Texas Accident Attorneys

25 – Sonia Rodriguez – Defeating Defense Medical Experts

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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 defense medical “experts,” or as Michael calls them, “paid opinion witnesses.”

Michael calls this spade a spade right from the get-go, in that the title of “defense medical experts” is a sham. Many times, he says, they are called “independent experts” when they are neither independent nor an expert, not to mention the fact that they are hand-picked by defense lawyers who pay them for their testimony. Michael believes it is a huge fraud being perpetrated on our clients, on the jury, and on the court system. He says, typically “we know what their report is going to say once we hear their name,” further exemplifying this flaw in the system.

So, Michael asks, “what do we do to expose this and show the jurors the truth?” Sonia believes it is critical we expose the relationships experts have with the lawyers who hired them, how often they’ve been used by that firm or the defense industry, as well as how much money they make from that business. She also uncovers what percentage of their business is spent on reviewing files for defense lawyers vs. practicing medicine, in some cases. All of which can go a long way in revealing these witnesses for what they really are, which is “paid opinion witnesses.” Michael also explains how he doesn’t like to even use the word “expert,” which gives them the mantle of that title. He goes on to discuss the harsh reality and his distain for medical professionals who misuse their degrees to go against the very oath they have taken to “do no harm,” while we represent legitimately injured clients, and they do it for money! They both agree how uncovering the financial ties and bias of these witnesses also says a lot about them because they could likely be making much more money by seeing patients, but instead are reviewing cases for a defense lawyer. Michael also talks through a real example of what he’s run into on how these medical witnesses come to find themselves making money in this way and how their path toward testifying can ironically parallel his client’s paths.

Michael and Sonia share a plethora of examples regarding their tactics on utilizing depositions, both past and present, to build their cases, ranging from networking with other attorneys and medical professionals to leveraging amazon.com in the middle of a deposition. Sonia explains how you cannot go into a deposition with a broad brush, but rather be laser-focused and able to drill down on even a single word, in some cases, to make your entire case. And to sum things up, Michael talks through the very polarizing two ends of the spectrum his preparations take him with defense medical experts, where they are likely to either be way “off the deep end” and obviously working as a paid witness, or he will focus his energies on essentially turning them to help his case. The strategies they both describe are pure methodical genius.

The conversation shifts to talk specifically about the tone and demeanor both Michael and Sonia use when deposing paid medical witnesses. They both agree the tone and demeaner you use in a paid medical witness deposition is extremely important, as it will likely be replayed for the jury at some point and jurors will also be watching to see how you handle yourself in this situation, the same way they do in the courtroom. We, as plaintiff attorneys, also need to be cognizant of how we are approaching the deposition so it leads the jury to come to their own conclusions regarding the credibility of the paid medical witness and their testimony. It also becomes reflective for the jury to feel the danger themselves of allowing these paid medical witnesses to get away with using their titles as a form of “expertness” in exchange for being paid by the defense. In other words, if we just “rip into them” it will likely backfire on us and not work at all in our favor. Not to mention, Sonia adds, that today’s juries are tired of the theatrics and enthusiastic approach of some lawyers, where the days of yelling and pounding your fist on the table are now long gone.

All in all, this Table Talk with Michael and Sonia was thorough and filled with an enormous number of real examples from their experiences over the years. As a trial lawyer, you will likely run into paid medical witnesses in trials often, and this table talk could be the one thing that prepares you most for success.

24 – Michael Leizerman – The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness

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In this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, host Michael Cowen sits down with a brilliant trial lawyer, national speaker/lecturer, and author, Michael Leizerman. Cowen has learned an enormous number of methods and approaches over the years from Leizerman who takes mindfulness to a whole new level in and out of the courtroom.

The discussion begins with an in-depth look at the “beginner’s mind” and understanding how it adds to a case, and life, infinitely. Leizerman uses the example of the hierarchy of karate, where becoming a “black belt” is commonly misconstrued as becoming a “master,” when it simply means you are at the first level of Dan, meaning you are now a beginner once again. He also points out that he takes it upon himself to know when he feels like he has mastered anything, he needs to remind himself he is just a “beginner,” otherwise the jury will, his wife will, or life, in general, will remind him. As the discussion progresses, Leizerman and Cowen discuss the idea that in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, whereas, in the master’s mind, there are few. Leizerman likes to bring this mindset to many aspects of his work and discusses how he uses it in depositions, saying, “There’s a feeling like I’ve never done one before” while holding confidence about himself knowing exactly what he wants to get out of the time.

In each case Leizerman approaches, he works to become mindful of what he calls “the 5 core truths,” which are also the basis of his book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, as well as an essential part of the workshops he puts on with Joshua Karton [link to his episode] and Jay Rinsen Weik. He describes the mindfulness around the 5 core truths (Physical, Emotional, Logical, Motivational, and Zen) as being seen as simultaneous truths in every case and with the understanding that each core starts with the lawyer and their own understanding and experience. Leizerman talks through examples of each core including a powerful example where emotional truth was used in a case to show where a father’s simple love for his son led them to put the case on the line and not ask any questions of a witness. He also reveals how he used the 5 cores in a case which led to a record wrongful death verdict in Ohio and also why he believes lawyers don’t get large verdicts or are disappointed in verdicts. Hint, hint, it’s all based on these core truths.

Cowen and Leizerman agree sometimes trial lawyers forget that jurors, in general, want to see good done and want to help people and these core truths can motivate jurors to see their way to the best outcome based on their own truths. Leizerman also talks through the “curse of knowledge” we, as trial lawyers, have when we’re in front of a jury and it sometimes goes over the jury’s heads to where they feel “submerged” or lost in all the details.

Leizerman recalls coming to the conclusion after dissecting a case post-trial: we tend to bring the anger of a case to the courtroom without allowing the jury to experience it. Having a beginner’s mindset allows him to be the one who is grounded and the one who people look to for guidance vs. seeing him as the angry attorney who gets mad when things don’t go as planned. He finds that allowing the jury to experience the frustration for themselves when a defendant tells different stories that are contradictory instead of the lawyer pointing it out and calling them a liar, can become the lynchpin in a case. It comes down to letting the jury experience it for themselves vs. the jury trying to experience it through the upset lawyer. He makes note that when you get angry, it takes away the anger from the other party, even in many other significant relationships. In other words, if you get angry in the courtroom, often times it takes the anger away from the jury, the individuals you really want to experience the anger. He also points out if we were just analyzing the facts of the case, we could use a computer for that. We’re in the courtroom to live through the case and be the case that gets decided by the jury.

Cowen extracts many more nuggets of mindful wisdom from Leizerman throughout their conversation, including a hint to a possible addition to Leizerman’s authorship with a book on transformational storytelling, as well as how listeners can learn firsthand from him at the various workshops he holds throughout the year. This was definitely an exceptionally insightful interview with Leizerman and we look forward to learning more from him in the near future.

Guest Bio:

Michael Jay Leizerman is the co-founder of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA). He concentrates his practice in select catastrophic injury truck collision cases across the country.

Michael is the author of the Thomson West/AAJ three-volume treatise, Litigating Truck Accident Cases. He was the first Chair of AAJ’s Trucking Litigation Group. Michael attended truck driving school and obtaining his Commercial Driver’s License while managing his law practice.

He has taken 14 truck and bus cases to trial in the last decade. He has received record-breaking truck accident settlements and verdicts across the country, including multiple verdicts with punitive damages. He has received over thirty multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts, including six settlements and verdicts in excess of $10 million.

Michael is the author of the Trial Guides book The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, published in  2018. He puts on a series of workshops teaching his Core Method, including meditation, Aikido and theater skills for lawyers (along with co-teachers Jay Rinsen Weik and Joshua Karton).

Learn more at his website www.TruckAccidents.com.

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