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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

 

 

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.”

33 – Julian C. Gomez – Autonomous Vehicles: People v. Machines

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with automotive products liability attorney, Julian C. Gomez, to discuss his expertise on product cases, specifically dealing with autonomous vehicles (AKA: Robot Cars). Most attorneys can relate, but the gist of every other talk Michael has ever heard on this topic, before Julian’s, was that we’re going to get robot cars, they’re never going to crash, and they’re going to put everyone out of business in 5 years. This is certainly what the automotive industry is trying to promise, but the data we have to date suggests otherwise.

Julian’s beginnings, getting into the field of automotive product cases, started back when he clerked for a judge who was the first in the country to try a Ford Explorer/Firestone case. He was able to sit through the trial and learn from some of the best lawyers in the country, which sparked his interest and set him on this path. When Julian started doing automotive product cases, he noticed the engineers were starting to address the legal issues as opposed to the engineering issues behind them. He points out that the engineering is really not all that difficult – the vehicle uses data gathering devices, puts the information into a data processor, which processes the data based on an algorithm, then an answer or result is spitting out, and makes the vehicle do something. Getting too far into the details can sometimes overcomplicate things, which Julian compares to the area of autonomous vehicles and states “I don’t have to be a computer engineer, to know that my computer is broken or to know that it’s working.”

Julian then describes the different levels of crash avoidance technologies (1-6) to include all sides of the vehicle along with the various types (signaling warnings to taking full-blown actions with the vehicle). He goes on to talk about how the levels start to gray out based on human data input as well as how there really are no “driverless” vehicles on the road today, despite what you hear on the news. He also discusses a recent AAA report addressing the confusion regarding the different types of autonomous systems due to the industry, and manufacturers, because there is not a standardized naming structure for these systems.

Interestingly, Julian explains the current way they are measuring the level 3-5 type autonomous vehicles is through disengagements, where the human driver has had to take over the car’s actions instead of it driving itself. In comparison, Apple had roughly 1 disengagement every 1.2 miles whereas, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Waymo had roughly 1 disengagement every 10,000 miles. And while there is a huge disparity between the top performers and the bottom, and numerous tragedies throughout the industry, Julian points out the real problem is there haven’t been enough vehicle miles driven to know how safe they are going to be. He also talks about the millions of vehicle miles driven each year compared to the thousands of deaths that occur on the road, and then extrapolates the data from when Uber had its recent fatality, based on the number of vehicle miles driven by autonomous cars at that point, to determine we would be experiencing around 1.6 million deaths each year. He brings this point home by stating even if you cut that number in half multiple times, it’s still much more than what is happening today on our roads.

Another problem Julian points out is the conflicts that occur between an objective algorithm system in the computer within the car working with a human subjective system. He gives a great example of how we’ve all seen cars, even before we started driving, interact in different ways when the driver is planning to turn right (IE: roll slowly through the light, even if it’s technically not the correct way). As humans, we are able to gauge how much space/time we have between our vehicle and the vehicle turning in front of us, whereas autonomous cars look at it from the standpoint of what the rule is and how it will obey that rule.

Michael points out how the computers can only do what they are programmed to do, making the job of the engineers to think of every possibility and then the safest possible outcome for each of the scenarios unfathomably enormous. Julian notes that as humans, the second most common function our bodies perform (breathing being the first) is seeing. We have been “seeing” and processing things through our eyesight for our entire lives, since day one. Some even suggest for a computer to process the amount of data we have seen in our lives, the computer would be the size of a warehouse, much less the size of a car, or the size of a computer in a car. Julian also discusses the responsibility to predict the unknown, which is nearly impossible, as if to say “tell me everything you don’t know.”

Michael and Julian recount the unfortunate incident in Arizona with the self-driving Uber car, the details of which are likely not what you might have heard previously, nor are they what you might expect (hint, hint – the frontal collision system was turned off, but by whom? Listen to find out). Also, perhaps somewhat shockingly, was the fact that the case was settled in 10 days, which Julian notes, might give you a sense of how Uber felt about their culpability in the case. Michael and Julian also discuss the perceptions of the “auto-piloted” cars as set forth by the marketing departments of the vehicles and how they are not exactly in line with what the cars are actually equipped to do.

The episode concludes with Julian revealing his process for evaluating which product liability cases to take on as well as the “why” behind them versus simply going after damages, the results of which could do more harm to the legal industry than good when the wrong type of cases are pursued. They also make some predictions as to the future of mass-produced autonomous vehicles and where they’ll likely be used. As this technology continues to evolve, this episode drives home (no pun intended) the vast areas of the unknown in the auto industry in regards to where blame should be placed in such an environment where humans are sharing responsibility with computers, along with the engineers and companies who design them, to keep our roadways safe for everyone.

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

 

BACKGROUND ON JULIAN C. GOMEZ

Julian C. Gomez is an attorney in McAllen, Texas. Julian was raised in South Texas. Julian is a ninth-generation Texan and his family still ranches on their original Spanish land grant. Julian graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in Agricultural Economics and was a member of the Corps of Cadets while at Texas A&M.

After graduation, Julian spent time on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as an analyst in the cattle futures and options pits. Julian graduated from the University of Houston Law School in 2000. Julian was a law clerk for Filemon Vela, United States District Judge, Southern District of Texas, Brownsville Division and a law clerk for Reynaldo Garza, United States Circuit Court Judge, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. After his clerkships, Julian founded The Julian C. Gomez Law Firm and has practiced there since.

Julian has a national and international practice focusing primarily on catastrophic product liability and negligence cases, mass torts, and contingent commercial litigation. Julian is a past Chairman of the American Association for Justice’s Products Liability Section (the largest organization of plaintiffs product liability attorneys in the U.S.); on the executive board of and the vice president of continuing legal education for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, on the board of directors of and co-chair of continuing legal education committee for the Attorneys Information Exchange Group (the largest organization of plaintiffs automotive product liability attorneys in the U.S.); has served on plaintiffs’ committees in national mass tort litigation; is a graduate of Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College; is a graduate of the American Association for Justice’s Leadership Academy; is the special liaison to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on behalf of both American Association for Justice’s Products Liability Section and the Attorneys Information Exchange Group; regularly speaks at international, national, statewide, and local continuing legal education courses on topics ranging from federal jurisdiction to products liability; is the 2017 Men’s 40-44, –69k Texas Weightlifting Champion; and has a 3:45 marathon time.

Julian is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain, is on the board of directors of the USA Weightlifting Foundation (the foundation for United States’ Olympic weightlifting athletes) the board of directors of McAllen Educational Foundation (the foundation for the McAllen Independent School District), and the board of directors of the Texas International Fishing Tournament (the largest fishing tournament in the State of Texas). In his free time, Julian loves spending time with his number one legal assistant, his daughter, Averri; and is an avid outdoorsman, rancher, photographer, snow skier, and tarpon fly-fishing angler.

For more information on Julian C. Gomez visit his website at https://www.jcglf.com/

31 – Malorie Peacock – Proven Techniques for Proving Damages

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In this Table Talk episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with Cowen | Rodriguez | Peacock partner, Malorie Peacock, to answer the questions of our listeners. This show focuses on how to prove your client’s harms and losses at trial.

The first listener question is regarding the idea of whether 3X the medical bills is typically what you use to determine damages or does that only apply in certain cases? Michael recalls being taught the 3X “rule of thumb” back when he was first starting as a trial lawyer, but since then, no longer does for several reasons. First and foremost, times have changed along with insurance company practices. If an insurance company or defense attorney does start to talk to you about 3X medical bills, it’s likely because your case is worth a lot more than that. Instead, Michael focuses on what a jury might do when they look at each element of damage (pain, mental anguish, impairment, or whatever the measure of damage is in a particular state) individually and determine what they feel compelled to put in each blank. That, paired with what Michael calls “piss off factors” based on things the defense might do to compel a juror to give full justice for, becomes a number he’d like to keep as high as possible. Of course, he also takes into account whether his client is for some reason not likable or the defense is super likable, which can also affect the jury’s motivation in an adverse way for his case. Malorie also brings up another important note on the effects of jurors taking into consideration the percentage of fault even though they are instructed not to do so. To which Michael elaborates a little more on how to potentially work the messaging of that to the jury.

The next question by our listeners is how do you work up damages, especially in a smaller case that doesn’t warrant bringing in experts or producing lots of exhibits? Michael starts to answer this question by clarifying that experts generally do not help work up damages, but rather help to prove calculations on future medical expenses or a vocational loss. Having said that, with regard to the human and non-economic damages, he believes people who come in and talk about your client, how they were before, what they went through, and what they are like now can have the biggest impact. This also doesn’t cost any money toward the case. It does, however, take a lot of time in order to visit with these people to talk through what they know of the client before, during, and after, as well as collect photos or videos showing the client in a different state prior to suffering damages, etc. Michael discusses how this approach, even by taking the time to meet with people and learning your client’s story better, will make you more authentic in the courtroom which can have a profound impact on your case. Malorie sums this point up reminding us that all of our clients are more than just their injuries.

The next question they explore is regarding a wrongful death case without economic damages, which Malorie takes the reins on and starts with conveying just how hard it is to put a number on life when no amount of money will ever replace someone’s loved one. She goes on to elaborate that although you can do focus groups, they are not truly predictive. It will always boil down to the 12 jurors you get on any specific day in court who will ultimately put that number on a case. Michael adds that liability is what really tends to drive the number in wrongful death cases and it sometimes becomes very hard to have a conversation with the surviving family member(s) on the difference in the value of life versus the value of a case. He also shares how going to trial in a death case is extremely tough for the family as they relive one of the most painful events in their lives, which places a real responsibility on us as lawyers to make sure we are doing the right thing. Whether that means turning down an offer that is not sufficient to go to trial to fight for more and making an informed choice while understanding upfront the process and pain that will likely come with going through the details all over again. Malorie also describes the importance of knowing your client (a common theme throughout this episode) and understanding their goals, hopes, and struggles for their future to be able to help guide them through the conversation about money.

Proving grief is another topic Michael and Malorie explore with the belief from some jurors that everyone dies at some point. They both agree that there is a definite difference between dying when it’s time and dying when it’s not your time because of a tragic incident. Michael also points out the balancing act that occurs when you don’t want to “torture” your client and make them cry by bringing up all the pain and suffering they encounter now that their loved one is no longer here vs. focusing on the hopes that were and the plans for the future that have now changed because of the actions of someone else. He also points out that this is a good time to utilize experts like grief counselors and let them talk about the pain and suffering your client is, and will, experience due to the loss as well as the grieving process and the natural cycle of grieving to help paint an appropriate picture for the jury. They also give several other examples of ways to express the pain and loss without having to pull tears out of the surviving family members directly.

Michael and Malorie continue their abundance mentality by sharing so much great information in this episode on topics like when to submit and when not to submit a medical bill toward damages; avoiding the status quo and navigating a case to motivate a jury to give your client the justice they deserve; where do your client’s harms and losses fit into the greater story of the trial; an ideal “3 act” trial story through the juror’s eyes; how not to present your client’s harms and losses in a vacuum; how to get your client’s actual story (hint – it’s not what you might think); tips on utilizing psychodramatic methods; expediting the process of spending time with your client to understand their story; how Pareto’s Law can be applied to your docket; and so much more.

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

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

30 – Mark Kosieradzki – Galvanizing Depositions

Mark Kosieradzki – Galvanizing Depositions

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen sits down with well-known attorney, author of 30(b)(6) Deposing Corporations, Organizations & the Government  and Deposition Obstruction: Breaking Through, and long-time presenter at countless legal events, Mark Kosieradzki. This is the best legal podcast for new lawyers.

Mark recalls growing up with parents who were scrappy, rightfully so given their startling history, who instilled in him to stand up for principles, ultimately leading him down the path of becoming a trial lawyer. He points out that many go into the field with a “win at all costs” type mentality, but his father always told him that “if you cheat to win, you really didn’t win,” which he continues to carry with him throughout his successful career in law today.

Mark describes one of the most successful tools he has learned to use in the courtroom are the rules themselves. He finds it to be a lot less stressful when you use the rules to get to the truth and if you play by the rules, you can force the other side to play by them too, which most times is not to their advantage. When Michael asks him how he might know if the opposing side is hiding something from you or not telling the truth, Mark very candidly replies that he starts with the premise that they are, and that trial lawyers want to tell the jury a story whereas a litigator wants to hide evidence. He goes on to impart that when they say they are going to give you “everything,” it’s really more like code for saying we’ll give you everything that doesn’t hurt their case.

Mark shares his evolution of new techniques regarding how he approaches depositions. He starts with a lot of case analysis, storyboarding, puts all his information in “buckets,” and then looks at what he’s trying to accomplish. With that, he starts with the assumption that one person could provide all the information, then structures an outline of what this one person could tell him and works at it to identify what documents are being electronically stored. Then he creates a request for production but doesn’t serve it, knowing there will be immediate objections. Next, he creates a 30(b)(6) designee deposition with a schedule of documents in it but doesn’t request the documents. We’d like someone who can provide all known documents in the organization that exist in this category, Mark continues. Where are they located, how are they organized, and most importantly, what are the methods available for searching? Without having requested anything, we are establishing the most effective and efficient way to request the electronic information, while also preempted all the boilerplate objections before we ask for them. Michael wonders about getting any push back regarding doing discovery on discovery to which Mark explains there is no discovery on discovery because you haven’t asked for the documents yet. Which is brilliant!

Michael asks how Mark structures his life to where he has time to storyboard, plot out cases, take depositions, and then craft his cases. The simple answer, Mark replies, is to just say “NO” to cases, continuing to say that his firm currently turns down 6-8 cases a day and work with small caseloads. Mark remembers starting out as a volume lawyer with 250-300 cases and works with the mentality of getting as many cases as you can and then you settle them based on getting each case’s fixed value with as little work as possible. That type of nonsense, however, assumes that the other side determines the value of each case. He’s also found that by spending more time up front on a case, their hourly value has gone up significantly because they take the time to get the evidence and prove each case. Michael relates his own firm where he’s found the fewer cases each of his lawyers have, the more revenue each lawyer generates. Settlements have gone up, the time from intake to the settlement has gone down, and the personal satisfaction of being able to be a craftsman of doing good for clients is significantly rewarding. It wasn’t until he got rid of the fear in his own mind that if you tell a referring attorney “no” on a case, they will disappear forever. When, in fact, the more time you can spend on the right type of case for yourself, the better the outcomes will be, and the more people will respect you and your practice. It also allows you more time to communicate with your clients which allows them to trust you more by knowing you have their best interests at heart.

The conversation shifts to talk about storyboarding cases. Mark describes the process as for where you lay out what your story to the jury ultimately will be and how you will focus the jury to consider the information which is important in your case. Mark points out that there are many great resources like Cusimano, Wenner, Rick Friedman, Carl Bettinger, and David Ball who have different methods of storyboarding cases, all of which are great, but he doesn’t subscribe to just one method. He explains how he tries to learn ALL the different methods because this is not a checkbox profession, but rather one requiring you to stay nimble in your approach in order to be able to counteract whatever gets thrown at you from the other side. In general, he starts first with a chronological account of the case from beginning to end, which admittedly isn’t always the most persuasive one. Then he begins to craft what he would like the jury to focus on first which in most cases is the decision making that has taken place by the wrongdoer. Mark shares a story using the information availability method that really drives the point home on the importance of sequencing details. Then to take things even a step further, they begin to formulate through whose eyes will they tell their story which is equally important given that there are hundreds of perspectives a story can be told…just ask Stephen Spielberg.

Michael and Mark round out this episode hitting on hot button issues including how to structure your questions to establish if the person being deposed is prepared, what you are really trying to get out of a deposition, and how to prove your oppositions unpreparedness. Mark also talks through a real-life example of how all these different techniques were used in a past case of his: Boswell v. Sherman County. The details of which are simply astounding and need to be heard for yourself. They wrap up with a brief discussion on what the future holds for Mark and even sneak in a little surprise at the end.

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

 

BACKGROUND ON MARK KOSIERADZKI

Mark Kosieradzki is a trial lawyer from Minneapolis, MN.  His 40-year career has spanned a vast array of cases throughout the United States.  Mark’s landmark civil right case on behalf of an incarcerated woman resulted in the application of section 1983 protections to detainees. His work on sexual abuse was featured in a CNN series on Rape in Nursing Homes.

http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/02/health/nursing-home-sex-abuse-investigation/

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has described him as “one of the nation’s most feared elder abuse litigators.” http://www.startribune.com/meet-the-minnesota-lawyer-taking-on-the-senior-care-industry/450626193/

He is recognized in the “Best Lawyers in America”.  He is certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy as a Civil Trial Specialist.

Mark is recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on deposition technique, strategy, and law.  He is the author of 30(B)(6): Deposing Corporations, Organizations & the Government, published by Trial Guides. His book Deposition Obstruction: Breaking Through has been described as the hornbook for dealing with deposition obstruction.

Mark has joined trial teams throughout the United States in a wide variety of wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases, including malpractice, bad faith, construction injuries, nursing home abuse, interstate trucking accidents, and products liability.

When Mark turned 50, he had a midlife crisis and started playing the blues harmonica. At 63 he took up salsa dancing in Havana.

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