dire with the story about full recognition, then start questioning the jury on the big 3 types of bias:

  1. Feelings against this type of lawsuit.

  2. Feelings against the non-economic part of pain and suffering.

  3. Feelings against large verdicts.

After asking the jury about these 3 items, he’ll share the idea that it’s not about how much was taken, but how much was lost, and ask how it felt when they heard that.

Continuing this line of thought, Keith adds another change he sometimes makes to his voir dire, which is asserting that the jury’s job is not to assess the income of your client – it’s about the value of his or her health, which is way more precious than income. These changes have made for a great dialogue between Keith and the jury.

Michael then asks Keith about something he loved in the book – having the client create a list of the “little things.” Keith explains how we often base damages around the big things that are important to the client – but especially with hobbies, those things are rarely important and are often unrelatable for the jury.

To assist with this process, Keith gives clients a small notepad and a homework assignment- to write down every little thing they notice has changed due to their injury. This includes things they continue to do but in a different way and things they do but now it hurts. Then, he’ll sit down with the client to choose a list of the best ones. By the time the client is deposed, the client is able to readily provide a laundry list of relatable examples of how the crash has changed their life, and the defense lawyer is highly motivated to settle the case.

This leads Keith to share a brief but heartfelt story of a recent trial where he decided to ask the jury in voir dire about race, and why he plans to do it again in the future. It’s a story sure to resonate with any trial lawyer hesitant to bring up a sensitive topic in voir dire.

If you follow Keith Mitnik, you know he’s a man of many words – a self-proclaimed “word nerd.” So Michael asks the next logical question – why do words matter, and how does he come up with the words he uses? Keith explains the process he uses to find the best anchor words, where he circles any words he feels might not be the best, then turns to one of his many trusty thesauruses to see what else is available (He recommends either Word Hippo for iPhone or Wordflex for iPad). He shares some real-life examples before explaining the difference between inert words and activator words:

     Inert Words – Ambiguous words with different meanings to different people.

Activator Words – Consistently activate a particular meaning and a feeling.

From there, a word can be either a positive or a negative activator word, meaning it can work in your favor or against you if you aren’t careful. Keith shares numerous examples of inert and activator words, and how he chooses them based on the person he’s addressing.

Moving away from “Deeper Cuts,” Michael asks Keith what his strategy is for going into a case that someone else worked up to try it. Keith highlights the obvious disadvantages as well as the not-so-obvious advantages of this – notedly that he’s able to experience the case “in one, overwhelming wave, just like it will with the jury.” It provides a truly fresh perspective. His one requirement is that he needs to spend time with the client before the trial begins, to connect with them in his heart.

He continues by sharing the different ways he’s split cases up with other lawyers before, and how it varies depending on the other lawyer’s experience and skillset – though as you probably know, he almost always takes the voir dire, opening, and closing.

Michael and Keith then wrap up the episode with a promise to have Keith return soon. In the meantime, you can purchase his books Deeper Cuts: Systems That Simply Work from Winning Workups to Thumbs-Up Verdicts and Don’t Eat the Bruises, listen to Keith’s own podcast “Mitnik’s Monthly Brushstrokes,” and even join his listserv. To join, email Keith at kmitnik@forthepeople.com and copy his assistant Mary Arnold at marnold@forthepeople.com asking to join. They’ll even send you the past editions if you ask!

This podcast episode also covers why it’s important to emphasize your client’s injuries were brought to them “unnaturally,” a story from a recent trial where Keith had to improvise with a client on the stand, how to combat a convincing defense expert, why Keith almost always does both voir dire and opening, and much more, including numerous stories of Keith’s real-life trial experiences.

 

Bio:

Keith Mitnik is the author of Trial Guides’ bestselling book, Don’t Eat the Bruises:  How to Foil Their Plans to Spoil Your Case.

He is also known for his popular audiotape series “Winning at the Beginning” and for his monthly podcasts.

He is a frequent keynote speaker at seminars for trial lawyers across America.

Keith is Senior Trial Counsel for Morgan & Morgan. In that role, he is in trial almost every month, oftentimes 2 or 3 times a month, trying everything from suits against cigarette companies, medical malpractice, and product cases to car crashes and premises cases.

His list of verdicts is staggering.

He has been a commentator on many national television broadcasts and has been interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.

Keith is recognized for creating and teaching systems that simply work – for any lawyer, in any case.

Lawyers all over the country attribute significant verdicts to his methods.

 

88 – Malorie Peacock – The 10 Commandments of Case Management

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock, for a deep dive into their firm’s “10 Commandments of Case Management.” In addition to this, the two also discuss how they developed these standards for working up a case, how involving their team was essential to the long-term success of their plans, and how they intend to track progress moving forward.

Michael and Malorie begin the episode by jumping right into Commandment #1: setting up the initial client meeting. They discuss why meeting with the client in the beginning of a case is so crucial for building the attorney-client relationship, obtaining critical information to get the case on file, and making the client feel comfortable. They explain why the standard they landed on was to have the initial client meeting scheduled within 7 days of the case being assigned to a litigation team.

Moving on to Commandment #2, “the attorney will file suit within 60 days of the initial client meeting.” Michael begins by asking Malorie why he got talked into 60 days as opposed to his original thought of “within a week of having the file assigned.”

“I keep going back to the fact that these are minimum standards, so they’re something that we want to be able to apply in every single case, if possible.” – Malorie Peacock

Following up on this point, Malorie explains how one issue discussed on this topic was that the attorneys must meet with the client before filing the lawsuit; reiterating the importance of the initial client meeting and not only having it, but “getting it right.” The 60-day window allows for deeper research and investigation, as well as time to discuss with experts.

Continuing to the next Commandment (#3), the team discusses their standards for discovery; primarily written discovery and the involved mandatory disclosures. The standard ended up being to submit written discovery within 30 days of the date that discovery is allowed, depending on the rules and jurisdiction.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t encouraging people to just use forms; that we were still giving people time to think about it.” – Malorie Peacock

After a brief discussion, the team move on to Commandment #4, setting depositions. In this segment, Michael and Malorie explain that deposition dates should be scheduled within 45 days of when depositions are allowed to begin: again, depending on the rules and jurisdictions. “It’s making sure that we’re moving that ball forward to get the deposition scheduled,” Malorie says when discussing being aggressive with scheduling, adding onto this by stating, “delay is the friend of the defense … not the plaintiff.”

Commandment #5 establishes the team’s minimum standard of one file review per month. Michael then recites the detailed list of questions contained in these reviews, which, although they may seem extensive, are incredibly important to ensuring an effective file review.

Some monthly file review questions include:

  • Have we served all the defendants?
  • Do we need experts? If so, who have we hired or need to hire?
  • What should we do in the next 30 days to move this case closer to resolution?

Moving on from internal reviews and updates on a case, the team then discusses Commandment #6: client contact. These calls serve the dual-purpose of keeping the client informed as to the status of the case and what (if anything) has changed, as well as to check in with the client on a personal level.

“[Client contact] isn’t just talking to the client […] it’s a set of specific questions and information that need to be relayed to the client, and that the client needs to relay to us.” – Malorie Peacock

Commandment #7 is simply getting a scheduling order or, depending on the jurisdiction, a trial date; the deadline for this being 120 days from the time that the first defendant files an answer. “We do have some exceptions for this one based on what the court will allow and what the rules of civil procedure in that jurisdiction permit you to do.” The two continue this topic by going into detail on the exceptions they foresee regarding this commandment.

The next Commandment (#8) involves implementing a strategy to set appropriate settlement values for cases: “an attorney must present their case to the weekly roundtable before sending a demand or engaging in settlement negotiations.”

Malorie happily steps forward to discuss this commandment, citing it as “one of [my] favorite things we’ve implemented this year.” Malorie explains how during these roundtables, Cowen Rodriguez Peacock lawyers present their case(s) with the purpose of discussing the case and valuation with the team, with the goal of gaining insight and learning from those with more experience.

Michael moves on to one of the self-confessed “least popular” yet still important Commandment (#9): attorneys must submit a report 90 days before the expert deadline and 90 days before trial, to be filled out and submitted to Michael. The importance of this commandment can be summarized by this short but sweet quote from Michael on the subject.

“Less than 90 days, you don’t have time to fix things.” – Michael Cowen

Michael and Malorie continue the discussion of their firm’s commandments with #10: any case that might go to trial, the attorney must set a pre-trial meeting with Michael at least 60 days before the discovery deadline.

“I want to be able to brainstorm with people, come up with exhibit ideas, come up with testimony ideas, but I need to do it at least 60 days before the discovery deadline because [invariably] I come up with ideas that require us to find additional witnesses, documents, visuals, those kinds of things. You need [those items] created, found, and disclosed to the other side in time to use them for trial.” – Michael Cowen

The episode closes with Michael and Malorie adding that an important factor that cannot be overlooked when discussing the standards presented in this episode is the inclusion of the team’s input during the creation of said standards.

“We turned down people’s ideas, we accepted people’s ideas, but we all had a long, lively conversation about it. At the end, I think everybody agreed with every single standard on the list because they felt heard out, and now they understand the perspective of it.” – Malorie Peacock

This episode also discusses the star rating, the fine line between too much detail and not enough, pre-trial checklists, and more.

 

48 – Andy Young – Driving Change and Verdicts as a Truck Driving Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Ohio attorney, Andy Young, who like Michael, specializes in trucking cases.

Andy’s journey over the past 20 years of practicing law and ultimately specializing in trucking cases started by accident when his hobby for rehabbing trucks, as well as starting a trucking company, turned out to be more valuable than he expected where he was being asked to speak at various trucking litigation groups. Essentially his passion for “anything on wheels” and his upbringing around big equipment propelled him toward the industry as well. He goes on to establish upfront that he indeed does not hate the trucking industry as some might conclude by having become a trucking attorney. Andy cares deeply for the truck drivers as well as the component of the industry that treats the drivers well while also explaining in great detail the parts of the industry he does not care for, which abuses the drivers and stokes safety issues all in the name of profits. He goes on to say that everything he does “ultimately is in favor of safety and in favor of the truck drivers too.”

Beyond filing lawsuits to try and improve the trucking industry, Andy is also involved in several advocacy efforts having originally become involved through some articles he had written and published back in 2011 on underride crashes, which have evolved all the way through giving testimony to Congress on the issue. He talks through some of the efforts that he’s been a part of in shining a light on the issues that surround truck crashes, specifically underride guards and rear guards, where the industry has made significant strides to reduce fatalities from crashes involving underrides in Europe, but continue to lack in the United States. While Andy has started to see the needle move a little bit in regards to instituting safety features that would prevent such fatalities, he also sees the trailer manufactures resist the urge to make their products safer while using federal regulations as a scapegoat for not making these life-saving improvements. This transitions into Andy sharing how helpful it can be for the families who have lost a family member to a truck crash to become active in safety advocacy as a way to give them some purpose to their loss.

Michael asks Andy, with his unique perspective as a truck driver and running a trucking company, what he’s learned to make him a better trucking lawyer. Undoubtedly, Andy refers to his time behind the wheel as being the most valuable and suggests that those who are looking to be great trucking lawyers do what Michael Cowen did and go to truck driving school to get a more intimate understanding of what truck drivers experience as well as a better understanding of what it’s like to maneuver such large pieces of equipment. Andy also continues to use his truck driving skills as a part of a small race car team where he drives the truck that carries the car and finds himself constantly thinking about his cases every time he gets behind the wheel. This has allowed him to more effectively communicate with truck drivers better and understand things that perhaps other attorneys might not consider. He goes on to describe several examples of how this has come in handy citing personal experiences that have helped him to debunk some theories placed on truck drivers in cases when it comes to the speeds they travel at in relation to what gear they are in, which he notes has “been very, very beneficial.”

The conversation shifts to Andy discussing his great results in the face of some fairly tough fact patterns, where Andy goes into detail regarding his litmus test on how he decides whether to take on a case. It’s worth noting that he does not think it matters whether his client has hit the back of a truck, has had a DUI, were speeding, or had some other issues going on. Instead, he looks at the truck driver and the truck company to see if they created a hazard whereby a crash would not have happened otherwise to determine if the case is worth pursuing or not. He goes into further details on case selection tips, including spending some money upfront to explore how the hazard was created and/or how it was confronted.

Moving the conversation into the courtroom, and wrapping up this podcast, Andy describes some of his techniques and analogies he uses to keep his case in a positive light including one he uses with his clients who are angry about their loss (rightfully so) but are in need of help to not become their case’s worst enemy by displaying their hostility. Another analogy he uses with his clients refers to how to determine what’s important and what’s not at trial, which he’s found to resonate well with his clients when he establishes the analogy with his clients early on. Andy also uses a technique where his client’s home is used as a witness, which is truly fascinating and the way he walks through it, literally and figuratively, can really give things a whole new perspective. Truly some incredible strategies and techniques worth listening to and incorporating into any case that’s going to trial.

 

BACKGROUND

Andrew (Andy) R. Young concentrates his practice on catastrophic truck crashes and wrongful death litigation.  He holds an active, interstate, Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and regularly drives his own Peterbilt semi-tractor and 45-foot racecar trailer.  He has testified as a Truck Safety Advocate before the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.  He is a member of the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).  He has testified on behalf of OOIDA and the Ohio Association for Justice’s Truck Safety Section before the Ohio Senate Transportation Committee.   He serves as an Executive Officer of the AAJ Trucking Litigation Group and is the immediate, past-president of the Lorain County Bar Association (LCBA).  Mr. Young is “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell, has been included in Ohio Super Lawyers, and has received numerous awards from AAJ TLG, OAJ, and was the LCBA Member of the Year in 2016.  Mr. Young serves on the Board of Regents for the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA) and serves as the ATAA’s current Education Chair.  He lectures frequently at continuing legal education programs on trucking litigation and trial advocacy.  Mr. Young has served as a Moderator and on the Organization Committee for two industry “Truck Underride Roundtables” hosted at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) at their crash test facility in Ruckersville, Virginia.   Mr. Young is also member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA).  Mr. Young is a partner with Young and McCarthy, LLP, located in Cleveland, Ohio and works with attorneys throughout the nation.

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