It was a warm, sunny July morning when I got a call from a well-known lawyer in Snohomish County who I admired and respected. I was curious why she would be calling me. I picked up the phone, and she began discussing some advice I had recently imparted in a seminar I had spoken at. I was honored when she told me the advice was useful to her. She then changed the subject and told me that I had been selected by my peers as the 2020 trial Lawyer of the year by the Washington State Association of Justice. I was speechless.
My legal career has very humble beginnings. I graduated from a humble law school in Michigan, and I could have gotten better grades. I have never been good at taking tests. I started practicing personal injury in 1989, but I could not figure out how to win cases for the life of me. I had no mentors, and every time I tried a case, the jury just seemed to not understand what I was trying to tell them. I saw lawyers in the community that were successful with juries, but I was not one of them. Nevertheless, I was proud that I had the courage to go to trial. Only a small percentage of lawyers can even say they had ever tried a jury trial, let alone 5-10 of them by the time they were 35 years old.
“I have been honored to be mentored by some of the best plaintiff personal injury trial lawyers in the country, and some of it has stuck with me.”
I have learned that so much of being a good personal injury trial lawyer has to do with your personal journey and whether you are comfortable enough with yourself to be vulnerable in trial, to be able to listen when you don’t like what you are hearing, and to be able to have confidence in your case and the jury and humanity. You cannot tell someone’s story if you don’t know your own story, and that requires a bit of self-reflection and honesty. However, what you learn from it is life-changing, even if you are not a personal injury trial lawyer.
To connect with others, we need to understand that it all starts with how you feel about others. When you begin picking a jury, do you look at those people and think about what you “want” from them? When you speak to them, and they don’t say what you want them to say, do you “tell” them how they should think? Human beings know within seconds if we are being sincere or not. No matter how smooth and refined we talk. If we are not totally honest and candid about why we are in court, we will be viewed as untrustworthy. Our clients suffer if the jury views us as untrustworthy, and frankly, so does our community. As plaintiff personal injury lawyers, we need to do a much better job connecting and telling the story of our clients. Clients who desperately need help or their life will be forever harmed by the negligence of others. It’s a great job, but there is a lot of responsibility that comes with it.
Furthermore, in this age of advertising, our society has become hardened and skeptical of trial lawyers. We see them on TV advertisements spouting off and making claims of being “aggressive.” Most of them have no idea how to try a case in court and are just running a business.
It is important to train new lawyers how to try cases to a jury, and it’s an art that seems to be lost on a large part of the bar. That is one of my goals, to give back to a new generation because of what was given to me by other great lawyers who took the time to give back. I was very honored to be named 2020 Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Washington Association of Justice and hope I can make a difference with young lawyers and ultimately make a difference in the community I live in.