liability

54 – Michael O’Neill – Delivering Justice: From UPS Defense Attorney to Plaintiff Trial Lawyer

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with former defense attorney for UPS and current plaintiff attorney, Michael O’Neill. This show covers an array of topics, including the defense’s advantages in catastrophic injury cases, why O’Neill switched sides of the courtroom (and why it made him such a good plaintiff attorney), what companies can’t defend against, and why referring out cases can make you more money.

The episode kicks off with Cowen asking O’Neill why large companies use the same defense firm for cases around the country. O’Neill says the lawyer needs to know a very specific field, know the company well, and have a consistent defense. O’Neill would receive a call in the middle of the night or on a weekend and would need to travel immediately to the scene of a crash. UPS would refer to this as “boots on the ground.” He emphasizes that marshalling evidence while it’s fresh is pertinent to the success of any case. O’Neill shares a story of a time where he went to the scene and pointed out a detail the police missed which would have hurt their case on liability. He was also there while the police were writing their reports and describes how he could influence what was written. Cowen and O’Neill discuss the defense’s role in shaping the narrative of the case from the start, the role of psychology with the first responders, the defense’s advantage in this, and what plaintiff lawyers CAN (but most DON’T) do to combat this.

Cowen then asks what everyone’s thinking; why did O’Neill switch to the plaintiff’s side? O’Neill replies that the curiosity has always been there. He then describes a scenario, not uncommon to him, where he had a defense verdict on a case he believed “that’s an easy 7-figure case that should have been won and we zeroed them.”

The conversation shifts to what companies CAN’T defend. Both agree on exposing poor training programs as the key to winning “nuclear verdicts” in commercial vehicle and trucking cases. They discuss this and other factors which make the case about the 3 months before, as opposed to the 5 seconds before the crash. O’Neill then brings up a defense trucking podcast by FreightWaves which recently discussed the defense’s fear of “the second lawyer” and the impact of referral attorneys on the insurance industry. As a “second lawyer” himself, Cowen shares a recent example of an insurance company who learned once he became involved all prior negotiations at a much lower number were out the window.

One of the most important details for a successful catastrophic injury lawyer to accomplish is to make the case about the company, not the individual. Cowen shares a story of a case where the CMV driver was high on meth at the time of the accident. The case against the driver was already strong, but when asked by a colleague why he was working so hard on the case Cowen replied, “It doesn’t take much money to teach a meth head a lesson. It needs to be about the company and what it takes to teach the company a lesson.” O’Neill echoes this with another great example of a strong case that he made even stronger by putting in the work.

O’Neill and Cowen then praise trucking trial lawyer Joe Fried and how instrumental he has been on creating the current “abundance mentality” of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). The ATAA abundance mentality encompasses the idea that there are plenty of trucking cases to go around, and we all perform better when we share information and establish good law. “The tide raises good ships,” O’Neill eloquently responds. When comparing this to the defense bar, O’Neill says the difference is night and day. Information on the defense side is kept from one another because there are fewer clients and essentially everyone can be your competition. He goes as far as to say that the way the plaintiff’s bar shares information “terrifies the defense.”

They then move into a discussion on the transition process from defense to plaintiff lawyer. Cowen asks O’Neill what it has been like changing into a role where he works at a firm that now funds cases and isn’t paid by the hour. O’Neill discusses some transitional difficulties, but insists he has been made confident through his experiences as a defense attorney, stating, “You start giving big checks to mediocre lawyers and you start to wonder, why am I not on the other end of this conversation?” Cowen then describes his history of funding cases by sharing his expertise in finance management and smart firm growth.

The conversation concludes with a discussion on package car cases- What makes them different from trucking cases? Why can they be so complicated? O’Neill highlights the necessity for specialized knowledge in this area, stating, “There’s a million ways to skin a cat, but you have to know how to skin the cat.” Because shipping companies usually work with subcontractors as delivery drivers, it can be difficult to make the case about the company. O’Neill shares valuable insight into how he’s overcome this barrier.

This podcast also covers efficient docket size, the order of your depositions, networking, direct to public marketing versus B2B marketing, and much more.

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

A northeastern Pennsylvania native, Attorney Michael O’Neill handles catastrophic injury litigation, including representing those who were in motor vehicle and truck accidents, medical malpractice, product liability, and premises liability. A former senior litigation associate at DLA Piper LLP, and a founder partner at a national litigation boutique law firm, O’Neill has served as first chair trial attorney in over 25 jury trials, or their equivalent, in ten different states. All of these complex litigation matters involved disputes of seven figures or more and resulted in successful verdicts or settlements.

With more than 20 years of complex litigation experience, O’Neill has appeared multiple times on NBC-10 television in Philadelphia, numerous radio broadcasts and national podcasts as a legal expert and to discuss cases he is handling on behalf of catastrophically injured people.

O’Neill is admitted to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Supreme Court of New Jersey, and the Supreme Court of New York, as well as the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Pennsylvania, District of New Jersey, and the Northern District of Texas.

O’Neill also has a distinguished military service record as a veteran of the United States Army. He is an honors graduate of the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School and the U.S. Army Aviation and Warfighting Center, was commissioned as a second lieutenant and trained to fly helicopters for the Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard. He remained active in the National Guard until 2005 and is a member of the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry, one of the oldest recognized organizations in the United States military.

O’Neill earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Scranton and received his Juris Doctor from the Villanova University School of Law in 1998. While at Villanova, he focused on litigation-related curriculum and after graduation taught trial advocacy for seven years as an adjunct professor. A lifelong athlete, he played collegiate football and baseball and was inducted into the Wayne/Pike County Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2018. He also has held a civilian aviation license for more than 30 years.

Michael O’Neill joined the offices of Fellerman & Ciarimboli in Philadelphia on March 1st.. He can be reached by phone at (215)776-5070 or by email at mjo@fclawpc.com.

 

53 – Malorie Peacock – The Verdict Is In! Post Trial Discussion

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock about their recent jury verdict. (In Episode 51 they discussed trial prep and included how they were preparing for an upcoming trial.) This time they will be discussing their $3,420,000 jury verdict, what worked well, how they overcame the challenges of this case, and the power “of a trial to heal.”

Malorie starts by sharing the background on the case. This was a construction site incident where their client was working when a trench collapsed and killed him. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) found the company did not provide the required trench protection. (For our listeners outside of Texas, Michael explains that in Texas there is optional workers comp, so the company did not have workers comp at the time and he was able to directly sue the employer.)

At face value, this may seem “like an easy win.” However, there were challenges in the case. The first was the lack of eyewitnesses, which was an obstacle for liability, so the case required the use of witness statements. OSHA keeps their witness statements anonymous, so the ambiguity made it more difficult than using a live person. Because of this Michael and Malorie knew there would be doubt in the minds of the jurors, so Michael had to use Keith Mitnik’s philosophy “doubt is not an out” in order to address the issue of anonymous statements that didn’t answer all of the questions in this incident.

Another challenge on the case, which related to damages, was the client being undocumented and working under a different name. This was “the elephant in the room,” which Michael and Malorie discuss in detail explaining why they chose to share this information in trial (even if most lawyers fight to have this excluded). Michael also points out his absolute shock with the defense alleging this was a sham marriage just for papers and provides insight on how a lack of photos and the appearance of the widow was used to argue this.

After sharing the challenges of the case, the topic shifts to jury selection and how a large portion of their jury panel knew about OSHA. Michael also shares his disappointment to his question “who would like to be on the jury,” but Malorie felt differently and was very impressed with the response. In this trial Michael used Sari de la Motte’s inclusive voir dire, shares how it was received by the jury panel, and the result of it making the defense “be reactive instead of proactive.”

Using visuals to educate the jurors was also important, but this doesn’t happen overnight. They discuss how they planned the visuals, why you need to show them to your experts, and talk about how they can be used in an expert testimony. When you use PowerPoint in trial it forces you to stick to a visual plan, but with poster boards you can decide IF you want to use it AND when. Malorie loved when a juror would ask one of them to “move a little bit over” so they could read a poster board. And Michael loved that the jury felt comfortable enough to ask them to move out of the way. This showed them the jury wanted to understand the information and knew why it was important to see it.

The podcast ends with an emotionally raw and incredibly honest conversation about the power “of a trial to heal.” Malorie shares the moment when the jury put money in the blanks the client “started sobbing uncontrollably” and how powerful it was for both her and their client. Trial is “the last stage of closure” in a death case. It is extremely significant and impactful for your client.

This podcast also covers the interesting questions the jury asked and how those questions were answered, feedback from the two alternate jurors, what you can learn from the defense voir dire, dealing with spacing issues in the courtroom, the surprising link between OSHA and high school theatre sets, the process of building trust with your client, the differences between an injury case and a death case, as well as other trial details you will want to hear.

 

49 – Malorie Peacock – Applying 2 Seasons of TLN to Your Law Practice

Trial Lawyer Nation is proud to celebrate 2 years of podcast episodes! In this Table Talk episode, Michael Cowen sits down for a conversation with his law partner Malorie Peacock for a discussion about the last two seasons, their favorite takeaways from guests, as well as how this show has helped them create their 2020 resolutions.

The episode begins with Michael asking Malorie what she’s learned from the show and how she has been able to use and apply this to her cases. She responds with “you have to choose the kind of lawyer that you’re going to be” as a theme which has come up several times throughout the show. Whether it’s how you formulate your case strategy, how you run your business, or the kind of lawyer you are going to be, the first step is to go after this goal.

But this isn’t always easy and can be a struggle, which leads to Michael sharing his struggles and how he has overcome them. The “salesman in me wants to close every deal,” Michael reveals when discussing case selection. He explains how hard it can be when “you see the dockets getting smaller you have trouble not freaking out” and shares why it is so important to remain disciplined and stick with your business plan. And while a smaller case docket may be a business model for his firm, Malorie brings the conversation full circle by pointing out how not every business model should be the same.

The conversation shifts to a discussion on which episodes discuss how to turn “a good case into a great case” where Michael shares his thoughts on how Randi McGinn’s book and her skills as a former journalist help her dig deep into the story of a case. Jude Basile is another guest Michael brings up as he shares how inspiring it was to have spoken with him and understand how Jude was able to find value (and an excellent case result!) in a case involving an addict at an addiction facility when other lawyers may have turned the case away.

Malorie points out some of her favorite episodes have been those of Sari de la Motte and Michael Leizerman who help explain why you need to “do the work on yourself as well as in your cases.” When defense counsel does something on a case to cause you to react and become distracted, Michael shares how Leizerman has helped him understand “the zen” of it all and why it’s important not to let the other side upset you and take your energy away from your case. He also brings up the quote “how can they be right and we still win” and how this simple statement from Joe Fried has been so powerful in his cases. Malorie and Michael also agree on and discuss how this mindset can be helpful in a case with degeneration, in both liability and damages.

Entering the confession spirit as the year ends, Malorie asks Michael what his strategies are for enforcing what he says he is going to do. He reveals the lesson he has learned when taking on cases which do not fit his business model. Describing a serious injury case involving a TBI not fitting his “case on wheels” business model, Michael shares the extra time spent looking up case law and standards versus with a trucking case where he immediately understands about 95% of the rules and sources to cite and can do so very quickly. “It’s efficiency,” Malorie adds.

The topic of efficiency transitions nicely to another theme in the show, which is how the brilliant attorneys who have been on the show “create and enforce systems” within their firm so they can do the work they need to do on their cases. If you don’t do this then you’re constantly putting out fires and distracted from the work you should be doing. This also applies to the reality of “you can’t be a lawyer 24/7” and leads to a meaningful discussion on having a work/life balance and how burn out can not only impact your personal life but also your cases and effectiveness in the office.

The podcast ends with Michael and Malorie discussing their 3 resolutions for 2020, which include Michael sharing his book deal with Trial Guides and his goal to continue writing, and Malorie sharing her idea on how she will be using the firm’s in-house graphic designer to work up her cases, which Michael describes as “brilliant” and “will scare the crap” out of defense attorneys.

An exciting piece of news shared on this episode is Michael’s commitment to hosting a Facebook Live session every month in the “Trial Lawyer Nation – Insider’s Circle” private group . If you haven’t already requested to join this group, we suggest you do so now in order to participate in the first Facebook Live in January 2020. The exact date will be shared on our podcast social media pages and also via email for those who are subscribed to our emails.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our show for the past 2 years. We look forward to sharing even more great shows with all of you in 2020 as we enter Season 3!

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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