• Podcast

Episode 118 — Litigating Legends — Lessons Learned from the Nation’s Leading Trial Attorneys

Only those who are truly brave and up for a challenge take on the life of a trial attorney. To be considered one of the most skilled in the country, rack up billions in verdicts, and change the future of litigation — you’ve got to be on a whole other level.

In this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, you’ll hear from five litigating legends at the top of their game:

  • Joe Fried: Co-Founder of Fried Goldberg
  • Mark Lanier: Founder of The Lanier Law Firm
  • Mike Papantonio: Co-Founder of Levin Papantonio Rafferty
  • Sean Claggett: Co-Founder of Claggett & Sykes Law Firm
  • Randi McGinn: Co-Founder of McGinn, Montoya, Love, & Curry

Get ready to hear the ins and outs of what it means to be a trial lawyer from some of the best to ever blaze the trails.

Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and Spotify.

Show Notes:

Joe Fried
Is justice actually blind? “To me, sitting in a courtroom was like sitting in a hallowed place. I was a police officer starting when I was 19 years old, so I was pretty young. Even at a very young age, I felt that important things happen here. I also saw with my own two eyes that justice is not equal at all. Justice is not blind at all. Despite our affirmation that it will be, it’s not — and one of the big difference makers is the lawyer. So I saw that as a place that I should go, a place that I could make a difference.”

Joe’s first trucking client. “This lady with a far-off voice started to talk to me and said, ‘Is this Joe Fried?’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am. Hello. Can I help you?’ And she said, ‘At three o’clock this morning, my husband was killed. I don’t know what happened, but I know that he got hit by a truck.’ I asked how she knew to call me, and she said, ‘I don’t really know how I have your name,’ but she called me. I mean, I don’t know if somebody in law enforcement gave her my name. I probably had a website, but it certainly wasn’t a trucking website. And of course, I said, ‘Well, don’t talk to anybody else. I’m on my way to come see you.’ Right about that time my one staff person came in, and I said, ‘We’re now a trucking firm.’”

The importance of hyper-specialization. “We had to first teach the world that this was a sub-specialty, if you will, that this is not just a marketing ploy to get trucking cases, and that there is enough of a difference between handling trucking cases and handling auto cases. The world needed people who were specialists in this area, and while we were doing that, we were branding ourselves into the leadership of that new space, if you will.”

Mark Lanier
A pivotal moment. “Who wants to say, ‘I spent my life recreating injustice’? I didn’t want to do that. That’s when I made a critical decision that I wanted to go on my own. I wanted to pick the cases I wanted to pick, and I wanted to represent people that had been wronged. That was one of those corners, one of those pivotal moments — in faith language it’s called a ‘Damascus Road’ experience where the scales on your eyes kind of all go off and you realize, ‘Okay, I’ve got a potent weapon here in my life, and I need to use it for good.’”

With great power comes great responsibility. “Well, there’s no question that I’ve reached a point where I’ve got that luxury of being more careful about what I take, but all of us have a responsibility to do right by our talent and to do right by our system.”

A winning process. “How we conduct pre-trial discovery with an idea that we’re going to try the case is very different from the way I think most people are doing it. How we take depositions is very different from the way most people are doing it. How we take an expert’s deposition and opposing expert — very simple. I’ve got a process for doing that that will allow me to send a novice lawyer out for the most important critical expert in the trial, and if that novice will follow my five-step rule for that deposition, it will be everything I need for trying the case. So, the preparation is different for us. I’ve got very stringent, certain rules for what order to put on witnesses. There are four critical moments in every trial, and how you identify those moments and how you handle those moments are absolutely key. There’s a whole area of litigation science that’s involved not just in jury selection, but it’s involved in communication theory and how you present things, how you persuade people, how you get people’s minds around damages and thoughts like that, how you move people from knowledge to motivation — those are two different things. Some of this is information, but some of it is also wisdom, and I think you probably know the difference between the two. But if you don’t, here is an example. Information is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in your fruit salad. You know that you cross that line somewhere, and so I try really hard to teach people not just to know what to do, but to be wise in how they do it.”

Mike Papantonio
The moment Mike became a true game changer. “I’ve never been a class action lawyer. I’ve always been a trial lawyer. And so I’ll never forget the moment — we were in Atlanta, and the breast implant litigation had just taken off…I remember these old guys up on the stage. There were 400 people in Atlanta at some big hotel, and they’re telling me what they’re going to do with my cases, because they’re class action lawyers. They were mass tort lawyers who were terrible mass tort lawyers, who never really were there for the consumer. They were there for themselves. They were there to make big fees and then move on. I remember the arrogance and the audacity of this character standing up on the stage, telling me what I was going to do with my cases and how he was going to handle it. I remember grabbing the mic — I was a kid, but I remember grabbing the mic and saying, ‘Mister, I don’t even know who you are, but you are not going to be involved with my cases. There’s not going to be a time where you make a decision for me as a trial lawyer about what I’m going to do with my cases.’ It was at that moment where I decided that I wanted to build out a new reality in the area of trial law. I wanted mass tort lawyers not to be class action lawyers. I wanted mass tort lawyers that wanted to be able to try their own cases and do what a trial lawyer should do: get top dollar for their clients and make it about the client, not about them.”

Don’t burn bridges. “My lawyers know this: if I ever find that you haven’t treated somebody right — if somebody who’s just worked with us does not come away with exactly where they think they should be — I tell my lawyers, ‘Leave money on the table. Take it away from yourself before you take it away from them. Always do more for the other guy.’ That is actually part of our brand.”

Advertising is only one part of branding. “If you’re dealing with a lawyer and they’re coming to you and they say, ‘Michael, I want you to help brand me,’ what you have to say is, ‘Well, we can’t do that with just advertising.’ The brand has to be a comprehensive picture of what it is that you really stand for. What is that mission statement?”

Sean Claggett
Started from the bottom. “At my office, I’ve done every job in this firm out of necessity while I was building it. You lead by doing what needs to be done, and people look at your work ethic. If you’re the partner in your firm who’s packed it in and shows up 15 or 20 hours a week, do you think your staff is working hard? You’re the example.”

No cutting corners. “When you go to trial, you’re all-in on the credibility chip. If you lie or misrepresent one time, you’re done. That jury is going to hold it against you, and it’s bad news. A lot of time it’s a lack of preparation that creates the appearance of dishonesty and lack of being trustworthy because you say something you don’t know for a fact to be true. So we spend a ton of time with my office making sure the attorneys know you have to know everything.”

Becoming a commodity. “95% of all lawyers get their license, take CLEs that aren’t meaningful, don’t improve themselves, and in 10 years they’re slightly better than they were 10 years ago, but not substantively better at any real skill set. That’s a problem. Invest in yourself as a commodity. When you do that, you start to learn from other lawyers what might work for you. You start putting together a tool chest and from there you can figure out which tools work best for you, because not all of them will, and that’s okay. You end up in a position where you become a better trial lawyer.”

Randi McGinn
A great story. “He or she who tells the best story wins — that’s how it works. You have to become a master storyteller, and you do that by becoming a student of storytelling. If you’re watching a movie or reading a book that affects you greatly, you need to break down why it is that that book or movie was so effective and what about the story was so effective. Use those tactics in the courtroom.”

Strategically fashionable. “I think jurors don’t like what they think lawyers look like. For this reason, when I’m in the courtroom, I don’t wear suits like I thought you had to. I wear normal clothes, and when the jury looks around, they’ll notice that I look like them. I’m comfortable in dresses and sweaters because I’m comfortable in those and because I think it’s comfortable for others.”

Follow your dreams again and again. “If you want a dream to happen, you’ve got to make it happen yourself. You may make a lot of mistakes along the way, but that’s what needs to happen. Try on other styles, both literally and figuratively, and if it works, great — but if it doesn’t, try on another one. You’ve just got to see what works best for you.”

RESOURCES & REFERENCES
Fried Goldberg, LLC
Georgia Trial Lawyers Association
The Lanier Law Firm
Levin Papantonio Rafferty
Claggett and Sykes Law Firm
McGinn, Montoya, Love, & Curry

CONNECT WITH MICHAEL
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