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Meet Mark Farris

In this episode of Summary Judgment, Josh and Aaron are joined by FVF partner Mark Farris as he shares what has made him such a successful attorney.

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.

0:00:15.9 AF: Hey, Josh.

0:00:19.8 Josh Fogelman: Hey. Hey, Aaron.

0:00:21.1 AF: Could you ask Dave what our topic is?

0:00:22.0 JF: Hey Dave. What’s our topic today?

0:00:26.1 Dave: I think, is there anyone else here that … Well Josh you said you’re an observant person.

0:00:32.9 JF: I never said that.

0:00:33.6 Dave: Last episode. You said you’re an observant person.

0:00:36.0 JF: I don’t recall ever observing that about myself.

0:00:39.0 Dave: Do you observe something different about today?

0:00:42.1 JF: There’s a stranger in the chair next to me.

0:00:43.9 Dave: What a good segue

0:00:44.6 AF: No, no, no. That’s our law partner. Strange man.

0:00:48.4 JF: Oh, that’s what I meant to say.

0:00:50.3 AF: Welcome, Mark.

0:00:52.5 Mark: Thank you.

0:00:52.9 AF: Could you turn the Dasani bottle towards the camera just in case Dasani wants to either sue us or pay us.

0:01:04.2 Mark: Very good.

0:01:04.3 JF: What do you think is more likely, Mark, you think Dasani is more likely to sue us or pay us?

0:01:08.2 AF: Sue us.

0:01:10.0 JF: Outstanding.

0:01:12.5 AF: For the record, we are not endorsed by Dasani in any way, shape or form, and we’re not endorsing Dasani in any way, shape or form.

0:01:18.0 JF: I endorse filtered water bottles.

0:01:20.8 S?: Very good.

0:01:21.9 JF: Like metal bottles full of filtered water.

0:01:26.5 AF: Sorry for the landfills.

0:01:27.9 JF: I’m part of the hundreds of millions of bottles saved on the filtration dispensers in every airport in America. So…

0:01:38.6 AF: Enjoy the hard metals. So welcome Mark.

0:01:42.8 Mark: Thank you.

0:01:42.9 AF: Just to clear the air, you are smarter than us, right?

0:01:48.7 Mark: No.

0:01:49.1 AF: Alright. We brought Mark here today.

0:01:49.2 Mark: I’m just older than y’all.

0:01:51.0 AF: Because Mark is our favourite lawyer on earth, and he is someone who has achieved some unbelievable feats in our law firm outside of our law firm. We are just kind of in awe of the work you do and we brought you here to learn more about what you do and how you do it. We also wanted to engage you in our weird banter of this podcast that some people listen to, including my dad.

0:02:17.3 Mark: Really? All right.

0:02:18.8 JF: My wife listens to it.

0:02:20.5 Mark: Very nice.

0:02:21.0 AF: So let’s ask a serious question.

0:02:24.4 Mark: For the record. I’ve never heard it.

0:02:28.1 AF: Oh, well, you’ve missed some pretty good jokes by me. Josh has a few.

0:02:33.7 Mark: Okay.

0:02:33.8 AF: Yeah.

0:02:33.7 JF: I hulked out once.

0:02:35.7 AF: You did. What? Okay. Let’s just kind of back up a little bit. We have this law firm, a bunch of people work there. One person has achieved some incredibly outstanding results on some huge cases against some big corporations, and that would be you. We wanted to know more about. That’s not an accident. We understand you have a process. We understand, you kind of have a background that involves working for some big law firms, working for some big defendants at one time doing defence work, and then of course, coming over to our side and starting to learn sort of the fun part of working with clients and how to take the emotional force of somebody who’s been catastrophically injured and kind of turn that as a way to get the corporation to be responsible for their conduct. So all that said, could you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the practise of law?

0:03:41.0 Mark: Sure. After graduating from Baylor Law School in 1993, I joined a firm in South Texas, started doing defence work largely. So I got to see the insides of how companies work, how they interact with their insurance providers, and then how they defend cases effectively. And then, so with that knowledge, I did that for about nine years before coming to Austin. And then I started with the largest regional firm at the time, actually the largest firm in Austin at the time, and did a variety of things from, again, doing work for electric utilities, representing car manufacturers in product liability cases, representing construction defendants in cases, general contractors, subcontractors, engineers, and architects. And so I did that for another nine years, and then I joined FVF thereafter, and I’ve been doing it from the other side. So I’ve taken what I learned while working in south Texas, while working in Austin for various corporations, utilities, while being hired by the insurance company and reporting to insurance companies. I’ve gained some insight into how that whole dynamic works between the companies who are the insureds and the insurance carriers and how the reporting goes. I understand pressure points within the companies, things that they don’t like to see, which is what you try to explore in your litigation. You wanna see what hurts and you wanna push those buttons.

0:05:22.7 AF: I’d like to say that with Mark, as opposed to other lawyers, Mark is starting all the fires. A lot of us in litigation, we get on our heels sometimes. The other side is filing motions. The other side is propounding discovery. The other side is requesting depositions. The other side has an expert in some field you’ve never even heard of to say that your case doesn’t work. And that can definitely get all of us defensive and kind of on our heels. And I think if I can give you this compliment, I think you have a knack for getting the other side on their heels. And in short, I think that’s just because you’re very proactive. That being said, I’m curious how you view your practise, what your personal rhythm is when you wake up in the morning, how do you approach your job?

0:06:13.7 Mark: Sure, sure. And thank you for saying all of that. My approach is sitting around and doing nothing, never gets you anywhere. Nobody’s gonna pay attention to you if you file a lawsuit and don’t do anything about it. You’ve got to poke, you’ve got to prod, you’ve got to uncover things. You’ve got to explore areas where the other side is actually affirmatively trying to conceal information from you. You have to find that it’s not easy to do, but it requires a real high degree of attention to detail. Oftentimes, you have to have a little bit of understanding of how engineering, architecture, whatever it is that the case involves, you have to actually become more than just a novice in that arena to be able to understand the dynamics of why an accident happened and who’s responsible for the accident.

0:07:04.8 JF: I’ve never been a defence lawyer ever, but obviously in litigating personal injury cases throughout the years, I’ve come to learn a lot about defence lawyers, and I’ve come to know a lot of defence lawyers. And it seems to me like the defence bar is kind of twofold. You’ve got some folks that are doing a variety of types of defence work for a variety of different types of clients, but there’s a lot of defence lawyers who are almost exclusively car wreck lawyers. They’re working for specific insurance companies, doing kind of the same thing over and over again, maybe on a different level, some on a higher level, some on a lower level. But generally speaking, the same genre of defence work. Your background in defence work is significantly more varied than that. You have a lot of different variety in what you’ve done over the years. Is that a function of just sort of where the winds took you or was it more of a focused approach that you took based on interests that you have had through your life for tinkering with things and figuring things out and embracing the knowledge and the quest for knowledge that you have to pursue to become an expert in something?

0:08:25.0 Mark: Yes. So yeah, there was a natural gravitation towards whatever kind of work I was doing or my clients, whether they be being hired by an insurance company or directly by a company to represent them. In the defence setting, you kind of get exposure to say they bring you an electrocution case. Well, just naturally you’re gonna become familiar with the National Electric Safety Code, the National Electric Code. Standards that would apply to construction if there was an incident occurring in a house or on somebody’s utility line, or if there was a construction accident at a site. So that’s what I love about what we do is basically you get a new case and you look at it and you get to learn about it. You get to learn the standards that apply, the construction process that applies, and how all these different parties in these cases kind of work together.

0:09:20.2 Mark: And I learned more than I thought I would about things that are pretty mundane like OSHA standards, NESC standards, NEC standards, Construction Standards, National Building Code, all the National Building Standards and Regional and Local Building Standards engineering, things like that, that you’re exposed to. You have to understand the rules that apply to the defendants so that you can determine whether or not those defendants are complying with the rules. And if they’re not, you need to expose it and demonstrate why their failure to comply with the rules that apply to them caused your client’s injuries. And so, yeah, I’ve always had actually too, a very keen interest in how things are put together. I have a history in woodworking. I understand a lot about utilities and electricity and how it works. And I just have a fundamental curiosity about how things are put together and how they work together. And I think that if you’re going to be an effective litigator, you need to understand how the accident happened, why it happened, and what could have been done differently to prevent that from happening. And oftentimes that requires you to understand how construction companies work, how utilities work, and all of the standards, codes, plans and procedures apply to everyone.

0:10:45.8 AF: I’ll go a step further ’cause I know that you know how actual scientific processes work and at a mechanical or a molecular level, having worked on some cases with you, what are some of the strange or weird processes that you’ve come to know, whether it be electrical or metallurgic or, I mean, it’s not just knowing the code. I mean, you’ve actually dove into the science on this stuff, right?

0:11:14.7 Mark: Sure. And I can’t say that I’m a scientist or a metallurgist, but your experience in being an attorney, you get exposed to all sorts of different experts, right? We’ve hired the head of the metallurgy department at MIT to assist us with metallurgical issues. He trained me on how to identify weld defects, weld contours, things that make metal more prone to premature failure. So yeah, your exposure to these experts who are highly technical and highly learned in their arenas, you get to learn from them on every case. And so, yeah, you understand how crash dynamics you get to work with accident reconstruction experts. You learn about how an accident happens, how the change in velocity can affect a person, the occupant, kinematics. In other words, how does a body move within a vehicle and how is that likely to lead to an injury? And you need to know these things so that you can demonstrate to either a jury or to the insurance company that these injuries were caused by a particular accident.

0:12:19.2 Mark: So I’ve also done a lot of electric work, and so understanding how utilities work, how electricians work, how accidents can happen in those settings. It can be hyper-technical. And we’ve hired, and I’ve utilised experts who are familiar with the National Electric Safety Code, the National Electric Code, which are two different codes that apply to two different types of defendants or companies. And yeah, I kind of like knowing the rules because if you don’t know the rules, you can’t effectively ask the other side in depositions and discovery about what they did and whether or not it complied with the applicable rules. So knowing the rules is key, and knowing how things work is also important because oftentimes you need to know how it works to see whether or not somebody complied or did not comply with a rule, a code, or a procedure.

0:13:14.0 JF: Well, beyond that, like Aaron, I was gonna ask the same thing that you did a minute ago. I mean, I’ve seen you become an expert in a number of different hard sciences, really complex conceptually, complex areas of practise that people spend years getting degrees for. I’ve seen you become an expert in engineering, an expert in metallurgy. Part of that isn’t just so that you can demonstrate to the insurance company that this is how you violated the rules, but you actually have an insurance company that’s hiring their own experts in those fields whose job it is to stifle your case and to stifle your client’s case. And you find yourself in every case in a room going toe to toe, having to cross-examine a person who is an actual licensed expert in these fields. And I’d like to understand what’s your approach and what’s your method when you’re preparing to have one of those fights and how important that is to the development of a case for your clients?

0:14:32.9 Mark: Sure. So say you get a case and it involves whatever neuropsychology, right? Complex area people study for 10 years to become neuropsychologists. Well, in a case where we have a client who’s been severely injured and is suffering from cognitive issues associated with a traumatic brain injury, for instance, if I’m gonna go depose a defence expert and someone who’s been hired by someone who’s gone through that 10 years of training as an education and training and experience in a field of neuropsychology, if I’m gonna go depose that person and do discovery, and that’s what a deposition is, you’re discovering information from the other side about the case that you’re working on. But the real discovery doesn’t occur always during the deposition. It occurs before the deposition. You learn about neuropsychology, you learn about the applicable text, literature, studies. You see the reports of the experts.

0:15:34.2 Mark: You analyze the reports for flaws or areas of opaqueness. And to be able to do that, you have to understand a little bit about neuropsychology. So you kind of learn about neuropsychology. And honestly, you start from the beginning. You start from the real generic information about a particular topic, and then you learn about maybe more precisely the particular area that involves your client. For instance, if there’s a traumatic brain injury that causes visual problems, you would need to focus on the literature surrounding that particular area. Understand it, you’re probably never gonna be a neuropsychologist, but you’re gonna know how to ask appropriate questions. You’re gonna know if they’re hiding something or trying to evade an answer in a particular area. And the only way you’re gonna know that or know how to do that is to know the area, the subject matter on a level where you can go toe to toe with these experts or the defendants because they’re not gonna volunteer harmful information to you. But if you know how to ask the questions, and the only way you’re gonna know how to ask questions is by studying their background, studying the literature and the science, knowing it, and being able to go toe to toe with them.

0:16:48.5 AF: What’s interesting to me is that as you start to learn about the science of a particular field, you start to bump up against the boundaries of that field where it ends and where it just can’t give you answers. Back in, say a hundred years ago, the leading bleeding edge scientist could sit down and tell you, according to that person’s science, how the size of a person’s skull could determine their intelligence. And we now know that it’s false. And that’s true of studies or fields today. You’ll have experts who they are maybe at the very top of their field, and maybe there’s no criticism you can give as to how high they are up in that field, but you have to keep them honest as to what that field is capable of doing, right? And I think that’s one of the fun things about getting oriented to whatever field it is.

0:17:46.3 AF: You just start to find out like, oh, they actually, no one knows this answer. And so if they’re telling you, oh yeah, I know for sure. That becomes your cross-examination point. And I’ve found, just to kind of relate to what you’re saying a little bit, is I’ve found that the practise is really enriched when you get to dive into these things. It just makes it a lot more interesting, and it makes you realise the power of advocacy because supposedly all these experts have the answers, and we’re just lawyers. And yet technically it’s our job to keep them all honest and to get to the truth as best we can with the jury. I think it’s a fun process, and I’m glad you’re a part of our firm because I think you just are a shining example of that.

0:18:35.7 Mark: Well, thank you. It’s been great.

0:18:36.7 JF: We’ve talked a lot about mastery of a craft. We talk a lot about that in our organisation and how important mastery of the craft of the practise of law is in order to be able to do the best that you possibly can for the clients. And no one that I know in the practise of law exemplifies a dedication to that more than you do, which is why you’re routinely recovering eight figure settlements for your clients and getting better every year. And it’s just amazing to watch you work. So thanks for coming here and sharing some of those insights with us.

0:19:12.1 Mark: Absolutely. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

[music]

 

 

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