NTL member Brent Goudarzi gets $101M, $27M verdicts

On July 19, 2018, an Upshur County, Texas jury returned a $101.1 million dollar verdict against Fort Worth-based FTS International Services, LLC and its employee, Bill Acker.  While operating an 18-wheeler in September 2013 in Ore City, Texas, Mr. Acker rear ended the plaintiff, Joshua Patterson, who was represented by Goudarzi & Young, LLP.  Post-accident drug testing revealed that at the time of the accident, Mr. Acker had marijuana and methamphetamines in his system.  The plaintiff also put on evidence that, although FTS had robust internal policies and procedures, FTS disregarded said procedures as they related to the hiring and training of Mr. Acker.  In defense, FTS attempted to paint itself as a company that takes training and safety very seriously by offering evidence that purportedly demonstrated that Mr. Acker received extensive new driver training, including defensive driving training and drug and alcohol training, and that FTS had the highest FMCSA safety rating.  The jury found both FTS and Mr. Acker negligent and grossly negligent.

As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered neck and back injuries that ultimately required a disc replacement surgery in his spine.

The plaintiff was represented by National Trial Lawyers member Brent Goudarzi and Marty Young of Goudarzi & Young, LLP in Gilmer, Texas.  Defendant FTS International Services, LLC was represented by Pat Long, managing partner of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP in Dallas, Texas and Keith Starr of Starr Schoenbrun & Comte PLLC in Tyler, Texas.  Defendant Bill Acker was represented by Snow Bush of Longview, Texas.

 

Just two and-a-half months later—on October 11, 2018—another Upshur County, Texas jury returned a $27.4 million verdict for an East Texas plaintiff injured in a 2016 automobile accident.  The plaintiff, 55-year old Hershell Wingfield of Gilmer, also represented by Goudarzi & Young, LLP, was at a complete stop attempting to make a left-hand turn when he was rear-ended by another vehicle traveling 60-65 miles per hour.  The offending vehicle was driven by Shane Wood, an employee of Multiband Field Services, Inc.  As a result of the collision, Mr. Wingfield sustained injuries to his neck and back which required multiple surgeries and the implantation of a spinal cord stimulator.  The jury found both the driver and the company were negligent in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.  After receiving the verdict, Mr. Wingfield’s attorney, NTL member Brent Goudarzi, stated, “this is another strong reminder that the good people of Upshur County will not tolerate corporate indifference when it comes to hiring and training employees who operate motor vehicles in our community.”

The defendants were represented by David Merkley and Sarah Jones of the law firm of Germer in Houston, Texas, Jessica Barger and Andrew Nelson of the law firm Wright, Close & Barger in Houston, Texas, Michael Tiliakos and Anthony Rao, in-house counsel for Goodman Networks (the parent company of Multiband Field Services) in New York, New York, and Curtis Fenley of the law firm of Fenley & Bates in Lufkin, Texas.

The Honorable Lauren Parish, District Judge of the 115th Judicial District, presided over both trials.

NY limo wreck victim texted concerns just before crash

Accident with two carsOne of the 20 people killed in the New York limousine crash over the weekend texted that the vehicle “was in bad condition” just moments before she was killed. A friend of victim Erin McGowan told The New York Times that the limo’s motor “was making everyone deaf.” The Times also reports the driver didn’t have the correct license and that the limousine company, Prestige Limousines, had a history of failing inspections. Slate reports that four of the company’s vehicles had been pulled off the road after failing inspections. The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board says “This is the most deadly transportation accident in this country since February of 2009.” 18 passengers in the limo and two pedestrians were killed.

How a Michigan firm makes money suing municipalities

A law firm in Royal Oak, Michigan has made millions of dollars by suing cities and towns, and stands to make millions more in pending cases. How does it do it? By claiming that municipal governments are improperly charging residents for storm water. The Detroit Free Press has more on how the Kickham Hanley law firm is turning storm water into a river of cash. Partner Greg Hanley explained how it works:

“What if you and I are neighbors and you live alone but I have four daughters, which I do,” Hanley said. “My house is using a lot more water, but our lawn and our driveway and roof are not necessarily contributing any more storm water to the system,” he said. Instead, the storm-water volume depends on how much of a given property doesn’t absorb rainfall, what’s called the “impervious surface area.”

Thus, owners of a tiny house and huge lawn shouldn’t pay as much for storm water as folks with the opposite — a large house and tiny yard. The idea is to tailor the fee to exactly how much storm water each property sloshes into the street’s sewer grates.

Read more about the lawsuits at freep.com.

B.S.-Free Marketing Strategies You Can Start Implementing Today

There’s a lot of “fluff” marketing tactics floating around in the legal industry, and not all of those tactics produce tangible results. Even more frustrating is that these tactics often take a lot of time and resources to implement, which can be a burden for busy law firm owners like yourself.

 

Well, on Wednesday, October 17th at 1:00 PM EST, our friends at Crisp are hosting a free online event for attorneys who are looking for actionable, results-driven marketing strategies that produce results without the fluff.

 

Click here to sign up for “B.S.-Free Marketing Strategies You Can Start Implementing Today,” hosted by Crisp Video Group.

 

This webinar will cover:

  • How to humanize your brand
  • How to create content millennials give a sh*t about
  • Why you should give back to your community
  • How to make millennials a fan before making them a client

 

Sign up today before spots run out!

How Mark Lanier used cheese to help win a $4.7B talcum powder verdict

Mark Lanier

Mark Lanier of Lanier Law Firm

National Trial Lawyers President Mark Lanier isn’t afraid to use a few props to make a point to a jury. Forbes has a profile of Lanier titled “A Bale of Hay and a Block of Cheese: How Mark Lanier Won $4.7 Billion Talcum Powder Verdict” The story begins with how Lanier pulled a knife out of his pocket during the trial and “held it over a large block of yellow cheese.”

“You’ve got Bailiff Jim over there just looking for an excuse to shoot, so I looked at the judge and said `Am I allowed to do this?’” Lanier recalled at a recent meeting for mass tort trial lawyers. “`For now,’ the judge said.”

Lanier was using the knife and cheese to illustrate to the jury how talc is mined. He went on to use a bale of hay, a bathroom scale and “drawings scribbled on overhead projector slides” to communicate with jurors. Read more about Lanier’s techniques and tactics at Forbes. 

Empowering Your Ambassador of First Impressions

Your AFI is the very first person to speak and greet everyone that calls your firm, everyone!

Your AFI is the very first person to speak and greet everyone that calls your firm, everyone!

By Harlan Schillinger.

Let’s start with, do you really know who your Ambassador of First Impressions really is?

Most lawyers don’t give the person who makes the firm’s biggest impression the biggest salary or even much recognition. Why? Well, usually that employee holds a position that’s considered lower ranking. But the opposite is actually true.

Your real “ambassador of first impressions” (AFI) Is your receptionist or may be a secretary, paralegal or executive assistant. By answering the phone, greeting prospective clients at the office and screening prospective clients, this person makes your firm’s powerful first impression.

These are critical responsibilities. In effect, your AFI represents almost everything about your firm. As such, the importance of this role should not be overlooked — or undercompensated.

Your AFI is the very first person to speak and greet everyone that calls your firm, everyone!

What happens when people call?

Depending on the size of your legal practice, staff or market, your firm could be spending thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to get people to call with potential cases. But what happens then?

  • Do you know what kind of impression your key phone manager is making?
  • Is your AFI accountable for following a standard screening process?
  • Does this gatekeeper have the tools to do his or her job well?
  • What happens when you call your own law firm? Does the person answering the phone use a tone that makes you feel valued — or uncomfortable?
  • Is there any compassion?
  • Are you welcomed in a sincere way?
  • Did you feel recognized and important?
  • Did you feel wanted and invited?

If you’re unsure of the answers to these questions, this is a great place to start building the role of ambassador of first impressions at your law firm.

How to promote your ambassador of first impressions

When a new prospect or even an existing client calls your office, this interaction can completely set the tone of the next action. It’s that important.

So, start to view the AFI role for what it really is: the person you want on the firing line each and every day. This realization could raise some tough questions. For example, you might not have the right person in place; this might currently be a shared role that’s creating inconsistency and needs to become a singular position; you might need to move a more dynamic, engaging existing staff member into the AFI role to elevate its importance. You may have to simply hire the right person to represent you.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to defining this critical function in any law firm:

  • Identify who plays the AFI role/s right now.
  • Decide whether it’s the right person or whether you need a new intake personality.
  • Ask a few “undercover” callers to phone the office and share their impressions of that initial interaction.
  • Define the new expectations of this role.
  • Identify what tools could help your ambassador work smarter, faster and more autonomously.
  • Train this person in phone etiquette. There are many resources that can help with this.
  • Promote the importance of your ambassador of first impressions throughout the firm.
  • With the new responsibility, may come a higher salary. Give your AFI a promotion.
  • Monitor and adjust over time. You can record calls and listen in regularly to see how your ambassador is performing.
  • Recording your intake calls is so important. By doing so, you will know exactly what your situation is. If you follow the process, you will know more about your AFI and Your Intake and Conversion than anything else you can do.

Phone communication is priority No. 1

Most initial law firm communications continue to take place over the phone. Many prospective clients see advertising and call an 800 number for more information. That means your firm’s phone communication should be priority No. 1.

However, one of the biggest gaps in phone communication with victims in particular is having the natural empathy to be able to put yourself in that caller’s shoes. Often when people take the step to call a law firm they are already in a stressful, precarious situation. They may not be as friendly or focused as if you met them outside of this predicament.

Communicating with victims requires a calm and patient personality. The conversation cannot be robotic. Often the AFI is not setting that impression by how cheery he or she comes across, but rather how sympathetic he or she is when communicating with people in distress.

The legal profession is not exactly known for scoring off the charts in the empathy category. In fact, it really lacks empathy!

So, this alone could be the largest ask you make of your ambassador of first impressions. But remember, you can teach an employee the mechanics of phone communication, but you cannot teach personality. Hire personality.

More tools for making a great first impression

One way to narrow in on the impression you want your firm to make is by identifying a competitor that you know is already winning in this area. Or you could identify a company outside of legal space that you just like doing business with. Ask yourself why you do business with them?

  • What do you like about how you’re treated when you call this business?
  • What aspects do you appreciate most: tone, consistency or follow-up?
  • What steps can you start taking to match this level of empathy?

Lastly, if you are not already doing so, dial in your intake style by starting to record all the calls coming into your firm. You can use the most challenging ones to train your ambassador in dealing with difficult communication. After that, the rest will feel easy!

Your Ambassador of First Impressions has a big job representing your firm. Make sure this position is not only acknowledged but also promoted as one of the most appreciated and valued roles in your legal practice.


Harlan Schillinger has worked with more than 120 law firms in over 98 markets throughout North America. Currently, he is consulting privately only with lawyers who share his vision of increasing business, being accountable and obtaining high-value cases. He takes, perhaps, the most unique and accountable approach to Intake and conversion.

Currently, Harlan is working with and in charge of business development Glen Lerner Injury Attorneys. With offices nationally, Glen has one of the largest and most successful plaintiff’s practices in America. The firm already takes on well over 1,500 cases a month, and Harlan is positioning the firm for even more growth.

NC bar accuses attorney of preying on vulnerable clients

The North Carolina Bar is accusing a Florida attorney of defrauding, deceiving and embezzling money from two mentally disabled clients declared innocent after serving 31 years in prison. The North Carolina Bar filed a complaint against Orlando lawyer Patrick Megaro. He is accused of taking one-third of a $750,000 award given to Henry McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown, despite having done virtually no work on their behalf. The bar complaint lists 16 ethical violations. Read more about the case at The Marshall Project.

Video: Livestream of Jason Van Dyke trial in Chicago

police shootingLive video of the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who’s accused of the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald is being made available by WGN-TV. Van Dyke says he was acting in self defense when he shot McDonald 16 times. Dashcam video shows that McDonald was carrying a knife, but was walking away when he was shot. WGN will be streaming as much of the trial as Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan will allow. Click here to go to WGN’s live video stream. 

A live blog is also available from WMAQ here. 

The race gap in juvenile justice

While the total number of young people being sentenced to jail has been declining for the past couple of decades, the gap between black and white youths being jailed has been climbing. Black juveniles are much more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a division of the Justice Department, has been working to address the discrepancy — but that has changed in the Trump administration. The Marshall Project has more on how and why the agency’s mission to protect against racial disparity among juveniles charged with crimes has been grinding to a halt.

Podcast: The controversy surrounding bail reform

As part of criminal justice reform, some states, notably California, are making changes to the cash bail system. California’s SB10 eliminates cash bail, replacing it by doing “risk assessments” of defendants. In this edition of Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network, host Craig Williams talks with Jeff Clayton, the executive director of the American Bail Coalition, and Shima Baradaran Baughman, a professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, about the impact that ending cash bail may have on the legal system.