the zen lawyer

43 – Joseph Camerlengo – The Complexity and Rewards of Operating a Specialized Law Firm

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Joe Camerlengo, an extremely successful trucking lawyer from Jacksonville, FL, who is also the outgoing president of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys (ATAA), for a deep dive conversation on the specialization of trucking law.

Joe’s start as a lawyer began after being a finance major in undergrad, going to law school to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and then falling in love with being a trial lawyer after taking a trial practice course. From there he only interviewed at defense firms and only wanted to be a defense lawyer, having “drank the Koolaid,” and thinking people were exaggerating their claims, lying, and cheating. But his perspective changed after his then-girlfriend, now wife got T-boned in her car and suffered a soft tissue injury which he quickly realized are very real and hurt. At that point he started to plan his exit although he didn’t want to leave, having only been at a defense firm for two and a half years. What he really wanted, was to wait until he tried cases and learned more about excess coverage in multiple layers and multiple defendants, which he did, and then waited until he was on the eve of being a partner at the defense firm and left to start his own plaintiffs firm.

Michael wastes no time in asking Joe how he became a trucking specialist, to which it all started with a single case Joe recalls vividly. The Tony and Johnson case was a case where a 19-year-old girl was killed by a double trailer truck which was driving on a small county road. Joe immediately dove into the regulations, bought Michael Leizerman’s book, The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness, went to seminars, and fell in love with the complexity and being able to do real justice in that first trucking case. While the results of that case would obviously never bring Tony back, he was able to resolve it in a way that brought justice to her family and further pushed the trucking company to agree to not drive their double trailers on county roads anywhere in the state of Florida.

Michael then contrasts this with automobile cases where the driver who caused the wreck is a major factor. You can resolve those cases or if you try them, you rarely get full justice because a large percentage of responsibility is going to go to someone else. Plus, when you try them, you’re not going to win them as often, so the settlement values are such that instead of fully taking care of somebody, you are helping them more than they would have been helped had you not been there, but not really getting them full justice. As an example, he points to award a couple of million dollars for a quadriplegic over a lifetime is not really going to take care of them, as opposed to a trucking case. They both agree that with trucking cases there’s more likely to be a situation where the trucking companies are at fault, they DO have the resources, you can actually do more complete justice and in some cases, when you really have a good case, you can force them to agree to safety changes as part of a settlement and it just feels better knowing the impact you’ve had beyond the case itself.

Joe talks through the financial ups and downs of having your own practice and the discipline it takes to stay the course and be focused on the cases you are looking to take on while maintaining the expenses of the rest of your practice. Michael goes on to describe the conversation he had with Michael Leizerman when Cowen wanted to know how he got to the point where he only had good trucking cases and recalls Leizerman’s simple words, “I just said no to everything else.” Michael and Joe continue to talk about what goes into building a successful firm in direct relationship to the profitability of narrowing the scope of cases they’re willing to take on, which in large part, includes a firm’s capacity. Joe brings up a point that’s so often overlooked where you cannot run your people or yourself at 100% capacity. “That’s when you will break down. That’s when you’ll burn out. That’s when you’ll make mistakes,” Michael explains. Joe describes the need to have space in your inventory for that new call, because if you’ve said yes to some of those smaller cases because you had capacity at the time, and now you’re almost at capacity when the 9-figure case calls, the firm will likely not be in a position to do its best work on that case or the others. You need to have some capacity in your life, in your firm to take on arising unknown opportunities. The unfortunate side of the self-imposed stress placed on people when running at capacity all the time is the drugs, alcohol, suicide, infidelity, and everything else people do when they’re managing the stress in a bad way. You have to do what’s right for you and develop a stress level to where you’re still having quality time with your family and you’re not overworking yourself or your people. Joe recalls “they say people make you money,” whereas his theory at his firm is “happy people make you more money,” strongly suggesting the need to give your people support and “treat them like they’re gold.”

Michael and Joe continue to talk through a variety of topics regarding the solid building blocks they’ve both used in building successful practices including: Systems within the firm (intake checklists, forms, etc.) and the idea that when you follow the systems, it frees you up to do the creative stuff; The necessity to never neglect the business side of your firm and the impact it can have on your clients; Savvy accounting tips for lawyers who focus specifically on phantom income and their associated taxes; and several other important factors for law firms to consider.

This jam-packed podcast concludes with an in-depth look at one of Joe’s latest trial successes that have been 8½ years in the making and culminated with an astonishing $11.32M verdict for, of all things, a car wreck case involving their firm’s long-time IT employee. Joe is gracious enough to share so many details about the trials and tribulations of this case, and they were plentiful over the course of the life of the case.

BACKGROUND

Joe Camerlengo is a founding partner of The Truck Accident Law Firm where he maintains a nationwide trial practice specializing in the areas of serious personal injury and wrongful death caused by trucking, bus, and commercial motor vehicle crashes.   He is extremely hardworking and a passionate advocate for his clients.   Joe is board certified in truck accident law by the National Board of Trial Advocates and board-certified in civil trial law by both the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocates.   Joe is a member of ABOTA, has achieved a preeminent AV rating by Martindale Hubbell and has been voted a Florida Super Lawyer in Civil Trial and Personally Injury Law every year since 2008.  Joe serves as the President of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, the Education Chair for the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group, Chair of the Florida Justice Association’s Trucking and CMV Crash Section and serves on the board of the National Board of Trial Advocates and the National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates.  Joe speaks all over the country on issues relating to handling Trucking Crash cases and advanced trial techniques.  He has been a repeat speaker for the American Association for Justice, the Florida Justice Association, the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, the 360 Advocacy programs, and many other trial lawyer organizations.

An extremely hardworking and passionate advocate for our clients, Joe Camerlengo specializes in the areas of serious personal injury and wrongful death caused by a tractor-trailer and commercial motor vehicle crashes.  Joe is board certified in civil trial law by the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocates.  Joe lectures other attorneys on handling tractor-trailer crashes all over the county and has served as faculty at the AAJ Truck Litigation College.  Joe has achieved a preeminent AV rating by Martindale Hubbell and has been repeatedly voted by his peers as a Florida Super Lawyer, a member of Florida’s Legal Elite and a National Trial Attorneys top 100.

Joe is passionate about making our roads safer by pursuing and helping other attorneys pursue, bad trucking companies and dangerous truck drivers.  Joe remains actively involved in the leading trucking litigation attorney organizations.  He is the President and Board Member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys; the Education Chair and Board Member of the American Association for Justice Interstate Truck Litigation Group; a board member of the National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates; and Co-Chair of the Florida Justice Association’s Trucking Litigation Group.

Joe began his legal career defending insurance companies and corporations for 7 years before founding the Camerlengo Law Group in 2001 to focus on civil justice.  He has been representing plaintiffs in serious injury and death cases since then and enjoys the challenge of taking on large corporations and insurance companies. In 2014, Joe and his team joined Coker, Shickel, Sorenson, Posgay, Camerlengo & Iracki.  In 2017, Joe joined forces with leading trucking trial attorneys Michael Leizerman and Joe Fried to form The Truck Accident Law Firm, handling trucking crash cases all over the country from the home office in Jacksonville, Florida.

Joe is a double Gator, having received his B.S.B.A. in Finance in 1991 and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1994, both with honors. Joe has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1994 and is also admitted to the United States District Court, for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida and the United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Joe is actively involved in the Florida and Jacksonville Bar and his community and is a recognized leader on diversity and inclusion issues.  Joe currently serves on a Florida Bar Grievance Committee.  He has served on the Florida Bar’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee since its inception, serving as chairman in 2011-2012.  He is a Past President of the Jacksonville Bar Association. Joe also supports several charitable and community organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Jacksonville Human Society, the Jacksonville Host Committee for Florida’s Children First and Leadership Jacksonville.  He enjoys coaching kids’ sports, playing golf, working out, surfing and, most importantly, spending time with his wife and their daughters.

Joe can be reached at jvc@truckcrashlaw.com

Additional Information:

EDUCATION
The University of Florida, Warrington College of Business, B.S.B.A. in Finance with honors (1991), Levin College of Law, Juris Doctorate with honors (1994)

CERTIFICATIONS
Board Certified in Civil Trial Practice, The Florida Bar, Board Certified in Civil Trial Practice, National Board of Trial Advocates

BAR ADMISSIONS
Florida Bar, member since 1994, Board Certified in Civil Trial since 2011, U.S. District Court, Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals

PROFESSIONAL HONORS, ACTIVITIES & AFFILIATIONS: 
Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys
President (2018 – 2019), Vice President (2017-2018), Board of Regents (2016 – present)

National Board of Trial Advocates
Board Member (2016-present)

National Board of Trucking Trial Advocates
Board Member (2016-present)

American Association for Justice, Interstate Trucking Litigation Group
Education Chair (2018-present), Membership Chair (2017-2018), AAJ Truck Litigation College Co-Chair (2018), Vision Zero Committee (2016-present), Side Underride Committee (2015-present)

Florida Justice Association,
Trucking Litigation Section Co-Chair (2016-present), Eagle Member, since 2006

American Board of Trial Advocates, since 2015

Jacksonville Bar Association, since 1994
Chair – Diversity Committee (2010-2011), President (2008-2009), Founder, Diversity Symposium (2009), President-Elect (2007-2008), Board of Governors (2000-2006), Co-Chair, Entertainment and Sports Law Committee (2004-2005), Foundation Advisory Committee (2001-2005)

President, Young Lawyers Section (2000-2001), President-Elect, Young Lawyers Section (1999-2000), Secretary, Young Lawyers Section (1998-1999), Board of Governors, Young Lawyers Section (1996-1998), Sports Commissioner, Young Lawyers Section (1994-1996)

Founder, 4th Judicial Circuit Trial Docket (2000-2001)
Florida Bar Association, since 1994
Executive Council, Florida Bar Standing Committee on Diversity & Inclusion (current), Chairman, President’s Special Statewide Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2011-2012), Appointed to President’s Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (2010)

American Bar Association, since 1994
American Association for Justice, since 2001
Jacksonville Justice Association, since 2001
Treasurer (2006-2009), Secretary (2005)

University of Florida Bull Gator, Since 2006

Frequent CLE Presenter on Trucking and Trial Strategies

Certified NFL Agent (2000-2005)

 

RECOGNITIONS

Martindale Hubbell AV Rated, National Trucking Lawyers Top 10, 2017-present, National Trial Lawyers of the Year Top 100; 2012-present, Florida Super Lawyer, Plaintiff’s Personal Injury & Civil Trial; 2008-present, Florida Trend’s Legal Elite, 2014 to present, AVVO Superb Rating – 10 out of 10; 2008-present, Leadership Jacksonville, Class of 2010, Jacksonville Business Journal, 40 under 40, 2009, Florida Justice Association Bronze Eagle Award, 2008, Florida’s Legal Elite, Civil Trial Practice, FLORIDA TREND Magazine, 2006, Million Dollar Trial Advocates, Member since 2003

 

CIVIC ACTIVITIES:
Assumption Catholic School League Soccer Coach (2011-present), Armada Jacksonville Football Club Soccer Coach (2014-present), Arlington Football Club Soccer Coach (2010-2014), Leadership Jacksonville, Class of 2010, Jacksonville Host Committee, Florida’s Children First (2004-present), Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Volunteer, Sulzbacher Center Volunteer

REPRESENTATIVE CASES:
Tractor Trailer Wrongful Death:  Settled $8.8 million total recoveries, Tractor Trailer vs. Motorcycle serious injury:  Settled $6 million Policy Limits

10 level Spinal Fusion:  Judgment $5.86 Million, Rear End Collision by parts delivery truck:  Jury Verdict $4.85 Million, Tractor Trailer Head-On Collision:  Settled $3.975 Million, Tractor Trailer Rear-End Collision on Interstate:  Settled $3.5 Million, Head-On Collision with Limo Van:  Settled $2.65 Million, Tractor Trailer vs. Motorcycle Wrongful Death:  Settled $2.6 million, Tractor Trailer Tire Came Off:  Settled $2.2 Million, Head-On Collision with Small CMV:  Settled $2.05 Million, Commercial Vehicle vs. Pedestrian crash:  Settled $2 Million, Fatal Bus vs. Pedestrian Crash:  Settled $1.65 Million, Intersection Collision:  Settled $1.43 Million, Intersection Collision:  Jury Verdict $1.2 Million, Intersection Collision:  Jury Verdict $1.1 Million, Commercial Vehicle Crash at Port:  Settled $1.1 Million

QUOTE:
“I have been privileged to represent many families that have suffered greatly at the hands of bad tractor-trailer companies or overworked commercial drivers.  The more I know about semis, tractor-trailers and their companies, the greater my passion to pursue justice for the harms and losses they cause.  Trucking experience is critical.  Do not call a car crash lawyer to handle your trucking case.  Our firm specializes in Tractor Trailer and Commercial Vehicle crash cases and has the knowledge, experience, and resources to achieve full justice for you and your family.”

RESOURCES

Be the CEO of Your Law Firm

Authored by Alexandra Lozano 
Mentioned by Joe Camerlengo

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

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, 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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