young lawyer

95 – Jody C. Moore – A Righteous Claim: Fighting Elder Abuse

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Jody C. Moore out of Southern California. Jody is an established trial lawyer specializing in elder abuse who, together with Susan Kang Gordon and Jennifer Fiore, recently won a $13,500,000 jury verdict on a 10-plaintiff case, in a 4 ½ month-long, 100% Zoom trial!

Michael and Jody kick off the episode with a look at what elder abuse is and how Jody got started in the field. Jody shares that elder abuse cases primarily look at neglect and why it happened. It usually boils down to a corporate systemic neglect case.

Jody started her career in med mal defense, then quickly shifted to nursing home defense. During this time, Jody’s grandma went to live in a nursing home, where she was neglected. This truly powerful story concludes with Jody inheriting $500 from her grandma and using it to start her firm, where she’s been doing plaintiffs elder abuse cases ever since.

“If this is happening to her, what’s happening to the people who don’t have advocates?” – Jody Moore

When Michael asks how Jody built the skills needed to get a good verdict, Jody credits putting in the technical work but says she relied heavily on her instincts early on. She wavered from this after seeing her first success and started to read every book and follow everyone else’s methods, but found the results to be lacking. Recently, she has circled back to being herself and trusting her gut in the courtroom, which is where she has found the most success.

“At the end of the day, you have to be yourself.” – Michael Cowen

Michael then digs into the details of Jody’s case. Jody explains how 10 residents were neglected in an Alameda County nursing facility. The ways they were neglected ranged from wound management to dehydration and malnourishment, to an excessive number of falls- citing a gentleman who fell 42 times throughout his stay. Jody also highlights the complicated nature of California’s Elder Abuse Act, which only allows blame for elder abuse cases to be placed on the company or individual who is in “custody” of the resident. So, the trial team was tasked with proving the parent company’s control and responsibility.

After an intriguing look into the complexity of California’s Elder Abuse Act and recovery caps, Jody shares more on how the case was tried. The trial was 100% over Zoom and took 4 ½ months, but only occurred 4 days a week from 9:00 AM until 1:30 PM. This served to keep the jurors from having Zoom fatigue and helped the court stretch its limited resources.

The trial was broken into multiple phases, starting with the “care of custody” issue where the trial team presented evidence on corporate control. While every witness on the stand claimed they were simply a “consultant,” this defense quickly fell apart when it became clear the consultants were controlling everything. By the time the trial got to punitive damages, this story arc was very helpful to the case.

Michael then asks what the company did wrong to harm so many residents, and Jody shares the primary theory is understaffing. This facility was operating below the state-mandated minimum number of staff 1/3 of days in the past 3 years- something that sticks out compared to most other facilities. Michael commends this approach because it makes more sense to say the company didn’t have enough people there than to say the employees just don’t care. Throughout the episode, Jody commends the work of the attorneys who brought her in on the case just months before trial, who did an excellent job of working up the case before her involvement.

Jody and Michael shift the conversation to what an appropriate docket size is for an elder abuse attorney, which Jody insists is a very different answer depending on who you ask. She commends her partners and attorneys for the work they did while she was in trial for so long, keeping the rest of their cases moving.

After a brief conversation about structuring your practice to accommodate your life, Jody and Michael both credit the mindset work they’ve done with Sari de la Motte, a trial consultant, and 2-time podcast guest. By focusing on how they show up, rather than external factors out of their control, they’ve both been able to get to a better place where they can focus on advocating.

“It feels like there’s so much on the line… but what’s really on the line is how I show up.” – Jody Moore

Michael then shifts the conversation back to the trial by asking how Jody and the trial team told the damages story. While this is a difficult task in an elder abuse case, Jody credited her co-counsel Susan Kang Gordon who presented compelling evidence of what a relationship means. In a creative and impactful fashion, Jody was inspired to write a poem (“Love is” by Jody C. Moore) during the trial that she read to the jury during her closing statement.

“If you can convey the loss with love, then the jury does the rest of the work.” – Jody Moore

Next, they move on to cover the punitive phase of the case, where the trial team was tasked with finding the financial information to present to the jury. Again, her co-counsel Jen Fiore was instrumental in making sense of the company’s finances under tremendous time constraints. This story of a rapid turnaround time to analyze information and some restrictions on what could be discussed resulted in an impressive verdict from the jury – $8.9 million in punitive damages alone!

Lastly, Michael asks Jody a question she now has more credibility to answer than almost anyone – what was her general impression of the Zoom trial format? Shockingly, Jody replies that for this case, it was the perfect fit, citing the length and complexity of the trial, as well as the benefits to her and the team. They were able to use great technology to present a compelling story and noted that jurors were very forgiving of the inevitable technical difficulties.

The pair ends the episode on Jody’s top tips for anybody trying a case on Zoom:

  • DON’T do it alone.
  • Invest in good technology, including an exhibit management program.
  • Master the technology.
  • Practice being “in this little box,” focusing on your breathing, use of hands, and effective pausing.

This podcast episode also covers building a practice as a young lawyer, how the trial team was able to keep the case as one instead of separating them, structuring your practice so you can do what you love, the power of hearing a story for the first time during the trial, why the jurors were so impressive and much more.

Guest Bio:

Founding Partner Jody C. Moore primarily litigates cases involving claims of elder abuse and neglect in a nursing home or residential care facility setting, wrongful death, medical malpractice and other catastrophic personal injury cases.

Ms. Moore is dedicated to improving community safety through legal advocacy. Ms. Moore is an accomplished lecturer on the topic of Long Term Care litigation to lawyer groups across the United States.

Ms. Moore lives in Thousand Oaks with her husband Mike and her two sons, Joshua and Zachary.

If you would like to contact Jody C. Moore you can reach her via email at jody@johnson-moore.com or by phone at (805) 988-3661.

81 – Mallory Storey Ulmer – Baptism by Fire: When Tenacity Defeats Tenure

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with attorney Mallory Storey Ulmer from the Walton Law Firm in Auburn, Alabama. Mallory is a young lawyer who recently achieved a $15 million settlement for her clients in a not-so-plaintiff-friendly state. She and Michael discuss her path to such early success, the details of how she worked up the case, and her advice for other young lawyers who want to make a big impact on a big case.

They begin the episode with a bit on Mallory’s background. After working as a paralegal for 8 years, she decided to go to law school with the intention of becoming an insurance defense lawyer. While in law school, she received a prestigious internship at a plaintiff firm and fell in love with plaintiff work, stating “once you’re on the right side, you can’t switch over.” She and Michael then discuss the emotional toll of plaintiff work, especially in a state like Alabama that’s “no plaintiff’s paradise,” but agree the satisfaction of representing people who need it most can’t be beat (as long as you have the right mindset).

This leads Michael to ask Mallory what she’s done to develop her skillset. She says that one of the best decisions she made was joining an excellent firm with a great reputation. Walton Law Firm has robust systems, great lawyers, and makes education a top priority. She’s been able to learn from some of the best minds in the legal industry both in her office and through a wide variety of legal seminars.

While these opportunities helped build her knowledge base, she and Michael agree at some point you just have to jump in and start trying some cases (or as Mallory calls it, “baptism by fire.”) Michael also notes the importance of networking with other lawyers, to which Mallory agrees. Because of her networking and impressive resume of cases, she is now being invited to speak more often at legal conventions.

Next, the pair jumps into the nitty gritty of the $15,000,000 case Mallory recently settled. While she can’t share too many details due to a confidentiality agreement, she agrees to share what she can within those boundaries. This case had an incredibly complex liability sequence, which stemmed from a series of car wrecks and resulted in catastrophic injuries to her client. In fact, her client’s crash occurred when the defendant driver was not driving a commercial vehicle, further complicating the regulatory guidelines for the company.

Another difficult aspect of this case concerns the venue: Alabama, which is no “plaintiff’s paradise” and has contributory negligence, similar to North Carolina as discussed in our episode with Karonnie Truzy. In short, this means if the client is ANY part at fault for the wreck (even 1%), they cannot receive any compensation. This causes worry in any case, but in a case of this size, Mallory knew she needed a plan to combat this defense if the case went to trial.

She then describes a genius argument of wanton (willful) conduct which would have taken away the contributory negligence defense. While she was never able to use the argument because the case settled, this is an incredibly impressive strategy she plans to “keep in her pocket” for future use.

After discussing the importance of discovery and depositions in the case, Mallory shares why she decided to frame the case as a “systems failure.” This boils down to the fact that juries don’t like to award a large verdict against one driver; they’d much rather award a large verdict to a company where the driver was a victim as well.

Michael and Malorie then have a brief conversation about why it’s necessary to work with others (even if you don’t agree). This starts with politics and ends with an astute observation from Mallory about how this also applies to defense lawyers.

Moving back to Mallory’s case, Michael asks how Mallory found rules and systems to apply to her case when the defendant was not driving a commercial vehicle at the time of the crash. She decided to fall back on the company’s materials, training, and supervision. Regardless of the type of vehicle the defendant was driving, those standards should still apply.

Michael chimes in that his firm’s strategy for a case like this is “compared to what?” He will look at what other similar companies do and argue that while something may not be a regulation, it is certainly the industry standard. Mallory agrees with this strategy and adds that those publications are perfect for getting excellent sound bites in depositions and appealing to an educated jury pool who may sympathize with business owners but understand companies should care about and know these things.

The episode concludes with Mallory’s tips for other lawyers who get a big case like hers. Her first piece of advice is to posture aggressively from the beginning, meaning to act like you’re taking the case to trial. This is especially true in a case with large damages because there’s too much at stake. She insists that this is scary for defense lawyers who don’t want to try the case. Her second piece of advice is to “prepare, prepare, prepare.” She’s found this shuts out any fear that may creep in. It takes a LOT of time and energy, but it has always worked to her advantage as the defense is never as prepared as she is.

Mallory’s last piece of advice is to know what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to pull somebody else in if you need help. She urges other young lawyers to not be afraid of “looking stupid,” and be willing to spend the money you need to on experts and co-counsel. “You will most likely earn that back three-fold, and you’ll be glad you did it.” In the end, pulling in people who are experienced to guide you will result in a better fee for you and a better result for your client. Then next time, you can use what you learned, and you may not need to get as many people involved.

If you’d like to get in touch with Mallory to discuss a case, ask her to speak, or to learn more about this case, you can reach her by email at mallory@waltonlaw.net, or by phone at 334-321-3000. She’s happy to talk strategy or help in any way.

This podcast episode also covers the importance of discovery and depositions in Mallory’s case, proposed Texas House Bill 19, why you should try to work with defense attorneys (and what to do when they’re unbearable), Mallory’s approach to jury research, and so much more.

 

Guest Bio:

Mallory Storey Ulmer is an attorney at Walton Law Firm, P.C., in Auburn, Alabama. Prior to joining Walton Law Firm, P.C., Mallory gained experience in whistleblower, fraud, and employment litigation while working at Beasley Allen Law Firm, with some of those cases gaining national attention on merit. Mallory’s current practice is focused on representing victims in personal injury litigation, including the areas of wrongful death, motor vehicle and trucking litigation. She has experience handling cases in the Southeast and Midwest at state and federal court levels. Mallory recently obtained a $15 million settlement in a contested liability case arising from a crash that caused catastrophic injuries to our client.

Mallory is an advocate of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, which provides resources for members of our communities affected by traumatic brain injuries, and she is passionate about representing people who have been seriously injured and families of those killed as a result of the negligence of others.

Mallory and her husband, Dr. Matthew J. Ulmer, and their daughter, Amory, reside in Auburn. They enjoy traveling, visiting with family, finding good local eateries, and being outdoors.

 

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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