Michael Cowen

Michael Cowen specializes in personal injury cases involving trucking, commercial motor vehicle, catastrophic injury, oil field accidents as well as product liability,

40 – Ken Levinson – Focus Groups and Metaphors

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Ken Levinson, a successful trial attorney who is also very active with his trial consultant focus group practice, for a discussion on how his unique practice is getting big results in the courtroom. Ken selfishly loves his “split practice” primarily because of its process of constant learning which comes with both sides of his practice, noting that he’d never want to give either of them up.

The conversation begins by exploring focus groups, as Ken talks through how they help in cases because lawyers are able to find out what resonates with people and then test it before ever stepping into the courtroom. “Over time, I’ve learned the better approach is to accept what people tell you. Listen, and in a neutral way, find out what’s going on.” Ken goes on to say “I don’t want to fall in love with my case or a witness or a theory without really stepping back and almost looking at your case in a different way” which is exactly what focus groups help him do while pointing to the teachings of Michael Leizerman [link to Michael Leizerman episode] of needing to have a “Zen mind” or a beginners mind. He adds “I think we get lost in the language of being a lawyer and I’ve really tried to train myself to talk like real folks in everyday life about our cases.” Michael then points out how it is incredibly important to be yourself, noting the power that authenticity brings to human communication both inside and out of the courtroom.

After working with so many great lawyers, Michael wonders what Ken has seen separates the good from the elite. Ken points out two factors he’s seen in elite lawyers: 1. They know their cases inside and out and although they may seem to talk very casually about things in the courtroom, they actually work extremely hard; and 2. The better trial lawyers he’s gotten to know are always learning. Ken goes on to point out there are some firms he might do 20+ focus groups for in a given year, and although they have been getting multi-million dollar verdicts for decades now, they are always learning, testing, reading, revising, and thinking about how to improve.

Michael speaks to his own experiences on learning and how over the years, while there are some basic human things that don’t change, many things do change over time and thus, lawyers need to be open to continuing to learn in order to be effective in the courtroom. Ken follows up to describe some of the other things he’s doing to continually get better, such as reading a lot on decision-making, psychology, and metaphors, then discussing what he’s learned with friends and colleagues, testing things for himself in focus groups, case preparations, depositions, and in the courtroom. He also goes to seminars and holds in-house trainings. Ken also discusses some of the ideas he’s learned from R. Rex Parris [link to Rex episode] on metaphors and how he’s been able to incorporate them into his courtroom proceedings.

Talking more about Ken’s experiences with focus groups and testing theories within them, he describes a few exercises he’s used to better understand the imagery that focus group juries associate with their case using simple techniques. Then he takes things a step further to discuss the findings, one-on-one, with the focus group participants. Through this process, he’s discovered many great metaphors and images that have helped his cases as well as some that needed to be tweaked or reworked for a case, noting that it’s better to find out and understand things which can negatively impact your case prior to trial, than during it, of course.

Beyond running his law firm and focus groups, Ken has also written books and articles, which begs the question – how does he have time for all of this? Ken describes his methods of time management which include getting up several hours before his wife and kids, but also includes time blocking and scheduling things based on his own understanding of the best times for him to get work done, which he details more in this episode. Michael also talks through the structures he’s implemented in his life and his firm to help to “move the ball forward” toward accomplishing his goals.

Michael turns the conversation toward what lawyers can do to set themselves up to achieve their goals, whether it is getting a $43 million verdict or a $6 million settlement, to which Ken turns the table a little bit and points out some great advice he had heard from Michael about taking on the right cases and turning away the others. Michael elaborates on this point and discusses the juxtaposition of the normal mentality associated with turning down cases, which really hits the nail on the head in terms of getting more of the types of cases lawyers want to get and building their practice.

Their conversation rounds out in a discussion revolving around the terms Ken has seen come up over and over in focus groups involving trucking cases specifically. Ken talks about terms he’s found to be important to focus groups and juries alike such as “professional driver,” and ideas revolving around vision and forgiveness. Truly insightful information that Ken discusses more in depth, which not only brings perspective to trucking cases at their face value, but also the impact focus groups can have in helping to bring another element of humanity into our cases by getting the perspectives of what’s important in the eyes of others.

 

BACKGROUND

Ken Levinson is a passionate advocate for accident survivors and child safety. For more than 20 years, he has represented disenfranchised clients against corporate giants. By using the law, the court system and his skill as a lawyer, his goal is to level the playing field for those facing the most challenging times of their lives.

 

Leadership

  • Former Section Chair of the American Association for Justice  Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section
  • Vice Chair of the American Association for Justice Trucking Group
  • Board Member of the American Association for Justice National College of Advocacy
  • Co-chair of Overcoming Jury Bias Litigation Group
  • Regional Coordinator of the American Association for Justice Chicago Student Trial Advocacy Competition
  • American Association of Justice Board of Advocates
  • American Association for Justice Law Schools Committee
  • American Association for Justice Voter Protection Committee
  • Committee Chair of the American Association for Justice Litigation Group Coordination Committee
  • Press Advisory Board American Association for Justice
  • Chair Chicago Bar Association Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee

Ken also serves as chair of the section’s Practice Resources Committee, which compiles documents such as pleadings, research, expert reports and other information that might be helpful to fellow trial lawyers. As part of AAJ, Ken acts as Secretary of Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway, and Premises Liability Section and Chair of the newsletter committee; he has served as Education/CLE Vice-Chair of the Trucking Litigation Group (2014–2015) and Co-chair of Publications Committee (2013-2014). Additional memberships include the Chicago Bar Association, where Ken has also been the Solo & Small Firm Practice Committee Chair from 2009-2019, Vice Chair (2008 – 2009), and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, where he is currently a member of its Board of Managers. Under ITLA, Ken is also a co-chair of the legislative committee. In 2010, Ken was elected to serve a three-year term on the Trial Lawyers College Alumni Board. He is currently serving on the editorial board of The Warrior, the Trial Lawyers College magazine.

Ken has written numerous articles for prestigious lawyer publications and spoken at dozens of conventions for trial lawyers and American Bar Association organizations. Ken also recently appeared on an episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast.

 

Honors and Awards

Ken is currently the Vice Chair of the American Association of Justice Trucking Group. Ken also formerly served as Chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section and  Illinois Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice, a designation that carries Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) Board status. He has been recognized by Leading Lawyers and Super Lawyers magazines as one of the top attorneys in Illinois, including the Super Lawyers Top 100 in 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. He is the co-author of Litigating Major Automobile Injury and Death Cases, a two-volume reference series designed to help attorneys build strong cases for their clients by highlighting real-life case studies related to Major Auto Injury and Death. The book is published by AAJ Press/Thomson Reuters.

Named one of The 40 Lawyers Under 40 to Watch in Illinois by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company, Ken is among a select group of trial attorneys that has graduated from legendary lawyer Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College, which is dedicated to training and educating lawyers who represent people against corporate and government oppression. Ken is one of only 100 trial lawyers from Illinois selected for The American Trial Lawyers Association, where membership is by invitation only.

 

Education

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hobart College in 1989 and his Juris Doctor in 1992 from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Ken was appointed an Assistant Illinois Attorney General, representing state agencies and employees in civil matters, including both personal injury and civil rights cases. He has been admitted to practice before the Illinois Supreme Court and the Northern District of Illinois, United States District Court since 1992. Levinson is also admitted to the Federal Trial Bar.

 

Personal

Ken volunteers his time and resources to a variety of community and charitable organizations in the Chicago area, such as sponsoring the Tristin Speaks Benefit, which raised funds for autism awareness. Ken is a former member of The Citizens’ Council of LaGrange, a non-partisan community group that promotes better government through the recruiting and evaluation of candidates for local public office, having co-chaired the Council’s Qualifications Committee. Ken participated in the 39-mile, two-day Avon Breast Cancer Walk and the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer. Ken also supports Art in Motion, an event hosted by the Associate Board to raise funds for the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now known as the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Ken is an area native, born in Chicago and currently living in LaGrange, IL. He is happily married and the father of three boys, keeping him very active in youth and sports-related activities. One of his favorite pastimes is to go with his wife to their sons’ high school varsity games and in-state and out of state tournaments for basketball and volleyball.

Ken can be reached at all hours via email: Ken@LevinsonStefani.com

 

RESOURCES

How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market by Gerald Zaltman

Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers by Gerald Zaltman

Metaphors We Live By author George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

 

 

39 – Sari de la Motte – What we Tell Jurors Without Saying a Word

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with presentation coach, speaker, and trial consultant, Sari de la Motte, for a conversation on nonverbal communication. With two advanced degrees in music, and having started out initially teaching teachers how to get better results in their classrooms, Sari has transitioned her skills to working 100% with trial attorneys on how to present and work with juries.

Sari began her journey while attending school for her Master’s Degree in Music, when her professor told her she needed to go to a training on nonverbal communication to help her become a better teacher. She attended with the mindset that she was going to learn about how to read people’s nonverbal cues and make up stories about what they are communicating. Little did she realize the focus would be on herself and how she communicated nonverbally, and how she could increase her presence and charisma. And she was hooked! The trainer was Michael Grinder, a master of, and world renown expert in, the power of influence — the science of non-verbal communication, non-verbal leadership, group dynamics, advanced relationship building skills and presentation skills. She was so intrigued, she looked him up, and followed him around the country, paying her own expenses along the way for upwards of 9 months to observe and take notes on what he was presenting. After which she pivoted completely from music to nonverbal communication.

Both music and nonverbal communication are the two universal languages. She explains, you don’t need training in music to enjoy it and the same goes for nonverbal communication in order to understand it, i.e., you don’t need to be trained to know when your spouse is upset. But, if you want to perform music or you want to be systematic in how you communicate nonverbally, then you certainly need to become trained in those areas.

In the beginning, Sari started training teachers in schools on how to communicate using nonverbal techniques until the recession hit and she realized schools had less and less money to use. That’s when she adapted her trainings for the corporate world. Little did she know that when the Oregonian did a story on her, she would receive a call from a lawyer asking her to come help pick a jury the next week. She also wasn’t sure on how she would be helping but once she was in the courtroom, she again was hooked and knew it was a great fit for her.

Michael wonders how Sari learned how to take what she knew about nonverbal communication and apply it to what lawyers do. Sari shares a story about how the original lawyer wanted her to come to the courtroom, watch the jury pool’s body language and tell him who to keep on and who to kick off. Ironically, she found that as much as she kept watching the jury, to which there is no scientific evidence to back up the ability to read body language as its own language to make judgements about people, her attention kept coming back to the lawyer himself. She soon realized, the biggest opportunity to help this lawyer was to in fact, help him with his own nonverbal communication in how he was interacting with the jury. Thankfully he was open to her feedback and wanted to know everything he could from her. Sari goes on to point out that all the nonverbal skills she teaches, whether teaching teachers, the corporate world, or to lawyers, are all the same skills. It’s just the context that changes. And once she learned the context lawyers operate in, how to apply those skills, and met a lawyer who was able to look at himself instead of focusing on what the jury was doing, she truly fell in love with the work trial lawyers do. Michael points out the irony of “how many times we’re doing something with our hands, a facial expression, other body language, or even our tone of voice, and we don’t even know it. And we’re giving off a message that is the opposite of the words we’re saying.” Sari not only agrees, but also points to research that shows “if there is a mismatch between what you are saying and what you’re communicating nonverbally, the listener will go with the nonverbal message every single time.” She continues by pointing out those awkward times lawyers are videotaped, watch it back, and are absolutely horrified by what they see; not so much in regards to the superficial things like hair being out of place or our weight, but rather because we have no idea about all the weird things we’re doing nonverbally.

Early on, at the beginning of her career, Sari was approached to speak to The Inner Circle, a group of the top 100 plaintiff attorneys in the United States, and statistically notes after 15 years, she has found that it is always the best lawyers that show up on her doorstep. Michael and Sari discuss “winning in the courtroom” and how some overstate its importance and talk through what they see as a better way to define winning. Furthermore, Sari points to what is in your circle of concern versus your circle of influence, a mindset which stems from The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey, and further proves her point about the definition of winning.

Talking about Sari’s podcast From Hostage to Hero (also the name of her upcoming book), Michael is curious about where the name came from. She recalls needing to learn the context of how to apply her skills to the courtroom and finding the best way to do so being to read all the books lawyers were reading, attending CLEs, watching DVDs, etc. And she found that after helping to pick several hundreds of juries and having read all kinds materials, there was something missing from the conversations … the idea of jurors being hostages. No one was really talking about the elephant in the room, where jurors don’t even want to be there in the first place, and they’re forced to do it anyway. So, she set out to fix this “communication dilemma” and understand how we get jurors to want to participate and realizing the hero role they truly play in the end. In other words, we’re asking jurors to take action for some person who they don’t know, with something they think doesn’t benefit themselves at all. “We’re asking them to be heroes, but when they first come into the courtroom,” Sari reveals, “they’re hostages.”

Sari discusses the levels of engagement lawyers go through with jurors on their journey through a trial: creating a safe environment; engaging them with you and the material, AKA voir dire; commitment, and be willing to listen to your opening statements; and finally, taking action at the end. Whereas, lawyers have a tendency to jump all the way to the end before systematically moving them through the other levels of the interaction. Or, as Sari describes it “that’s like going to our coffee date, talking for two minutes, and then getting down on one knee and asking the person to marry us.”  Sari continues to discuss each level in detail, including: understanding the 3 components of any message (content, delivery, reception) and using your breathing as a way to create safety. Then she discusses listening to understand vs. listening to talk and how to elevate people’s status by listening, along with the different levels of listening. And lastly, empowering jurors to make a decision and take action.

Listeners might think a podcast episode about nonverbal communication could potentially leave people feeling like they’re missing out on what’s to see, but Michael’s conversation with Sari couldn’t be more engaging and relatable with their descriptiveness. The episode rounds out with several other topics such as: understanding the S.C.A.R.F. model (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) and how it relates to juries; how to turn a jury from an unformed group to a functioning faction; how to introduce jurors to each other using just your eyes; issues vs. relationships; the two buckets EVERY communication fits into and how knowing which one you are presenting can give you permission from a juror; things that lawyers do that hurt their cases; and so much more. This is absolutely an episode every lawyer who speaks or moves in the courtroom needs to listen to.

 

BACKGROUND

Sari de la Motte is a nationally recognized presentation coach, speaker, and trial consultant. She has trained extensively with an internationally recognized authority in nonverbal communication and is an expert in nonverbal intelligence.

Sari speaks to audiences of a few dozen people to audiences of over a thousand. A sought-after keynote speaker, Sari is often asked to headline conferences across the United States. Sari also works with high-profile speakers in her Portland office, helping them to hone their messaging and fine-tune their nonverbal delivery.

Sari has spoken for, and works with, several members of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only group consisting of the top 100 trial attorneys in the United States. She’s a featured columnist for Oregon Trial Lawyer’s Magazine, Sidebar, and has also written for Washington State Association of Justice, Oregon Criminal Defense Attorney, and other legal publications. She provides CLE’s for various state association of justices around the country. Because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves, she has been dubbed “The Attorney Whisperer.”

“For more information on Sari de la Motte you can visit http://www.saridlm.com/

 

RESOURCES

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

38 – Wayne Pollock – The Court of Public Opinion

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with attorney and founder of Copo Strategies, Wayne Pollock, for an in-depth discussion on the court of public opinion [copo] and how it can affect your clients, cases, firm, and reputation.

Having graduated college and working in public relations for a PR firm for about four years, he was introduced to the legal world through one of his clients at the time, Fox Rothschild, now an AM Law 100 law firm, which inspired Wayne to go to law school. Graduating law school from Georgetown University, he went to work at a big law firm for six and a half years as a litigation associate while he never stopped liking public relations. Wayne describes himself as an attorney focused on the court of public opinion, which really means he helps other attorneys and their clients, ethically, strategically, and proactively engage public opinion in order to help those clients resolve their cases favorably. Wayne does this work to help the attorneys build their practices, he also goes in as a consultant to law firms, and other times as limited scope co-counsel to the actual clients. Overall, his goal is to help clients resolve their cases favorably through the media and through outreach to the public, essentially blending media strategies with legal strategies, and ethical compliance with defamation avoidance.

Wayne describes the launch of this offering from his firm, mainly because he didn’t see this kind of fixture being offered to attorneys and clients. Often, he describes seeing, attorneys and clients who are talking to the media in connection with active litigation, but they didn’t seem to have a strategy. They don’t seem to be thinking about what’s happening in court when they’re saying things publicly. They certainly aren’t always thinking about the ethics. And he’s also seen plenty of press releases where the PR firm or the law firm is clearly defaming the other side. So, he took that need in the market and thought his services could be used in a different way, thereby launching his firm a couple of years ago, to do just that.

When it comes to being in the media, Wayne admits it’s daunting for many attorneys, mostly because unlike a normal litigation practice, there are no rules. There are literally no rules of evidence, no rules of procedure, and it’s somewhat of an “every person for themselves” type environment, and that’s difficult for attorneys to get used to. He points out there are obviously ethical rules and defamation rules, but in terms of how you engage with the media and what you say, there’s really no set core set of practices that are established. Regardless, Wayne still encourages his clients, and their end clients, to always be thinking about the court of public opinion and engage it head on as a part of their legal toolkit, because often times, they find that what happens in the court of public opinion impacts what happens in the court of law in this era of social media, online news, and the viralness of both. From Michael’s previous experience, he’s also found competing mindsets of the ego of wanting to be on TV and wanting to be quoted, pitted against the fear of not wanting to cause harm to anyone, especially his clients. Wayne goes on to discuss the privilege issue and how it is a huge problem when law firms hire outside PR firms. He explains it all in detail, but once he realized that he could help get around the privilege issue by serving as an attorney, the light bulb went off and he said to himself, “I guess I’m just going to have to do this myself.”

Wayne defines the “court of public opinion” as people who are not parties to a legal dispute, but whose perceptions of the dispute could impact how the dispute is resolved and how the litigant’s reputation or prosperity could be affected. He goes on to describe the many different types of pools of people who can be affected by the court of public opinion, as well as organizations who stand for the same kind of qualities a client, or their case, do which can help bolster a case by piggybacking on the case and drawing more attention to it. Wayne also describes the effects of the ripple far and wide when information is spread in the court of public opinion, whether it is compelling others to call in with crucial evidence or even developing additional suits with others who have experienced the same thing being tried in a current case, all of which adds to the snowball effect that is created. He’s even had judges tell him they will dot their i’s and cross their t’s that much more closely when they know they’re involved in a high-profile case because they know more eyeballs are on them. And he adds exactly how plaintiff attorneys can use the court of public opinion to their advantage to fight the David v. Goliath fight against the big law firms hired to represent defendants.

From a marketing perspective, Wayne talks about how being seen in public media outlets can give an attorney instant social proof of the work you’re doing, by literally seeing you in action. “It’s not just you sending a press release or someone visiting a website. They see you quoted in an article, they see you being an advocate for a client, and they think to themselves, wow, he/she really knows what they are doing. Maybe I should contact them. That’s a lot different than just Googling ‘trucking attorney in Texas’ and hoping that somehow they get to you.”

Michael and Wayne explore a myriad of topics surrounding the court of public opinion throughout this episode, including: the ethics surrounding being in the media and the change of societal narratives and perceptions; anchoring – a tactic rooted in psychology and persuasion; the rules of professional conduct when engaging with the media; getting consent from a client, especially with the understanding that there are many mean-spirited people in the world who are ready to say bad things; core factors to consider when determining if a case is newsworthy and how to frame cases to be “sexier” in the eyes of the media; and so much more. This episode is one to listen to several times for attorneys who are thrust into the spotlight feeling unprepared, as well as for attorneys with cases that could have greater potential through exposure from the court of public opinion.

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

 

BACKGROUND

Wayne founded Copo Strategies in 2016 after spending over a decade achieving favorable legal and public relations results for his clients.

Prior to starting Copo, Wayne was a litigator at Dechert LLP, one of the largest and most prominent law firms in the world, with more than 900 attorneys worldwide, and more than $1 billion in annual revenues. In his more than six years at the firm, he obtained favorable outcomes for clients by analyzing and presenting complex legal and factual issues. While at the firm, Wayne worked on high-stakes, high-profile matters that were often reported on by local, national, and international media outlets. For example, he was on the Dechert team that represented the ten former independent directors of Lehman Brothers in the wave of investigations and litigation triggered by Lehman’s September 2008 collapse. He was also on the team that represented Takata, a leading automotive parts manufacturer, in litigation and regulatory investigations related to the company’s recall of tens of millions of potentially defective airbags. And, Wayne was on the team that represented the Marshall family in litigation against Vickie Lynn Marshall (a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith).

 

Before law school, Wayne practiced public relations at The Star Group, a one-time Advertising Age “Top 100” marketing communications firm. In his four years at the firm, he developed and executed public relations and marketing initiatives on behalf of regional, national, and international clients. While at Star, Wayne cultivated relationships with journalists and secured dozens of placements for clients in national and regional media outlets including USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, regional television network affiliates, and national trade media outlets.

Publications, Media Appearances, and Speaking Engagements

Please click here for a list of Wayne’s publications, media appearances, and speaking engagements.

Education

Wayne graduated in 2009 from Georgetown University Law Center, where he was Senior Special Projects Editor for The Georgetown Law Journal.
Wayne graduated magna cum laude in 2002 from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where he majored in public relations.

Court Admissions

Wayne is admitted to practice law in all state courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Personal

Wayne resides in Center City Philadelphia. If you keep an eye out, you might find him running on one of Philadelphia’s numerous running trails, desperately trying to keep Father Time away from his knees.

 

36 – David Ball – Finding the Alignment – Understanding What Jurors Want

In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with a special guest, Dr. David Ball. David is a trial consultant, speaker, and one of the “fathers” of the book “The Reptile in the MIST.” His name and his books have been mentioned on numerous episodes not only Michael Cowen, but many of our Trial Lawyer Nation guests. With several books of David’s to choose from, Michael can’t help but note how “David Ball on Damages 3” has been very useful in helping him craft opening statements and serving as an outline for many trials. He also highly recommends all trial lawyers have this book within arms-reach of their desk (more on this later in the episode). And for those trial lawyers who don’t know David personally, it is important to also note he has probably done more good for trial lawyers than anyone else in the industry.

Having started down his path many years ago, David’s mission of trying to help trial attorneys make complicated things clear, originally came from his background in theatre, where much of what he had learned in theatre has been extremely useful for trial lawyers. In fact, working with a more classical repertoire theatre with works from Shakespeare, he wondered how he could make those plays crystal clear for the audience who is listening to it and how it might relate to the legal industry. His conclusion? “I realized lawyers have 2 problems: 1. They’re boring as hell and 2. They’re not very clear about what they’re talking about.” Today David describes what he does as helping to strategize cases to maximize the principles of what we’ve learned in the neurosciences and apply it to how people really make conclusions, how decisions are made, how we know things, and how logic has very little to do with any of it. Essentially, working as a bridge between the neurosciences and the courtroom.

So, how do we get jurors to see things the way we want them to? Logic doesn’t deal with the law school version of tell them your case, they’ll understand your case, and if you’re in the right, they’ll give your client a just verdict. Justice has nothing to do with how people make decisions. How do we translate that into things you’re allowed to do in trial and in a way that will motivate jurors to do what we want them to do? David says, people don’t make their decisions on the basis of “justice,” but rather justice is simply the result of something you think you want. He goes on to explain why trial lawyers need to look at what they’ve got and then put this “stew” together into something someone REALLY wants, for it to end the way we want it to. The whole process of trial, as David describes it, is an alignment.

David continues to describe this alignment by combining solid research along with all the things he’s learned in theatre about what real storytelling is. The fundamental thing about The Reptile, he describes, is by getting the jurors to want themselves to be safe and live in a safe world, that becomes their want. He also points out that in order to get their want, he also needs to get his client’s “want,” which is money. Michael adds to this by stating the only power the jury has in the courtroom is to give or deny money in the case. David goes on to say that if the attorney is presenting their case well, jurors will understand if they give a good verdict it will make their world safer, but also giving a bad verdict will make their world a more dangerous place than it is now. In other words, once the jurors walk into the courtroom, they will be walking out with either a safer world or a more dangerous world, but it will never be the same way as when they walked in. Furthermore, David explains when you ask a client why they are doing the case, not only will they say it’s because they need the money (compensation) but they also want to make sure this won’t happen to anyone else. To expand on his point, David shares an example from his early years watching the trial of a case involving a wealthy woman in North Carolina, who was rear-ended and clearly didn’t need the compensation from the case. The answer the woman gave him when he asked her why she was going through with the case, even though it was painful, is priceless. And it helps us understand why even the smallest cases are important in making the world a safer place. David also talks about the points he describes to the jurors regarding their potential complicities in what they allow the defense to get away with and the affects it will have on others who face the same situations in the future.

Which leads Michael to pose the question, “how do we figure out what the jurors want?” David goes through a laundry list of things we know about what jurors want, including through focus groups and the neurosciences what motivates us to want something. Boiled down to its core, David explains this with a great example of teenage boys as jurors, which will shock you and make complete sense. And he wraps up with describing the fundamental drives that keep us alive, as well as the impact of disrespect and humiliation.

The topic shifts at one point to talk about when the other side brings in what they call an “independent medical examiner,” three lies in one person’s title, David jokes (sort of). Rather than disagreeing with their conclusion, David proposes you show what they did wrong in their methodology, to show they purposely arrived at the wrong conclusion. He goes on to show how the right types of questions posed to your own experts can further point out the flaws in their conclusions without the need to call the defense’s independent expert a liar. Michael also adds how it can be very effective to discuss the idea of a defense’s witness as “independent,” when they’ve been picked and paid for by the defense, in helping the jury not feel like their intelligence is being disrespected. David continues to talk about the difference between describing the defense as someone who may lie in order to protect themselves vs. someone who is disrespecting the jury by insulting their intelligence and the impact this can have on a jury. He goes on to point out how it is analogous to the difference between a doctor lying to a patient, where the patient might be being disrespected but the juror is not vs. a doctor getting on the witness stand and deliberately misleads the jury, and as such, disrespecting them.

One of the things David describes as loving about what he’s been able to do, is when he started writing his first theatre for trial book, there was nothing. Nobody was doing anything in the way of teaching major overall strategy and there were certainly no books on damages or doing it. He’d like to think that the Damages book helped give rise to this whole other industry. In one hand he should hate it, he created all his own competitors, and on the other hand it is the greatest feeling in the world for him.

David also suggests for every attorney to page through their Damages 3 book on a consistent basis to examine it through the lens of the case you’re working on currently, in order to see things you never saw before. He suggests this, mainly because so much information is lost after seminars and reading other books, because the only things you likely retain are the things which pertain to the case you’re working on right now.

Michael and David move on to the topic of the principles of persuasion and how David has brought his theatre experience into the courtroom. Revisiting the idea of “real storytelling,” David talks through the actual history of storytelling and how it has evolved over time. He points out why you have to make people want to hear the next part of the story, AKA “narrative thrust,” using “dramatic tension” to create tension between this moment and the next moment, and the next moment could be an hour away or two minutes away. Crafting what David describes as “forwards” where everyone sees the anticipated moment in the story and wants to hear it for themselves. He also points out these forwards are very case specific, very particular to the story, and it is a relatively sophisticated thing to do for people who are not natural born storytellers, but you can learn to do it. And he describes why the context in storytelling and where you put pieces of information in the story matter significantly to shaping the story.

Michael and David touch briefly on social media and a trial lawyer’s first amendment right, where it is important to note David believes if you are a trial lawyer, you have accepted a fiduciary responsibility to your client which trumps your ability to have free speech. He also believes society has become so divisive these days on social media and now face to face, where we now have the challenge of bringing both sides together to fight for an even greater cause. David uses the example of 2 people fighting, but when someone comes in and tries to do harm to them, they will both unite because they are both in danger and need each other to save themselves. The heart of such a scenario, is the aim of every trial lawyer when working with diverse juries.

Digging deeper into David’s theatre background, Michael talks about how he has yet to see a trial lawyer facing a potentially multi-million-dollar trial rehearse as much as a community theatre where 30 people may be in the audience. David shares how being a trial lawyer is the only area of public performance where they don’t rehearse. He goes on to suggest you cannot fully rehearse on your own and, a full rehearsal, means a dress rehearsal. In the same way you cannot have football practice without eventually having a scrimmage with another side. When you are on the stage, you have a million other things on your mind, you’re being “Hamlet.” When you’re a lawyer, you’ve got your peers, the judge, and the jury all watching you. It distracts your attention from where it needs to be, so you seem very nervous. You cannot be a leader of human beings when you’re very nervous. And the best lawyers are leaders of human beings.

The conversation ends with a discussion on charisma in the courtroom as well as David’s important work in the criminal defense industry. And after spending this episode with David, it’s clear to see why so many trial lawyers look to him as a powerhouse in the industry.

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

 

BACKGROUND

David Ball, who wrote trial advocacy’s best-selling strategy bookDavid Ball on Damagesis a litigation researcher and strategist with North Carolina’s Malekpour & Ball Consulting (JuryWatch, Inc.). He is the nation’s most influential jury consultant, communications expert, and advocacy teacher. His training is in science, engineering, and small-group communications, and he is a 30-year veteran of the professional theater.

Dr. Ball and his partner, lawyer/consultant Artemis Malekpour (artemis@consultmmb.com), consult on civil and criminal cases across the country. They are routinely credited with turning the most difficult cases into significant victories. They are the nation’s only trial consultants qualified to safely and comprehensively guide attorneys with Reptilian, David Ball on Damages, and David Ball on Criminal Defense methods and strategy. Their hundreds of brainstorming sessions – “WorkDays” – have become the gold standard for case-strategy development.

In addition to David Ball on Damages, Dr. Ball’s other landmark advocacy books include Theater Tips & Strategies for Jury Trials, Reptile (with Don Keenan), Theater for Trial (with Joshua Karton), Reptile in the MIST, and David Ball on Criminal Defense.

Dr. Ball has taught law students at North Carolina, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Roger

Williams, Loyola, and Campbell schools of law, and at Duke Law as Senior Lecturer. He’s an award-winning teacher for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice and the American Association for Justice’s National College of Advocacy. He has long been among the nation’s most in-demand of CLE speakers. His favorite job was taxi driver in the 1970s in Stamford, CT, and his Daddy was a Catskill Mountains bootlegger during Prohibition.

 

Dr. Ball is also a pioneer in adapting film and theater methods into trial techniques. His theater/film students have won Oscars, Obies, Tonies, and Emmies; his scripts have been staged at professional theaters off-Broadway, throughout North America, and overseas. He helped to lead the Guthrie Theater, as well as Carnegie-Mellon University’s renowned theater conservatory and, as Chair, Duke University’s Drama Department. His best-selling film and theater training book, Backwards and Forwards, has been the field’s standard every year since 1984, and is now in uses by trail lawyers as well. His crossover books, Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials along with the new Theater for Trial, are the standards for the use of film and theater techniques in litigation.

Dr. Ball also wrote the cult classic film Hard Rock Zombies, though he made up for it by writing Swamp Outlaw, a novel about Civil War Era Lumbee hero Henry Berry Lowery, now under option for a motion picture. (TV viewers: Dr. Ball and Dr. Bull deny each other’s existence.)

 

RESOURCES

Reptile: The 2009 Manual of the Plaintiff’s Revolution

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.”

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