Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ABOUT THE GUEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

38 – Wayne Pollock – The Court of Public Opinion

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, 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.