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Criminal Background Critical for Civil Success

I hope I am evolving. I hope my practice is evolving. I think it is. Over the past several years, I slowly and constantly grew my personal injury practice. I only do plaintiff work, representing people that have been hurt. I have represented people injured in car accidents, truck accidents, boat accidents, golf cart accidents, falls, bar fights, people who were sexually abused while in jail, etc.

My first personal injury case was the brother of a guy I had represented on a minor criminal charge. My client and his brother were driving home in separate vehicles after they had enjoyed a pizza lunch. He was horrified when he saw the oncoming vehicle smash into his younger brother, head on. He was rushed by ambulance to Strong Memorial Hospital, in Rochester. I hadn't done any work in the field before, but the family knew me and trusted me, and refused to be referred to another lawyer. I ended up as co-counsel with a friend in the field. Our client had knee surgery and made a strong recovery. About six months later we successfully settled the case for $100,000.

That experience showed me that I had the ability and background to handle complex personal injury cases. I got referrals because I knew some transactional lawyers – guys who did things like real estate closings and wills. They knew I wasn't afraid to go to court, negotiate, and fight for people.

Do Criminal Defense Attorneys Make Good Personal Injury Lawyers?

My background is in criminal law. Some people say that is a disadvantage – that I don't have the intricate knowledge of civil procedure law. Here's a secret: No lawyer knows every law. We all look up laws, rules and court decisions almost every day. If you don't look things up almost every day you're a lazy slacker lawyer or, as we like to call them, B-level lawyers. So knowing the law is overrated.

People who have spent their careers in civil law – how to say this appropriately – I feel sorry for them. For the first 5-7 years in a civil practice you are the worst word known in law: an “associate." (Read also, somebody's _____.) So while they were taking orders, I was learning how to:

  • Gather evidence
  • Prep witnesses
  • Deal with victims
  • Make my cases stronger
  • Interview cops
  • Write opening statements
  • Learn the rules of evidence
  • Pick juries
  • Deal with hostile opposing counsel
  • Deal with friendly opposing counsel
  • Go to pretrial conferences
  • Stand up to judges

Moreover, while gaining al this experience I also settled thousands of cases and won jury verdicts at trial. I learned how to be a lawyer, while they wrote legal briefs and letters.

Choose an Attorney with a Track Record

I think my background is my biggest advantage. It makes me different. I have the ability to go to court and fight, and settle cases. I fell into civil law – yes, I admit that. I liked it. And I was successful. So I kept doing it. I suspect no civil attorney has done 25 jury trials before age 28. I did. I suspect no civil attorney has settled over 2,000 cases before they reach 33 years of age. I did. It may also be of interest that nearly every sitting judge in Monroe County has a background in criminal law. A background in criminal law gives you the skills to succeed in any trial work. That became apparent to me really quickly when I started taking civil cases.

Work Directly with Your Attorney

Things you should know: I'm not a mill. I don't advertise on TV or billboards. I don't know if I'm efficient with my time. I don't have an "intake specialist" – whatever the heck that is. I do my own investigations. I return my own phone calls. If my clients want a meeting they call and they get the next one-hour block open on my calendar. They sit in a chair – in my office – and we talk about their case. I think the best practice a lawyer can have is to take fewer cases and devote more time to them.

The transition has been a lot of fun. It allowed me to continue to grow as a person, and as a lawyer. I only do plaintiff personal injury work. The cases are generally longer and more drawn out. That’s because there is a lot of money on the line. If you want a lawyer who is different, I would be happy to discuss your case free of charge.