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    In this episode of Settlement Nation, we chat with Dan Schaar, a trial attorney with Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley (CZ&R) and Trial Lawyers For Justice (TL4J) from Northern California. We walk through Dan's $2.8 million verdict for one of California's largest slip and fall cases in 2018, advice for other trial attorneys that leads to better results for their clients and the benefits of working with a team. Dan also shares how using both a Qualified Settlement Fund (QSF) and structured settlement for his attorney fees, have ensured stability and security for himself, both personally and professionally.

     

    Courtney Barber:

    Welcome to another episode of Settlement Nation. I am Courtney Barber and I'm joined today by my co-host Chris Bua, as well as our guest Dan Schaar. Now, Dan is a Trial Attorney at Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley and Trial Lawyers for Justice and has multiple six and seven figure verdicts, including the largest personal injury verdict in the history of Santa Cruz County. He has also been recognized by Super Lawyers as a rising star and in 2018 as a Super Lawyer. In addition, Dan, is also on the teaching faculty of Trial By Human, with Nick Rowley and Courtney Rowley, teaching trial skills to other attorneys. Welcome to Settlement Nation, Dan.

    Dan Schaar:

    Thank you, Courtney. Thank you, Chris. It's nice to be here.

    Courtney Barber:

    It's great to have you, so we want to start off, I have to say, I think you probably have the most interesting origin story of anyone we've had on here so far. I read in your bio that you started off as a scuba instructor in the Cayman Islands, as well as getting your 50 ton Master Captain's License, which I don't even know what that is. So I want to know how that happened, how you decided you're going to do that. Then from there, how you left drinking piña coladas all day to transitioning to becoming a trial lawyer.

    Dan Schaar:

    Yeah, no, I know it's interesting, especially because I grew up in the Midwest about as far away from the ocean as you could be. No, I mean, I just fell into it. My undergrad program here in California had this great scuba diving program. So I got certified and realized that could do this for a while and worked my way up, became an instructor and then got the bug to travel and was fortunate enough to land at a great spot on the east end of Grand Cayman called the Ocean Frontiers. What was going to be a six month stint turned into almost four years and worked my way up and got my Captain's License, that's what the 50 ton Master is. It was what it was, but I think what drew me back to the law was, when you spend a lot of time on an island, you see the way that the government can really affect a lot of things. For me, in particular, I saw how it affected the underwater environment, both in good and bad ways.

    Dan Schaar:

    The Caymans are also not the cheapest place in the world. So there was a lot of lawyers that came down there and one thing led to another and I finally, got the bug. The guys that I was talking to said, "Hey, if you want to make a difference, go to law school." So there it was, I traded in the flip flops and the long hair and cut my hair, put on some lace-up shoes. Then, so those of you that know me now, I've grown my hair back out again. So it is what it is, but yeah, that's where it all came to fruition, and here we are.

    Chris Bua:

    So Dan, we're really big on results here on the Settlement Nation Podcast. Usually we talk about it a little bit later on in the episode, but one of the results that you had really stood out and I wanted to talk about it on the front end of the show, which is a $2.8 million verdict you got in 2016 on a slip and fall case. It's one of the largest in the State of California's history, the perception of slip and falls are that they're usually smaller cases. So that's why it stood out to me how large of a verdict that you got. So can you walk us through that case and what made that result such a large recovery?

    Dan Schaar:

    Yeah. It's interesting because early on in my career, I had that same type of perception where I avoided slip and fall and trip and fall cases like a plague. In fact, I spent a lot of time as a defense attorney early in my career and of course, as a defense attorney, I loved them because they're hard cases. This particular case, what made it especially difficult was we had no witnesses to our clients falling into really it was really more of a trip and fall case where she stepped into a hole, twisted her ankle and suffered a pretty catastrophic break. No witnesses, in fact, her testimony was pretty scattered on how it even happened. But the driving force behind that case was that she had multiple surgeries and unfortunately developed complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which is just a terrible condition. It resulted in her requiring lifelong pain management and it just was really a terrible injury.

    Dan Schaar:

    So we were able to paint just a beautiful human story about this woman that our Santa Cruz jury really latched on to and that's what drove the numbers. These slip and fall cases when, when people fall, bad things happen, especially people as they get older. Our client was in her late fifties, which isn't old, but I think someone that might've been a teenager, or in their twenties, probably wouldn't have been heard as bad. So yes, I understand the misconception, but a bad enough fall can result in just these terrible life altering injuries and that's what happened here.

    Chris Bua:

    So it looks like in our research that you have a background as an EMT, how does that influence your practice, maybe how did it influence that case that you just spoke about and how does it influence you representing your clients?

    Dan Schaar:

    Yeah. I think that because of the area of law that I'm in, representing injury victims, there's a lot of medicine that gets involved in our cases. A lot of unique and sometimes terrible things can happen to the human body when they're put through trauma. The EMT background just gives me a better grasp initially on the physiology and the anatomy. I think in turn that provides me with the opportunity to speak to medical experts and people that oftentimes control the ability for us to prove up our damages on their level. I don't pretend to be a doctor, obviously I didn't go to medical school, but having the EMT training does help because it's, yes, I know what that bone is, I know what that ligament is, I know where that part of the body is. That's what has helped me a lot on that part. Then it also helps me talk to the clients and I can actually understand what they're suffering from, because I know what part of the body that is. I don't have to look it up in a book.

    Courtney Barber:

    That's super fascinating, and for anyone who's listening and hasn't met Dan, but you'll all know lots about him from this. He's one of the most calm people you'll ever meet. So if I twisted my ankle or fell down a hole, I would hope that Dan would be the one that would show up and keep me from screaming. So just on that note of influencing other people, you're on the faculty of Trial By Human and you coach other attorneys. Some of them are not, they're not even just newbies, they're very experienced attorneys, but you teach them trial skills and how to be better in the courtroom. What are some of the common areas of development that you have seen where when they focus on it, they get a lot better results in the end?

    Dan Schaar:

    I think the part in it, it's something that I think about a lot, law school does a terrible job of keeping the human in the lawyer, it pounds it out of you. Oftentimes what I see if an attorney comes into to a Trial By Human seminar and really needs help, it's getting back to that human point and you brought it up Courtney, is the newbies, so to speak, are actually easier and they're better because they haven't developed a career's worth of bad habits. They're still a lot closer to the human they were before law school. What I've found is the best place that these lawyers can make progress is by taking the lawyer out of their practice and just talking like a human being.

    Dan Schaar:

    A lot of times we focus in on voie dire, because that's really where the connection happens, but I'll tell people, I think when we were in Colorado about a year ago, I remember telling my group, I said, "When you get on your plane to fly home, I want you to talk to the stranger in the seat next to you." That's voir dire that's all it really is, is just communicating with people on a human level. And so that's what I've really found is the thing that helps lawyers get better than most is to actually bring the human back in and talk to people and not worry about what somebody thinks about you and not worry about all the BS that is all consuming for us as lawyers and thinking about the next question, but just talking to people and listening. I heard an analogy many years ago when I was back at my scuba diving days, which was, we have one mouth and two ears because we should be listening twice as much as we're talking.

    Dan Schaar:

    That's the thing that we try to teach people is listen to what your jurors and your clients are telling you, and you're going to learn a whole lot, and you're going to become not only a better lawyer, but a better person.

    Courtney Barber:

    That's such a good tip. And I think that's something that I've seen at Trial By Human, seeing you teach as well is that I think a lot of the attorneys are so busy focused on what their next question is going to be, they miss what people are actually telling them because they want to get everything out in a certain amount of time. So that's such great tips there. On that note too, when you work with people, what are your thoughts on tackling cases as a team versus more individual approach, you work with a bunch of different firms and you have people that help you and help write up your cases, but you also probably have ones that you work on by yourself. How does it differ between both?

    Dan Schaar:

    If I had my way, I would never work a case by myself ever again. I know what I'm good at, and I know what I'm bad at. The team approach is something that's unfortunately early in my career, I didn't really have a lot of good mentors. It took me a while to finally get associated with a good group of trial lawyers that helped mentor me in the benefits of the team approach. That's not to say, I know that not everybody has access to that. The way I would say that if you're going to handle cases individually, know what you're good at, and don't take on cases that you know you're not good at. But if you get a case that comes through your door, that you'd like to take on, don't be afraid to reach out. That's the beauty of the plaintiff's side, in my opinion, is that most of us work on contingency, which basically means we spend years working for free, in the hopes that at the end of the case, we're actually going to get paid.

    Dan Schaar:

    Defense lawyers don't do that, defense lawyers expect to bill and they want to be paid within 30 days. Just by our nature, plaintiff's lawyers are accustomed to working for free. I found that that helps build this comradery and that I can pick up the phone and literally 20 minutes ago I was on the phone with Nick Rowley talking about a case. As soon as I get off this call, I'm going to be on another call with another co-counsel. It's really beautiful how plaintiff's attorneys can come together and collaborate. That's my long way of answering your question of, I don't like working cases by myself because I don't think I do as well by myself versus how I do in a team.

    Chris Bua:

    So switching gears a little bit. So Courtney and I both work for Independent Life and what Independent Life is, is a structured settlement provider. Not only for structured settlement payments for client's injury victims, but also for attorneys. I know that you have elected to structure your attorney fees in the past. So I wanted you to maybe speak a little bit about why you did that and how that's helped you in your practice.

    Dan Schaar:

    Yeah, it's something that, going back to my early days, the one good thing I learned from one of my first bosses was this ability that we have to structure fees. Of course, I didn't know anything about it. That taught me early on that you can utilize the fee structure to not only avoid the five letter word of taxes, but more importantly, it allows you for adequate business planning. The plaintiff's practice oftentimes can be peaks and valleys, feast or famine, and you can have a really good year followed up by a slow year. Oftentimes, especially in a firm where I work, where I tend to handle a very small caseload, but very good cases. When you have your cases, you're spending a lot of time working cases up, and while you're working those cases up, you're not necessarily making the money.

    Dan Schaar:

    So by structuring the fees, it allowed us to forecast out and candidly COVID has had no effect on me and my office at all. I think the reason for that is last year we were very smart and we forecast for the next 12 to 18 months, obviously, not knowing about COVID, but we forecast through all this. Even though things slowed down, money was still coming in because we had structured. I utilize it to not only support the business, but it also takes a lot of stress off me because I can look at it and be like, hey, if this is a bad month, or maybe I want to take a week off, I'll be okay, because we've got that money coming in. But it does require some forecasting. It also requires you to understand, hey, you get a big settlement and maybe you don't want to take all that money out, maybe you want to think ahead. I know sometimes that can be difficult because especially as lawyers we got to have the nice new flashy cars and all that stuff.

    Dan Schaar:

    So you have to take a step back and look at it. So that's how I've utilized structures and it's made the last six months relatively easy.

    Chris Bua:

    We've heard a lot of feedback from attorneys this year who really are going to think twice about taking that big fee moving forward because of the business interruption that COVID has and who knows what the next thing down the road will be. So it's definitely gotten attorneys to think about it a lot more. Another tool I wanted to talk to you about, because I know you've used them is qualified settlement funds. So for our listeners that don't know what a qualified settlement fund is, it's a tool that's in the tax code that essentially acts as a holding tank for settlement funds where the defendant or their insurer pays directly into the QSF which provides time for the attorneys and the plaintiffs to decide what they want to do with the money. So I wanted to see, since you have used them, if you could talk a little bit about why you use them and how they've helped you as well.

    Dan Schaar:

    Yeah, it dovetails into what we were just talking about with structuring things, is that it gives you that option. It's a rarity and I'm talking even on little cases. When I say little I'm talking cases that settle in the five figure range, it is rare that we don't use a QSF. The reason for that is yes, there is a fee, that's the biggest complaint I've heard about lawyers when I talk about QSF is, well, I have to pay a thousand bucks to set the thing up. Which is true, but I look at it and it's like, well, if I'm going to pay a thousand dollars in taxes, it's worth it to me, to pay the fee to the QSF, to get it set up so that I can decide, hey, do I want to take this $10, $20, $50,000 fee now or do I want to take it and keep it in a QSF and decide what to do at the end of the year? It also allows the clients time too.

    Dan Schaar:

    So clients don't have to decide if they want to structure right away, the money can sit there. I've had a lot of clients that'll put money in there and then they'll sit on it for a few months. They'll take a little bit out in cash and then they'll work with a structure agent to get something set up, and get these guaranteed payments. It provides huge benefits because it gives you time. It used to be, you settle the case and the defense wants to know if you're going to structure it right away. They force you to work through their broker. They get a cut of it, and it has to be invested the way they want it to be with just a few options. And it's a decision has to be made really quickly. QSFs gives you time and it's been a huge benefit for us.

    Dan Schaar:

    Then for us on a personal level, I look at it in November, how much money do I have in QSFs? How much cash do I need to pay my taxes for next year? I take that money out in cash. Then the rest of it goes into a QSF that then funds me for the next year, two, five, 10, however it's out. You can choose. I've got two little kids that I'm going to have to pay for college here in 15 to 18 years. I take a little chunk of money and I put it out 15 years, it's going to grow. Then I've got a little bit of college paid for. So it gives you a lot of options. I would recommend everybody look into it. Talk to somebody, if you have questions about it, feel free to give me a call. I'll talk you through it. I think it's a great thing. Take advantage of it. It's wonderful.

    Courtney Barber:

    That's fantastic. We'll definitely highlight that in the show notes for any attorneys listening. And thank you, Dan for explaining it so well, because that's one of the things that we find, is that people think it's this really difficult complex tool, and it's not something that's user-friendly, but it actually is and you're using it in both professionally and personally so well. Something actually that wasn't on our original questions, but it's like a two part, yesterday when we did our episode with Keith Bruno, he brought up a case where it was everlasting on him, after working with the client and getting the verdict, it resonated with him a long time after that happened. So that's what I wanted to ask you. Is there a case that you've worked on where it's still affects you years later, or it's something that it really helps you keep going in this profession?

    Dan Schaar:

    I think that the best plaintiff trial lawyers and Keith and I are like brothers, he and I went to the trial lawyers college together and I mean, I have a tremendous amount of personal and professional respect for him and Nick and Brian Ward and a lot of these guys that I've been really fortunate to work with. In my opinion, the best plaintiff's lawyers are the ones that carry these cases with them and they don't let it run their lives. You can't take it on that much to where it is completely changing your life. But I remember all my wins and I remember all my losses and I'm still friends, some of my, one of my biggest verdicts, I still get texts from my client and his wife, just checking in because they've become like family.

    Dan Schaar:

    I think that if you're going to be a successful plaintiff lawyer, and I don't necessarily mean that from a financial standpoint, I mean that from a human standpoint, you have to be able to connect with your clients. You have to treat them like family, and it's the only way that you can really move to get full justice for them. So yeah, there's a lot of clients that we still text and we still talk and I'm sure we will until the day we die.

    Courtney Barber:

    Do you have any cases right now, obviously, without giving too many details that are in your pipeline or that you're working on or that you think you're going to get some great justice for the clients?

    Dan Schaar:

    We do. We have a few, I've got a couple, I've been fortunate enough to work with Nick Rowley on. Probably the one that I'm the most interested in right now is we represent a young man who was interning with Goldman Sachs in San Francisco years ago. Unfortunately was involved in an assault between one of his supervisors. It's just made it past the demurrer stage. We successfully opposed Goldman Sachs's demurrer. So the case is in full litigation in San Francisco. I think the thing about that case that I'm the most intrigued by is I think we're going to find out a lot about the corporate culture at Goldman Sachs. I don't want to throw out any blanket accusations, but we're learning a lot. I think that hopefully we can get justice for our client, but I think that that will also hopefully have ramifications for the corporate culture that we're learning about and make that company a better place for people to work at in the future.

    Dan Schaar:

    So we're really excited about that. That's a case that Nick and I are handling with our co-counsel Bill Green and Kailyn Sharp up at Delfino Green & Green up in North Bay. So that'll be a case, they'll probably get tried next year in San Francisco County. So that's probably one of the big ones, but you've got a few others that hopefully things will go well, and we'll be able to take care of these people for the rest of their lives, for the ones that need it.

    Chris Bua:

    So, Dan we've reached the final question, which is the question we ask all of our guests, which is, what is something that you know now that you're like, man, I wish I knew that five or 10 years ago?

    Dan Schaar:

    Oh, there's so many things, but if I had to put one thing on it, and I touched on this early is be yourself, be a human. Early on in my career, before I had the opportunity to actually work with Nick, I spent a lot of time looking at his videos and Gerry Spence and Moe Levine and all these lawyers that have just done tremendous work and got tremendous justice. I was convinced that I had to be just like them, the only way you could get success is if you were exactly, that you spoke just like Gerry, or you had the mannerisms, or you wore the boots into the courtroom. I learned through a lot of losses that jurors see right through that and your clients see right through that too. You owe your clients more than that. So the lesson I learned and I was fortunate to learn it, not recently, but a long enough time ago to implement it is just be who you are, take the lessons from other people, learn from their mistakes.

    Dan Schaar:

    If they come up with a great idea, take it and try to adopt it, but make it your own. It's a lot easier to be who you are in a courtroom. If you're trying to be fake, the jurors will smell it, they see right through it. And so, yeah, that would be my advice is just, you're perfect as who you are, be yourself, be human. I think that you'll find a lot more success personally and professionally, if you do that.

    Chris Bua:

    Well, that's great advice. We want to thank you very much, Dan, for coming on. If any of our listeners want to contact you, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?

    Dan Schaar:

    So email is always the best it's Dscharr@czrlaw.com. That's always the best way. And you know what? I'll go crazy, you can have my cell phone as well, just (408) 540-8343. Usually it's best to send me a text. I very rarely answer my phone and the voicemail is almost always full. So shoot me a text and I'll get back to you just as quickly as I can.

    Chris Bua:

    Well, that's great. Thank you so much again. For all of our listeners, thank you for listening. We encourage you to like, review, subscribe, wherever you listen to our podcast. So that those that are searching for great legal content will find us. We look forward to our next episode. Thanks so much.

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