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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guest Bio:

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

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

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

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

 

95 – Jody C. Moore – A Righteous Claim: Fighting Elder Abuse

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Jody C. Moore out of Southern California. Jody is an established trial lawyer specializing in elder abuse who, together with Susan Kang Gordon and Jennifer Fiore, recently won a $13,500,000 jury verdict on a 10-plaintiff case, in a 4 ½ month-long, 100% Zoom trial!

Michael and Jody kick off the episode with a look at what elder abuse is and how Jody got started in the field. Jody shares that elder abuse cases primarily look at neglect and why it happened. It usually boils down to a corporate systemic neglect case.

Jody started her career in med mal defense, then quickly shifted to nursing home defense. During this time, Jody’s grandma went to live in a nursing home, where she was neglected. This truly powerful story concludes with Jody inheriting $500 from her grandma and using it to start her firm, where she’s been doing plaintiffs elder abuse cases ever since.

“If this is happening to her, what’s happening to the people who don’t have advocates?” – Jody Moore

When Michael asks how Jody built the skills needed to get a good verdict, Jody credits putting in the technical work but says she relied heavily on her instincts early on. She wavered from this after seeing her first success and started to read every book and follow everyone else’s methods, but found the results to be lacking. Recently, she has circled back to being herself and trusting her gut in the courtroom, which is where she has found the most success.

“At the end of the day, you have to be yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then digs into the details of Jody’s case. Jody explains how 10 residents were neglected in an Alameda County nursing facility. The ways they were neglected ranged from wound management to dehydration and malnourishment, to an excessive number of falls- citing a gentleman who fell 42 times throughout his stay. Jody also highlights the complicated nature of California’s Elder Abuse Act, which only allows blame for elder abuse cases to be placed on the company or individual who is in “custody” of the resident. So, the trial team was tasked with proving the parent company’s control and responsibility.

After an intriguing look into the complexity of California’s Elder Abuse Act and recovery caps, Jody shares more on how the case was tried. The trial was 100% over Zoom and took 4 ½ months, but only occurred 4 days a week from 9:00 AM until 1:30 PM. This served to keep the jurors from having Zoom fatigue and helped the court stretch its limited resources.

The trial was broken into multiple phases, starting with the “care of custody” issue where the trial team presented evidence on corporate control. While every witness on the stand claimed they were simply a “consultant,” this defense quickly fell apart when it became clear the consultants were controlling everything. By the time the trial got to punitive damages, this story arc was very helpful to the case.

Michael then asks what the company did wrong to harm so many residents, and Jody shares the primary theory is understaffing. This facility was operating below the state-mandated minimum number of staff 1/3 of days in the past 3 years- something that sticks out compared to most other facilities. Michael commends this approach because it makes more sense to say the company didn’t have enough people there than to say the employees just don’t care. Throughout the episode, Jody commends the work of the attorneys who brought her in on the case just months before trial, who did an excellent job of working up the case before her involvement.

Jody and Michael shift the conversation to what an appropriate docket size is for an elder abuse attorney, which Jody insists is a very different answer depending on who you ask. She commends her partners and attorneys for the work they did while she was in trial for so long, keeping the rest of their cases moving.

After a brief conversation about structuring your practice to accommodate your life, Jody and Michael both credit the mindset work they’ve done with Sari de la Motte, a trial consultant, and 2-time podcast guest. By focusing on how they show up, rather than external factors out of their control, they’ve both been able to get to a better place where they can focus on advocating.

“It feels like there’s so much on the line… but what’s really on the line is how I show up.” – Jody Moore

Michael then shifts the conversation back to the trial by asking how Jody and the trial team told the damages story. While this is a difficult task in an elder abuse case, Jody credited her co-counsel Susan Kang Gordon who presented compelling evidence of what a relationship means. In a creative and impactful fashion, Jody was inspired to write a poem (“Love is” by Jody C. Moore) during the trial that she read to the jury during her closing statement.

“If you can convey the loss with love, then the jury does the rest of the work.” – Jody Moore

Next, they move on to cover the punitive phase of the case, where the trial team was tasked with finding the financial information to present to the jury. Again, her co-counsel Jen Fiore was instrumental in making sense of the company’s finances under tremendous time constraints. This story of a rapid turnaround time to analyze information and some restrictions on what could be discussed resulted in an impressive verdict from the jury – $8.9 million in punitive damages alone!

Lastly, Michael asks Jody a question she now has more credibility to answer than almost anyone – what was her general impression of the Zoom trial format? Shockingly, Jody replies that for this case, it was the perfect fit, citing the length and complexity of the trial, as well as the benefits to her and the team. They were able to use great technology to present a compelling story and noted that jurors were very forgiving of the inevitable technical difficulties.

The pair ends the episode on Jody’s top tips for anybody trying a case on Zoom:

  • DON’T do it alone.
  • Invest in good technology, including an exhibit management program.
  • Master the technology.
  • Practice being “in this little box,” focusing on your breathing, use of hands, and effective pausing.

This podcast episode also covers building a practice as a young lawyer, how the trial team was able to keep the case as one instead of separating them, structuring your practice so you can do what you love, the power of hearing a story for the first time during the trial, why the jurors were so impressive and much more.

Guest Bio:

Founding Partner Jody C. Moore primarily litigates cases involving claims of elder abuse and neglect in a nursing home or residential care facility setting, wrongful death, medical malpractice and other catastrophic personal injury cases.

Ms. Moore is dedicated to improving community safety through legal advocacy. Ms. Moore is an accomplished lecturer on the topic of Long Term Care litigation to lawyer groups across the United States.

Ms. Moore lives in Thousand Oaks with her husband Mike and her two sons, Joshua and Zachary.

If you would like to contact Jody C. Moore you can reach her via email at jody@johnson-moore.com or by phone at (805) 988-3661.

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