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How To Talk About Money

In this episode, Josh and Aaron discuss the nuances and challenges that come with discussing money.

Listen here or read the transcript below. FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.

[music]

0:00:15.9 FL: Hey, Josh.

0:00:17.3 AI: Hey, Aaron.

0:00:17.8 FL: Good morning.

0:00:18.5 AI: Yeah. Good morning.

0:00:19.9 FL: We are here in Austin, Texas recording our podcast. What do you think we should talk about today?

0:00:25.5 AI: Well, do you know who my favorite band is?

0:00:29.8 FL: Yeah.

0:00:30.4 AI: Who do you think it is?

0:00:31.9 FL: It’s who it is.

0:00:33.4 AI: [chuckle] It’s Pink Floyd.

0:00:33.9 FL: I know.

0:00:35.5 AI: [chuckle] And they may have a song., it’s pretty good. It’s called money.

0:00:39.5 FL: Yeah. Okay, alright.

0:00:41.0 AI: So I’d like to talk about money.

0:00:43.0 FL: Alright.

0:00:43.7 AI: How do you feel about that?

0:00:46.5 FL: Among my least favorite conversations to possibly have in public.

0:00:51.5 AI: Tell me why.

0:00:52.9 FL: I think it has to do with the way we hear in the United States, Western culture, we tend to equate money and intrinsic virtue. And so when you start talking about it, it’s like you’re comparing virtue, and it’s not a great topic for me.

0:01:14.5 AI: It’s complicating, isn’t it?

0:01:15.4 FL: Due to not having as much as I would like. [laughter]

0:01:19.4 AI: Well, maybe someday we’ll get there. I think in our space, money is a really particularly complicated topic. It’s unfortunately at the center of what we do every day, it’s a conversation we have to have with clients every single day. And I don’t really understand why… That’s not true, I do understand why. But it’s become, in many instances, the center of the advertising universe, for a lot of the people in our industry to demonstrate their status in the personal injury world. But it’s also become something that I think makes a lot of the general public recoil when they see the billboards and the TV ads and people posting about these lottery ticket victories that some of these injury attorneys are bragging about in media at large. And I think you and I have struggled with that as business owners and attorneys to digest and understand how much if it’s going on, why it’s going on, and from a business point of view, whether it’s something that we should be talking about with the public at large. Do we jump on that bandwagon or do we rebel against it?

0:02:53.5 FL: We have spent 10 years rebelling, I think. But we also recognize that if you’re in a bad spot, something bad has happened to you and your family and you’re trying to make sure that your future-proofing yourself, trying to make it through your whole life financially secure, having now got this disability potentially or at least this whole in your time of earnings and money matters to people as they’re searching for the right representation. Unfortunately, as much as we wanna get away from it, we almost would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fact that we get results for our clients, and so it’s a struggle. ‘Cause we set out to do the exact opposite of every personal injury law firm on earth, and yet in this particular area, it’s kinda like, well, I guess we need to put our results on the website. And we’re not at the point where we’re gonna go put it on a billboard or go slap it on a TV ad. But if someone’s searching, I think they need to know because they equate whether right or wrong, they’re gonna equate the magnitude of the results we’re getting with our abilities as lawyers.

0:04:11.5 AI: Why do you think… Just you personally, what makes you hesitant to wanna talk about it, to wanna show the results, to wanna show the successes in monetary terms? Why do you personally wanna take a step back from that?

0:04:31.8 FL: Yeah. So I think it helps to kinda go back to an original conversation we had when we formed the law firm, which is this idea of being on code or off code. So there’s a code for everything in your life. And a doctor’s code is sort of like protecting you, it’s safe, there’s care, a lawyer’s code, a lot of times people, if you’re off code, you’re gonna be kind of like what people think of is their own lawyer. Every other lawyer is a jerk, but my lawyer is good, that’s how people think of their lawyer. In other words, they think of their lawyer as different, so you wanna be off code. ‘Cause on code for a lawyer is like this money bags in both hands sort of a greed vibe. And so when you put out anything in the billboard, on your website that’s got a dollar sign and eight zeros or something, you’re kind of on code. And what we’re trying to tell people is, we’re trying to do everything we can differently.

0:05:39.8 FL: But at the end of the day, all we can really get for people is money. Obviously along the way, we’re giving them guidance, we’re helping them to feel good about whether they got the best deal they could, we’re helping them to make sure that what society believes is justice is taking place, that we’re gonna get that as fast as possible and get them back on track as fast as possible. I think we add a lot more value than just money. But at the end of the day, that’s the measuring stick most people are using for us.

0:06:16.5 AI: Yeah, I think the history of it and how it has been used by, for example, the insurance defense lobby for tort reform push, when you’ve got personal injury lawyers advertising really large recoveries or really large verdicts, it gives fodder for negative conversation for the people who are in the business of trying not to pay money to people who have been harmed, insurance companies specifically, in some instances, big corporations that are funding the tort reform lobby. And for those listeners who don’t understand what exactly that means is there’s a big push from the insurance company’s lobby to pass legislation to limit or restrict or eliminate a person’s ability to pursue monetary compensation when they have been harmed in certain instances. Maybe the best example of that that we have seen recently in Texas, and not that recent anymore, but would be, for example, like the medical malpractice tort reform that was passed 20 plus years ago now at this point, that effectively eliminated the rights of Texans to pursue and recover monetary compensation for medical malpractice that caused them harm.

0:07:53.7 AI: So when you have situations that the tort reform lobby can lock on to as being sort of a ridiculous example of a large payment of a sum of money for a situation that might not seem on its face to be that severe, it gives fodder for these pushes to get in front of the people and say, this is ridiculous. Your insurance premiums are going up because these plaintiff’s lawyers are out there trying to recover and demanding these gigantic sums of money for these absurd situations. A great example being the McDonald’s hot coffee spill. And it’s kind of created…

0:08:39.3 FL: The real story is quite a bit different than…

0:08:41.5 AI: Yeah. Hot coffee is an incredible documentary that people should see just to really understand what that was all about. But it presents a challenge because on the one hand, a lot of these victories… That’s a great one by way of example. A lot of these victories are hard fought against companies that didn’t want to participate voluntarily in making the person they hurt whole or making it right, which put the person who was harmed in the position of having to, in many instances, go through a full-blown jury trial process or an incredibly stressful litigation process just to put their lives back together. And the person who was their warrior through that process in some right should want to be able to demonstrate what their successes are. But it’s a conflict when you know when you do that, you’re adding fuel to the fire of the fight against your ability to pursue compensation at all.

0:09:53.9 FL: Because the headline never tells the whole story. And I would even say the way we talk about this doesn’t quite… We almost fall into the same trap they’re setting, which is when we talk about the legislature taking away Texans rights to pursue certain things, and every year, every session, there’s a whole pack of laws proposed to grant immunities to different businesses and to also put caps on things and/or prohibit certain cases all together. And when we talk about that, we talk about, hey, you as an injured person are gonna have trouble if this gets passed and we’re falling right into the trap because no one thinks of themselves as that injured person. People think that injured people must have done something to do it to themselves. I’m taking care of me and my family. I managed to somehow not get in a car accident, what’s your problem?

0:10:47.9 FL: And so that’s sort of the default mentality. And what I would challenge that with is to say, look, the legislature is not proposing to take injured Texans rights away, although that is true. Think of it this way, they’re proposing to take things out of jurors hands. This is the last form of government that’s truly of by and for the people, that is probably the most difficult form of government to try to corrupt by corporations or individuals. We should protect the Seventh Amendment and our right to jury trial fiercely. And Texans, I think, are slowly being told that you as a juror, just because you sat through a two-week trial and heard the full defense and heard the full amount of harms and losses, you no longer have the right to make the decision about what that’s worth to our community or what the standard is in our community. That’s what’s being proposed.

0:11:44.9 FL: And of course, when we put billboards up with large sums on them, we’re going back into that trap, unfortunately for the insurance companies that’s taking it out of that conversation. It’s no longer about juries, it’s about this greedy person over here trying to get too much money. But the 12 people who actually lived it, who saw every single piece of evidence, who heard every piece of testimony, who received the judge’s instructions on how to apply the law to the facts… And we’re talking about the law of the state of Texas, one of the most conservative states in the nation. Those 12 people should have the right to award that figure if the circumstances call for it.

0:12:28.4 AI: Yeah, there’s also… One of the concerns that you and I have shared with each other, and I think is present in our community, in the personal injury law community, there are some bad actors out there. There are some people out there who are disingenuous about the way that they advertise their results. There was recently a billboard that became famous in our line of work, in our circle, where a very large verdict was advertised on a billboard and it was in the Austin, San Antonio area.

0:13:17.5 FL: It was big with a B. Is that what you’re talking about?

0:13:19.7 AI: It was big with a B. The only one I’ve ever seen that was big with a B.

0:13:24.4 FL: Yeah.

0:13:24.9 AI: And it was advertised that this lawyer had gone out and secured this incredible ten figure recovery in a case that presumably involved a great deal of harm to the person whom they represented. And it was later uncovered and determined that in fact, they had never collected that amount of money for the client. And in fact, the way that they went about securing that recovery while they technically had gotten this verdict, it was a shell of a verdict where the lawyer showed up to the judge and there was no defense because there was no pocket behind the person who had committed the wrongdoing, and they had essentially gone down to court and gotten an un-collectible vanity verdict and then advertise it to the world as though they had done this great thing for their client. And it became actually an advertisement that was talked about in the news. There was news coverage about it, and it ultimately made its way all the way to the top to the State Bar who took action, forced the billboard to be pulled down and re-opened the discussion about how we can talk about recoveries and how you can advertise the recoveries that you’ve gotten.

0:14:54.8 AI: And when you see things like that, and then you see the press, the negative press around things like that, it’s another one of those factors that makes you sort of take a step back and think about whether or not you even want to consider talking about your own successes in your own results because you don’t wanna be caught in the same trap and mentioned in the same conversation as the people who are out there abusing the marketing privilege.

0:15:29.4 FL: Well, going back to what I said earlier, if people get the idea that juries can’t be trusted or judges can’t be trusted, and these numbers can’t be trusted, then all of a sudden we are in a dangerous spot, we’re taking… We’re starting to cast out on the value of the Seventh Amendment when someone’s got a huge figure up there from the courts that really wasn’t ever going to be real. There was already an agreement to accept whatever insurance there was, or there was just an understanding that this defendant didn’t have any assets whatsoever, and you could kinda take whatever judgement you wanted ’cause they were gonna be bankrupt. That puts us in a quandary because even though we chafe at the idea of putting these numbers out there, I have personally had encounters, I’m sure you have too with people that… Until you let them know, hey, my firm has handled cases over 10 million dollars and in the same category that you have, until then, they don’t actually know the caliber of legal services that you’re capable of providing. It’s almost like if you had a degree from Harvard Law and you kinda walked around showing it to people, that would be growth, but at the same time, it would work.

0:16:50.9 FL: People would be like, okay, you’re probably pretty smart. And so we have these multiple eight-figure results that we’d like to put all over our website and we’re starting to kinda put them in there. But we’re trying to find the way to talk to the public about it to say, look, we’re not trying to be boastful or to fit into that code that you already have for lawyers who are greedy, we are trying to let you know that if you don’t believe us about our competence, which we’re trying to demonstrate in every other category, you can look at this and see that there is some bottom line result there.

0:17:28.5 AI: Yeah. No, I think you’re absolutely right. The marketing works. Telling people you have obtained these really phenomenal results is obviously a great way to communicate to the public at large that you’re competent and capable of handling the most catastrophic of situations and taking on the largest of corporations effectively. And that’s compelling. It’s compelling as a business owner who’s been involved in having some extraordinary successes fighting large corporations successfully, you wanna go on most about it. You want to scream from the mountain tops because you’ve done something incredible that’s changed a person’s life and you’ve validated yourself and you’ve validated your client. You’ve taken the risk and you’ve enjoyed the reward. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be that person who is literally screaming from the top of an object about what they have accomplished and be looped into that conversation.

0:18:41.5 AI: And it’s a little bit of a conundrum for us. Something that I find… You’ve talked about this a lot in just our private conversations before that I think is really an interesting aspect of the marketing of large outcomes. There is a degree in which we sort of support the notion of being able to talk openly about what a large recovery looks like in a catastrophic case. Because ultimately, when a lot of the members of our community see that that’s happening, to see that our community is holding bad actors accountable in a meaningful way for people whose lives have been up-ended, it might make it easier for them to be open to the idea of also holding a large company accountable or a bad actor accountable if they get called upon to be a juror in a case. I think a person who has been exposed to what other members of the community are doing as far as rendering jury verdicts, large jury verdicts, it empowers them to do the same when they feel like someone has done something really careless or really terrible that was avoidable and put their community at risk.

0:20:23.0 FL: Well, and I wanna say it makes our streets safer. And to be honest, our largest cases are not car accidents, we do a lot of stuff. I wanna be clear, it’s not all about car accidents. We do industrial explosions and all kinds of interesting work site accidents. But when I say street safer, I’m talking about… Let’s just take the trucking industry, for example. The trucking industry every year is going down to the Texas legislature and they are complaining about these big billboards. They’re complaining about the judgments, and they’re saying, look, you’ve gotta protect us. We’re getting hit for 20 million, 30 million, 50 million dollars, you’ve got to protect us. But if you drill down on these cases, we keep seeing the same thing over and over again. You’ve got a driver who you don’t let sleep, who’s cheating on their logs and who’s on meth, we don’t accept that. And so these verdicts and judgments to the extent that they’re empowering people, they’re also scaring the hell out of these corporations.

0:21:30.5 FL: And there is a chance that that is putting a dent on their behavior, that they’re starting to actually conform and realize, you know what? It’s cheaper to put monitors all over our trucks, to drug test our employees, to hire the highest caliber of driver we can to get them the most training that we can and to pay them fairly, so they stay. That’s the other part of it, is when you’re not compensating people, sometimes you’re not getting the best quality. And so they’re finding that it’s cheaper for them to operate safely now, hopefully that’s the goal. And so there’s a weird… I get the public’s resentment of these billboards and I’m part of that resentment, it’s like I’m annoyed too, we all are. But there is this thing about having a community be safer, I’ve got… We have children, and this is kinda what we need.

0:22:24.5 AI: Yeah. It seems like it can be effective when you hold people accountable for really bad conduct. And they can no longer afford to engage in that conduct, that you either have to sink or swim. You either go out of business and good ridden to someone who’s disregarding safety rules, get them out of our community, we don’t want you here anyway. Or you adapt and figure out a way to be able to conduct your business in a way that’s socially acceptable, that doesn’t put the members of your community in harm’s way.

0:23:00.6 FL: Absolutely.

0:23:01.5 AI: But yeah, it’s interesting discussion to have as people who have had some of those noteworthy successes that could be posting billboards all over town highlighting them, but not wanting to be a part of that negative message. It’s a challenge as a business owner to watch other people come in and really market that heavily in our space in a way that doesn’t really exactly align with our moral compass in our sense of what this industry is all about. But on the other hand, wanting to help as many people as we possibly can and want them to continue to grow our business so that people can be with a law firm in an organization that they trust, that they know has kinda the right values behind them. And I think with kinda what we’ve been doing recently starting to at least speak a little bit more generically on our website about some of our results and let people who come to us and find us that already have heard something from our messaging that they like be able to dig into our ability and successes and see that, yeah, we can do that too. I feel like we found a good middle ground there.

0:24:35.6 FL: Absolutely, it’s a good problem to have too.

0:24:37.4 AI: It’s a good problem to have. Well, nice talking to you about money always, Aaron.

0:24:42.6 FL: Yeah, if you wanna see our actual results, go to our website, we’re starting to put them on there, fvf.law.

0:24:47.5 AI: Thanks for taking the time.

[music]

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