TX

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.

 

12 – Eric Penn – $89M Worth of Experience

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with Founding Partner at The Penn Law Firm, Eric Penn. To start things off, Eric describes his decision to focus on trucking cases and how it came from the simple fact that we can all relate to them. In fact, everyone (including attorneys) share the road with 18 wheelers. Eric goes on to point out that the general viewpoint of “cases never looking better than when you first work them up,” while true at times, seems to go the other way with trucking cases where they get consistently better the more you roll up your sleeves and dig into them.

Speaking of rolling up sleeves and digging in … Michael and Eric pull back the curtain on what turned out to be an $89.6M verdict for the bulk of this podcast, which in and of itself is enlightening, educational, and impactful.

The brief synopsis of the case would likely have many attorneys passing on the case from the very start considering how things looked on the surface – A mother with 3 children in the car, running errands on a Texas highway, hit a patch of black ice, loses control of their vehicle sending them through the median into oncoming traffic and is struck by an 18 wheeler, and the police report indicating that there was no fault to be placed. Michael suggests that more than 98% of personal injury attorneys in the state would likely not take on such a case and the others might even look at it and see a $1-2M settlement, which obviously wouldn’t be enough once you hear the unfortunate circumstances the victims faced moving forward. But not Eric!

Eric’s reasoning behind taking the case stemmed from getting to know the case on a deeper level, understanding that the injuries were dramatic, and having an in-depth knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (the green book) and CDL Manual’s Safety Rules that are in place to protect all of us who share the road with 18 wheelers, citing one of the chapter’s intent is literally to “prevent crashes and save lives.” One might think that this type of case would revolve around the approximate 3-second sequence of the crash itself, but Eric’s explanation of how their focus became everything but those 3 seconds really shed a light on how this type of case can quickly grow to a much more substantial and just verdict. Spoiler Alert: Eric notes that EVERY case he has come into has 100% of the time been about the company behind the truck driver and how that company operates its fleet, making them much more responsible than they may like to admit. The compassion Eric demonstrates in describing his mental process in the decision to take on a case like this is palpable.

The details surrounding this case that Michael and Eric discuss are apt to be a significant learning tool from which any attorney can stand to learn.

Background on Eric Penn

Eric T. Penn believes that in order to keep our families and communities safe, we have to hold people or corporations who choose to violate safety rules accountable for the injuries and conditions they create. That is why he has been an outspoken advocate for seriously injured people for more than seventeen (17) years. He represents people who have been permanently and seriously injured through no fault of their own.

Eric is a born and raised Texan. He is a 1998 graduate of Baylor University. He received his Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from Baylor University School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Texas and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in 2001.

A Trial Lawyer’s College (TLC) graduate, Eric is a frequent lecturer on Trucking litigation throughout the country. He is a member of American Association for Justice (AAJ) Trucking Litigation section, Attorney Information Exchange Group (AIEG), Academy of Trucking Accident Attorneys (ATAA) and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association (TTLA).

For more info on Eric Penn visit:

https://thepennlawfirm.com/about-the-firm/our-attorneys/

11 – Morgan Matson – A 360˚ Look at Legal Industry Recruiting

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael Cowen sits down with a licensed attorney and founder of Preferred Counsel, Morgan Matson. Morgan specializes in connecting job seekers with great firms and vice versa for law firms and legal departments in companies of all sizes who are looking for legal talent.

Starting as a litigator doing mass pharma defense work, then moving on to work for a smaller boutique firm handling medical defense litigation, Morgan found his purpose to be more of a “connector” than a “divider” which then drove him to start working for a recruiter and ultimately owning his own recruiting firm since 2007. He notes his enjoyment for working with small to mid-sized law firms mainly due to finding that “all the boxes that need to be checked” when those firms are looking for a candidate, become amplified when the office dynamics are much more close-knit than in a larger firm.

In a world that has taken “digital” job searches to seemingly every corner of the globe, Morgan is not only happy to be a legal “headhunter” but explains that his localized, relationship-driven recruiting tactics actually have an even greater competitive advantage in this day and age. Morgan leverages his experience as a litigator to find the needle in the haystack for law firms, oftentimes finding the people who are NOT actually looking to make a move to be the best candidates as they are happily working … until Morgan calls with a very unique opportunity. Michael also points out from his own experience the troubles that come with having to sift through hundreds of resumes and find many with exaggerated qualifications.

For those who are looking to break into the legal industry, Morgan sites that recruiters can be an extremely good resource along with professional social media platforms, such as LinkedIn. Morgan elaborates on LinkedIn as being a fairly under-utilized resource in that there are many groups you can join and ways you can find commonalities with others who are doing what you want to be doing, at which point you can connect with them and find out if there is an opportunity foreshadowing or being hired at their firm. Michael and Morgan also discuss the need to get involved and start having conversations with those who you aspire to work with, whether that’s through attending CLE courses and starting conversations, or by simply picking up the phone and politely pursuing those who are either in the position you want to be in or who may have the ability to hire you. All of this contact, of course, should be done with respect and in search of understanding what it may take to achieve your career goals.

Morgan reveals several other tips for candidates and those looking to hire talented legal professionals throughout the podcast and ends with a striking description of his firm’s fee structure, for both candidates and employers, which is likely not how you think … remember, “relationship-driven.”  Michael also uncovers a particularly beneficial reason to utilize a recruiter which ALL law firm partners can certainly relate to. All in all, Morgan is the type of recruiting resource any candidate can appreciate and any sensible law industry employer needs.

Background on Morgan Matson

Morgan is a 1999 graduate of The University of Texas School of Law. From there, he worked as a litigation associate with Fulbright & Jaworski (n/k/a Norton Rose) and later Ball & Weed, a litigation boutique where his practice focused on the defense of healthcare professionals in civil litigation matters and before the state licensing boards. In 2007, he founded Preferred Counsel, a legal recruiting firm focusing on the placement of lawyers and support staff in law firms and corporate legal departments throughout Texas on a direct hire, contract, and part-time basis.

 

For more info on Morgan Matson visit:

www.preferredcounsel.net

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/ .

03 – Mikal Watts – The Do’s and Don’ts of Running a Successful Law Firm

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In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael talks with one of the nation’s top trial attorneys, Mikal Watts about his pursuit of the goals he established at a very young age which forced him to make some tough decisions early on in his career. Fear, exhilaration, and even his wife thinking he was crazy couldn’t keep Mikal from doing what had to be done before it was too late in his career.

Mikal describes the choices that were made when he initially started his own practice and their unlikely, yet practical, reasoning. Mikal also recalls his first big solo case and how literally moving some furniture around helped him put his best foot forward and became a pivotal moment for his practice. Mikal offers advice on the do’s and doesn’t for those looking to start their own firm, in addition to some of the sacrifices and deferred gratification that comes with the territory.

While there have been many to date, Mikal shares with Michael some of the verdicts that he has been most proud of thus far, such as his first case against Chrysler, and how those cases have added to the value of his practice beyond just the dollars and cents. Mikal delivers practical keys to success for the courtroom and how to truly connect with the jurors in the room, which by the way, have become keenly proficient in detecting BS (both factual and unscrupulous).

At the same time, both Michael and Mikal recognize and discuss the absolute need to break subjects down into their simplest terms (Mikal’s metaphor for tire tread is simply priceless). Humility and modesty shine through as Mikal describes his firm’s ethos and attitude for sharing with other lawyers, not unlike Michael and his firm, and the inherent benefits that come with such an inclusive environment, for both the firm and more importantly the clients they serve.

This podcast concludes with an important discussion of the biggest threats to the legal industry to which Mikal’s thoughts may surprise even the most seasoned attorney.

Background on Mikal Watts:

Mikal Carter Watts is the founding Partner of Watts Guerra LLP. He was born in Corpus Christi, TX in 1967. Mikal attended The University of Texas in Austin where he completed his undergraduate degree in two years. He then went on to the UT School of Law, where he also graduated in two years at the age of twenty-one. Following college, Mikal accepted a position working for The Honorable Thomas R. Phillips, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, as a briefing attorney from 1989-1990. In 1997 Mikal opened his own law firm in his hometown and in 2006 he relocated to San Antonio.

Mikal was married in 1993 to his lovely wife Tammy. Together they have three children, Taylor, Hailey and Brandon as well as two grandsons, Caleb and Austin. His interests include spending time with his family, attending church, Spurs basketball games, and Longhorn football games.

For more information on Mikal Watts visit http://www.wattsguerra.com/lawyers/mikal-c-watts

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