Rachel and her legal team recently won $19M for a woman paralyzed in a car accident
Is what you’ve learned from TLC a big shift from what you were doing before you went to TLC?
“Oh, huge. I felt like TLC was the first time my eyes opened as a lawyer. I really do. It was night and day. Before, preparing cases for me was like an assembly line. It’s what you do in certain cases, you do this, you do that, and you go home. But after TLC, it just opened my eyes that my clients are people with families and with pasts, with childhoods, with experiences and with all this history and story to offer. I am also more aware that my clients have been through something that has catastrophically changed their lives. I am not able to do my job right unless I know what their life was really like before, and after, the event. As for TLC, it gives you methods to really dive into how, and to what extent, your client’s lives were damaged and changed. That’s what it really is all about, showing that change and showing our juries why that change is important and why they should want to help and how they can help. Because really, a case is not just about my client, it’s about everybody sitting in that court room who could be in my client’s shoes. TLC has totally changed the way I practice, from the way I approach my cases, the way I approach the council, even the way I approach the judges. It gave me such a freedom from the fear of failure and the fear of inadequacy. You know, when you get rid of those, all of a sudden, there is no issue there. It’s beautiful because you find yourself interested, and fascinated and you find yourself in a position like a juror would be. So you need to find that “thing” in your cases and your clients’ lives that makes you want to help and makes you want to act. My practice is so much more fulfilling now. I used to deal with cases at a higher volume. Half of the time it would be difficult for me and a struggle for me to remember some of my client’s names, as bad as it may sound, because I had to go relatively quickly from one after the other and the other. I had to pick up a file with the client coming in and say “Who’s this?.” It didn’t feel good, because as lawyers, we took a very serious oath to represent our clients and with that, we have to take on some pretty daunting responsibilities. It didn’t feel right not to really know and be able to connect with my clients. So now that I am so much more in touch with the human side of things, my practice feels much more fulfilling. It feels so much more personal and I get so much more out of it than just working them through.”
From a day-to-day perspective, how are you able to take the time to focus on one client at that deep level?
“Well, I really had to make a conscious decision to scale down my practice and only take cases that I really believe in, that were associated with really serious and catastrophic life changing injuries. It was difficult to do that because all the other smaller cases are bread and butter, you know, a thousand dollars here and a thousand dollars there and that would pay the bills. And while I still take small cases that I believe in, I have learned that I work just as hard for a thousand dollars as I work for five hundred thousand dollars. So I decided to make a conscious effort to scale down my practice to take only those cases — large and small — that I really believe in, that have had really catastrophic or life changing injuries. I did that and it was difficult, but when you do that you develop so much of a personal relationship with all of your cases and your clients because you have more time and energy to invest. So, in what we do, if I sign up a case today, I am looking at a pay day a year or two years from now. But, it’s really a matter of what that pay day will be. I want to work on cases where that pay day can be really huge and life changing for my client, rather than me continuing to do the assembly line work on 50+ other cases that are smaller and that make me a little bit of money more often but don’t let me do the things on the cases that I might otherwise do when I have more time, energy and effort to put into it. So I just made that decision to focus on bigger cases and risk the longer pay back in exchange for more investment on my part. It was a scary decision, obviously, but it has worked out for me because I felt like I put it out there and it came back to me.”
So how does a verdict like your recent big win affect how you approach your practice, this year or over the next few years from a business perspective?
“Well, any win of justice for your client is important — any win, big or small. But a big verdict is part of the lawyer’s experience — a validation, I guess, that lends a certain credibility. To know yourself, and have others know, that you have taken all the risks and made all the sacrifices to take a big case to trial and then to be a big verdict. I have learned at TLC that money is just one form of delivering justice — it isn’t the only way, but it’s a significant way, and other people understand it. I hope in the long run on this case, we ultimate get to collect this verdict as it will change my client’s life for the better. There are so many important things she can do with this money. $19 million is a lot of money and it will really change her life and make it better. We won the trial and the jury gave her this verdict — I hope we can now collect and fulfill the jury’s wishes for her. Her mother will still have a good fight to get paid, but I think we have a good chance there as well. It’s never over. You go through all the litigation process, you work your case up, you present the right people and all the right things for your case. You present the best case you can to a jury. The jury hears you, believes you and then at the end of the day you still run into procedural brick walls when corporations and insurance companies just say, after the verdict, ” No, we are not going to pay. We are going to fight this verdict another way now.” It is difficult and hard. It can get discouraging, even when you win. You fight the fight, and you fight fairly, but that doesn’t mean you always get to collect as much as the jury awards. Lots of people don’t know that. Its unfortunate and wrong, I think. But in terms of changing my practice, this big win gives me more confidence and support to continue to do what I really want to do, and that is, focus on my clients and their horrific cases.”
Why is the Opening Statement such an important part of the trial?
“I heard Gerry say this once and I truly believe it after as many trials I have done now. “Give me a good voir dire, and opening statement and I will have won the case.” A good voir dire, and a good opening statement when you’re really telling your client’s story, and you’ve built so much momentum for yourself throughout the case, that it’s really hard to knock you down later in the trial. The opening statement is your opportunity to engage jurors in your story. We are lucky as plaintiffs that we get to go first. We get to set the scene, we get that first bite that jurors can latch on to. I don’t think in an opening statement we have the permission to go in yet, and just attack. But I do believe, jurors need to see bad behavior before they let you attack. So the opening statement is an opportunity to tell our story in a matter that it is alive and fluid and makes jurors feel that they are there with you and your client. That is really what the TLC method is all about, making your client’s story come to life in an opening statement and inviting jurors to come with us on this journey for justice.”
Join Rachel at the Opening Statement Seminar!
Hilton Austin Airport, Austin, TX
April 30 – May 3, 2015
REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Monday, APRIL 27!!
About Faculty Co-Leader Rachel Montes:
A veteran Dallas trial lawyer, Rachel Montes has one goal in mind when she begins work for a new client: simply to level the playing field. This approach to dealing with negligent individuals and big business has earned Montes the respect of her peers and the gratitude of people and their families who have suffered injuries or loss at the hands of others. Ms. Montes has had the privilege of representing many families who have lost loved ones or suffered life-changing injuries, and she has enjoyed a successful history of fighting for people victimized by trucking negligence, fraternity hazing, insurance bad faith claims, defective products, wrongful death and workplace negligence.
“Trial lawyers are the voice for those who otherwise would not be heard. I’m proud to be in a profession that helps hard-working people stand up to the corporate and insurance giants who use fear and intimidation as their front line weapons of defense. I consider a successful case one that combines fair compensation with policy and procedural changes that create permanent safety upgrades that benefit everyone.” Ms. Montes has earned a reputation as a relentless, no non-sense lawyer who combines modern legal strategies with an old-school approach that truly does put her client on a level playing field. Ms. Montes has earned the respect and trust of other lawyers who have referred clients, friends and family members to her for representation.
Ms. Montes began her legal career after accepting a coveted position with one of Texas’ largest personal injury law firms. Client success, along with a highly competitive personal drive led Montes to open her own law firm in 1998. Since that time, Ms. Montes has had settlements and verdicts representing millions of dollars for her clients. Ms. Montes is the 2006 president of the Dallas Women Lawyers Association, and sits on the board of that organization today. Additionally, Ms. Montes is on the board of directors of the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association, a group that is dedicated to opening the courthouse to any aggrieved person and ensuring that people have justice in the face of powerful big-money insurance companies and their wielded power. Ms. Montes sits on the board of directors for the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, and most recently was nominated for a coveted position on the Texas Trial Lawyers Advocates Board. Ms. Montes is a member of, and active in, the American Association for Justice, and is a member of the Christian Lawyers Association. Ms. Montes was recently voted one of Dallas’ “Best Lawyers Under 40”, recognizing her for her tireless work for injured victims and their families.
– See more at: https://blog.triallawyerscollege.orgPost.aspx?g=411a87e4-63ed-4764-9b84-bed728d73ee7#sthash.HYQwgbtK.dpuf