What I Learned from a Drunk Juror at the Esso Club in Clemson

The Clemson football team had the NC State game handled by halftime so my wife and friends convinced me that a walk to the Esso on this beautiful afternoon was a good idea. Trying to enjoy the time my wife and I have together with her out of nurse anesthetist school now and no kids, I obliged. The ladies were quick to try and find a restroom not made of plastic and almost full, while the men were expected to work through the crowd at the bar for adult beverages. Having attended Clemson, I was familiar with the Esso and strategic spots to approach for the best leverage and line of sight with the bartender. Not to mention, I could now afford to hold out a $20 bill.

As I approached my honey hole of a spot at the bar another gentleman in front of me turned around. I am about 6'2" and I had to look up a good many inches to him. He had apparently been there all day for this 3:30pm kick off based on the swaying motion I observed as he double fisted two orange Bud Lights. I was unclear of his intentions as he shouted and pointed at me saying, "I know your face!". I made some comment that I have a familiar face and he then asked if I was in sales. I said no and continued to try and get the drink order in. Then he said, "What do you do then?". When I said, "I am a lawyer." That seemed to help him clear all the clouds in his head and put it together as he shouted, "You're a *& liar!" Well, alcohol or no alcohol those are usually words that help escalate things and his three friends turned around and I felt my wife push past me in between us and start to divert the conversation.

We were both Clemson fans and I can not stand to see in fighting. I was relatively calm for the situation and simply asked why he would say that. He went on to explain in a round about way that he was a juror member on a recent trial I had in Westminster Magistrate Court in Oconee County where my two clients were liars. My bell went off then and I remembered his disinterested looks, attempts to raise my voice to wake him up during the trial, and total apathy in the whole trial process he was invited to participate in that work day. 

Realizing the gold in this opportunity to talk with a juror after a trial where inhibitions were low and honesty high, if not unfiltered, I asked what he disliked about the trial. He listed several things:

  1. The fact that he had to miss work to be there;
  2. My clients looked like they were liars; and
  3. I was an attorney willing to lie for them but in an educated way.

I tried to get him to be more specific but he could not remember the facts of the case or anything about the case. (It was a motor vehicle collision where the at fault driver pulled out into traffic and then immediately backed up into my clients after realizing he pulled in front of someone else. The insurance company for the at fault driver played hardball and made offers lower than the emergency room bills so we had to try the case). Plus if you have ever been in the Esso during a game, it can be difficult to carry on an indepth conversation. 

As I tried to pull more information out of him to improve my future chances of not being called a liar simply because I am an attorney, he finally softened up a little bit and said: "You know, I will give it to you though. You made me think. When I came in and sat down I immediately knew your clients were lying. (He made this decision prior to any parties being named plaintiff or defendant or hearing any attorney speak). He then said, "After you presented the case with your 'silver tongue', you had me thinkin...but then I just knew your clients were lying." 

I thanked the man for his feedback and bought him another orange Bud Light to go with the two in his hand. He quickly emptied one to make room for the extra and said I wasn't that bad after all. He told me not to worry because I still got paid and I quickly put that myth to bed to help him appreciate the generous orange Bud Light he had just received from the contingency fee lawyer that the jury found in favor of the other party. Which in laymen's terms means that lawyer (me in this case) didn't get paid or reimbursed for any time and/or costs in the case.

It gave me a fresh outlook at my cases and reminded me;

  1. We all are judged by our covers regardless of what the content may be;
  2. First impressions in trial are hard to shake; and
  3. You can't win them all (or over) but you can try the best case for your clients and still be called a liar by a drunk at the bar. 

The Value Dilemma: Present Value vs. Future Value in Personal Injury Cases

If you have been through a financial class, statistics, or done some investing, you understand the terms of Present Value and Future Value. I am not going to work through PV at present: PV = FV r·PV = FV/(1+r). However,  "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," is a much simpler term for me to understand.

I recently went through two mediations back to back and this analogy and/or theme seemed to prevail throughout the whole process. I find it interesting that many of my clients never want to "sue" anyone but they also want top dollar for their claim without ever having to file a complaint and undergo the litigation process.  That can be done but there are certain compromises that have to be made due to the present value vs. future value dilemma.

Working exclusively on personal injury cases in civil trial court, I work on a contingency fee basis for my clients. This means I work for free UNLESS I negotiate, take to trial, or otherwise render them a lump sum payment for the wrong that they have incurred as a result of someone or something's negligence.  If I am able to provide them with a lump sum payment, my firm receives a percentage of that settlement, usually between 33.33%-40%, plus any costs that we have advanced on behalf of the client, ie medical records, depositions, court fees, expert testimony, etc. These costs grow exponentially once a lawsuit is filed and discovery of that lawsuit initiates.

More work, more time, more rules, more evidentiary backing and factual proof, more expenses, and more contentious interactions come with litigation, or filing a lawsuit.  Therefore, I always like to discuss the amount on the table today vs. the amount we would have to get on the table 2 years from now to be almost equal. For example:

  • $150,000.00 offer to settle in the pre-litigation stage would net the client close to $100,000.00 (-) a couple hundred dollars in projected costs.
  • If that same client was not happy with the offer and wanted to file a lawsuit, they would have to wait anywhere from 1 1/2 - 2 years for their day in court. Then they would allow 12 strangers on a jury to determine the outcome of their case. Practically this could lead to a defense verdict where they receive $0 or they could be awarded a higher amount. (We will use $200,000.00 for this example). The attorney fee would be at a higher percentage (40%), the discovery costs would be between $5,000.00-$10,000.00, and the client would then net $110,000.00. 
  • If there was a mediation and it potentially could settle less than 1 year after filing, the defendant offers a little more at $175,000.00, however, the attorney fee most likely went up, so did discovery costs as referenced above, and the client made between $95,000.00-$100,000.00. 

Sometimes, these values are never offered so there is no Present Value vs. Future Value Dilemma to discern.  I love going to court and doing trials, however, I want to make sure my clients brag about me and promote me to their friends, family, and/or loved ones in a time of need.  That is why I always address the Present Value vs. Future Value Dilemma when it arises.

For those Biblical scholars:

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. -- Ecclesiastes 9:4