therapy

97 – Chris Finney – Maximizing Value In Your Life & Law Practice

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael speaks with St. Louis trial attorney Chris Finney, to discuss his recent $750,000 jury verdict on a non-catastrophic injury case, the different voir dire techniques he used, his path towards personal development, and so much more.

The episode begins with Chris sharing his story about how he became a trial lawyer. Being the son of a plaintiff’s lawyer, Chris knew becoming a lawyer was something he would do. After law school he took a job working at the prosecutor’s office, but left when he was offered a job paying much more money at a defense firm. His time working on the defense side was limited and he quickly realized he was destined to be a plaintiff’s lawyer.

“We can get him out of this mess in like 5 seconds. Just call the plaintiff’s lawyer, ask him what he wants, and we’ll give it to him … and I didn’t get the best response.” – Chris Finney

Michael transitions the conversation and brings up the topic of development, asking Chris what he has done to excel in his career. Chris shares everything from regionals with Trial Lawyers College, Trial By Human, ethos with Rick Friedman, working with Sari de la Motte, Trial School, attending Trial Guides seminars, and reaching a comfort level with who he is when he tries cases. This brings up the topic of therapy, with Chris sharing how many of the lawyers he would meet at CLEs were divorced. Being happily married and a father to 5 kids, Chris knew he had to find a way to make it all work. Michael agrees and points out that being a trial lawyer means you have to trust a jury, realize the amount of influence you have on the success of a case, understand you cannot control everything, speak with clients and their families when they have been through something traumatic, and all of this can take a real toll on you. “You don’t have to sacrifice your entire life to do this and be good at it,” Chris adds, “you have to find some kind of balance.”

“There’s no better investment than investing in yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Part of the journey in development is also realizing you will not win them all. Which is why the conversation then turns to this topic, one repeatedly mentioned on the show. Chris shares that he has realized, “No one is going to remember your losses.” To which Michael likens this to professional football players. If Tom Brady is described as one of the best quarterbacks of our time, no one is going to expect him to win every single game, so why should lawyers expect the same of themselves? You give it your all and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t always go your way.

“It’s either too complicated or the jurors are very bored. Brevity and being concise about what’s important, has really helped us a lot.” – Chris Finney

The conversation then shifts to the topic of simplicity with Chris and Michael both agreeing on the importance of this in trial. “Any case is a simple case, it just takes a lot of work to get there,” Michael shares. The trust to do this and the trust in your teammates for it to be a success takes work and as Chris points out it’s done “in your personal exploration.”

Running a successful law practice includes having a great team and Chris brings up the importance of letting his staff know that “nothing they do will sink us.” Empowering staff to make decisions instead of running to your office every 5 minutes, allows you to be more productive and focus. Michael adds that in this current employment climate, keeping your staff is more important than ever. To which Chris takes a step further, sharing why it is also important to make sure when the office is gearing up for trial everyone is there and everyone puts in the work. The effort is done as a cohesive team.

The podcast then transitions into a detailed discussion on Chris’s recent jury verdict of $750,000 on a broken arm case. Briefly outlining the case, Chris explains how his client was driving when a vehicle veered into her lane, hit her head on, and her right arm sustained a fracture. His client had surgery and was then released from treatment. Thinking the case would settle for policy limits of $100,000, Chris initiated settlement negotiations before spending money on animations and the doctor deposition. But defense didn’t respond to him until the day before the doctor deposition, which was too late. It was then, with only a $70,000 offer on the table, that Chris decided this case would need to be tried. For Chris, the fact that his client was a great client helped make going to trial an easy decision.

“Jurors take money from people they don’t like and give it to people they do.” – Chris Finney

Starting off with voir dire, Chris goes into “creating a designed alliance,” which he defines as “managing and meeting expectations” and learned from Sari de la Motte (a two-time podcast guest). Chris brings up his learnings from Jason Selk, the renowned performance coach, and his belief in relationships failing because of missed expectations. For Chris one of this goals was to set the expectations with his jury panel and place himself in a powerful teacher mode. Michael then asks about the use of experiential, or issue-based, questions in jury selection. These are 1 or 2 questions (at the most) based on your fears of the case. In this case the two questions Chris wanted to ask involved: 1) seeing a surgeon and having plates or screws put in you, and 2) medical records.

Continuing with jury selection, Michael asks Chris to describe “the box.” Chris suggests everyone go to Sari de la Motte’s Hostage to Hero group on Facebook and listen to her interview with Mark Wham to learn more about this. Chris used “the box” in trial and explained to the jury panel, because liability had been accepted, they would only decide damages that were “fair and reasonable” and that was “inside this box.” Everything else like if there is insurance, who would pay, etcetera, would be up to the judge. After trial one of the jurors approached Chris and said when those topics came up he reminded his fellow jurists, “that is not our role we have to stay inside the box.” Elated, Michael responds, “I’m definitely going to use that!”

“There is an element of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” – Chris Finney

With the jurors only being out for 15 minutes, not asking for a single exhibit, Chris clearly did a great job putting on his case for the jury. He adds how in the last 5 years he has noticed jurors are more comfortable talking about their relationships and have no issue with non-economic pain and suffering; in fact, they see a tremendous value in it. Michael adds his belief that the isolation we’ve had the last 2 years has changed the value we put on relationships. Before recently we may have taken friendships and time spent with others for granted, but now we want those interactions and will make it a point to carve out time for them. Leaving listeners with the question, has our recent experience increased the value we, and others, hold in our personal relationships – and will this increase values in jury verdicts?

The podcast also discusses drawing healthy boundaries, being patient with yourself, the power of saying “no,” waving economic losses, showing up in the right mindset, the importance of breathing, and why eye contact is crucial in connecting with the jurors.

 

06 – Lisa Blue – A Psychologist’s View on Jury Selection

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with a legendary trial attorney, Lisa Blue of Baron and Blue.

Lisa’s credentials go on for miles with over $350 million in jury verdicts and an equally impressively long list of hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements; as well as being seen as the national authority on jury selection having written multiple books on the matter and being brought in on mega-cases all around the country. It becomes clear very quickly in her conversation with Michael, that she has put her two master’s degrees and Ph.D. in psychology to great use within the legal field as she recounts her early days in private psychology practice and how she originally became interested in law and becoming a lawyer.

Thinking back to her first time in court, her description of the “warm” welcome she got sounded more like jury selection by fire! Fortunately, for her and all of us listening, that experience only fueled her passion for the business and instilled to her how much she loved it, further driving her to continue in this line of work. Lisa goes on to talk about her experiences working for Henry Wade (yes, of Roe vs Wade) and pulls back the curtain on a lunch conversation she had with him, revealing what he said which ultimately led to her pursuing a career as a lawyer. Lisa’s perspective on specializing was also instilled in her early on in her legal career and has since then only strengthened her position in the industry.

Michael digs in a little deeper with Lisa regarding the advantageousness of using her background in psychology when talking to clients and is surprised at the commonality that she points out between jury selection and a therapy session. The details Lisa explains about the similarities are profound in theory and yet seemingly approachable in practice. The overall voir dire in both is very noticeable the way she describes it.  Lisa continues throughout her conversation with Michael to deliver powerful tips on jury selection, mindfulness, and success while also acknowledging how the changing political climate has also affected the courtroom.

This incredible podcast concludes with Lisa’s outlook on some of the greatest things you can do to grow as a lawyer and even just as individuals in general, each of which truly applies to all of us regardless of years in the industry or specialty. Truly an inspirational icon in the industry and time extremely well spent learning from her.

Background on Lisa Blue

Lisa Blue, a lawyer with the Dallas firm Baron and Blue, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia and two master’s degrees from the University of Virginia in Counseling Psychology. After a brief teaching career, she returned to school and earned a Ph.D. degree in Counseling Psychology from North Texas State University and a Juris Doctorate from the South Texas College of Law.

After completing law school, Ms. Blue joined the Dallas County District Attorney’s office where she prosecuted more than 125 cases to verdict and later advanced to the DA’s Organized Crime Division. In 1985, she moved to the law firm Baron & Budd where she specialized in environmental and toxic tort law. Lisa and her husband, Fred Baron, supervised 800+ employees and managed all financial aspects at Baron & Budd, the largest environmental law firm in the United States.

Ms. Blue’s accomplishments in trial courts nationwide have been widely recognized, including being named one of the Top 50 Women Litigators in the U.S. by the National Law Journal, Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Texas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, as well as receiving the Honorary Barrister Award from the University of Texas Law School and the Distinguished Alumni Award from South Texas College of Law. Blue was named Trial Lawyer of the Year in 2006 by the Dallas Bar Association. In 2007, she received the Louise Raggio Women’s Legal Advocate Award from Legal Aid of Northwest Texas and was awarded the Ronald D. Secrest Outstanding Trial Lawyer Award from the Texas Bar Foundation in 2008. Ms. Blue was honored to accept the 2009 Rayburn Johnson Award posthumously on behalf of her husband, Fred Baron. In July 2009 Ms. Blue received Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “Know Your Power” Award. Selected to the 2014 Texas Lawyers List, an honor reserved for lawyers who exhibit excellence in practice. DMagazine elected her Best Lawyer in Dallas 2014 in Tort Product & Medical Liability Litigation. In April of 2015, Lisa was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.

Lisa’s new quest is campaigning and running for The State Bar of Texas President-Elect for 2019.

In addition to her legal practice, Ms. Blue maintains a private consultancy as a forensic psychologist and is a nationally renowned expert in jury selection. With her unique background, Blue has been a commentator for several high-profile trials covered by Court TV and has co-authored numerous articles on jury selection.

For more information on Lisa Blue, visit https://baronandblue.com/about-lisa-blue/ .

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