The secret for me is to be able to put that in one spot and carry that with me. It reminds me of how important this matter is to the person I’ve chosen to represent, and have been chosen by them to advocate on their behalf. To have done your preparation and to know your case, to know your client’s story and to be able to show the jury so they can have a connection to that client, and hopefully treat them fairly at the end of the day, that is the goal. Ultimately this is about the client and how important this moment in time is to them. As an advocate you’ll have other clients’ causes to champion, but this may be the one and only time that this individual ever gets to come to court and to speak their truth and have their matter decided.
John Naizby, Connecticut Trial Lawyer and TLC Faculty member at the January Regional Seminar in Alaska, on the Importance of Knowing Your Client’s Story and How Telling It Right Will Help You Win!
John, can you tell me about the challenging case you just won?
Andrea Polaski is a 32-year-old OBGYN nurse who was involved in a sideswipe accident on the highway. As a result of her injury, an orthopedic specialist found a bulging disk in her lumbar spine. She received injections in her spine and underwent a course of therapy. During the course of her treatment, she became pregnant so there was a year-long gap in treatment. She then continued her treatment and eventually settled her direct action against the driver of the other vehicle for $50,000, the limit of their insurance policy. She received treatment from a chiropractor and continued to have on and off treatment with the chiropractor for about a year. At time of trial, the driver’s insurance company offered an additional $20,000 to resolve the claim, undercutting what the Court thought should be $35,000 which they would not pay, so off to trial we went. The final verdict was $300,000.
The case wasn’t without some challenges in that Andrea was very active and, since the accident, had taken part in several 5K races and some obstacle course races. One in particular was called the “Rugged Maniac” where participants had to crawl under barbed wire, run over fire, slide down a water slide into water and other different challenges. We were very forthcoming that she is active. We never claimed that she is an invalid but that she’s had to make changes, that when she does such things, she’s left with symptoms and pain that she wasn’t left with before. I believe the biggest reason the case was a success is that Andrea is a really nice person, and she was truthful and honest and open as to what had happened to her and what effects it had on her going forward. We put into action what it was like for her on Easter Sunday because the jury could see the expression on her face when she went back to that moment. I think there was an emotional connection between her and the jurors. We asked the court to have Andrea leave the witness stand and come down. We put the day into action and I stepped into the role of her husband, Michael. As we “walked in,” the family said, “Oh, you guys are late again, it’s about time you got here.” Andrea just absorbed that moment and you could see the expression change on her face as to what that felt like. Then she talked about what she was feeling, the things that she wasn’t able to do, such as putting together an Easter basket for her daughter’s first Easter, and how she wasn’t able to sit at the table and have Easter dinner. We talked about what that felt like for her as she stood in front of the jury. There seemed to be an emotional connection with several of the jurors at that point, and I think that was the key moment in the trial, for them to see who she was and appreciate that although she’s still able to do everything she used to do before, it is now not without difficulty and consequences.
You obviously integrate TLC methods into your work. How long ago did you begin working with the Trial Lawyers College, and what has been the evolution in your practice since implementing those methods?
I graduated from the Trial Lawyers College in July 2000 and went to my first staff training in May 2001. The most important thing I’ve learned, and continue to learn through my affiliation with the Trial Lawyers College, is how important it is to know who your client is, what their story is and what the story of their case is, and how those stories interconnect and affect them going forward. Having the tools to put things into action, and to discover the stories of individual clients, are the most powerful things that you can use to properly show the jury what the losses are and how they affect individual clients. I always had an understanding that the story is important, but what I’ve learned through my work with the Trial Lawyers College, and seen over and over again in actual trials, is that 1) there’s no substitute for preparation of the story, and 2) being able to know the story and to show it, as opposed to just telling it, allows for an emotional connection between jurors and individual clients. This is crucial in my being successful for my clients.
Is that always the way you view the practice of law, to be so based in story? What is your favorite book?
Absolutely, the story’s the thing. It’s hard for me to give you a favorite book per se, but what I think is a great book that all trial lawyers should read, which will seem odd, is The Velveteen Rabbit. There’s a section in it about being real. I think that’s an ongoing process that requires a lot of personal work so you can be true to who you are, and be open and honest. The real story is crucial: that is the most important thing. And to know what truly moves you about a particular cause you’ve decided to champion, and how you share that in an open and honest way with the jurors who are going to be the decision makers in your claim, that is the key.
If you have a case that is not moving you, how do you handle that?
First of all, I try to only take cases that I feel connected to. But in every case, you have to find something that you have in common with the client. One of the things I always come back to when I’m struggling to find something to be honest with potential jurors about is that universally, we’ve all been prejudged at some point in our lives, and we have made judgments of others, without having all the facts. It’s a different journey for everyone but it’s important to forget what you stereotypically think it is to be a lawyer and remember what it is to be a person. Think about what it might be like to reverse roles with your client, and all the uncertainties and all the issues they may be dealing with throughout the process, and try to appreciate that and lose some of the arrogance that comes with being a trial lawyer. Because if you’re honest and open with what’s going on with you and how it affects your case, there’s a different dynamic with pre-trial and how you’re going to go about your case. But if you’ve done the hard work, both personally and on the case, and you’re ready, willing and able to try the case, it comes with a certain calmness at that point. You know you’re prepared, you’re ready, and you’re going to do the best you can for your client. If you have that type of demeanor when you’re dealing with opposing counsel, I think it sends a message that “we’re ready to go and we’re going to tell our client’s story and let the jury decide what’s fair.”
About John Naizby:
John Naizby was raised in a small dairy town in upstate New York. He lost his father at the age of 3 and grew up with his sister, mother, maternal grandparents and great-grandmother. He knew from an early age he wanted to be involved in helping people and ultimately that is what lead him to the law. Over the course of his career, John has had the good fortune of representing numerous people and families who have lost a loved one, and he is humbled by the friendships he has made along the way. He attributes the success he has had in the courtroom to the people he has represented and to being real. He now lives in Connecticut with his family and pursues justice for his clients in Connecticut, Florida, New York and any other jurisdictions his help is requested. He feels It has been the greatest honor to be of service to others and to provide for his family in the process.