EPISODE 46 — Rich Newsome — Learning From Your Losses and Growth Through Collaboration
Rich Newsome is the senior partner at the Newsome Melton Law Firm. Rich started out in product liability defense for manufacturers, but one case turned him away from the big clients and set him down a new path.
For the last 25 years, Rich has dedicated himself to representing individuals and families who have suffered catastrophic and fatal injuries against the kinds of corporations he once defended.
In this episode, Rich tells us all about the case that got him into complex civil litigation and how time and again he has overcome professional and personal hurdles that would’ve beaten anyone else.
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2:15 – Father knows best. “We had a pretty close family growing up, and I was asking my dad in 10th grade, ‘What do you think I should do?’ I used to read in church at the podium on Sunday, so he said, ‘I think you’d make a good lawyer,’ and to me as a middle class kid, that sounded incredibly romantic and wonderful. A light bulb went off. That was the beginning, that little suggestion from my old man.”
6:09 – The turning point. “I was representing Ford Motor Company in a case where a 2-year-old had died. I’m taking the deposition of the grandparents, and they lost their only little boy grandchild. They’re crying. I’m trying not to cry. The defense attorney on the other side was a nice guy, but he wasn’t a specialist, so we were really kind of bullying him up. We had all the resources of an international corporation. After that deposition, I drove home and I called my wife. We were pregnant with our first child and trying to build a house, but still had student loans. I called her and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ She said, ‘Okay, I got your back.’ So I took a huge cut in pay and joined a small, tiny firm in Orlando, Florida. It was a boutique firm that did some product liability. That’s that’s kind of how I made the switch and never looked back. So, for the last 20 plus years, I’ve been doing primarily product liability and complex, single-event litigation.”
14:45 – Product liability is no joke. “It requires an a**load of work. You’ve got to be willing to to be in the office late at night, poring through documents. It is not a form practice where you can just cut and paste demand letters and interrogatories. You really have to learn the science and the technology because our experts are extraordinarily expensive and few and far between. At least in, for example, the automotive space or the tire space, most of the engineers that are in the design work don’t want to work for guys like us. It’s a black mark. You’re outside the club. So you have to do a lot of the work yourself. You have to figure out the theories. You’ve got to do the homework. But once you’ve done that, if you’ve plugged in and are willing to put in the elbow grease, you will prevail.”
16:25 – A hive can take down an elephant. “To do these complex cases, the cases that can move the needle for public safety or for public policy, it is a collaborative effort. You’ve got to get on the phone. It’s not enough just to read the documents, follow pleadings, and draft the memos. You’ve got to get on the phone and bring that collective intelligence to your case. You’ve also got to be creative. You know, one of the things we’ve done in our practice that I think is imperative is bringing communities of lawyers together who are working across the country. It is the notion of collaboration, and this hive ability. You know, one bumblebee by itself can’t do a whole lot, but man, you put a hive together, and all of a sudden they can take down an elephant.”
24:19 – Growing from his losses. “It’s based around the notion of Joseph Campbell, right? The hero with 1,000 faces is this notion that the monomyth speaks this human story: you have to go through a certain kind of death to hopefully transform yourself. I feel like that’s what happened to me, and I had to get my a** beat to really come to grips with a better method and to learn to be able to deal with loss and fear. To me, that is the greatest gorilla — the elephant in the room that we never talk about in law school.”
26:57 – Practice makes perfect. “It’s a very real thing physiologically — fight or flight. You’re scared. Your arms sweat. You feel sick in your stomach. You freeze up. Your voice constricts. You sweat. You get cotton mouth. That is just physiological. It’s science, and to ignore that or just to pretend that you’re not going to be able to deal with it is just folly. There are things you can do. There are breathing exercises. There’s posture. The best of all I think, number one, is practice with focus groups. You know, if you’re a baseball player, how are you going to learn how to hit a ball? You practice. Especially with talking in front of people, picking a jury, or giving a closing, practice not only makes you better, but most importantly helps take your anxiety down.”
39:24 – To be a game changer, you must face your fears. “I think being a game changer is to be willing to, at some point, face your fears. I think everyone comes to a point in their career when they’ve got to. It is so incredibly difficult to take the next step, but it’s overcoming that fear and being brave and taking the next step. Just putting one foot in front of the other. To me, especially if you’re doing it for the right reasons — for people or causes that you believe in — that’s what it’s all about.”
EPISODE RESOURCES & REFERENCES
Searcy Denney Firm
George H.W. Bush
Ford Motor Company
The Attorneys Information Exchange Group (AIEG)
Tribe Building Method
Dune by Frank Herbert
Jim Perdue Jr.
The Trial Lawyers Association