Experienced Litigators, Taking On Challenging Cases Since 1994

ABC’s of Becoming A Successful Trial Lawyer from Day One

A. Embrace who you are. Do not try and become someone who you think you are supposed to be. For example if you are a calm reasonable person stay that way. It will serve you much better to stay true to your personality. Don’t try and turn yourself into an argumentative Mr. Tough Guy, because that’s the way Hollywood characterizes lawyers. If you are nice, then stay nice, and take advantage of the fact that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

B. Being a trial lawyer is patriotic. There are hard working people in this country who need your skills. The legal document that guides our dispute resolution process is called the United State’s Constitution. It’s patriotic to stand up for the rights of people in court. The work trial lawyers do helps injured people obtain the resources they need to get back on their feet and become productive in the future.

C. There are not too many trial lawyers. Corporations want you to believe there are too many trial lawyers already. This is a myth perpetuated by a few large corporations who do not want to be held accountable in court. The reality is that there are not enough good lawyers willing to stand up for the rights of individuals in court.

D. Good trial lawyers do not compete with each other. In fact, we are each others greatest resource. Trial lawyers collaborate and work together on difficult cases and help find ways to help one another succeed. The American Association of Justice, the Consumer Attorneys of California, and the Attorneys Information Exchange Group all believe in success through sharing with each other and are constantly helping trial lawyers collaborate so our clients win.

E. You can be a great trial lawyer and not go to court all of the time. The day to day existence of a trial lawyer varies greatly depending on the individual path you chose to follow. The reality of day to day law practice, when you first start out, is convincing an insurance claims representative that you have a case. Think of the claims adjuster as the first juror you have to convince. This is done, by conducting a thorough investigation of the case, getting to know your client, and communicating your client’s loss to the adjuster with a well written settlement demand letter. A good percentage of your cases will resolve successfully using this process.

F. New trial lawyers lawyers partner up with more experienced lawyers and split any fees that result. These partnerships are especially common in the area of product liability and catastrophic personal injury cases. Because of the need to retain and prepare expert witnesses, these cases can be very expensive for new lawyers to take on. A new lawyer can team up with an experienced trial lawyer and learn how it’s done. The saying two heads are better than one almost always holds true when plaintiff lawyers work together on cases.

If you are interested in learning more about being a plaintiff personal injury lawyer, a “Trial Lawyer”, check out our four part free video series, which starts with “The ABC’s of Becoming a Successful Trial Lawyer From Day One.”

SignUp To Settlement Screencasts are Complete!

This week I taped the final screencast for the final session of Signup to Settlement, A Personal Injury Law Boot Camp. The twelve sessions of the course flowed from 20 years of personal injury trial practice and was the culmination of twelve months of thinking, planning, outlining and discovery. Like everything in life, it all started with an idea.

The idea was to take the twenty years of accumulated experience, circling around inside of my brain, and convert that knowledge into a digestible, easy to grasp, course for new lawyers. A course that would provide newly licensed lawyers with the skills, confidence and issue spotting capability needed to start practicing personal injury law. It took 12 months of steady work, but WE DID IT! We have unpacked the “must know” information that gives new plaintiff’s lawyers the foundational knowledge needed to begin to identify, signup, workup and settle personal injury cases.

Step one in the process of creating the course was to divide the real world practice of personal injury law into essential organizational categories. We identified ten categories; contracts aka fee agreements, cases, liens, negotiations, lawsuits, discovery, experts, ADR, and settlement. We then added an “overview” to introduce the program, and a section called “future” that provides ideas and introduces potential pitfalls to avoid, when beginning to implement your newly obtained knowledge.

With the real world practice of plaintiff’s law divided into ten essential categories, we began to outline the issues, legal principles, “must know” facts, rookie mistakes, resources and homework essential to each of the ten categories. Once the outlines were complete, we converted the information from the outlines onto the presentation slides. The outlines turned into 25-30 slides per category, which resulted in 12 forty to fifty minute screencast presentations for each session. Plus we have a bonus recorded Q&A interview with an expert on each of the twelve sessions or categories.

Going through this process was a great growth opportunity for me personally. Each stage helped further refine in my mind the foundational knowledge each new plaintiff personal injury lawyer should have. Once you have completed Signup to Settlement, you have earned the right to tell your friends, family, and lawyer friends that you are a “Plaintiff’s Personal Injury Lawyer.” I can only wish I had access to this program and it’s resources back in 1994 when I first started my own law practice and accepted my first personal injury case.

If you’d like to learn more tips regarding successful personal injury trials, sign up to be one of the first to know when we launch our new course, Signup to Settlement: Personal Injury Law Bootcamp.

Top Ten California Cases Every New Plaintiff Personal Injury Lawyer Must Know

These ten cases provide a good framework for lawyers new to the plaintiff personal injury practice.  The holdings from these cases are frequently applicable to almost every personal injury case.  They deal with a plaintiff’s burden of proof of injury, discovery traps, medical bill recovery, policy limits demands, accident reconstruction, and fee splitting arrangements among lawyers.  It is important for every new plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer to have a solid understanding of the legal principles outlined in these ten California cases.  They are listed in order of their importance to the new practitioner.

1.  Schreiber v. Estate of Kiser (1999) 22 Cal. 4th 31

Schreiber v. Estate of Kiser (1999)  explains the differences between a retained and non-retained expert witness and how that impacts the requirements of the expert witness disclosure statute, C.C.P. section 2034.210 et seq.

2.  Archdale v. American Intern. Specialty Lines Ins. Co. (2007) 154 Cal. App. 4th 449

Archdale v. American Intern. Specialty Lines Ins. Co. (2007) has good explanation of a policy limits demand scenario.  An insurance company’s failure to accept a reasonable settlement offer to resolve a third party claim against its insured constituted a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

3.  Espinosa v. Little Co. of Mary Hospital (1995) 31 Cal. App. 4th 1304

Espinosa v. Little Co. of Mary Hospital (1995) explains plaintiff’s burden of apportioning damages when there are multiple causes of an injury.  It is only necessary that a plaintiff demonstrate that the negligence of the defendant was a substantial factor in causing the claimed injury.

4.  DaFonte v. Up-Right, Inc (1992) 2 Cal. 4th 593, 828 P.2d 140

DaFonte v. Up-Right, Inc (1992) explains how employer fault effects a personal injury claimants recovery in tort.

5.  Union Bank v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal. App. 4th 573

Union Bank v. Superior Court (1995) explains the effect of factually devoid interrogatory answers on the opposition to a motion for summary adjudication.

6.  Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011) 52 Cal. 4th 541, 555

Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011)  describes the limitations on recovery of medical bills when providers accept payment with a discount from health insurance companies.

7.  Mitchell v. Gonzales (1991) 54 Cal. 3d 1041

Mitchell v. Gonzales (1991) explains the legal rationale for the substantial factor test for injury causation used in CACI 430.

8.  Deeter v. Angus, 179 Cal. App. 3d 241, 255, 224 Cal. Rptr. 801 (1986)

Deeter v. Angus (1986) is a good case to read before you provides written discovery responses.  If the result is unfair surprise, a trial court may exclude evidence not identified in discovery.

9.  Solis v. Southern California Rapid Transit District (1980) 105 Cal. App. 3d 382

Solis v. Southern California Rapid Transit District (1980) analyses the work of an expert witness in a bus versus pedestrian case.  The court provides a framework for understanding the basics of how to exclude a accident reconstruction opinion that is speculative or lacks adequate factual foundation.

10.  Chambers v. Kay (2002) 29 Cal 4th 142

Chambers v. Kay (2002) explains California Rule of Professional Conduct 2-200’s requirement of written client consent to splits fees between lawyers.
After reading these ten cases, you will have a good foundation for beginning to understand the landscape of plaintiff’s personal injury litigation.  You will have a good introduction to the importance of making a valid policy limits demand, common discovery traps, all the way through to plaintiff’s burden of proof at trial.


Top Five Books Anyone Interested In Life As a Trial Lawyer Must Read

Interested in a career as a plaintiff personal injury trial lawyer? Helping people protect and advance their legal rights is a rewarding undertaking.  Before you start, take your time and make sure it’s a good path for your life. The life of a trial lawyer is filled with challenges, self discovery, hard work and the potential to make a positive impact on our society.  If you are not yet a licensed lawyer, go help out in a personal injury law firm.  Immerse yourself in the day to day work of helping injured people recover compensation for their damages.  Start meeting with trial lawyers, ask one of us out to have lunch  Learn about our lifestyles and the cases we are working on.  Trial lawyers are happy to help people interested in pursuing a plaintiff law. On the fun side, here are my top five favorite books, for anyone considering becoming a plaintiff’s attorney.


You Can’t Teach Hungry…Creating The Multi-Million Dollar Law Firm by John Morgan

Attorney Morgan does a great job of providing a realistic peak inside the life of a trial lawyer.  He provides practical advice and incite about what it takes to be successful both as a founding principal of a firm and a working lawyer within a plaintiff’s firm.


The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen started out as a lawyer.  She is a great writer.  After you read You Can’t Teach Hungry you will understand the need to read The Happiness Project.  This is a challenging calling, all trial lawyers need to pay  attention to how our work affects our own life and the people we love.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This book illustrates the fact that what appears to be true is not always the case.  To practice tort law at a high level we must be willing to search for the truth, when it appears on the surface an accident happened in a way that is convenient for the insurance company.  Second, To Kill a Mockingbird is a reminder that the cases that end up before a jury are very hard to evaluate.  Cases that go to trial  call for supreme advocacy in order to prevail.  Easy cases settle, the cases that go to trial, call for every ounce of energy, advocacy and spirit your soul will provide.


Profiles In Courage by John F. Kennedy

A good reminder that it’s not always best to follow the crowd.  Do what you believe is right, not what popular society wants.  Insurance companies will attempt to impose their view of reality onto your cases.  Have the courage to follow your own course and impose your own reality on the insurance company you are litigating against.


A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr

This story provides a good introduction to the forces you will be working against.  Even if a case has some good liability facts, the plaintiff still has to prove injury causation.  Many trial lawyers have lived through the story presented in A Civil Action, you may too some day.

More on the fun and entertaining side, I must give honorable mention to The King of Torts by John Grisham.  It is fiction, but there is some truth to the entertaining tale of a young trial lawyer who stumbles onto an unbelievable case.  Remember, most all great plaintiff lawyers are self employed entrepreneurs.  We must prepare to run our businesses successfully, check out the The E Myth by Michael Gerber. Enjoy!


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