trial preparation

58 – Nick Rowley – Brutal Honesty

In this long-awaited podcast, Michael sits down with renowned trial lawyer Nick Rowley. They discuss Nick’s journey to success, how he came up with “brutal honesty,” his book “Running With the Bulls,” the secret to settling high value cases, saying “no” to the defense, and Nick’s advice for how to become a better trial lawyer.

The conversation begins with Nick sharing his path to becoming the record-breaking trial lawyer he is today. Nick describes himself as a “juvenile delinquent” when he was a child. He was bullied a lot in school and expelled from every school he attended. After graduation, he decided to join the military to “kill bad guys,” but ended up becoming a medic. It was this role that fueled him with purpose. Using his GI Bill, Nick finished his bachelor’s degree and attended law school to continue his desire to help others, which he describes as an addiction.

Nick was never afraid to take tough cases to trial and losing, because he grew up getting beat up. He adds that even if he does lose, he learns more from his losses than his wins and they help make him a better lawyer. Michael echoes this sentiment and agrees that losses hurt in the short-term, but don’t bother him in the long run.

The conversation shifts when Michael shares how he’s noticed most top trial lawyers weren’t “born with a silver spoon in their mouth,” to which Nick wholeheartedly agrees. “It’s about life experience,” Nick states. He goes on to explain how if you’ve never had to work hard, experience failure, been afraid, or gone without, you don’t have the same “hunger” as someone who has. Nick emphasizes the importance of inner drive and notes trial lawyers who grew up without anything know if they don’t put in the work, no one else is going to do it for them. Michael also explains how it’s easier to feel comfortable in a client’s home when you’re used to the environment most of them live in. Both share stories of getting to know clients on a personal level and how this translates to a successful jury verdict.

Michael then transitions by asking Nick which case he is most proud of in his established career. Instead of talking about his largest verdict, he shares a story of a smaller verdict on a particularly challenging case. After being called upon by a lawyer having severe health issues the day before his trial was set to begin, Nick flew out to Santa Monica to help get the case continued. The defense lawyer was uncooperative and lacked the slightest bit of sympathy for the attorney, so Nick decided to try it without any prior knowledge of the case. His description of voir dire and addressing what he saw as the pain points of the case with brutal honesty is riveting and concludes with a $1.5 million verdict based solely on non-economic damages.

Nick is highly regarded as a trial lawyer for many reasons, but he is probably most famous for coining the term “brutally honest” in jury selection. Nick shares the story of how he came up with the term and explains why it works so well. He emphasizes the importance of asking jurors to define “brutal honesty” themselves, then asking them to please be brutally honest with you. This strategy has made a huge difference in Nick’s jury selection process. As an example, Michael role plays as a juror who doesn’t believe in money for pain. Through this example, Nick shows how he would address a juror with these views. Michael and Nick both agree stereotyping jurors immediately is an ineffective strategy and should be avoided.

The conversation shifts into a discussion of Nick’s book, “Running With the Bulls.” Michael inquires as to why Nick decided to write a book about settling cases when he is most famous for trying cases. Nick answers simply, “I do settle cases.” Nick insists the secret to settling cases for high value is “having the balls to go to trial.” He describes his frustration with not getting paid after a jury verdict and started thinking of ways to preemptively strike against this, so as soon as he gets his jury verdict he is “able to collect it immediately.” This resulted in Nick crafting a process to “expose the bullshit” and the insurance company puppet masters, a process he shares with fellow plaintiff attorneys to help raise the bar for everyone.

Michael shares the chapter of the book which resonated with him the most, “The Power of No.” He explains how he still feels bad for saying “no” to the defense, even though he knows better. Nick believes most trial lawyers are gentle, accommodating people by nature. He shares a strategy for re-framing this mindset when it comes to the defense, ending with, “They are the enemy, because they’re working for the enemy … be kind and accommodating. But when it comes to money, don’t hold anything back.”

The two transition into a discussion of criteria for accepting cases. Nick states there aren’t criteria. For him it is asking himself – Do I feel something inside? Is there something I can do for this person? Can I imagine myself standing in front of the jury? He notes that in an ideal world, he would only work on large cases, but argues the small cases are just as important, stating “If I’m not willing to take these cases, who else is?” For example, a case where a child was killed in a state with a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages is still a case worth fighting for. Nick emphasizes the need for industry leaders to set an example for other lawyers by taking on these worthy cases, even if they don’t lead to a huge payout.

The conversation ends with Michael asking Nick what he thinks a lawyer needs to do to be the next Nick Rowley. Nick states, “I want the lawyer who has the drive to do whatever it takes.” He emphasizes the importance of learning everything available from industry experts, listing off a multitude of names including Keith Mitnik, David Ball, Randi McGinn, and many more. He adds that having the guts to try difficult cases, learning from your losses, and breaking the mold are incredibly important in the journey to becoming a successful trial lawyer.

If you’d like to learn more from Nick Rowley, subscribe to the Trial By Human and Trial By Women list serves, attend his seminars, or visit his website to find more information about bringing Nick in on a case. You can also support Nick’s political efforts to fight the $250,000 cap on non-economic damages by visiting fairnessact.com.

This podcast also covers taking care of yourself during trial, lifting state caps on non-economic damages, the pain of trying a wrongful death case, where Nick is trying to improve, and so much more.

 

BACKGROUND ON NICK ROWLEY

Many consider Nicholas C. Rowley to be the most accomplished trial lawyer of his generation. He has extensive courtroom experience representing victims of serious injuries and medical malpractice, especially those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries, and chronic pain. In 2009 and 2010, the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) named Nick as a finalist for its prestigious “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award. Nick was also recognized by the Los Angeles Daily Journal for winning a “Top Verdict of 2010” for his $31.6 million jury verdict for the victim of a traumatic brain injury. In 2012, Nick was a finalist for the “Consumer Attorney of the Year” award, given by CAOC (Consumer Attorneys of California). In 2009, the Consumer Attorneys of San Diego awarded Nick its “Outstanding Trial Lawyer” award. In 2013, Nick was honored with the organization’s top award – “Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year“.  Also Some of Nick’s other recent successes include a record-setting $74,525,000 verdict for a victim of medical malpractice, a $38,600,000 jury verdict for a young man who fell from a hotel balcony while intoxicated, a $17,000,000 win for woman who suffered a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a fall from a hotel window and a $13,860,000 win for a mild traumatic brain injury caused by an automobile crash.

Nick has served as an instructor at Gerry Spence’s famed Trial Lawyers College and delivers keynote addresses nationwide on his revolutionary approach to voir dire and damages. Other lawyers, faced with low settlement offers from insurance companies, frequently bring Nick into their cases just before trial. Nick is a relentless warrior who has prevailed in the courtroom time and time again. He prides himself on his caring and empathetic approach to working with his clients and their families, and his ability to help juries find the truth and deliver justice to the injured.

Nick is on the Board of Directors of the Imagination Workshop, which is a non-profit theater arts organization committed to using the unique power of the theater to provide life-changing artistic opportunities to the mentally ill, homeless veterans, senior citizens, and ‘at-risk’ young people. IW programs give troubled people, frequently alienated or overlooked by society, a safe way to express themselves and gain insight that often helps make their lives more successful.

Nick is also on the Honorary Board of Governors of TLC, Los Angeles Trial Lawyers’  Charties, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to make a positive difference in the quality of life for people within the greater Los Angeles area, focusing on issues related to education, children, battered women, persons with disabilities, and homelessness, by providing financial assistance to needy persons and groups in the greater Los Angeles area.

Nick is the author of the book Trial By Human, where he candidly shares his approach that brings brutal honesty and humanity into the courtroom.

 

51 – Malorie Peacock – Preparing Yourself and Your Case for Trial

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen talks with his law partner Malorie Peacock to discuss trial prep. Trial prep has been a topic many of our viewers asked to hear more about, so this episode covers everything from file organization, to witness prep, opening and voir dire, visuals, your exhibit list, and the mental toll trial can have on you personally.

To begin, Malorie starts with how important it is to be organized. She begins her organization process 30 days out by putting her exhibits together, printing out the jury charge and witness list, then looking at everything and thinking about the game plan. Her goal from there is to create a 1 or 2 page “order of proof for trial” with exhibits, list of witnesses, and the key points to be made in the trial. Michael agrees and shares a common mistake he sees a lot of lawyers make when they “put every possible piece of paper from the case on their exhibit list.” He suggests lawyers ask themselves: A) is this an exhibit necessary for the jury to see, or B) do I need this to protect the record? Then review how many exhibits you have and what is their order. “If the focus of your case is trying to get the medical bills in your case, then your first exhibit is a summary of all of the medical bills and the medical treatment in the past … so the jury knows when they open the binder ‘this is what we’re focusing on and this is the focus of the case.’” Malorie continues.  Michael also shares how he organizes his complete list of exhibits on his laptop, so if at any point in trial he needs to pull up an exhibit on the fly he can quickly find it.

It takes a lot of time and energy to write a good opening and prepare for voir dire. Which is why Michael and Malorie discuss how changes in your story throughout a case, can affect the opening and voir dire work you do early on. Michael gives an example of this on a case he will try in February with Malorie. Months before trial they worked with a consultant on the case, had a theory on the case, graphics already prepared, then after they developed all of the evidence they decided it wasn’t the best story to tell. Creating a new story and theory may be extremely difficult to do after investing lots of time, money, and energy, however it’s an important part of the trial preparation process.

Which leads to a conversation on storyboarding, creating visuals, and how Sari de la Motte helped Michael rethink his use of the phrase “a simple case” when talking to the jury and using visuals. Malorie brings up just how important it is to tell your witnesses where they should be looking when they answer questions. We as attorneys may think it’s obvious a witness should talk to the jury when answering a question, but in reality it’s normal for you to look at the person you are talking to. “I think people believe that trial lawyers are natural public speakers, but if you’ve ever been to a conference you know that’s not true,” Malorie explains. You might think “it’s only 12 people,” but when your entire case relies on those 12 people, on a really important matter, and your client is watching you, the nerves start to creep in so you have to practice. And practice does not apply simply to speaking, Michael shares his reasoning for adding several solid black slides in his PowerPoint in order to command the attention of the jury when visuals are involved.

Michael then transitions the conversation by expressing his opinions on why every case will have a different order of witnesses. You should determine the order of witnesses based on each case, start strong, think about a witness who can prove the defendant did something wrong, think about when a witness goes on (time of day and when the jury has low energy), and be sure to end with a message of the harm that was caused but a hope of what a verdict can do to help. But emergencies happen and people are late to court, so Malorie reminds you to be flexible.

And the only way you can be flexible is when you are mentally and emotionally prepared for trial. Malorie suggests you spend time with family and decompress the day before trial. Which Michael agrees with because you “spend so much time during trial staying up until 2 am” preparing for that next day, you cannot risk the exhaustion and mental fog and need to be in bed at a decent hour and fully rested.

Being aware of your energy after trial, is equally important whether you win or lose the case. You need to take a day off and recognize it is not possible to be 100% on every day. Or maybe you come in to work and just talk to people in your office. But Michael very bluntly shares “it’s hard because when you’re in trial all the other shit piles up” so when you’re out of trial you feel like you need to play catch up. “It’ll wait a day you need to take care of yourself,” he adds. After each case you should re-evaluate the parts that went great and where you can improve in your next trial, but again it’s important to give yourself space. Michael’s NFL quarterback analogy for this is spot on and reminds attorneys not to value yourself differently after a trial, instead focus on the work you put in.

This podcast on trial prep truly is detailed and also discusses: thinking about your clothes, glasses, how to prep lay witnesses, saving money on images by using Google and Adobe, thinking about the Rules of Evidence, and trying cases with other people. And with Michael and Malorie’s jury trial (mentioned in this episode) resulting in a 7-figure verdict, podcast listeners can expect to hear another episode discussing trial soon!

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