Category Archives: Trial Lawyers

REPORT ABOUT THE SPENCE TRIAL LAWYERS COLLEGE

On Sunday I left Gig Harbor for Wyoming about 4:15 AM  to make the flight from Seattle to Salt Lake  and then transfer to another plane for the flight to Jackson Hole. In Jackson the weather was beautiful, in the mid 80’s  and the Teton’s still had snow. After  collecting my bag I headed out in the rental SUV for the ranch.

As always, there was construction and rough road along with the slow moving cars pulling trailers, but I made it to Dubois,Wyoming, some 86 miles away, about two  and a half  hours later. In Dubbois I made my annual stop at the Cowboy Cafe to have their hamburger  and french fries before heading on to the Thunderhead Ranch where  the college is located. The ranch is  some 25 miles  East of Dubois and 75  miles Northwest of Riverton, WY. However, a good portion of those  miles are on a rough dirt road  to the ranch. By the time I got there in the midafternoon on Sunday the students had been there for a couple of weeks going through psychodrama and trial training.

This group of students were one of the best groups I’ve worked with in some time as far as  their enthusiasm and desire to learn. They were of all ages and gender. The subject was jury selection when I arrived. Gerry Spence gave a talk at 9:00 am until noon. That afternoon and evening we broke into groups to practice under supervision of staff members  who had been through the program and the graduate program.  We quit at 5:00. After dinner the groups worked again from 7:00 pm to 9:00. I gave a talk one evening from 7:00 to 9:00. The morning I left Gerry had lectured on cross  examination and they would work on that in groups.

The students were more than 1/3 women. They were were of different  ages and  experience. A number of public defenders along with plaintiff injury  lawyers. The staff was also a mix of gender, age and practice areas. I enjoyed seeing my friend Gerry again. He  is 83 years old, writing  two books, teaching and working on his photogaphy exhibits. We talked about planning another  photography trip together, but agreed it had to be easier on us, given our age, than previous  trips we had made together.

Of course, I always learn a lot more than I teach. For one thing, you can’t help but  learn when you watch people attempting to do something involved  in trial and teaching them how  to do it correctly. They mirror the difficulty we all have in doing it right and correcting them results in learning  on both parts. This was something like the 17th year of teaching for  me.

My friend  Dana Cole was there again. He was  in the class the first year I taught (which was  the second year Gerry started  it) and he was  there again. He has  not only come back to teach every year, but he used to stay during the entire course plus  attend other sessions held there. So it was a reunion of  sorts since the staff had been students when I taught there. I’m tired,  but happy I  made the trip. Next week on to New York and the Inner Circle Convention.

Keep fighting for justice for  your clients.

Ten rules for being a good trial lawyer

  1. HONESTY IS ALWAYS THE BEST POLICY. You must be always be honest with others and especially with yourself. You must be willing to face the truth even when it hurts. This commandment is especially true in presenting a client’s case to a jury. All people are equipped with internal detectors about lies and when youput a group together their collective ability is even more sensitive to falsehood. Scripture teaches us this fact. “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out. ” (Proverbs 10:9)and “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)
  2. ETHICAL ISSUES ARE SIMPLE: ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING When you stop to honestly examine issues that arise in your law practice you will find that you inherently know what the right thing is you should do. But, we are tempted by the human frailties of greed, pride, power and the like to rationalize and justify. The problem is that when we don’t do the right thing it has a way of punishing us later. Somehow, truth always comes out in the end and our short term benefit is never worth the consequences.
  3. ALWAYS PUT THE CLIENTS BEST INTERESTS FIRST The other rule that is connected to ethical issues is that in every situation if we put the client’s interests before all others and especially our own we will make the right decision in ever case. You have a question of conflict of interests? What’s the right thing for the client. You have an question about settlement? What’s the right thing for the client. In every situation this is the litmus test of making the right decision.
  4. IF YOU WANT TO AVOID DISPUTES & MISUNDERSTANDINGS, CONFIRM IT IN WRITING We have a lot of dealings in our law practice and disputes as well as misunderstandings are part of our communication problems. Make it a standard practice after a conversation or phone call to send a confirming note. It can be E-mail or a letter and it doesn’t have to be in “legalize” or should it be insulting. Just confirm the understanding you have and avoid disputes.
  5. NO FEE IS WORTH THE PAIN OF A PROBLEM CLIENT No matter how attractive the case or how large the potential free, learn this iron clad rule. The pain, anguish and frustration of a problem client is simply never and I mean never worth whatever fee you might earn. One of the reasons you became a lawyer was to have independence so exercise good judgment and send the problem clients somewhere else.
  6. PICK YOUR BATTLES Life is not fair and justice is a goal but not always a reality. There are situations where the cards are stacked before the are dealt. In those cases you need to evaluate what is possible and what is not possible. Changing an existing condition may be possible and you should have the courage to act even where the odds are against you. There are also situations where no matter what you do you are not going to succeed. Unless you enjoy being a martyr recognize the facts.
  7. THERE IS NO CRYING IN BASEBALL OR IN TRIAL WORK You learn quickly as a trial lawyer there are lots of things about the trial system that are unfair and not right. If you are a woman trial lawyer you will probably recognize rather quickly about gender discrimination. The young trial lawyer may experience the discrimination of the older members of the profession. If you are representing clients charged with a crime you will learn how difficult it is to get justice. There are so many reasons to complain about the system that are not going to change anytime soon that if you dwell on them, you will not grow into the kind of lawyer you should become. You should conduct yourself as a professional and be firm about who you are and your role,. However, don’t spend your time whining to your friends about it. It’s a waste of time, Toughen up. Trial work requires courage and determination.
  8. BE YOU AND NOT SOMEONE ELSE Don’t waste your time trying to be someone else you admire. Learn from those who have something worthwhile to teach but always make it yours. You are unique. Over and over I see lawyers I would never expect to be successful based upon appearances who are, in fact, great trial lawyers because they are totally authentic – warts, bumps and all. People respond to authentic human beings so be the unique person God created when he created you.
  9. WHATEVER YOU TAKE ON GIVE IT YOUR BEST EFFORT Everyone should evaluate legal work you have accepted and be prepared to re-evaluate it at every stage, but in all things give it your best effort. Nothing is worse then a half hearted trial lawyers. If you accept the work, then give it your best effort at all times and I all things.
  10. FOR A SHORT COURSE IN HUMAN NATURE STUDY DALE CARNEGIE Dale Carnegie taught courses in success and was a best selling author on the subject in the 1920’s & 1930’s. He wrote what is probably the most accurate encyclopedia of human nature in 1936 with his book How to Win Friends and Influence People which remains today a best seller and has been translated into thirty one languages. Trial lawyers have a justified reputation for being loud, combative and often obnoxious people. Too many of us haven’t a clue about the makeup of people who serve on a jurors, our clients or the judges we deal with. This simple, interesting and very accurate book, with an unfortunate title, is all one needs to rectify this failure on our part if its teachings are put into practice

Anacortes refinery explosion&truth with accountability

On Good Friday, April 2, 2010 there was an enormous explosion and fire at the Tesoro Refinery at March Point, near Anacortes. Five people died and two survived with serious burns. Several families involved have hired my law firm along with a Texas law firm to represent them. When the media reported the families had contacted lawyers there were those who were critical of the families for doing so. 

Let me respond to that criticism by saying the refineries are very familiar to me. I was born and raised in Anacortes. I graduated from Anacortes High School in 1953 and remember the construction of the Refinerty Shell and Texaco refineries in the 1950’s. I practiced law in Mount Vernon for many years and have law office there now. Nor is tragedy at the refinery site new to me. My law firm and I have represented people who have suffered loss in refinery and oil pipe line explosions, including the families of the six people killed in an unnecessary explosion in 1998 as well as the Olympic pipe line explosion in Whatcom county in 2002. For fifty years I have represented people against the insurance industry and big corporations as well as for abuse of power by government.

What I have learned is that profit making corporations have only one purpose for existing and that is to make a profit for their share holders. They have no other reason to exist then to make a profit. The universal language of corporations is money. They understand money. That’s why the people I represent  hire a lawyer after a tragedy like the recent one at Tesoro. The suffering families have two primary goals: find out the truth about what happened and try to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else by demanding accountability They know that unless they hire a lawyer they won’t know the truth nor will there be any change in the way corporations conduct their business or make changes for the safety of workers.

There is only one effective to reach either of the goals of truth and accountaibility and that is to use the universal language all corporations understand – money. Neither politicians nor governmental agencies can achieve either goal as quickly and effectively as a lawsuit for damages. There is no other good and successful way to get the attention of big corporations then hitting their pocket book. There is no better way of encouraging safety changes then to cost them money. If you want to find out the truth and get the attention of the corporation to make changes for the benefit of safety you have to sue them for money damages. That’s the reality.

All of those who complain that the families and their lawyers are just greedy people ignore the fact there is no other effective,  adequate remedy in our society for obtaining the truth and promoting a change in the way corporations conduct their business then costing money. It is the one language all corporations understand. Not only that, basic justice requires that the wrong doer pay for the damage they have caused. The amount of damages should equal the harm they caused. Those who complain the lawyers and the families are only in it for the money and that no amount of money can make up for the harm are really suggesting we let the corporation go without paying what they owe. A lawsuit for damages is the only way civilized societies ensure that justice prevails in a tragedy like this one.

The families that have the courage to take on big corporations by hiring a lawyer are doing a public service for the entire community. They are, in fact, taking the only action available to them which will result in finding out truth, require accountability and promote safety changes for the benefit of everyone.