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    This episode of Settlement Nation we chat with with Brian Ward, an attorney with Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley (CZ&R) out of Los Angeles. Brian shares his story, on how he was sworn in early straight of out law school, to begin his first jury trial, how his own personal injury has shaped the way he relates to the challenges his clients face, and advice for other attorneys on how they can improve their skills in the courtroom. Brian also shares what life is like conducting business on the road in his Airstream.

     

    Chris Bua:
    What is up, Settlement Nation? Welcome to another episode of our growing podcast. My name is Chris Bua, and I am joined today by my co-host, Courtney Barber. We have a great guest with us today, trial lawyer, Brian Ward.

    Chris Bua:
    Brian is an attorney with Carpenter, Zuckerman, and Rowley from Beverley Hills, California, and he loves jury trials. He's recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of his clients in the courtroom. He's also been recognized as a Rising Star Super Lawyer, and works on the teaching team at Trial By Human. Welcome to Settlement Nation, Brian.

    Brian Ward:
    Thank you very much, I'm happy to be here.

    Chris Bua:
    Awesome. We'll get right into it. When I was doing some research on you, it looked like while you were at law school, you were sworn in early to begin your first jury trial, and you had your first verdict before your classmates were even sworn in. There has to be a story, there. Can you tell us a little bit more about what happened?

    Brian Ward:
    Yeah, for sure. When I was a Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to join their trial advocacy program, which is usually one of the top four or five programs in the nation. And has a lot of distinguished alumni, hopefully some of which you have on this podcast. We can talk about their names a little bit later.

    Brian Ward:
    But, as I was coming through the program, we had the benefit of those more experienced trial attorneys who had been through the program come back, and guest judge us, and help teach us. That's an opportunity that's rife for recruitment. There was a wonderful trial attorney in the Valley named Chris Ardalan, who we took a mutual interest in each other. I asked, "Can I get a job with you?" He says, "Well, if you win the national championship, you've got yourself a job." I said, "That's a fair deal." We set out that year, and we actually did win the national championship of all the ABA approved law schools. He was good to his word, and he gave me a job.

    Brian Ward:
    Knowing the training that I had already had, he had a jury trial set to begin after the results came out, but prior to the December 1st swearing in ceremony. So we arranged, at ABOTA (American Board of Trial Advocates) in some court meeting to have a judge swear me in, so that I could jump into trial the next day. That's what happened.

    Brian Ward:
    In fact, in that first trial, opposing counsel was chatting me up, and knew I was a baby, and was super fresh. He looks at me and goes, "This is a little bit different than the trial ad courtroom, isn't it?" I looked at him and I go, "It's actually not, I've done about 200 or 300 trials already." That shut him up pretty quickly, and then we whipped his butt.

    Courtney Barber:
    I love that.

    Chris Bua:
    A lot of attorneys have different reasons for why they get into practicing law. What brought you into practicing law? What inspired you?

    Brian Ward:
    I liked it. I wasn't a kid growing up saying, "I'm going to be a trial lawyer." All I knew was I wanted to do something that was creative, and if it could help people along the way that would be great.

    Brian Ward:
    I graduated from USC, actually with a film degree. Going into the film industry seemed pretty daunting and frustrating, and I knew that the asset that I had was probably my mouth. So I went into pharmaceutical sales, naively thinking that might be a way where I can use the skill that I have, talking, and maybe help some people along the way. The first part was true, the second part was utterly naïve. Once I realized I was part of an industry that I soon realized was basically evil, I needed to find a way out, and I needed to find a new direction.

    Brian Ward:
    Law school made sense at the time, and when I went to Loyola, like I said, I was very fortunate to find Susan Poehls, a professor that handles the trial advocacy program. I looked at that program and I said, "I can succeed in this." It was actually just jumping in first, and then the love of trial work came later when I realized, "Wow, this ticks all the boxes for me." I can stand up, I can talk to people, I can use this gift, and I can use it not for selfish means, necessarily, but you can substantively improve somebody's life in a courtroom.

    Courtney Barber:
    Brian, speaking of that, and we are very glad you didn't stay on as a pharmaceutical rep salesperson, because I feel like your skills are much better used in the courtroom. But, I met you at a Trial By Human [event] last year, and you were one of the trial skills teachers.

    Courtney Barber:
    From working with so many attorneys, and up-and-coming attorneys that want to better their skills in the courtroom, and coming from someone like yourself, as you said, you did hundreds of trials even before you were sworn in, what are some tips or some skills that you see commonly with other people that you think they should be practicing before they go to the courtroom?

    Brian Ward:
    I think people need to talk about their cases. You don't need to rehearse your opening statement necessarily, or have every question of your cross examination written down, but you should sit down with friends, family, preferably non-attorneys, and simply talk about your case, simply talk about your client. The most powerful way to communicate to a jury is obviously with a plan, but also extemporaneously. Because then, your authenticity, your genuineness comes out. We're so used to seeing this image of a lawyer on the screen. In law school, they don't really do anything to teach you that that's right or wrong, so I think a lot of people come out and pantomime that.

    Brian Ward:
    But, the truth is that you're much more effective if you're talking over a beer, instead of over a jury box. That's been pretty important for me my whole career, and it's actually something that I take beyond just talking to the jury now. It's also the way I talk to judges, right?

    Brian Ward:
    I do have to be respectful with a judge, but at the same time, I speak really casually to the court, and identify, if I see a problem coming up, I want to be a problem solver in the courtroom, and I want to bring it to the judge's attention. If a point is made, I concede it. I shrug my shoulders, I go, "That's a good point, Your Honor. That's probably right."

    Brian Ward:
    I think the casualness is something that we're missing. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be important, or it's not serious. But at the end of the day, if you want to move 12 people, you've got to connect with them. You're not going to connect with them unless you can talk to them like human beings.

    Courtney Barber:
    That's so true. I've seen you in action at Trial By Human, definitely there's a reason why they chose you as one of the teachers because you do have that great skill of conveying information in such a personable way, and you're such a personable person.

    Courtney Barber:
    But speaking of Trial By Human, which for everyone who doesn't know, is actually a training organization founded by one of our most desired guests, which is Nicholas Rowley, who's a big star in this world, and who we hope to interview one day. Nick, if you are listening to this, please reach out to us. How did you end up at Carpenter, Zuckerman, and Rowley, Brian? How did that happen for you?

    Brian Ward:
    You know, I spent most of my career as a solo attorney, and somewhat stubbornly, I thought that was ... Maybe my ego was wrapped up, and I thought that was something that I had to do, I had to build a practice all alone, and on my own.

    Brian Ward:
    Coincidentally, I went to law school and competed on the trial team with Nick's wife, Courtney [Rowley.] Courtney and I were best friends in law school, and we were baby attorneys together. If she was flailing on a jury trial and needed help, I'd come show up, and vice versa. We really tried to learn how to do this together, as baby attorneys, and make something out of it. Obviously, our friendship never changed over the years. That's ultimately how I met Nick.

    Brian Ward:
    In developing my friendship with them, we would work one off, "Hey, help me on this case, I'll help you on this case," and really developed a really nice working relationship, and a lot of trust in each other. It helped me break down my barriers of thinking oh, I need to do everything alone. At a certain point, Nick offered me an opportunity to come in as a partner at CZ&R, and try cases. I think we had so much trust built up, and so many cases at that time, that I had worked through my issues and realized that being part of a team that powerful, and certainly having Nick's guidance along the way, is an opportunity that most people would have trampled right over me, if they could have, to take it. So I said yes, and I've never been happier in the practice.

    Chris Bua:
    So Brian, I was checking your bio on your website, and you make reference to the fact that you were an injury victim yourself. How does that experience translate to helping your clients when you're litigating your cases? I imagine that you're probably in the small minority of attorneys that have actually been in that seat. How do you bring that experience into your cases, and how does that help your clients?

    Brian Ward:
    It's really interesting, it changed everything. Part of the timeline about coming into Carpenter, Zuckerman, and Rowley that I didn't tell you is that my injury was about eight years ago, and my right foot was essentially snapped in half and partially crushed. Life got real dark for me after that. My pain was essentially uncontrollable, and the doctors wanted to shove the opioids at me. I was on a cane 24/7. I lost the ability to drive with my right foot so my wife would have to take me to court, things like that.

    Brian Ward:
    It reached the point in my solo practice where my injury was so disabling that I basically walked away from the law. We sold our house and hopped in the Airstream trailer, and hit the reset button on my life. It was in that process when Nick Rowley reached out to me and gave me the opportunity. I thought long and hard about it, and decided coming through that journey myself, I felt almost an obligation to come back in and help guide other people through it. Both for their personal well being, as well as to carry their story to the jury, because I could relate to them in a new way that I couldn't before.

    Brian Ward:
    Now, when I speak to the juries about pain, I feel like I've got a lot of credibility. I know that, in my heart, that everything I'm saying rings true with me, and I think that when you're that authentic, the jurors know it and they pick up on it. I think it gives me a bit of empathy, a bit of insight, maybe a bit of advantage in telling somebody else's story having written my own.

    Brian Ward:
    On the flip side, my journey, and people who saw me in those dark days see me now and they say, "You don't look permanently disabled at all, and you certainly don't act that way," which is a huge compliment. But, it also allows them to see me as being a success, or having come through it. So then, I have the credibility to help them rewrite their own narrative. I can tell them, "We can take the same facts, that you got hurt, it interrupted your life, it's going to continue to interrupt your life forever. But, those are the facts. Now, what's the story?"

    Brian Ward:
    The story can be you're a victim, and now everything is ruined, and poor you. Or, the story can be you're such an incredible individual that, despite having all of these challenges and setbacks, every day you move forward, and you're able to accomplish things. Those victories mean more, because of the obstacles that they've overcome. It helps me give my clients a little bit of hope. I try to act as an example, as a way where they can move forward, and be successful in their own minds as well.

    Chris Bua:
    Gotcha. I've got a tactical question for you. How do you decide whether to go all the way to trial or settle a case? What kind of factors go into making those decisions? If you could just talk about that, for a little bit?

    Brian Ward:
    You know, I think at the end of the day, it comes down to your perspective from the very beginning of a case. What we try really, really hard to do is not take a case if we don't think it's a trial case. I start every case with that proposition, "We're going to trial on this case." At that point, it's really incumbent upon the defense to talk me out of it.

    Brian Ward:
    Now, in some ways I turn the insurance adjuster game around on them. I simply say, "I'm going to trial, I've got a good case, I'm prepared for trial. Now, if you have some information that makes me change my analysis, why don't you go ahead and share it with me? Or, if you've got enough money to talk me out of that risk, why don't you go ahead and share it with me?" Now, it's easier said than done because people need to operate their practice, and manage cash flow, and you can't take every case to trial, that's not necessarily responsible. Most of them, as we know, do settle.

    Brian Ward:
    So, how do you make that transition? I would say experience helps, and if you don't have as much experience as you feel you need in that moment to know what the right answer is, then you need to be reaching out to people who do have that experience. That's something, I think, is really important is people need to have peers that they feel are teammates, that they can call. You need to have a buddy whose skill and judgement you trust, you need to be able to spitball these things with somebody you trust. You need to have mentors, and you need to lean on them for advice. It really should be a group effort.

    Brian Ward:
    It's a lot like the jury system itself. When you put 12 people together, that collective wisdom makes better decisions. Well, if you're sitting in your office and you're trying to make a decision alone, realize that decision's going to be made better if you can apply collective wisdom to it. It's about expanding your network, and it's about relying on your network to really get consensus, have somebody play Devil's Advocate. Obviously, beyond that you can start doing things like focus groups, and get even more opinions, and see what the collective wisdom of a potential juror pool would look like.

    Brian Ward:
    But at the end of the day, I think that we do much better, and we have much better success in the plaintiff's bar if we accept cases knowing that if we have to try them, we can, we will, and we'll win.

    Courtney Barber:
    Brian, that's just such good information there. For everyone that's listening, if you need to rewind and listen to that again, you should, because there's some real gems in there.

    Courtney Barber:
    We want to switch gears a little bit now, because we have coined you, like the Lincoln Lawyer, you're the Airstream Lawyer. For people who don't about the Lincoln Lawyer, it's actually a man named David Ogden, who was a very famous criminal defense attorney in LA who used to, basically, live in the back of his Lincoln Town Car and run his office from there, between courthouses. But, you live in an Airstream, and have been traveling around to national parks, and working, and doing calls, and all the stuff you do. But, on the go in some of the most beautiful places in the West.

    Courtney Barber:
    Can you tell everyone a little bit about how that came about? And, how you manage your practice and your day, considering you're on the road?

    Brian Ward:
    Yeah. Well, it came about, as I alluded to earlier, out of my injury and disability. Once I was able to take control of my pain management, and I got some good physical function back in my body, it made me realize at a pretty young age that everything that you're planning for later in life may not come to pass, because life can intervene between now and then.

    Brian Ward:
    My wife had always had this dream, let's buy the Airstream, and let's get out and crawl around the world, and have some fun and see what's out there. It became really obvious that, especially with the arthritis, I have the neurogenic pain, as well as the tendinitis, that my situation may not always be as good as I was able to get it to. The lesson was really if you want to live your life, you really have to do it right now. If you're waiting for tomorrow, tomorrow may never come.

    Brian Ward:
    That's what got us out there, and it was at that hiatus in my career that we really started doing this. One of the things, when I was talking to Nick about coming back into the practice, one of my conditions was, can I keep doing this? His response was, "You can do whatever you want, as long as you show up for trial and you get the work done." I said, "Well, I can do that."

    Brian Ward:
    I have a team, at this point, that we've developed a really wonderful working relationship with, and a good rhythm, and an awful lot of trust. So to the extent that I might have limitations physically, in terms of my living space or where I'm at, I know that I've got a team that I can really on. But, I think what COVID is showing all of us is that everybody can do what I was doing before. What I'm doing now isn't that odd, right?

    Brian Ward:
    You're sitting wherever you live doing this right now, and I'm sitting wherever I live doing this right now. At this point, what does it matter? When we get our jury trials back in 2021, guess where I'm going to be? I'm going to be in a courtroom. But until then, I'm no more productive sitting in an office than I am sitting in a campground or a national forest. And in a lot of ways, I'm certainly happier, so I think that makes me both more productive and more effective.

    Chris Bua:
    A question that we ask every attorney that comes onto the Settlement Nation podcast is what is something that you know now as a trial lawyer, that you wish you knew five or ten years ago as an attorney?

    Brian Ward:
    Yeah. It's teamwork. I was thinking about this question, knowing that everybody gets asked it. I think the answer is teamwork. That's a really personal answer for me, I don't know if that's something that other people are having trouble with.

    Brian Ward:
    But this notion that I had, that I wanted to do things on my own, and establish my career on my own merits was really ego-based and foolish. I work in a really collaborative environment now. I've got my team, I run my cases, but between all of the partners at Carpenter, Zuckerman, and Rowley, it's a wealth of insight, and knowledge, and experience, and support.

    Brian Ward:
    One thing I was good at, but I want the generation behind us to be even better at, is mentorship. It's something I talk about both in terms of the career, as well as talking to people who want to talk to me about pain management. Which is you can reach your hand up to me for help and I'll reach back and grab it, but part of that deal is when you reach your hand up to me for help, you need to reach the other hand behind you and put it out for the next person that needs help. We need to form a chain. When we're in a chain, and we're all pulling ourselves up, guess what happens? We all rise, we all become better, and it really becomes exponential. One hand up, one hand back, all of a sudden, you've got an entirely different profession.

    Brian Ward:
    I have to say, I think that this is happening, and it needs to happen more. When I got out of law school, I was the only one trying cases because I was lucky enough to get that experience. I was worried about the future of the profession, looking at the landscape and saying, "Partners are trying everything, and associates get nothing." Now, I think that paradigm has started to shift, and I just want to encourage people to keep the gas pedal on it. We're doing that at Carpenter, Zuckerman, and Rowley, trying to develop our associates, and build the trial lawyers of tomorrow. I know the Simon Brothers with Justice HQ in Los Angeles are doing the same thing.

    Brian Ward:
    I think the tide is turning, and we have a brand new generation of young, energized, impassioned trial lawyers, and I want to see it keep going. But, we have to do it collectively.

    Courtney Barber:
    That's fantastic, and it is true. You are someone who you don't just say things, you actually put them into action. With the example of Trial By Human, that's your times on the weekend, volunteering to teach other, and some of them are seasoned trial attorneys, about things that you know, and that you've seen, and helping them just become better. Which, I think, is exactly what you're saying, this is what this whole industry is shifting to.

    Courtney Barber:
    So it comes to the end, Brian. This is where you get to give your personal plug. How do people get in touch with you? You're in an Airstream, but as you said, you're a trailblazer for COVID. I feel like you had some insider knowledge, and you started before everyone else so you knew how to do it properly. How do people get in touch with you?

    Brian Ward:
    Well, you can come track me down in the national park campgrounds, and knock on my door. I'm pretty amiable, I might even pour you a drink. But, if you want to do it the easier way you can email me directly at bward@czrlaw.com, and you'll certainly get a response that if you want to talk about anything. Or, you can call my cell phone, which I encourage people to do, at 818-259-0988.

    Courtney Barber:
    Perfect. Well, thank you so much Brian, for coming on Settlement Nation. This was an amazing interview, and thank you for sharing so much about yourself and your vision with everyone listening. We look forward to our next episode, so make sure you subscribe, and thank you again.

    Brian Ward:
    Thanks guys, I had a blast.

    Chris Bua:
    Thanks, Brian.

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