safety

89 – Michael M. Guerra – From Guts to Glory

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with McAllen, TX trial attorney, Michael M. Guerra, to discuss his multiple 7 and 8-figure verdicts & settlements, recent “monster” settlement in a “legally tough case,” and advice on how to achieve verdicts like these in your cases.

Cowen and Guerra begin the episode by discussing Guerra’s background and how he got into doing plaintiff’s work. Guerra begins by explaining that he had an Allstate defense firm job waiting for him after law school and was “quickly terminated,” citing that his heart was not in it. Seeing as he was married right before starting law school, had a baby on the way and a mortgage to pay, he quickly took a job as a court-appointed lawyer; a position leading him to over 100 jury verdicts.

In 1995, Guerra was appointed Guardian Ad Litem in a death case in Plainview, TX, where he would meet Mikal Watts. This meeting would ultimately lead to Guerra opening Watts’s McAllen office, where we would work alongside Watts before going off on his own.

“Pushing trials and then just going in there and watching good defense lawyers do what they did. I learned a lot [from them].” – Michael M. Guerra

Guerra then goes into a harrowing story of a case he took on just after going off on his own; a case involving the death of his friend’s father, a high-ranking Sergeant Major in the Army who was killed after his RV exploded when he lit his morning cigarette. The explosion was due to a gas leak in the RV trailer.

Guerra began the case by enlisting the help of several experts; namely Mike Schultz (Illinois) to look at the trailer and Tim Dunn (Georgia) to investigate the gas system. Shortly after beginning the case, a call from a Sheriff’s deputy would change everything for Mike. “He [said], ‘Hey, Guerra, I’ve got to tell you. When we got into the trailer…we found the [gas] burner in the ON position.’” Understanding that the Sergeant Major had most likely left the stove on by accident, Mike’s original thought of a defect or leak causing the explosion was called into question. He couldn’t believe it.

Continuing past this unfortunate revelation, Mike began researching the trailer and oven manufacturers and came upon an interesting, and ultimately crucial, piece of information: the company sold the exact same trailer in Australia with one key difference, their stoves contained a “flame failure device.” This device, which automatically shuts off the gas once the flame goes out, was absent from American models of this trailer; a safety feature that would’ve cost the company only 99 cents per burner to install.

That case consumed me for 10 months, [as] we got it set for trial.” – Michael M. Guerra

The case was settled a week into trial for an amazing result and, more importantly, saw the trailer manufacturer agree to include the “flame failure device” safety feature in all future models.

The two then move on to discussing Guerra’s latest case out of the Port of Brownsville; a case involving “ship breaking,” the process of dismantling a ship to reuse parts or extract materials, a flash fire, and 2 men who suffered significant burns (one who was burned on over 80% of his body and passed away).

After discussing details of the case including the ship owner filing a Limitation of Liability Act, getting removed to federal court, and then returning to state court, the two begin to discuss Guerra’s invaluable 2-day, 36-person mock trial, which gave him the confidence to ask for huge numbers ($250-$300 million) in voir dire; a task that, Guerra confessed, scared him.

“It took a lot, for me personally, to [ask] for that kind of money; knowing people would throw hand grenades at me.” – Michael M. Guerra

When everything was said and done, calmed and confident from his meditations, prayers, and with some last-minute motivation from a Nick Rowley CD in his car on the morning of trial, Guerra couldn’t wait to get started. The jury was selected on Friday, presenting evidence was scheduled to begin on Monday, yet they would not have a chance to begin, as the case was settled on Saturday evening.

Cowen then shifts the conversation to what Guerra did to pressure the defense in the case. Guerra responds, “most jurisdictions from coast to coast have laws that create a duty for insurance carriers to use good faith when settling cases. In Texas, we call it the Stower’s Doctrine, which says that if an insurance company refuses to settle a case, that reasonably should have been settled within policy limits, the insurer can sue that carrier and they can be on the hook for the entire amount of verdict even above their policy limits.”

“It’s an everchanging, very dynamic area of law, in my opinion” – Michael M. Guerra

Guerra closes the discussion by talking about how he hired several different policy lawyers, including coverage lawyers specializing in reading insurance contracts, to help draft a demand to the carrier. “That really paid off in the end,” he says as he reflects on the impact of hiring those lawyers, including a quick note on the defense commenting on how expertly done the demands had been.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of working with and learning from great lawyers, advice for handling “monster” cases, why you should give your cell phone number to everyone, and much more.

Guest Bio

Michael M. Guerra was born and raised in McAllen, Texas. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University in College Station and a law degree from Texas Southern University in Houston. While at A&M, he was a member of the Corps of Cadets. In law school, Mr. Guerra was an American Jurisprudence Award recipient in Constitutional law. Mr. Guerra has been licensed to practice law since 1993. He is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Personal Injury Trial Law and has served as a member of the Exam Commission. Mr. Guerra began his career by successfully trying dozens of criminal trials to jury verdict. He transitioned his practice to representing plaintiffs in civil litigation, including representing hundreds of landowners in an aquifer contamination case and representing the Plaintiffs in America’s first Ford Explorer – Firestone tire case to reach a jury. Since then, his efforts have been instrumental in compelling safety improvements in product manufacturing and premises management. Over his almost 30 year career, Mr. Guerra has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in recoveries for his deserving clients. His efforts have achieved astonishing results, including a $33 million injury verdict which was the record verdict in Texas for a case of its type, as well as multiple settlements of more than $20 million.

Mr. Guerra has been featured as a speaker in numerous civil litigation seminars and his articles have been featured in national publications. His cases have been profiled by, or he has been quoted by numerous major news organizations such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Fox News.

Mr. Guerra is a fellow in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers and a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA,) as well as the Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG). He has been named Texas Monthly – Texas Super Lawyer in multiple and consecutive years and he was named to The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Trial lawyers. Mr. Guerra is on the Advisory Board of the Texas Agriculture Lifetime Leadership (TALL) program and is on the Advisory Board of the McAllen Pregnancy Center. He is also a member of the President’s Board of Visitors for the Cadet Corps at Texas A&M University. Mr. Guerra was selected as the 2018 Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award recipient by The Texas Bar Foundation. The award recognizes a trial lawyer who, in his or her practice, has demonstrated high ethical and moral standards and has demonstrated exceptional professional conduct, thus enhancing the image of the trial lawyer.

Michael Guerra is married to Mindy Guerra and has three children.

 

74 – Ed Ciarimboli – Masked Justice: Part 3

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with fellow trial lawyer Ed Ciarimboli from Pennsylvania. Ed is part of the elite class of lawyers who have been able to take a case to trial in the COVID era. And with the final witness testimony being so monumental to the case that they settled immediately after he left the witness box, this trial story is one you need to hear to believe!

They begin with a brief discussion of Ed’s background and how he started trying cases. A partner at a 12-lawyer and 3 location firm, Fellerman & Ciarimboli, Ed mainly focuses on commercial motor vehicle cases. He got into the AAJ speaking circuit about 9 years ago, where he began to really hone his skills as a lawyer. It was a couple of years after that when he was told he needed to become great at trying cases. When Ed asked why, the other lawyer responded, “Because you’re the worst lawyer I’ve ever seen at settling a case.” So, Ed took the advice and has since focused his energy on being as comfortable as possible in the courtroom.

When asked to elaborate on what he did to develop his skills as a trial lawyer, Ed insists the biggest factor was his investment in his education. He urges young lawyers to do more than join a webinar- they should go to conferences and workshops to truly focus on the different aspects of trial and HOW they’re doing it. Body language and movement are crucial to a lawyer’s performance in the courtroom, and after working with a long list of consultants and gurus on these topics, Ed encourages everyone who wants to be a great trial lawyer to put the effort into this.

He then clarifies that this doesn’t mean following the dogmatic approach of one pro- it’s about learning the fundamentals (taking depositions, cross-examinations, etc.) then studying different approaches to storytelling and choosing the best one for your particular case.  This approach requires much more work than a cookie-cutter strategy, but both Ed and Michael agree that it’s well worth the effort.

Michael then starts to dig into the facts of Ed’s case, which was unique and incredibly tragic. Ed explains how the defendant company purchased a huge molding machine from a broker. The defendant company signed the paperwork and assumed responsibility for the machine, then hired a crane company for the rigging and transportation of said machine. The crane company was told nothing about the details of the machine, notably the 55-gallon drum of hydraulic fluid still inside the machine. In the process of moving the machine onto the flatbed truck for transportation, the hydraulic fluid sloshed to the side and caused the machine to tip over onto Ed’s client, killing him instantly.

Ed then explains how they ended up suing the company who purchased the machine and shares how his extensive work on commercial motor vehicle cases set him up for success on this case. Ed knew the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations “100 million times better than the defense,” which he used to his advantage in placing the blame on the defendant company whose only real defense was, “We hired this company.”

Michael continues the conversation by asking Ed how jury selection was handled. Ed shares how voir dire was conducted in a large old theater instead of a courtroom in order to allow for safe spacing between the potential jurors. And while he admits he was more nervous for this jury selection than any he’s ever done before, the process went incredibly smoothly. He gives high praise to the judge, his jury consultants, and the jurors themselves, stating, “I truly believe we won this case in jury selection.” He also notes that the demographic composition of the jury pool was not skewed, something which will surprise listeners who believed COVID would cause people to resist sitting on a jury.

Ed then shares the setup of the courtroom, which included the jurors sitting in the gallery with two large screens in front of them. He explains in-depth the lengths he and his team went to effectively present to a jury largely spaced out, including the widespread use of visuals that any trial lawyer trying to get back in the courtroom needs to hear.

Michael then digs deeper into Ed’s sequencing of the case and presentation to the jury, which is something he did with incredible craft and thoughtfulness. He began by simply stating, “George James went to work one day and never came back. Why?” before introducing the jury to the company, who was very experienced in dealing with hazardous materials. He then boiled this complex case down into one simple graphic of the transportation cycle, highlighting the defendant company was both the shipper and the receiver of the machine.

Ed then called the corporate representative as his first witness, who did “TERRIBLE,” and came off smug, angry, and unwilling to accept the responsibility which was so clearly his. Next was their expert, then the moment which Ed was most concerned about, the client’s blue-collar co-workers from the crane company. His fears were quickly abandoned as these witnesses talked plainly and honestly about their lack of experience with hazardous materials, further securing the blame on the defendant company who assumed the responsibility. But the most powerful moment of all was seeing the way they all talked about Ed’s client and how amazing of a person he was, causing many of them to break down on the stand.

As the trial went on, the defense kept offering more money to settle the case, but it was nowhere near enough. Ed had rested and was ready for closing until the defense called their final witness, an economic expert. While Ed had chosen to leave economic damages out of the case completely, the defense thought it wise to have their witness testify that based on the client’s income and life expectancy, his life was only worth $61,000.

Considering the client was such an upstanding person that his EX-WIFE was one of the key damage witnesses, this was a shocking move. After Ed’s brutal cross-examination of this witness (which you need to hear to fully appreciate), he was rushed in the hallway by corporate counsel eager to settle for the amount he wanted. Ed agreed and the case was settled right before closing.

While Ed’s trial story and success in the age of COVID are admirable, Michael wants to know – would Ed recommend other lawyers to push their cases to trial, or should they wait until COVID has passed? Ed simply states, “I say do it.” It’s scary filled with uncertainty, but as lawyers, we are not doing our jobs if we are not pushing our cases.

As a follow-up, Michael curiously asks, “What about if your only option is a Zoom trial?” to which Ed is a bit more hesitant. They go back and forth discussing the merits and limitations of Zoom trials, which Michael is set to partake in starting February 1st. Ed praises Michael for taking this leap and wishes him luck in this upcoming trial.

This podcast episode also covers why sequencing your witnesses properly is so important, using experts, how Ed found his “best jurors,” the details of the FMCSR’s on transporting hazardous material, what the jurors said when Ed reached out to them post-trial, and so much more. This is truly an inspiring trial story that you DON’T want to miss!

 

Interested in hearing more COVID era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Guest Bio:

Attorney Edward Ciarimboli is a founding partner at Fellerman & Ciarimboli Law PC. He graduated from Wilkes University with a dual degree in political science and engineering and applied science. While at Duquesne University School of Law, he was admitted to the Order of Barristers for Excellence in Courtroom Advocacy and was named a national semi-finalist in the American Trial Lawyers Association Moot Court Competition.

After receiving his Juris Doctor, Attorney Ciarimboli served as a law clerk to the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Attorney Ciarimboli concentrates his practice on trucking and auto collision and medical malpractice litigation. He is active in many professional organizations, including the American Association for Justice, the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, and the Luzerne County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations. He serves on AAJ’s National College of Advocacy Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors for the Pennsylvania Association of Justice, donates to AAJ’s PAC, and is a member of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group; Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability; Insurance Law; and Professional Negligence sections.

Attorney Ciarimboli has been selected for inclusion in the Pennsylvania Super Lawyers® list every year since 2008. He was named Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers Association and named to the Top 10 National Trial Lawyers’ Trucking Trial Lawyers Association. He was also named as one of the Nation’s Top One Percent by the National Association Distinguished Counsel.

In addition to his extensive trial practice, Attorney Ciarimboli frequently teaches lawyers across the country on both deposition and trial skills.

Attorney Ciarimboli is also an active member of his community. With his partner, Attorney Greg Fellerman, he began the Safe Prom Pledge in 2010 as a way to promote a drug-free and alcohol-free prom night for students throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. To date, they have spoken to more than 25,000 high school students on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Attorney Ciarimboli lives in a 115-year-old farmhouse with his wife, Jennifer, their children, two dogs, two cats, countless chickens, roosters, and an occasional pheasant.

 

67 – Brendan Lupetin – Masked Justice: Part 1

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with trial attorney Brendan Lupetin out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brendan, a self-proclaimed “trial nerd,” is one of just a handful of attorneys who has tried a case in the era of COVID-19, receiving a $10.8 million dollar jury verdict on his medical negligence case. They’ll discuss Brendan’s background, the details of the case, how he prepared, what it was like trying a case during a pandemic, and his advice for lawyers and courts across the country to start having jury trials again.

The episode begins with an overview of Brendan’s background and how he became the successful trial lawyer he is today. He explains how he began by trying about 10 bad cases where he lost “in brutal fashion,” and finally found his first victory with a $500 rear-end car case verdict. Since then, he’s focused on reading everything and anything he can on trials. Now, he’s tried 40 cases to jury verdict and has found great success in the last 10.

As a self-proclaimed “trial nerd,” Brendan spends most of his free time reading and studying the work of other great trial lawyers and legal scholars, citing Rick Friedman, Keith Mitnik, David Ball, Artemis Malekpour, Jude Basille, and many others. He and Michael discuss the difficulties of implementing all the trial theories and strategies available today, but Brendan explains how his approach is to blend them all together to find what works best for him. A sentiment echoed by Michael and certainly a recurring theme on the show.
Michael then asks Brendan about the details of the medical malpractice case he recently tried. While the difficulties of trying a case during a pandemic are apparent, Brendan insists his job was made easier by the fact that this was truly a great case. Brendan’s client, a 41-year old father and project manager, went to the hospital for an MRI. He had an allergic reaction to the contrasting chemical they injected him with. While the hospital had policies in place to protect patients in the event of an allergic reaction, none of those policies were followed and Brendan’s client was unfortunately left with a severe brain injury.

Michael then notes that Brendan ended up with such a simple theory, which Brendan explains was a long road to get to. They originally had 3 defendants, but after numerous focus groups and hiring John Campbell of Empirical Jury to run a study after Brendan “serendipitously” listened to his podcast episode 3 ½ weeks before the trial, they decided to drop one of the defendants because he complicated the story. Michael agrees that this was a smart move, quoting Rodney Jew by saying, “If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.”

Brendan also kept in mind Mark Mandell’s case framing theory throughout the trial and describes how he was tempted to dispute the defense’s timeline of events because he found they were about a minute and a half off. But after employing the case framing theory, he and his partner decided to leave that out because it drew away from the main focus of the case – “Policy violations caused delay, and delay is never good in an emergency.”

Michael then asks Brendan what else he’s learned throughout his study of advocacy that he used in the trial, to which Brendan simply replies, “everything.” He describes his journey to crafting the perfect opening statement, employing techniques from David Ball, Nick Rowley, Keith Mitnik, and many others. He also recorded the final product and shared it on his YouTube channel. It’s clear throughout the episode that Brendan is truly a lifelong learner and is constantly honing his craft as a trial lawyer.

After gaining insight into the case and Brendan’s trial techniques, Michael asks the question on everyone’s mind – What was it like trying a case during the pandemic? Brendan first gives credit to Judge Jackie Bernard and the court system for setting up an incredibly safe and effective trial plan, and emphasizes the need for more courts to follow suit and begin holding jury trials again.
The court began by sending out a questionnaire to potential jurors which asked hardship questions, immediately excluding anybody who had health concerns or was extremely uncomfortable attending a trial because of COVID-19. Voir dire was held in a huge courtroom with 45 people in the room, and 45 others in a separate room watching on video. The process was so streamlined and well planned that they were able to select the jury in less than four hours.

Once the trial began, this attention to detail became even more evident. Everybody wore masks for the duration of the trial, there was plexiglass around the judge and witness stand, and the jury was spread out around the room in a way so creative you have to hear it to believe it. By using these precautions, the trial went on without a hitch and with a significantly lower risk of infection than a traditional trial set up.

Brendan and Michael agree that without a significant threat of a trial, their big cases won’t result in a fair settlement. They discuss the immediate need for courts to find a safe solution to continue jury trials and the need for plaintiff lawyers to work together to persuade their courts to do so.

They end the episode on a surprising note. Brendan explains how everybody thinks trying a case during the pandemic is this crazy experience, but he said it really didn’t feel very different from trying a case in a courtroom you haven’t been in before. You always need to adapt to a new judge’s rules, a new courtroom set up, etc. This wasn’t much different than that. And by implementing the safety precautions Brendan described, courts around the country can begin to open and allow the pursuit of justice instead of pushing trials off further and further. As Brendan poetically put it, “Hope is not a plan.”

If you’d like to learn more from Brendan Lupetin, visit his firm’s website and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

This podcast also covers Brendan’s favorite closing strategy, obtaining a representative jury during COVID-19, the “freaky” accurate results of Brendan’s Empirical Jury study with John Campbell, and so much more.

 

Interested in hearing more COVID Era trial stories? Check out our other Masked Justice episodes:

 

Bio:

Brendan is a trial lawyer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He focuses on medical malpractice, product defect and personal injury law.  He loves helping the people he represents and trying their cases to jury verdict when necessary.

Brendan is a trial nerd and truly enjoys reading trial books, studying trial videos and seminars, watching trials and “talking shop” with fellow trial lawyers.

The son of a doctor and trauma counselor Brendan learned early on the importance of compassion, empathy and to always stand up for what is right, no matter the consequence.

Following a four-year tenure as a scholarship swimmer, Brendan received his B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 and his J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2005.
During his career, Brendan has tried numerous cases of all types to jury verdict.  Over the course of the past several years, Brendan has obtained numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts for his clients – all of which far exceeded the highest offers of settlement.

What Brendan loves more than anything, however, is spending time with his wife and high school sweetheart Lacey and their three sons Nathan, John and Owen.

 

59 – Malorie Peacock – Discover Your “Why”: Committing to Organizational Health

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Malorie Peacock. They discuss their recent “deep dive” 2-day management retreat, the organizational health of your law firm, Zoom jury trials, and implications of the shut down on future business.

The episode begins with a review of their firm’s recent 2-day management retreat, which was a “deep dive” into their firm’s core values, focus, and goals based off the book “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” by Patrick Lencioni. The retreat starts off with a seemingly simple question: Why does our law firm exist? Michael admits he was worried everyone would think the idea was “hokey,” but Malorie insists she was surprised at how complex the question really was. Michael, Malorie, and the rest of their management team spent significant time reflecting on this and decided their firm’s purpose is to “provide a ‘Special Forces’ level of representation to people who are hurt.” Michael recognizes this as an extremely high aspirational standard (which is why he hesitated at first to share) and sees this as their goal for the firm.

After deciding the firm’s purpose, their team was tasked with choosing the firm’s core values. Both Michael and Malorie emphasize the importance of choosing values you will embrace and commit to. As an example, Michael highlights the common PI lawyer core value of safety. He asks, “What do you do when you get a 5 million dollar offer without a safety change, or 1 million dollars with a safety change?” If the firm’s core value is safety, they should take the lower offer. Malorie echoes this sentiment and adds that PI lawyers face a lot of backlash from society, so they tend to overcompensate by expressing an unrealistic emphasis on safety over getting justice for their clients. The key is choosing values that truly represent your firm and its goals.

On the note of goal setting, Michael explains the importance of choosing one large goal and sticking to it. Citing Gary W. Keller’s book “The One Thing,” Michael reflects on past experiences of having lots of great ideas, but something would always come up and they would be forgotten. By choosing the one area which adds the most “bang” to your law firm, you can truly focus on that area and strive towards your goal every day. This strategy requires buy-in and personal work from every attorney at your firm, but when achieved is very effective.

Michael and Malorie then reflect on the implications of states re-opening and how it affects their ability to conduct legal work remotely. Malorie has already had opposing counsel insist on doing things in person again, but worries about what she’ll do down the line if the court forces her high-risk client to have an in-person deposition. Michael shares these concerns, stating “eventually I’ll be ordered to do something I’m not comfortable doing.”

As they switch to the topic of Zoom jury trials, Michael is quick to share his hesitance towards the idea. His concerns include a lack of nonverbal communication, distractions, a loss of group dynamics, and the inability to obtain a representative jury pool by excluding citizens without adequate internet or access to childcare. He does add that online focus groups have shown the numbers aren’t very different from in-person jury trials, but he would like to see more research before committing to one. Malorie also notes an interesting difference between an in-person trial and a virtual trial. In a virtual trial you have to sit in the same place for the entirety of the case, which means you can’t have witnesses act things out, do demonstrations, or have multiple ways of showing people information. This makes it more difficult to keep the attention of the jury. Michael and Malorie end this discussion by agreeing if this goes on for years, they will eventually have to adapt. And Michael ends by agreeing to try a jury trial case via Zoom with a podcast fan, an offer you’ll have to tune in to hear all of the details.

They finish off this episode with a conversation about future business implications because of this shut down. Malorie has noticed more people on the roads recently and only anticipates a 3-4 month lull in new cases, but believes it will pick back up quickly. Michael agrees and adds that people are getting stir crazy, and driving more recklessly than before, stating “gear up and get ready.” With that being said, Michael and Malorie encourage scrutiny when deciding what cases to invest in right now. Malorie believes small insurance companies may be less willing to pay out claims, and Michael is being very cautious with cases involving a risk retention group or a self-insured company. Many are currently teetering on insolvency and may not be able to pay out claims.

This podcast also covers answering legal questions for friends, “Zoom fatigue,” time management, return-to-office prep, and more.

 

 

 

57 – Sonia Rodriguez – The Digital Frontier: Technology, Roadblocks & Creative Solutions

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with his law partner Sonia Rodriguez. They discuss pushing cases during COVID-19, educating the defense and clients on Zoom, the increased need for technology in law firms, finding creative solutions, the effect of the pandemic on jury attitudes, and strategies to safely return to the office.

The discussion begins on the topic of pushing cases and overcoming defense delay tactics during COVID-19. Sonia emphasizes the need to continue to move cases, even if you’re met with objections from the defense, saying “The wheels of justice don’t come to a complete halt.” Sonia suggests offering a clear, transparent proposal for technology to the defense prior to depositions. Fellow Cowen Rodriguez Peacock attorney Jacob Leibowitz has created guides for Zoom for Depositions and Zoom for Mediations which have been helpful in easing uncertainty surrounding this new technology. Michael has also found success in offering practice sessions to the defense counsel, noting that this works well when people are acting in good faith.

Unfortunately, not all defense attorneys are acting in good faith with their objections to this technology and will try to drag the case out. In these situations, Sonia encourages attorneys to file a Motion to Compel Deposition. She has found success in this because courts in Texas have been utilizing the technology themselves. This makes it hard for defense attorneys to suggest depositions by Zoom aren’t appropriate when the hearing may very likely be held by Zoom. Sonia and Michael agree that it’s in every firm’s best interest to keep their cases moving during COVID-19 and to find creative solutions to problems which may arise.

The conversation shifts to a discussion of preparing clients for Zoom depositions. Sonia insists the process isn’t much different, other than a loss of “relationship feel” between the client and the attorney during deposition prep. The important factor in this is ensuring you create a comfort level for your client that makes them feel prepared.

Sonia and Michael agree the biggest roadblock they’ve faced regarding client preparation is a lack of available technology for the client. Many clients do not have a laptop, Wi-Fi, or a room where they can sit privately and quietly for a 3-4-hour deposition. Their firm has mitigated this issue by sending tablets to clients who need them and emphasizing technology training during deposition prep. They note that this strategy does not always work, and some depositions will inevitably need to be delayed until we can meet in person again. The underlying goal is to keep 95% of your cases moving.

Michael and Sonia move the conversation to the overall increased level of understanding regarding video conferencing technology like Zoom. Sonia describes her experience with sharing exhibits through Zoom, and her trial and error of doing so. She’s noticed how advanced the knowledge of this technology is for many court reporters and mediators and has learned through their advice as well. She then shares a story of when she served a witness with a Zoom deposition subpoena. She expected a lengthy process of explaining the technology to the witness, who shockingly replied that she was well-versed in Zoom through her children’s virtual school courses. Michael notes that he doesn’t know how enforceable a Zoom deposition subpoena would be, but again emphasizes the goal to move 95% of cases and save the rest for when we return to normal. Sonia echoes this by explaining the duty we have to our clients to move cases and represent them earnestly. While we cannot guarantee their trial date will go through, we can guarantee we are continuing to work on their case.

Michael makes the point that we all only have a given amount of energy to spend in the day. While it’s easy to get caught up in things outside of your control, it’s crucial to not let this suck up your energy. He emphasizes the importance of spending your energy on what you can control right now- moving your cases. Sonia agrees and adds that as trial lawyers, we are wired to be creative and tackle the unexpected in our cases and in the courtroom. She shares a brilliant example of this comparing today’s landscape with an elmo projector.

There has been much speculation around how COVID-19 will affect jurors’ perceptions in the long run. In Sonia’s opinion, this will depend on the economic situation once juries come back. If people have been out of work and cannot afford to be there because of their economic situation, this will not be good for the plaintiff’s side. She believes if the economy can stabilize, jurors may feel a heightened sense of civic duty and comradery around rallying on a jury. Michael has hesitations about trying a case where the jurors feel endangered by being present, but has a positive outlook on the long term effects, stating “Americans have an incredibly short memory.” He notes the worries of juror perception after events like 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse, which had no long-term negative effect.

Sonia and Michael conclude with a discussion of how and when firms will begin to gather in a physical office space again. Sonia says our top priority needs to be to keep our clients and our families safe. Michael shares his hesitation to open too quickly by saying, “We sue companies for putting profits above people” and we should hold ourselves to this same standard.

This podcast also covers ethical concerns with virtual depositions, when to provide hard copies of exhibits in virtual depositions, bench trials via Zoom, overcoming technical issues, and much more.

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