Spend a few minutes with Robert (Bob) Langdon and you’ll see why he is one of the best trial attorneys in the United States. He’s confident, outgoing, and smart. He’s a past-President of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, a past member of the Board of Governors of the American Trial Lawyers Association, and one of eight lawyers who spearheaded the case against Ford and Firestone for Ford Explorer rollover cases. Even with all of Bob’s success, he was happy to answer a few questions of an aspiring trial attorney.
1. How did you get started doing trial work?
I started out working in general practice. We had a couple of car wreck cases and we got good results. Because of the good results, more people called us and we got more clients.
2. Graduating law school, did you know that you wanted to do trial work?
Yes. I worked for a law firm in Columbia, MO at the time called Sapwood, Danaphan, Ore that did PI work. Working for them I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
3. Most important Missouri Tort Case?
There are so many. They’re all important. Joint and Several Liability and Comparative Fault are both really important.
4. How do you get in the courtroom as a young attorney? Prosecutor’s office or public defender?
Personally, I don’t think the experience in criminal law translates into personal injury very well. I think you are better off trying to get PI cases. You may start off taking smaller cases, $10,000 or $20,000 cases and actually trying them. That’s how I think you get in the courtroom when you’re young.
5. Thoughts on Marketing?
Better off going into the blogging world than running TV advertisements. [MM: I’m trying to put your advice to work.]
6. Your firm uses a lot of focus groups. Any suggestions on how to learn how to conduct an effective focus group?
You go to Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys or American Association of Justice programs and at those programs they will show you how to run your own focus group. You can run them for as little as $300-$400 or you can hire someone to do them for $10,000. Once you learn, you can do it as well as they can do it.
Sometimes we’ll have our jury consultant come in just to help us theme a case. We’ll run our own focus groups on the liability and sometimes on damages. We’ve even run them with our experts just to see what the focus group thinks. That is, we take the video from the experts’ depositions and show them to the focus group. There are a lot of things you can do. You can learn a lot from going to meaningful CLEs.
7. What pitfalls do you see young trial attorneys make as they try to make a name for themselves?
I think the biggest pitfall is that they are not willing to put in the time. It takes time. Being a trial lawyer takes a lot of time. It’s not a 9 to 5 job. An example of not putting in the time is not preparing witnesses. I’ve seen lawyers put their client on the stand without preparing them. We usually spend two or three sessions, we have handout materials, and we have videos to prepare our clients. We do a lot to prepare our clients to testify. The same goes for preparing experts. If you don’t prepare your experts for what’s coming then you are just playing with fire. Those are pitfalls I see, attorneys just not putting in the time needed to do this time of work.