Many lawyers (people) go through life with no thought of questions like “who am I?” and “what is my story?” They just know, or it just isn’t an issue for them. I spent years successfully representing injured clients without asking myself these questions.
Things changed for me after a string of successes (and a couple losses) a few years back when I had a taste of really mastering some cases, and I wanted more! That is when I doubled down on psychodrama and storytelling. I knew from attending a regional Trial Lawyer’s College training some twenty years ago that psychodrama – understanding through action – was an approach to cases that led to a deep understanding of the people and principles involved – the story. Like others, I wanted to be a “storytelling lawyer,” especially if it would take me to the next level in my trial practice.
But finding the story of a case is harder than you might think. Through training and ongoing work with like-minded trial lawyers, I now approach the questions of my cases, including “how much is it worth?” with the goal of finding the story. And before I can find a client’s story, the defendant’s story, the key witnesses’ stories, the story of the case, I have to know my own story – I have to know who I am, and what my life is about. And unlike the struggling protagonist in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” who at the end of the novel knows who he is, but nothing else, I know a lot more about my cases because I know who I am.
So how much is it worth? The case. Take an example in which there are no medical special damages – no medical bills. Important because historically personal injury lawyers and insurance companies have used the amount and cost of medical care as a measure of how much pain and suffering went along with the injury and treatment. These medical special damages served as an anchor or foundation to which an analysis of the amount of pain and suffering compensation could be tied. In the old days “Three times the medical specials” was a rallying cry. Even after that shorthand was largely abandoned, the amount of medical special damages was and is still used to “anchor” pain and suffering damages, sometimes supporting a lot of pain and suffering damages, when the medical special damages are high, and sometimes dragging the damages down, when the bills are low.
The bottom line is there can be great suffering with little medical expenses, and there can be very high medical expenses with little pain and suffering. We can’t rely on a formula to find the human loss – pain and suffering – in a case. We have to understand the injured client’s experience. How bad is the injury, how long will it last, and how much does it interfere with the enjoyment of life? The better we understand the answers to these questions, the more we will know how much it is worth.
I want to “walk a mile” in my clients’ shoes. I try to do that through scene setting and role playing techniques of psychodrama. I try to know their story with a deep enough understanding for it to be mine when I tell it to others – insurance adjusters, defense lawyers, judges, and juries. Doing this makes being a trial lawyer more real, more fun, and ultimately, more rewarding.