Brett Tishler, of White and Williams LLP, practices exclusively in the field of property and workers’ compensation subrogation throughout the United States. Brett represents a variety of major insurance carriers and individual claimants to secure complex recoveries in cases involving product liability, negligence, construction accidents, and premises liability litigation. In addition to recovering past liens in workers’ compensation subrogation cases, Brett often negotiates the closure of future workers’ compensation benefits in a global settlement.
Lawyer Minds: How do you decide to take a case or not?
Brett Tishler: I represent both insurance companies and individuals who are injured on the job. My role is to find out why and how the injury occurred, and I determine if there are any parties, separate from the individual and their employer, who may be liable for the accident that caused the injury.
Since many of the cases I handle come from insurance clients, I provide training with each client, so they know what types of cases to refer, based on a variety of “triggers.” These triggers often deal with the type and severity of the injury that occurred. From there, we begin our investigation to determine whether there is a decent theory of liability to pursue or not.
Determining whether a case is worthwhile depends on many factors. Since my practice is nationwide, I have to take into account various state laws and how they affect the case. I also have to think about the costs involved in being able to properly investigate a potential case and weigh that against the likely recovery. What may be a great case in Philadelphia, PA may be a horrible case in Birmingham, AL.
Lawyer Minds: What resources do you use in preparing for trial?
Brett Tishler: This is a loaded question! I have a law clerk and paralegal that help with general organizational and logistical needs (i.e., getting witnesses subpoenaed, getting exhibits organized and labeled, etc.).
I use Lexis, the legal online research program, to help with any legal research I may need to perform. This is to help with any pre-trial motions/responses.
My firm also has a tech department to assist with basic technology-related issues, like preparing video depositions for trial, PowerPoint presentations, or getting trial exhibits organized.
Also, depending on the case, I may contact outside vendors to assist with things like medical illustrations and accident reconstructions. It really depends on the case and what is needed; there is no one resource that is consulted. The goal is to figure out the best way to get your message across to the jury.
Lawyer Minds: Which do you enjoy more – cross-examination or direct examination? Why?
Brett Tishler: Both can be equally enjoyable or frustrating. It feels great if you have a good witness on direct who is well prepared and responding to your line of questioning. It is good to be able to make a clean record and get your evidence in. However, if you have a witness who is not ready, that could destroy your case. Asking a critical question and having your witness fumble the answer can be horrible!
Likewise, crossing a witness and either exposing them as a liar or, better yet, having them agree with your position is a great feeling. However, just as before, having an adverse witness who is well prepared and ready for virtually any question is very stressful. The last thing you want is for the jury to like and trust the witness you are crossing.
Bottom line: there is no “easy” or more “enjoyable” witness. Whether on cross or direct, you need to prepare, prepare, and prepare. Be ready for any answer and how to address it. Cross or direct, it feels good if you’ve done your job right.
Lawyer Minds: When speaking with jurors, how important is it to avoid “legalese”?
Brett Tishler: You want to try and speak as directly as you can. You don’t know the background of the jury, and these are the people who are going to determine who wins at the end of the day. Therefore, it is critical that the jury understands what you are saying. I follow the “5-year-old” rule: Explain it to me like I’m five years old. Sometimes you have to use legalese, like when you are explaining a statute or law; however, once you do, remember to explain what it all means for the jury. That being said, be careful on how you go about explaining things. Don’t talk down to the jury; remember, they are your peers and should be treated as such.
Lawyer Minds: Do you believe pessimism or optimism is more valuable as a lawyer?
Brett Tishler: I think a healthy dose of both is needed. Be optimistic about how you will perform as a lawyer and how the case will ultimately conclude, but be pessimistic about everything else. Assume nothing and prepare for everything. Don’t optimistically assume the other side will agree with you and want to settle. Assume the other side is working just as hard, if not harder than you are, and go from there. Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.
Lawyer Minds: Which interpersonal skills are valuable as a lawyer?
Brett Tishler: Being able to relate and connect with people is key. This includes active listening, empathy, and adaptability. This goes from the office, to the courtroom, to the world. Being polite and respectful goes a long way.
Obviously, strong communication skills and being detail-oriented are helpful as well. These aren’t skills you are necessarily born with, but ones you have to practice in order to become an expert in.
Stress management is a big one as well. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done. So, you take a breath and do as much as you can, tackling the urgent projects first.
There are a lot of people I come across that make it their job to be as obstructionist and difficult as possible. They believe that is the best way to represent their client – every interaction needs to be a war. You can be a perfectly capable attorney, whether plaintiff or defense and still work in a professional and courteous manner. It has been my experience that it is the difficult attorneys, the ones who fight every fight, give no quarter, and object to everything, that cause more delays and expense, which only adversely affects their own clients.
Lawyer Minds: What do you do to ensure high client satisfaction?
Brett Tishler: In a word: communicate. I provide my insurance clients regular updates, and I tell my individual clients to call or e-mail me whenever they have a question or want to know what’s going on. Some of the biggest complaints I hear about from people who have other attorneys is that they never hear from the lawyer, or they can never get them on the phone. I make it a rule to get back to my clients within 24 hours or less. If your clients have an awareness as to what’s going on, then they have ownership in their case, and win or lose, they are a part of the process.
Lawyer Minds: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone considering practicing law?
Brett Tishler: Think about why it is you want to practice law. Remember this as you start your journey. Practicing law is hard and frustrating work; it’s not like they show it on television. But it can also be rewarding. You only get better as you go – that’s why it’s called the “practice” of law. Remember that through it all, you still have a life, a family, and friends. Don’t let the law and your work consume you.
Lawyer Minds would like to thank Brett for taking the time to share his insights with our readers!
Converting Leads Into Clients