Interview with Ken Levinson
Ken Levinson and his partner, Jay Stefani, are on the cutting edge of legal technology. Even before COVID-19 they were well-prepared for the kind of shutdown that requires 100% of their staff to be working remotely. In addition to practicing law at Levinson & Stefani, Ken is a trial consultant that has worked with some of the nation’s leading trial attorneys. He talks with Lawyer Minds about what he sees in a great trial attorney.
Tad Thomas: Ken, you’re not only an attorney in Chicago, you also do some consulting on the side. Can you tell us a little bit about what your week is like as a trial lawyer?
Ken Levinson: Thank you so much for having me, Tad, it’s an honor to be chosen. We are a trial firm in downtown Chicago with three lawyers and four other team members. We focus on serious truck and auto crash injury and wrongful death cases. To answer your question, our weeks, and one of the things I love most about my job, are never the same. One week I can be out of town for focus groups or speaking and teaching other trial lawyers. Another week I can be in trial, taking depositions of experts or meeting with clients.
“Every day, every week is different. So, it keeps me energized and enthused. It is one of the things I like most about what we do for our living.”
Tad: Tell me a little bit about when the COVID crisis hit. How is your firm dealing with it and how well-equipped were you to be working remotely?
Ken Levinson: Well, I certainly can’t say we were expecting this, but one of the things that we did, when my law partner Jay and I started our firm, was to make sure that we used the latest technology to help our clients and our practice. For instance, one of the things we had done was make sure that everything we get that’s hard paper is scanned, put in our system, and was able to be accessed remotely. That made our transition seamless so that everybody is working from home, yet we all have access to all our client information, documents, briefs, research, and everything else.
I can’t tell you the next crisis or emergency that’s going to happen to your practice, but I can say two things. One, there will be something. And two, you need the latest technology, whether it’s from an AAJ seminar, meeting exhibitors, or talking with fellow trial lawyers. I know you, Tad, have spoken on using technology at trials and using iPads. You are always on the cutting edge and keeping up with the latest ways to innovate.
“I am not saying you need to be a tech expert, but keeping up with the latest technology to help your practice and your clients will only serve you well. It might be a little more money than you want to spend, and it might be more time, but in the long run, it’s the better way to practice and it’s more efficient from a money perspective and from an investment perspective.”
Tad: I think you are right. I always point out when I do my seminars that the ABA, a couple of years ago, changed the ethics rules and added a comment that competence also includes competence in technology. So, that goes right along with what you are saying. It is what we need for our practices, but it’s also an ethical obligation now.
Ken Levinson: That’s absolutely right. If you are a trial lawyer, first I strongly recommend you become a member of the AAJ. Also, the ABA like you mentioned, has a fantastic tech show where I was lucky enough to be one of the speakers this year. Just walking through the exhibit hall with a mindset of being curious and figuring out what you can use to help your clients and help your law firm is well worthwhile. Keeping up with that technology and what are the latest efficiencies you can use in your practices will be more than worthwhile.
Tad: One of the things I am really interested in, Ken, is given your work as a trial consultant and working on focus groups, you also go all over the country and teach. You have had a lot of exposure to highly successful trial lawyers. I am curious if you see a common thread or if you were talking to a young lawyer, what things would you tell a young lawyer that they need to emulate out of the top trial lawyers?
Ken Levinson: I love this question, Tad. First, I think about it a lot, because I am lucky enough to work with some of the top trial lawyers like you in the country. There are some common traits I notice from some of the elite trial lawyers who get the best verdicts and results in what we do. First, you have to be yourself. In a courtroom or in a focus group, if you try to be someone else, it’s going to come across as not genuine. It’s not going to resonate well. Be yourself. Find out who you are. You can’t be Gerry Spence, there is only one Gerry Spence. You can’t be Tad Thomas or Pat Salvi; you need to figure out what works for you in an honest and genuine way.
I was doing a focus group with one law firm here in town and they have gotten some of the best results around. I did a focus group on Monday for a lawyer who was the exact opposite of his law partner the Monday following. They found what worked for them. They weren’t trying to quote someone else and be who they weren’t.
The second trait I have noticed is a constant curiosity and thirst to learn. The lesson is you never know it all.
“You always have to learn. There is always more to know and more ways to sharpen your skills. You can always improve, whether that’s by going to seminars or reading books on persuasion and cognitive science or decision-making.”
Those are the two things that I see as the two biggest traits for every successful trial lawyer I have worked with.
Tad: I think that’s a great observation. One of the things I enjoy most about teaching seminars is being able to sit in to watch other speakers. I have taught AAJ Depositions College I don’t know how many times, but every time I teach, I learn something from one of the other lawyers there.
Ken Levinson: That’s right. When the lawyer says to one of us, look, I know exactly what the jury is going to do or I know it all about a particular type of case, I am skeptical, because cases are all different. I know you might handle a certain kind of medical or truck case, but they are all unique. There are different players, motivations, and dynamics. There is always something you can learn to improve on and get better, and if you think you know it all, that thing is a dangerous mindset.
Tad: Ken, thank you very much for your time.
For more information about AAJ Depositions College, visit www.justice.org.
Interview with Alan Belsky
Interview with Jay Vaughn