Having founded Kitrick, Lewis & Harris, L.P.A. in 1986, Mark Kitrick is dedicated to helping those who have been injured or killed through someone else’s negligence or misconduct. Mark (Lewi) Lewis, one of the law firm’s partners, has been a dedicated trial lawyer for more than two decades. Their firm is focused solely on serious cases involving personal injury and wrongful death claims.
Tad Thomas: Mark and Lewi, thank you for joining us today. Mark, tell me a little bit about your firm, how long you’ve been partners, and a little bit about your practice.
Mark Kitrick: Thanks, Tad. I started practicing in 1981, doing serious injury and death cases. That’s the first thing I was hired to do. My employer, the head of the firm, asked me, “You like medicine?” “Yes.” “Do you like people?” I replied, “Love people.” “And you like the courtroom?” I answered, “Love the courtroom.” Next thing you know, I’m doing injury cases and trying them, many in the first few years as we had the biggest PI practice in central Ohio at that time, about 1000 cases, and I was head of litigation early on. I went on my own about five years later (1986), and then not too many years after that, Mark (Lewi) Lewis, came on as a clerk and later an associate attorney. He was just top-notch. And we’ve been partners now for over twenty years, and we are best of friends too.
Tad Thomas: What is your firm’s main area of practice?
Mark Kitrick: It’s all serious injury cases, complex litigation, and class actions. We handle the standard auto and trucking cases, as well as many plane crashes, nursing home cases, and consumer class actions.
Tad Thomas: Lewi, I know you and your firm go to trial in a lot of cases, you pride yourself on being trial lawyers, and a large part of trying cases for some of us is being able to tell clients’ stories. I understand you’ve been teaching and writing on literature and film in the law and how to use that and telling our clients’ stories. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Mark (Lewi) Lewis: Sure. Yes. It’s a great point. And we even think it has a broader application, not just to trial and litigation practice, but we’ve come to see every case as presenting a unique, personal human drama. And if we’re fortunate and we do our jobs well, that allows us to shape a helpful and meaningful ending for the client, guiding them to a place of understanding and even a kind of acceptance that has a more lasting impact.
It all comes down to us wanting to be understood and heard. And we think that lawyers, through stories, can give voice and understanding to clients that will outlast the effects of money and how we lawyers professionally measure success. That’s the ethical and professional side to it, but there’s also a practical or skill set side to it, which is the side of narrative art and storytelling structure.
And there’s lots we can say on that, but I’ll simplify it by saying that we tend to see the storytelling art for lawyers as a combination of three dynamics: character, conflict, and arc. All the best stories are driven by conflict, both internal and external, and that conflict usually revolves around some desire and need for a character or, in this case, a client. And then every story must have a compelling, convincing, even surprising character, which again, can often be the client. And there’s an arc to every story, which is a sense of cause and effect and a satisfying ending, and we think there are really useful ways to tie that storytelling structure to the law in a convincing and compelling way.
Tad Thomas: Have you been studying this over the years and turn that into teaching?
Mark (Lewi) Lewis: Yes, Mark and I have always been fascinated by the ways in which we make meaning of our lives through stories. And we’re avid readers. We’re always trading books and book recommendations, fiction, nonfiction, sharing stories. And about fifteen years or so ago, I had the idea that we could potentially share some of this knowledge with other lawyers, similar to the project you’re doing online now. And I pitched the idea for a class to the Dean of a local law school over lunch, and I’m grateful to him to this day for embracing it. He said, “sure, sounds like fun. Why don’t you teach it?” And so I started the class, and it’s evolved over the years to focus on writing, storytelling, and ethics on the law and literature side. And in the law and film class, we also focus on writing and storytelling structure and ethics, moral legal dilemmas, but also on the culture at large and how lawyers are perceived, how we should perceive ourselves in the profession. And through those two classes, we’re hopefully giving the future generation of lawyers this same vision of law as ethical storytelling in addition to everything else it embraces.
Tad Thomas: Lewi, are there times when the main character in our storytelling for the purpose of trial isn’t necessarily our client?
Mark (Lewi) Lewis: Sure. The character in that three-part structure we talked about, character, conflict, and art, can be our client as the hero or the protagonist of her story, but the character can be the law. If the case revolves around the law, then you can make a character of the law. That’s a more difficult thing to do, obviously because the law is largely an abstraction, and we all tend to relate better to humans than ideas, emotions better than thoughts, but there is still much to learn from the idea of treating the law as a character. Of course, the other party or an important witness in the case can also be a main character.
The key to creating character often relies on building a lasting, meaningful emotional response in the audience, a response that properly influences the decision-maker.
There are many ways to create that emotional response. For those interested in more on this, they can read our article at https://www.kitricklaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/client-as-character.pdf.
Mark Kitrick: It’s taking the drama, Tad, of human existence to another level where it’s more holistic. The clients or juries may be thinking that it is just about money, but it isn’t. In fact, if you focus on that, that’s when a lot of troubles occur. But when people get the understanding and the satisfaction of knowing the human drama, their stories being told and ultimately it comes to a conclusion in a broader scheme of things that a wrong is righted and it’s not just about money, it’s much more satisfying for everybody. I am sure this has happened to you, but I feel good about smaller settlements because the client was wronged and it was a tough case with tough law, or a tough situation, but ultimately, we were able to truly help our clients. And it had nothing to do with the money. It was, “Did we take and win the case for our client because of this bad conduct of the defendant?” Or “Did we win because our client was a great person who was treated horribly, and she deserved a righteous outcome?” “Does the community need to be protected from what happened to this one client? These are human drama stories we want to deal with. That’s what it comes down to in great film or a great piece of literature, isn’t it?
Tad Thomas: Is it fair to say that the conclusion is that our client has justice regardless of what the financial outcome is? For instance, I had a trial recently where the defense attorney just called the family liars from the very beginning of the case. When we got the verdict at the end of the case, the money was good, but it was more, the client’s satisfaction that twelve people said, “You’re not liars. You are truthful. And it was the nursing home who was lying about what happened to your mother.”
Mark (Lewi) Lewis: Yes, that’s a great example of what we talked about earlier, which is the larger ethical or value-based side of storytelling. The idea that we lawyers often wrongly measure success in terms of money or victory at trial, or what have you, but many clients find a more lasting and meaningful result when as you were just saying, Tad, they’re understood, or they’re heard. In their case, stories are often the best way to do that.
Tad Thomas: Where would you all suggest if a lawyer wants to learn more about, whether it’s from you guys or just the topic in general, where would you suggest they start to learn about weaving this into their representation of clients?
Mark Kitrick: People should check out Lewi’s website, https://literarylawyers.org, for posts and links on storytelling, ethics, and values in the legal profession. And there’s a number of wonderful books out there. As well we have written some helpful articles, which listeners can find on our website www.klhlaw.com under either my or Lewi’s bio pages. We’ve written many of those articles for the Columbus Bar Association. Lawyers have called us and said, “Wow, this is the most powerful instruction.” Lawyers really want to learn how to tell truthful stories that will help their clients and our legal system.
Mark (Lewi) Lewis: We’ve co-written about ten articles in our law and storytelling series for the Columbus Bar Association over the last couple of years. We don’t take credit for all ideas and we refer readers to many sources because we want to share this information with others. The articles and my “literary lawyers” website above help to spread the message that storytelling in the law can be ethical, practical, and meaningful for both attorneys and their clients.
Tad Thomas: Thank you for your time!
We would like to thank Mark and Lewi for taking the time to speak with us about the legal profession.