Listen to Improve Your Firm?

34 – Sonia Rodriguez – Hindsight in the PI World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32 – Jim Adler – Building a Firm on Reputation

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with prominent Texas attorney, Jim Adler, AKA “The Texas Hammer,” for a discussion on building a law practice on a solid reputation.

Running an efficient law firm that has allowed him the ability to spend quality time with his large family (4 kids and 9 grandkids) didn’t happen overnight. Having started his practice doing everything by himself, learning to delegate and understanding the business and marketing side of running a firm are two areas where Adler has focused on the most to build the successful law firm he has today.

Adler recalls back in “those days,” when he was starting out, thinking that it would have been ridiculous to believe he would ever make $100,000. When he started, he was struggling to support his family and manage to do everything himself. He initially started advertising in the “green sheets” and got a little business. But it was when he started using a company called “Lawyers Marketing Services,” that he saw more success. He was told to “try it, you’ll like it,” and went into TV advertising which quickly had his phone ringing off the hook. Of course, it didn’t come without its fair share of social pressures not to advertise to the public back then, due to the stigma that other attorneys attached to the tactic. Adler has also found himself bearing the brunt of parodies on TV, even being referenced on Beavis & Butthead as “Joe Adler.” To which Michael points out, “you know you’ve made it when a national tv show is referencing you.”

Now going on his 5th generation of TV viewers, The Texas Hammer has found himself up against finding the attention of younger people who don’t want to pay for TV, AKA “cord cutters.” These are the individuals who are watching entertainment on their Slingbox, Roku, PlayStation, Netflix, and YouTube, which makes it especially hard to reach them. People don’t have “TV” anymore, so you have to find them elsewhere, which is why Adler has a saying in his firm, “if we’re not changing, we’re dying.” It is this mindset and desire to continue to learn and adapt (more on that later in the episode), which continues to keep his name and brand so strong.

The conversation then turns to when Adler became partners with a well-known U.S. District Judge, Robert O’Connor, who wanted to get back into practice. Judge O’Connor knew that Adler was wasting his time doing divorces, bankruptcy, and real estate and this was “the age of the specialization.” Taking that advice and focusing on personal injury cases has grown his firm to a staggering 30 attorneys and roughly 300 staff! Michael and Adler both agree that having so many people working for the firm is a lot of moving parts. But as Michael points out, it can be “a lot harder to run a business than to be a lawyer.”

Adler goes on to describe the way his firm has created a departmentalized system to take care of clients every step of the way. His intake department has specialists that only take new client calls and are separated from an operator who accepts all calls. His case management department with case managers who are assigned to each case and are supervised by a lawyer essentially works like a mini law practice within his law firm. The packaging department with specialists in preparing settlements and gathering all the hospital records, are all just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the organization he’s built.

In fact, evolution has been long and everchanging with the times. Adler recalls how all of these departments work well, but he received feedback that clients hated being passed around. Since then he has utilized his case managers to tee up the transition better and give the client a clear sense of what each step in their case is going to be. He goes on to describe their closing department, as well as their administrative departments and accounting departments, a strong litigation department, and an internet department, which ties into the firm’s marketing efforts. Over time, the evolution from having one secretary and an assistant, to set up all the different departments, developed through the use of statistics and formulas. From assessing how many cases a case manager could handle, to how many calls can an intake person handle, to how many cases can a lawyer try and/or settle, all of his operations were fine-tuned through statistical analysis. Adler describes himself to be a big believer in customer service and tries to promote their “service marketing” agenda to everyone throughout the firm in order to provide “over the top service” to their clients. He points out that if a lawyer does a good job for a client, he or she will likely be referred, 7 new people. Whereas the “bad-mouthers” are likely to tell 100 people if they didn’t have a good experience, regardless of the end result of their case.

Michael becomes curious about whether Adler had to figure these things out on his own or if he brought in any kind of consultants. Adler shares how he has read tons of books on business, such as The CEO Nextdoor by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell, Good to Great by Jim Collins, FOCUS by Daniel Goleman, as well as many other business publications like The Wallstreet Journal and Forbes Magazine. Thinking back to law school, Adler also recalls that they teach you how to be a good lawyer, but they don’t teach you how to become a good business owner. Adler has learned a lot from talking to people who were trying to sell him something, talking to other lawyers about how they do things, and going to TTLA meetings. Michael points out his own evolution from the mentality of being “a great lawyer and people should just line up at our firm’s door” to opening his mind to see other successful practices like Adler’s, and how they keep clients happy and run their firm in general. He also notes that although he doesn’t do TV advertising, he still spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing to his referral partners.

Both Adler and Michael reflect on the importance of treating people with respect and dignity, even down to the importance of returning a phone call. The 45 seconds you take to let someone know you received their call and you are looking into their question or concern, can have a dramatic impact on the attorney/client relationship, even if just to tell them that you are in trial and will get back to them as soon as possible. Adler also goes a step further to ask for referrals when a case concludes and to remind their clients of all the different cases they handle.

The conversation certainly would have been remiss if Michael hadn’t brought up the obvious question – How did you come up with the name “The Texas Hammer?” Adler explains that it was Hayden Bramleigh, from the lawyer marketing service, who first suggested to him that he needed a trademark, similar to how every big brand has a trademark. Moreover, “The Texas Hammer” went through some evolution of its own through various focus groups and seeing how people around the country responded to the name being associated with other lawyers in different states. Admittedly, although some people might not know Adler’s name, they can still associate him with “The Texas Hammer” which is still an effective marketing tactic for him. Adler also points out that it’s been a long road, fighting battles with others who don’t agree with legal advertising, which oddly enough, he points out, tend to be other lawyers and not the end consumer.

The conversation with Adler goes on to talk about his strategies on developing lawyers in his firm, the tests they give to new lawyers joining their firm, transparency in reporting to the firm on settlements and new cases, professional training they’ve developed, the resources they use for case management, getting over the fear of public speaking, and so much more. The organization that Adler has built over the years is nothing less than astounding and we are so appreciative of the time he spent with us on this episode.

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

 

BACKGROUND ON JIM ADLER

Famously known as “The Texas Hammer,” injury lawyer Jim Adler has been hammering for victims for over 40 years, championing “the little guy” against big corporations and big insurance companies which would deny their legal rights.

That mission is why he launched his own law firm in 1973 with a one-man office in downtown Houston. Today, Jim Adler & Associates has offices in Houston’s Uptown/Galleria area, Channelview, Dallas, and San Antonio, with two dozen attorneys and more than 250 legal support staff. They share Jim Adler’s mission of helping injured Texans get the money they deserve from those who were at fault.

 

Family Man, Giving Back

You may know Jim Adler only from his media appearances and tough-talking TV ads. But he’s more than that. He’s also a family man who loves children and devotes much time and his firm’s resources to children’s charity causes.

In 2009, former Houston Mayor Bill White appointed Jim Adler to the Board of Directors of the Joint City/County Commission on Children, recognizing his lifelong devotion to helping children.

“I believe we all should give back to our communities,” said Adler, a Dallas native who speaks fluent Spanish. “I believe in helping people and doing good works.”

In fact, unlike his fierce TV image, Jim Adler is “a people person. I enjoy being around people from all walks of life. I love the joy of life – of just being alive.”

He’s also even more active than his busy legal work suggests.

“I love to sweat,” says the avid tennis player, snow skier, jogger and golfer. “I love sports of all kinds, and I work out five or six days a week — 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weightlifting. I’m also really big on nutrition and watching what I eat.”

Boosted by this commitment to health, he has no plans to retire — even now that son Bill Adler has joined the firm as an attorney.

 

Son at His Side

“Having my son at my side at the firm is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Jim Adler says. “He’ll ensure that all the work I’ve put in over the years and the family’s tradition of serving underdogs will continue.”

That family includes Jim Adler’s wife of 38 years, their four children and their five grandchildren.

Bill Adler was raised in Houston, but Jim Adler was raised in Dallas. He went to Austin to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, followed by his law degree from the UT School of Law.

He then served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy and was appointed a judge for the Office of Civilian Health and Medical Programs United Services (OCHAMPUS), adjudicating health and medical disputes for Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel. He then launched his law practice in Houston, home of his principal office today.

Jim Adler was admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of Texas and is licensed to practice in the U.S. Courts of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit and U.S. District Courts for the Southern, Eastern, Northern and Western Districts of Texas.

He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, Houston Bar Association, Texas Bar Foundation, Dallas Trial Lawyers Association, Dallas Bar Association, American Bar Association, and American Trial Lawyers Association.

He’s also a director of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Houston Trial Lawyers Association.

As a passionate advocate for injury victims, Jim Adler has handled lawsuits involving auto accidents, trucking accidents, offshore accidents, Jones Act cases, refinery accidents, construction injuries, burn injuries, brain injuries, on-the-job accidents, slip-and-fall cases, railroad accidents, electrical accidents and many other types of personal injury.

Getting payments for victims can be a battle. But Jim Adler became a lawyer to fight those battles.

“I always had a desire to help underdogs, the little guy, against big corporations and big insurance companies, and to level the playing field for accident victims,” he says.

 

Charitable Works

Jim Adler’s good works also include many charitable causes. He’s contributed to the American Cancer Society, Armed Forces Relief Trust, Association for Community Television, Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders, Arthritis Foundation, American Heart Association, American Health Assistance Foundation, Special Olympics, Child Advocates of Fort Bend County, The Center for Hearing & Speech, Covenant House, Easter Seals Society and Galena Park Choir Boosters.

Still more of his causes include the Habitat for Humanity, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Federation of Greater Houston, Guild for the Blind, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, March of Dimes, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Primera Rosa De Saron, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Texas Bar Foundation, Texas Children’s Hospital, US Olympic Committee, University of Texas Law School Foundation and UTMB Burn Care Research.

“I wish there were more hours in the day,” says Jim Adler. “I always want to do more.”

“Basically I believe in doing good works. Seeing families whose child was injured by an 18-wheeler or a defective drug puts me in a fighting mode. My good works then are about helping them recover financially. Those good works are my life’s mission.”

Thus, after decades of fighting for justice, Jim Adler is still on the case, helping those who need it the most. As thousands of injured Texans have learned when he fought for their legal rights, there’s only one “Texas Hammer.”

23 – Tom Crosley – TBIs: An invisible, yet very real injury

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with accomplished trial lawyer and national speaker, Tom Crosley, who has been incredibly successful in trying cases involving Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs).

Tom’s start in TBI-specialized cases began with a case involving a plumber who had a neck and shoulder injury with seemingly normal readings on his CT and MRI scans. The more he worked on the case, the more he found out through his client’s wife that his client just wasn’t the same as before the incident. It was when the defense lawyer was taking the plaintiff’s deposition that Tom realized his client likely had a TBI. All the things a plaintiff’s attorney cringes at in a depo were happening, from his client flying off the handle at the defense attorney, to forgetting his kid’s birthdays. Basically, all the things you think are going to be bad for your case. By the end of the deposition, Tom went from thinking this was a neck and shoulder injury case worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to thinking this could be a TBI case more than likely worth millions.

This sent Tom off to learn as much as he possibly could about TBIs, all in the face of having normal scan results, which back then were seen more as a barrier to proving TBI cases. His research inevitably led him to finding a case study where war veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were not displaying outward signs of TBIs, nor were their CT or MRI scans showing any abnormalities, but were found to have TBIs through additional testing. Not to give the whole story away, but Tom tracked down the lead researcher, his client was tested and found to have a mild TBI, the case was won with a verdict over 20X the initial offer given pre-trial, and Tom’s specialty for TBI cases had begun.

Since then Tom attributes his ability to go from never having tried a TBI case to now being one of the country’s top TBI lawyers, to his penchant for reading medical literature and going to legal and medical conferences in order to gain knowledge of the cutting-edge science happening with TBIs. He also admits it’s not all brain science with TBI cases, but it also includes some very human nature elements sometimes overlooked. Things like before-and-after witnesses who can relay their own experiences with a plaintiff in a meaningful and impactful way, having nothing to gain from doing so. This puts the decision on the jury to conclude that this invisible injury (which many defense lawyers will proclaim isn’t real if it can’t be seen) either has a lot of people lying about it for the benefit of the plaintiff, or there is something very real about it given those who have first-hand accounts of seeing the plaintiff’s evolution from pre-injury to their current state. Michael shares his own firm’s experience about the timing of getting other witnesses involved in TBI cases and the hard lessons that experience has brought with it.

Next, Michael explores how Tom transitioned from having success with just one TBI case to building up the number of TBI specific cases to become successful. To which Tom explains that the sequence of your evidence at trial makes a big difference on the outcome of the trial and shares a perfect example based on his experience of the order where he has found the most success over time. Tom discusses the patterns which tend to work for him, although his process is nothing close to being cookie-cutter, and shares “just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two brain injury cases are alike.”

Michael and Tom both reference a shocking study which shows upwards of 56% of TBIs are misdiagnosed or go undiagnosed completely. Tom digs in and goes over some of the reasons WHY they get missed, starting with the most obvious in a traumatic medical situation where other orthopedic injuries tend to get the attention; i.e., someone goes to the ER with a bone sticking out of their leg and a concussion – the doctors focus on the bone first. Another challenge Tom points out is while a TBI is an invisible injury, their symptoms can also be described as things not brain injury related, such as age, depression, PTSD, psychiatric history, which also cause symptoms that mirror those of a TBI. So, the challenge becomes, in these cases, to figure out how those symptoms are related to brain damage and not related to something else. He goes on to discuss the lack of training most physicians receive on what to do with concussion patients, which adds another layer of complexity to many TBI cases.

Michael asks the question on all trial lawyers’ minds who work on TBI cases, and that is “what are some of the things that we should be doing when we get hired on these cases early in order to have the best possible chance of winning the case?” Tom explains the number one piece of advice when trial lawyers run into these types of cases is that as long as the plaintiff/patient is experiencing symptoms, they need to be getting documented in the medical records. You don’t want to go to trial with a gap in records where these life-changing symptoms are occurring, which Michael also points out is likely no different than the advice that you would give to a friend or a family member.

Michael and Tom explore several other nuances of TBI cases; but in the end, Tom explains, we are painting a portrait of a person whose life has been changed forever. Similar to a wrongful death case where the person who existed before is no longer; helping a jury understand the impact a TBI has on a person, their family, and the future and how this person no longer exists as they did before is EXACTLY what can turn a $100k case into a $16M case.

About Tom Crosley

Tom Crosley received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1988, and his law degree from the University of Houston in 1992. He was admitted to the bar in the State of Texas in 1992 and is also admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the Northern, Southern, Eastern and Western Districts of Texas, as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Prior to forming the Crosley Law Firm, P.C. in 2005, he was a partner with Branton & Hall, P.C. in San Antonio, where he worked for ten years. He began his legal career in Houston as an associate at Brown McCarroll, LLP.

Mr. Crosley is “AV” rated by Martindale-Hubbell, and is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is board certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is a past president of the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association in 2002. In 2001, he served under appointment by the Bexar County Commissioners Court to the Advisory Board for the Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center and he served in that position until 2006. He is a member of numerous legal organizations, including the American Association for Justice. He has been an active member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (Director, 2005-present, Advocates Director, 1999-2001), the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association (Director, 2000-2001, President, 2002), the American Board of Trial Advocates, San Antonio Chapter (inducted 2004, Secretary, 2014, Treasurer, 2014, Vice President 2015, President-Elect 2016, and President 2017), the American Bar Association, the Texas Young Lawyers Association (Director, 1997-2001), the San Antonio Bar Association (President-Elect, 2018-2019, Vice President, 2017-2018, Secretary, 2016-2017, Treasurer, 2015-2016, Director, 2004-2006 and 2013-2016), the San Antonio Young Lawyers Association (Director, 1997-2001, Vice President, 2000) and the American Inns of Court. Mr. Crosley is a Life Fellow of the Texas and San Antonio Bar Foundation and is a member in good standing of the State Bar of Texas. Mr. Crosley has tried 50 cases as first-chair trial counsel, nearly all of them from the plaintiff’s side of the docket.

Mr. Crosley frequently serves as an author and speaker at legal seminars, usually on topics related to personal injury trial law. Mr. Crosley has been selected as a Texas Super Lawyer each year since 2004 and has been named as one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Central and West Texas by that publication for the last several years.

Mr. Crosley’s docket of cases includes personal injury and wrongful death cases arising from automobile and trucking accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, and related areas. In 2006 ($28,000,000), 2010 ($16,000,000), and 2016 ($11,485,000)

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22 – Paul Byrd – Understanding Conservative Jurors

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with author, speaker, and seasoned trial lawyer, Paul Byrd from Arkansas for a deep dive into the minds of conservatives and what we can do to better communicate with them on juries. Kicking things right off, Michael and Paul agree that the likelihood of having a jury panel made up of only liberals is not only low, but likely not preferential either as Paul points out and sets the tone for the conversation.

As a self-proclaimed “Republican trial lawyer,” Paul talks about the juxtaposition of not being felt trusted in trial lawyer arenas because he is a Republican, while also not feeling trusted in Republican arenas because he is a trial lawyer. This is something he never really understood in terms of why they didn’t seem to fit together as he feels strongly there are many values that cross over between the two and has led to his study of conservatism in the courtroom.

Like many trial lawyers, Paul’s desire to reach jurors, and to reach voters who wanted to vote in the courtroom forum, has always been met with some resistance from those who are fiercely independent. Paul’s in-depth understanding of the interesting history of the Scotch/Irish in America, and how it paved the way for conservative thinking, helps to lay the foundation of working with conservatives in the courtroom. When asked how trial lawyers might learn from and relate to people who may have a more conservative value system than themselves, Paul suggests talking to experts in the field as well as using solid focus groups. Michael adds, from his own experience, that they can also take an introspective approach and work on themselves, learning to talk to people, listen nonjudgmentally,  and understand that conservatives are still good people by and large. In other words, take the time to listen to people, even if it’s not what you want to hear, in order to gain perspective.

In this day and age, it is hard NOT to bring up the topic of social media, given the politically charged climate on social platforms, to which Paul brings up a great point that although they tell jurors not to look on social media to find lawyers involved, they commonly still do. He goes on to describe how people will typecast you as much as you typecast them with the posts they may find in your social accounts, so it is likely best to stay away from partisan posts in today’s world. Michael adds how he tends to avoid posting political things to his feed as some juror could potentially be immediately turned off by it regardless of which side of the issues he’s on. He also goes on to say if you can start the conversation with an open mind, you may be able to convince someone one way or the other, but if they are turned off before you begin the conversation (perhaps by seeing a politically-charged post), the likelihood of there being any movement is slim.

Paul points out how some of the biggest verdicts have come from the most conservative juries and sometimes it simply becomes a matter of helping your jury understand what the rules are. He gives a great example regarding a case which involved horseplay around a pool where a man was pushed in, broke his neck, and drowned. His focus groups were leaning one way with the understanding that the man who was pushed in was the jokester; but once the rules were laid out by way of the pool manufacturer’s safety warnings and revealing the pusher was the homeowner, the case became much easier to solidify because the group understood what they were defining as the rules.

Michael asks Paul if there are any buzz words or behaviors which can alienate a conservative jury. To which Paul expresses how it can actually work against you if you focus too much on trying to make jurors feel sorry for a client because it was a horrific injury. He goes on to say that jurors have become hardened over the years having been exposed to so much that empathy or sorrow will not carry a case alone anymore. You really have to find the rule or the “why” moment in a case of how the wrongdoer should be held responsible.

The conversation culminates in a discussion about how “non-economic damages” are viewed by jurors and the conservative spin which has likely brought us to where we are today. Paul first directs his attention to the argument regarding the caps placed on non-economic damages in some states and how some view these decisions as unfair toward particular sets of people (ex: stay at home parents) where there is no pattern of lost wages or income. He then digs deeper in a couple of examples to really make you think a little harder about what’s “real” to those who have been catastrophically injured while using plain English to cut through partisan lines and strike the core of most every human. It’s truly fascinating how Paul thinks about these things and we were glad he was willing to share his thoughts and insights with us and the rest of the Trial Lawyer Nation.

Background on Paul Byrd

Paul Byrd has been representing deserving injured victims for almost 30 years.   After clerking for a trial court, Paul went into private practice in 1988. Paul’s practice has focused on civil litigation with an emphasis on representing consumers in product liability actions, both individually and in Mass Tort Litigation. He is the Immediate Past Chair of the AAJ Product Liability Section and on the Board of Governors of AAJ.   He has spoken on “How to Talk to Conservatives” all over the United States and has a current video on the topic published by Trial Guides.

In November of 2000, he was featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal due to his work in the case of Brownlee/Whitaker vs. Cooper Tire and Rubber Company.  He also appeared in a Dateline NBC documentary regarding the same case in January of 2001.

Paul has also represented farmers in agricultural litigation regarding genetically modified crop contamination that had global as well as national and local implications.

Paul is a past President of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association. His message to his fellow members as President was “You went to law school to make a difference!”.

In 2012, Paul was a co-recipient of the Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association.

He is the managing member of the Little Rock, Arkansas office of Paul Byrd Law Firm, PLLC.

He has an “AV” rating in the Martindale-Hubble Legal Directory, has been recognized by the Mid-South Super Lawyers, and is also a life member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

Affiliations

  • Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association
  • American Association for Justice
  • American Bar Association
  • Arkansas Bar Association
  • Pulaski County Bar Association
  • St. Thomas More Society

21 – Sonia Rodriguez – Winning (or Losing) a Case in Deposition

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With overwhelmingly positive feedback from our listeners, TLN Table Talk is back again! This time featuring fellow partner at Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock, Sonia Rodriguez, for a discussion mainly focused on how to win (or lose) a case in a deposition.

Michael is quick to note that many cases tend to settle before going to trial, making depositions an integral part of the process. Oftentimes it comes down to knowing the documents better than the defense attorneys while also knowing the right documents to order, which in many cases the defense may not have. It can also come down to a witness’s ability to know and articulate the truth in a deposition, which is frequently a direct reflection on those who have helped to prepare the witness (defense or plaintiff).

So how do Michael and Sonia prepare for depositions? Sonia explains her strategy of always looking back on the jury charge to see what exactly she is trying to gain from a witness, scour the defense record from production to find nuggets of useful information, dig into the footnotes, fine print, and back of pages to find what others might miss. She has also found social media to be useful to learn as much as you can on the person being deposed including who their friends and other contacts are, companies they’ve worked for, and digging in to find info on company manuals or other ways to authenticate them as an authority coming from a witness. Michael, on the other hand, points out the importance of networking and collaborating with other plaintiff’s lawyers as “we’re good at getting things and sharing information” such as prior admissions, reports, or testimony. There’s likely nothing more embarrassing for a witness, especially paid ones than to be cross-examined with contradictory testimony they gave in the past. Sonia, who recently had a deposition with a defense doctor, shares how his past testimony was the exact opposite of what he was testifying to in her case, which obviously played to her favor.

When it comes to the right length of a deposition, Sonia shares her wish to someday be able to take a short depo, but currently has her attention to detail and thoroughness to “blame” for the style of her depositions, one which sometimes drives opposing counsel mad. She tends to feel unsatisfied leaving a depo if she hasn’t covered a lot of ground, knowing the jury will likely not hear most of it. She has also found that many times when she’s taking a deposition, she’s not just doing a trial depo of a witness, but also trying to prepare in advance for a summary judgment response and how they can also be helpful to lay the groundwork for what she might need from another witness. In contrast, Michael prides himself on short but thorough depositions stating how it really depends on the witness and subject matter. He also admits the danger of taking shorter depositions in relation to “having a beginner’s mind” vs. the “curse of knowledge” where you might already know something, the defense already knows it, and the defense witness knows it, but the jury does not, and could lead to talking over the jury with jargon they might not understand. Both agree 100% no matter how you approach a deposition, you need to be actively engaged in listening to the responses and not just running down questions on an outline where you would likely miss the truly important parts of what the witness is saying, or not saying, which could make your case.

The conversation shifts to a lively debate heard in many firms of weighing the idea of “going for the kill” in the deposition vs. saving things for trial when you know the witness will be there in person. With different experiences from both Sonia and Michael prior to them partnering, each brings a unique perspective to the table from their mentors as well as from their personal experiences. Of course, they agree these tactics both have their place, but Michael also brings up the point how oftentimes with expert witnesses, if they don’t know something at a deposition, they tend to come to trial more prepared with a response.

Michael and Sonia jam pack the second half of their discussion with everything from preparing their own clients for deposition, videotaping depositions, deposing the other side’s experts, guiding medical experts to slow down their testimony while not losing the jury with industry terminology, and exceptions to all of the above.

Trial Lawyer Nation plans to do more “Table Talks” in the future, as this podcast has always been about inclusive learning for all in our industry, which includes learning from each other! Please keep submitting your questions, comments, and topic suggestions to podcast@triallawyernation.com; and be sure to like, share, and subscribe to get the latest from the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast!

Find out more about Michael Cowen here.

Find out more about Sonia Rodriguez here.

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