Damond Garza has been a defense and a plaintiffs attorney in San Antonio for almost 20 years. He has tried over 40 cases to juries and leads San Antonio’s trial lawyer association. He is a good friend and offices next to us at Hill Law Firm.
Justin Hill: Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases, a podcast discussing real-world cases handled by Justin Hill and the Hill Law Firm. For confidentiality reasons, names and amounts of any settlements have been removed. However, the facts are real and these are the cases we handle on a day-to-day basis. All right.
Justin: All right. Welcome to Hill Law Firm Cases podcast. Today, I’ve got Damond Garza with me. Damond is a lawyer in San Antonio, a friend, and he’s also a lawyer that we work with on some cases. He is the current president of the San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association and his reign ends tomorrow, right?
Damond Garza: I think officially on the 21st, actually.
Justin: He’s also a stickler for technicalities as you will learn. I asked Damond to come on and talk about practicing law. Really, the point of these has been younger lawyers. That’s been the thought process and that’s been the response from people. When I tell you who will respond about you being on here, then you’ll understand. You’ll be like, “Oh, okay. I understand your audience now.” You’re not the first SATLA president I’ve had on there.
Damond: That makes me a little-
Damond: -less special feeling, but that’s okay.
Justin: First [unintelligible 00:01:22], I mean. I think that’s what they say in that one show. Javier was on. I think he’s the only one that would have been SATLA president. Bill Marler was on. There’s been books written about him. Mikal Watts was on. He’s been indicted and has a book and movie coming.
Damond: No books or movies based on me yet, unfortunately-
Damond: -or fortunately. No indictments that I’m currently aware of.
Justin: I think you would know. What is SATLA?
Damond: SATLA a local trial lawyers association that is comprised of a little bit over 400 members these days. Primarily lawyers here in the Bexar County area, but we have a good contingency out of South Texas and we have members really spread as far as Alaska, even because it’s a group of lawyers who represent folks, who represent people against companies, organizations, insurance companies who tend to have a lot more power and influence in the courts. We represent those folks against those powerful folks whenever they suffered a loss, injury, death, economic loss, something like that.
We put our minds together to share information, to help each of us better represent our clients. The folks who usually defend injury cases have large organizations, they share information to help strengthen their defenses. We try to pool our resources to better combat against those forces who would otherwise deny the availability of the courts to regular people who have suffered a loss.
Justin: San Antonio Trial Lawyers Association is not limited to San Antonio lawyers. I think there used to even be in Alaska person.
Damond: We still have a very active member from the State of Alaska, we’ve got people from the East Coast, the Midwest, the Southeast, and everywhere far-flung in between.
Justin: A very robust idea and document sharing through our Listserv, but the rules are just lawyer and do not regularly represent insurance companies. Is that basically the breakdown?
Damond: More or less. Yes, you have to be a lawyer who represents people for the most part, but the biggest thing is you cannot represent insurance companies or any corporation or governmental entity regularly.
Justin: To get in, they apply, they have to have multiple people that vouch for them, pay their dues, which are really not bad.
Damond: Our dues are actually significantly lower than a lot of other trial lawyer organizations that do what we do. That’s intentional. We don’t want to be exclusive only for lawyers who make money over a certain amount or who can afford a certain entry point from a cost perspective. We want it to be open to virtually all lawyers who do what we do because we believe that a high tide raises all boats. Our whole thing is get the information out to folks who represent folks like we do and it will be better for everybody in our industry because when those people are represented well and the right results are coming out of the courthouse, that helps all of our clients.
Justin: Our San Antonio Trial Lawyer Association Listserv was the model for Texas Trial Lawyers Association Listserv. We were ahead of the curve long before you and our lawyers probably.
Damond: Yes, absolutely. That Listserv is such a great resource and one of the main reasons why a lot of folks who don’t live or practice in Bexar County, or at least in Texas, still maintain their membership with us is because our members are really good about sharing that stuff and it’s super helpful, especially for young lawyers or folks who are striking out on their own, hanging a shingle as it were because it becomes like a virtual law firm where lawyers who have more skins on the wall, a lot more years in the practice under their belt are willing to share their ideas, their thoughts, their forms, their documents, transcripts of folks that you might be having to cross-examine.
They’ll even volunteer to do some feedback on your cases. It’s all stuff that people volunteer without any expectation of return other than the hope that when you, one day, have material that could benefit another member, that you will also be willing to pay it forward and share your stuff.
Justin: You become San Antonio Trial Lawyer President, you’ve been in for a while, you’ve been on the board, you’ve held some positions, what is your lawyer history?
Damond: When I graduated law school, I initially started doing I guess what you would call insurance defense work. I went to work for a defense firm based here in San Antonio that I had clerked for in law school. After about a year there or about a year or so after I got my license should I say, I decided to leave there and go work for another San Antonio-based defense firm who specialized more on products liability defense.
We represented some of the largest companies in the world who manufacture automobiles, watercraft, things like that, farm equipment, what have you. I was there doing mostly products liability defense work for about five years with a little bit of insurance defense work sprinkled in that. Then sometime around the six-year mark of being licensed or so, I decided to come over to the side of the good and the right and represent individuals doing plaintiff’s work. That was about 10 or so years ago.
Justin: You went to work for a plaintiff’s shop in the Southside of San Antonio. You also are a disciple of Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College which has a cult following. What is that? What is the science and thought process behind trial lawyers college?
Damond: Sure. Gerry Spence, for those of you who are not indoctrinated into his mystique as it were, is largely regarded by many folks as the best or the greatest trial lawyer that America has ever known. He has a long track record, both in civil cases like I do now, and also in criminal cases as well, trying cases all across the country, some of which were very, very widely covered by the media especially back in the day. He is a lawyer for the people. That was his thing is he wanted to help folks fight against those who had more power namely the government and large corporations and defend our individual rights.
When he really started to gather a lot of notoriety for his talent and his skills, he bonded together with other notable trial lawyers, many of whom were from Texas but around the country, and said, “Look, these insurance companies and these defense entities, these groups that were put together by large companies to try and help themselves, insulate themselves from liability for their wrongdoing are holding these seminars and they’re teaching these defense lawyers all these tactics and methods to basically prevent our clients from getting what their just due is and we need to create a college or a school for lawyers for the people.”
We want to train lawyers in the best ways to approach their cases and ultimately to try their cases, to give regular people a more even footing in the courthouse. We need to do it in a way that doesn’t make those lawyers beholden to anybody.”
When they were trying to put together this idea of the college, there were some companies who came forward and said, “Hey, we’ll be your corporate sponsor. We will fund this college that you’re trying to put together,” but Gerry and the others who helped him put it together, knew that whenever there’s money being given, there’s oftentimes strings attached. They didn’t want to be beholden to anybody. They created this organization that is run entirely on donations from individuals. It’s all raised and run almost entirely by volunteers.
There are, I believe, at the time that I was last aware only three or four full-time employees of the college. Then, everybody else who works for, including the board and all the instructors, are lawyers who just volunteer their time. They were trying to teach lawyers to be better lawyers, but their concept was that to be a better lawyer, you first had to be a better person, the best version of yourself. Gerry and a few of the other guys that he helped found the college were teamed up with a world-renowned psychologist whose last name was Moreno. He, I believe, was based out of New York.
They knew that he was using a tactic or a strategy or a type of, I guess you’d call it, therapy in which folks who were using it for therapeutic purposes would get together and they would use this psychodrama technique to delve into what’s going on with folks on a deeper level, to understand their motivations, to understand why they do some of the things they do. They decided to adopt that methodology for use in delving into a legal case and determining the individuals involves true motivations, their true feelings exactly, maybe what really went down on a given incident, and then you could mine that for information to use in your case.
Prior to being able to use those techniques or those strategies in a legal case, you first learned the skills or the techniques by using them on yourselves. That’s where Gerry and all of the other faculty talk about becoming a better version of yourself. If you use these techniques to delve into your personal life and the issues that you’re struggling with, because we’re all human, we’re all fallible, we all have shortcomings, we all have baggage from our life experiences.
If we stop ignoring those things but actually take a really hard look at them, we can hopefully become happier, better people. We can work on our things that maybe need to be worked on personally and when we get to a better place, personally, we can then be a better lawyer for our clients. Those tools and those techniques are fungible across both personal lines and professional lines when it comes to working with clients on a case.
Justin: They do small seminars, but you actually went and did the holy shit package three weeks in Montana. It used to be once a year, but now they do twice a year, I think?
Damond: Yes. It’s actually based in Wyoming. It used to be–
Justin: Is there much of a difference, Wyoming, and Montana?
Damond: [laughs] Stickler for detail?
Justin: Yes, exactly.
Damond: It’s about a three and a half week course now. I think it originally was a full four weeks, but they’ve shortened it down to about three and a half. I did one of the small regional events first which is the ones they do in local areas spread out around the country several times a year which is just a long weekend. It’s like a three-and-a-half-day deal. That wet my beak for the possibilities of what the program can offer. Then, I signed up for the full college up in Wyoming. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. It’s down in a river valley in the middle of some mountains, in the middle of Wyoming, and the campus was set up on Gerry’s actually family ranch.
He purchased what used to be the double diamond cattle ranch because at the time I think in the early 1900s may have been the largest cattle operation in the country for a period of time. He bought this ranch years and years prior. What he did was he carved out a small piece that he donated to the college under a lease that said as long as they maintained a trial lawyers college there as a nonprofit, they would continue to have the opportunity to use the property. I believe he carved off a couple of little pieces for his children. I’m not sure if he retained any for himself.
Then, he donated the overwhelming majority of it back to the Shoshone native tribe that used to live on those lands generations ago. This campus was in the middle of this river valley down below these mountains. There was virtually no cell signal. They didn’t offer us internet and the ideas for the three and a half weeks that you were there, you’re disconnected from your job and your family so that you can focus on working on yourself as a person and as a lawyer and you’re not constantly distracted by all the bells and whistles coming off of your phone or your iPad or your laptop and everything else. It’s a super-intensive three and a half weeks.
Justin: All the stories I heard about it I thought it was gobbledygook. It was touchy-feely in some of the stories. Everybody likes it. Some people like it more. Somebody, in particular, had a discussion with me and it was like wild stories of things people admit to in sessions, but I had you come and help me prepare a client. It was really eye-opening and watching her go through what you made her go through made her really reconsider and think about what her loss was. It was really eye-opening to me. I did apply. I was rejected. It’s the story of my life, constant rejection, but it was really interesting to watch. You have tried 30, 40 cases?
Damond: Yes. I think it’s about 40 at this point.
Justin: I tell people in San Antonio, I really don’t know anyone that’s tried more ca- probably, it’s a deal but in our contemporary age group. You and Toscano really are the only two guys I know that have tried a bunch of cases, and Desi who tried a bunch of cases with. Any of them stand out? Any specific trials you think, “Man, that was so eye-opening and/or changed who I am as a lawyer”?
Damond: Yes, there’s a lot of those moments sprinkled in there. I can think of a few.
Justin: Let’s go with a few.
Damond: One of mine had to deal with a case where my client was on an unrelated matter, something that transpired many months after the crash in which he was injured and for which we were representing him, he was incarcerated in a federal penitentiary up in New Mexico. He was there on some pretty nasty charges for, if true, some pretty despicable behavior. He was there. We had to go up to New Mexico to take his deposition and we videoed it, but then we ended up needing to call him live to trial. There was no way to transport him from New Mexico to Texas. He had to testify telephonically during his case from the penitentiary in New Mexico.
Justin: That hurts your case.
Damond: Yes, it does. There’s all kinds of reasons why, not to get into too many of those details, but yes, it does hurt your case. The defense, in that case, was just salivating at the idea of a defendant being locked up in federal prison in the hopes that a jury would ignore the law and ignore the facts of the crash for which the case was being tried and rather would punish him again for being a criminal. We’re all raised to believe that there’s right and there’s wrong. As a kid, I was raised to look up to police officers and to respect them, and to look down on criminals. We played cops and robbers as a kid. That’s just the thing.
I believe that the defense lawyers and probably more specifically, the insurance company that hired them that they working for, when they found out this guy was incarcerated, they thought, “Well, great. No jury’s going to award money to a criminal even though the law says you focus just on the facts of the incident, not on the entirety of somebody’s life.” We knew we were going to be fighting against prejudice against criminals. Whether it was intentional by a juror or not, we all come into the courtroom with our own internal biases.
That’s one of the things that we worked out at the trial lawyers college is recognizing that we all have internal biases and then drawing them to the forefront so that we can call them what they are and not allow them to be driving our decisions in a case. For this particular case, we fully expected that the jury would hear a lot about it, that the defense lawyers would take every opportunity they could to remind the jury that this guy was a criminal and to highlight that. Well, the defense really wanted the jury to know why he was in prison, which the rules of evidence only allow in certain circumstances.
There are certain procedures you have to go through in order to be able to introduce that evidence.
Justin: One being moral turpitude, which is still the only time you’ll ever use that word is in our industry with that one thing.
Damond: Right. Had he committed a crime of moral turpitude, which is basically theft or fraud, something involving deceit.
Damond: Right, then that the rules say, “Hey, that’s fair game for a jury to know,” because if this guy has been convicted of the crime, essentially of lying or deceit, then the jury deserves to know that because maybe they want to use that when they’re weighing the credibility. If it’s testimony in a case where he’s testifying under oath, tough to tell the truth. Well, he didn’t commit crimes of moral turpitude or any of the other crimes that would normally be admissible.
Justin: Not a felony.
Damond: But it was a felony. Which is sort of a catchall, and the defense has to go through certain steps to be able to prove that it’s admissible, which they had not done by the time of trial. We properly moved to keep that out, basically because his criminal case was still under appeal and it hadn’t been finalized, and it’s only admissible when it’s been finalized or exhausted the appeals. They didn’t have proof that it had been finalized. They couldn’t prove or disprove whether it was on appeal. The judge said, “Well, you haven’t met your burden, so you don’t get to bring it in.”
He wasn’t to come in, but they were so desperate for the jury to know that he’s a criminal of some kind of any kind to remind them that he’s a criminal because they really wanted the jury to ignore their duty and to just punish him again, even though he’d already been punished. They brought up the fact that, while he was unemployed, he was acting as a shade tree mechanic. He would buy old, beat-up cars, fix them up and flip them for a profit, but he was doing it and making so little that he hadn’t bothered to file taxes.
The defense lawyers made sure to ask him in front of the jury about flipping his cars and about not filing his taxes. What he did, I think unintentionally was he allowed the jury then to believe that my guy was locked up for tax fraud, which was a far lesser type of crime in severity and in nature than the actual crimes he was there for. I believe had he just stuck with what was available to him. Otherwise-
Justin: Let their minds wander.
Damond: -the jury’s minds would have gone to those deep dark places. A guy’s not able to come to trial because he’s locked up in a federal pen in Mexico.
Justin: All of a sudden your Badger becomes your good juror because he was screwing the government and the hell with the government.
Damond: Absolutely, because nobody enjoys writing a check to the government or having those taxes taken out of their paycheck. The thought of somebody being locked up for, “cheat” and the government for taxes is a much more palatable crime than what he was actually charged with. They just couldn’t let go of that idea of them wanting to make him look bad and have the jury punish him. They ended up, I think undercutting the way the jury felt about him and maybe even making them like a little bit more because they just couldn’t get out of their way. They couldn’t stop going down that path. Even though that had been cut off by their failure to check those boxes.
Justin: The first case I ever tried, there was a issue about whether the sheriff called the defendant and told them, “Hey, this is dangerous.” The sheriff knew it’s dangerous. Did he ever relay that information? The lawyer I’m trying it with at the time, big production takes off his watch and goes and gives it to him and says, “You see, there’s a second hand on there. I want you to tell me when it gets to 12 and then I want you to time me.” So it’s a turn and he gets to 12 and he says, “Okay, go.” The lawyer I’m with goes the big production, he picks up a phone and five, five, five, five, five, five, five, ring, ring, Hey, that’s really dangerous. Don’t let your people do that. Hung up. How much? 30 seconds.
Okay. We’ll be taking you 30 seconds to make this phone call. Then he gives him his watch back and I look at it and it’s a Rolex. I just remember thinking if that sheriff had just been wow Rolex who would have just tanked, a $10,000 watch while you’re doing this production in front of a country jury. I just remember thinking that was a really dangerous move. Luckily the sheriff did not do that, but a sheriff in Waterloo Bay County probably hasn’t handled a ton of Rolexes in his life, and I just remember thinking what an unforced error.
Damond: Yes. That’s another thing that I’ve learned from the jurors who’ve been kind enough to stick around after my trials and share information with me is that jurors, they pay attention to things that you wouldn’t otherwise expect. Which is one of the reasons why we do focus groups. We look at a case as a lawyer from a certain angle, from the law, or because we know, unlike our clients. We lose the forest from the trees sometimes and when you bring in regular folks to just give you a fresh set of eyes and a new different perspective you find out there are things that are important to folks that aren’t important to lawyers that you need to be mindful of.
What I learned from talking to the jurors after one of my early trials is they pay attention to what we were. I think I started that case. I might have done voir dire and just a sports coat in like slacks or khakis rather than a full on regular suit that first day, because we had a long pretrial and I wasn’t sure if we were going to get to the jury and so I wasn’t in a suit. I’m going to get a coat and tie, but it was different. One of the jurors said to me, he’s like, “I wasn’t sure about the way you were dressed that first day, but your suits got a lot better at the trial went on.”
I just thought, “Man, they really–” and I think it’s because there’s downtime during a trial that you don’t think of as a young lawyer, if you haven’t tried cases and the jurors, sometimes they’re sitting there waiting for the judge and the lawyers to do their thing and they just find ways to fill their time. They start looking around and paying attention to those little details.
Justin: Laner talks about that, he said at one of his trials, the jury came up after the verdict and said, “We spent a lot of time talking about how rich you were because we saw you wore 18 different suits.” He said, he went and had 10 of the exact same color and he says, he wears the exact same looking suit every single day at trial now because of that. That was a deal at Watts. Michael is not into dressing nice and Hunter was, and you would see them argue over things like that.
Damond: I’ve read papers about studies that have been done about the color of the suits you wear and things like that. Whether you wear a darker suit or a lighter suit and maybe which part of the trial it’s better and maybe it depends on what kind of a witness you’re cross-examining.
Justin: That got up in that stuff. I just don’t.
Damond: I don’t invest in it heavily, but I do take note of it because I know that, the research that they do comes from somewhere, the data is real and so it’s just good to be mindful of it. I won’t let it dominate my thought process.
Justin: But the South Texas jury is going to be different than if they did that in California or did it Mississippi. It’s just a different world, I think. Cameron and her dog go during the summer, they’ll let you try a case in a guayabera. It’s just a different mentality down there. My whole thing is somebody told me don’t let the way you dress detract. Don’t wear anything flashy. Don’t do anything. That’s going to make people pay attention to anything other than what you’re doing. Wear a white shirt, a simple tie.
Damond: That’s it, so, like I said, I won’t let it completely dominate my thought process in a case, but I try to keep it simple. I will wear suits within a very narrow spectrum of color. My shirts are always just plain white and no cufflinks, no distracting ties, very simple plain.
Justin: Just Tabasco ties, right?
Damond: Something like that. I don’t want the jury distracted by my clothes. I would rather them focus on the argument that I’m making or the case that I’m presenting and not what I’m wearing.
Justin: You and I both come from similar upbringing, father, coach, mom, teacher, administrator to some extent, bigger town than me, but kind of similar back then at one is big. Is there anything you think, and you also played college sports and you were much more successful at it than I was, but anything you think team sports has taught you about our industry?
Damond: Yes, I think so. For sure. There’s obviously what I have learned and come to appreciate is the benefit of having others around to support you in what you’re doing. Whether it is the stuff in trial, which is an easier allegory to that, just the teamwork that can go into a trial, especially if you have a larger trial team, but even in the office there’s just something to be said about folks appreciating other skillsets, knowing where your strengths are, but maybe also where your shortcomings are, appreciating that others can either fill that gap or you, or help to elevate your level of play, so to speak.
I really enjoy the gathering of minds to bounce ideas, to have somebody maybe watch you do a practice run through a voir dires statement or something like that, where you get feedback. It’s not just about being on an island, even though, lawyers who do what we do often advertise and it’s just the one lawyer in the shot, and it’s talking about his accolades and his skins on the wall and all that kind of stuff. The reality is, there’s a whole team behind that lawyer, that lawyer is not successful without other folks. I certainly don’t think that I have a monopoly and all the best ideas.
One of the things that I’ve enjoyed about moving into the office that I’m in now, where you and I and other lawyers share space is that we get to act like a virtual firm, even though we all have our own small firms, we still are willing to share ideas and help each other improve our game, just by sharing shared experiences, or giving tips from hard lessons learned, things like that.
Justin: I agree with all that you said. One thing I’ve noticed in my practice in hiring people, is two things. One, growing up in sports, I don’t know if it’s because of our fathers being coaches, but just that sports world is getting punched in the mouth is not as affecting to me as it is to other people.
I’m probably the puncher more often, and I am very comfortable in those waters. A lot of that has to do with, you’re humbled in sports, sometimes you’re the best. Sometimes you’re the worst. Sometimes you embarrass yourself. Sometimes you don’t. That’s one of those lessons, which gives away to what Javier Espinosa and I talked about, which is grit, like our industry, you need to have grit. Then the other thing that’s really stood out to me, and really, particularly in the hiring is something I heard my dad talk about, but I didn’t really know which was coachability.
Very few people I have found seem interested. Let me rephrase this. Too many people I have run across seem disinterested in learning a different way. A lot of people have just accepted that this is the way I either learned it or I think it should be. There’s very little acceptance of a different way. I think that has to do with coachability. Particularly for me with hiring, when people work for me, I’m paying their bills, you’d think that that would be a little easier. Instead, it seems offensive to some people.
Nobody in particular, but it just stood out is, we grew up being told be coachable. That was a skill. That was a positive part of you if you were coachable. It’s an age thing to where independent thought trumps coachability in a way that’s unproductive occasionally. Does that make sense what I’m trying to get at here?
Damond: Absolutely. As a trial lawyer, you need a certain level of confidence, and self-assuredness, and things like that, to be able to do what we do. You’re going to stand up in front of a group of folks, and try to help them understand what your client’s plight is, and to ultimately do what you’re asking them to do at the end of the case that takes a level of moxie, for sure. It shouldn’t come at the cost of being willing to admit that we can all improve in some area of our life, whether it’s personal or professional, nobody’s perfect. I know it’s a cliche, saying, but it’s true. There’s always room for improvement.
I do find that a lot of people are set in their ways and are unwilling to learn because they feel like, well, it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’ve had success, so why not just keep doing it? That belies the reality of times change, people change, overarching views of the public can change, like what worked for a jury in the 1980s is not going to work.
Justin: Oh, you watch like some of those old school guys like Jimmy, all I got to see do a few things. I remember thinking, hokey it seemed. It was so successful then, but then 20 years of the insurance industry saying that it was all bullshit has started to affect people. That changed things.
Just go into that Laner seminar, which was a three-day seminar, a strange way of practice law in total, in a way for the better. That comes from the way we were raised. I asked everybody this, what are some of your favorite things to do task wise in the practice law? I love to get into a real meaty expert deposition, probably because of my ego.
I think I’m going to be smarter than that guy today. It’s fun to be challenged to beat somebody in their own expertise, doesn’t always work but it’s a challenge that I find really fun and enjoyable. What are some of your favorite things to do in the practice of law?
Damond: I think that a cross-examination, really whether it be an expert or a corporate representative, or even that occasional instance where you get a defendant, who maybe is a professional of some sort or has an education, or maybe he’s just watched too many bad lawyer movies and shows on TV but comes in thinking they know better than you.
Justin: Where they’re not sympathetic.
Damond: Right. Then getting to slowly break down this position that they’ve built up in their mind and these delusions of grandeur they came in with, we’re going to one up the trial lawyer in his own game. Then just pick it apart when you shine a light on for what it really is and to watch it fall apart and then to watch them and their body language change when they go from being so overconfident to being crestfallen and realizing that they were maybe out of their depth can be entertaining.
Justin: If they’ll do that.
Damond: Right. Then sometimes it’s a bigger gift if they don’t, because if they dig their heels in and refuse to acknowledge something that is blatant and obvious, then it just makes them look so absurd, that any audience to that testimony is going to completely ignore them or lose faith in anything that they say because they’re so obviously ignoring something that is apparent.
Justin: How about in trial, you like board are open, close, direct, cross?
Damond: This flies in the face of what I was taught at the Trial Lawyers College, which is a case is one in voir dire. It should be over by the end of opening statement if you do your job. That’s probably true. I feel like I enjoy the closing argument more, even though ostensibly, the juries a lot of times made up their mind already by that point of the trial. Just because I feel like my skillset plays well, for closing. That’s probably my favorite part.
Justin: What do you find difficult? For me, I still think one of the hardest things to do in our industry is direct a treating doctor because you don’t know what they’re going to say, they’re not there to play along. They’re oftentimes very sure of themselves. They’re not real interested about your standard of care, or what you have to prove. I find those to be very difficult still, to this day. I do and I’ve done a lot of them. What are some of the things you find difficult in our practice that may be a young lawyer’s listening to and thinking, “Well, shit, 20-year lawyer found this hard, I shouldn’t be too upset about it?”
Damond: Well, I think you touched on one of them for certain, because you’ve got a non-captive witness that you don’t sit around and practice their testimony with and you don’t go over it. You’re right, there’s a bit of a wildcard aspect to it that can be challenging, and certainly keeps you on your toes, when they start to go off on tangents and things like that. I still find a challenging aspect of a trial to be putting on the testimony of either a client or a family member, who is just the type of person who’s not very open, who finds it difficult to talk about difficult or embarrassing or traumatic things and to truly let down their guard and let the jury into their world.
I get it, the way I grew up, and the folks that I grew up around, we weren’t. Sharing personal private things in front of strangers was a no, no. Sharing too much emotion was not really expected and it was even frowned upon at times. To talk about very personal or private or emotional things in front of strangers can be hard. However, when we sue folks, oftentimes in these injury cases, we’re not just looking for repayment of medical bills or repayment of lost wages and things like that, but we’re also looking for other things that the law provides for, which are what we call the non-economic damages. The pain and suffering, the mental anguish, the impairment, things like that.
Oftentimes, those types of damages reveal themselves in very private and personal ways that folks don’t want to talk about and they will refuse to do it unless you can really work with them ahead of time. Sometimes even when you work with them ahead of time, it’s hard to get them to truly open up. However–
Justin: [unintelligible 00:39:43] examinations are just difficult.
Damond: They are.
Justin: They’re boring for the jury normally, they’re difficult. You just have to even if you’ve worked with them, sometimes you just hope for the best.
Damond: A lot of the work that I did with you and your client on that case that you mentioned earlier was trying to help break down some of those barriers of being, trying to keep things private, which you normally would keep private, but then, understanding and realizing the time and the place to disclose them and the importance of doing so and just trying to get them comfortable with it. One of the tenets of that is that we try to from the Trial Lawyers College teachings, one of the ways we help our clients to get over some of those barriers is we start by sharing something private and personal of our own.
By showing them like, this is a safe space, we’re going to talk about some things, but I’m not going to ask you to do something that I’m unwilling to do myself. We start by sharing some personal private things and just letting them know, this is a place where we’re going to talk about this stuff. Then, not everything they reveal is going to be later told to a jury, right? You work through a bunch of material, so to speak, and then you figure out what is necessary to achieve your purpose because it’s not about embarrassing anybody. It’s not about putting on a show for the sake of putting on a show.
It’s about finding the meat and only putting forth what you have to because it’s not about manipulating anybody, but it’s about making sure they really understand what somebody has been through. I find that to be challenging oftentimes, especially when there’s a language barrier and I’m doing it through a translator that makes it even harder,
Justin: Way harder. The worst cases are when you spend a day prepping somebody and then they get there. Just nothing you all discuss is done. That’s always a great frustration.
Damond: There’s been a number of those conversations in the hallway of the courthouse after my client or whoever gets off the stand. It’s like, “What happened up there?” It’s just they get nervous, which is understandable but it’s still [crosstalk]
Justin: Revert to what’s natural for them. What advice do you have for young lawyers? I remember whenever I was straight out of law school and I went and worked for Watts, but I just cold-called and went for a job that wasn’t listed and that he had never hired, and why not? I took a swing. That’s always my advice for young lawyers say, “Yes, you get a chance to take a depo that is way out of your league. Do it, prepare, be nervous, sweat, go do it.” What’s your advice for young lawyers?
Damond: I think that’s great advice actually is take advantage of opportunities or maybe even better, know when to know how to notice an opportunity, be looking for them. I’ve had, my first depo that I took as a lawyer, solo, I think I had an hour’s notice before the depo was going to start, to not only prepare for the depo but then to get halfway across town to the depo site. I just said, “Why not? You can do it.” I think that taking advantage of those opportunities go and watch a good lawyer doing lawyer stuff if you can.
I know young lawyers sometimes are strapped for time because they are expected to be in the office and be visible to their employer and all that kind of stuff but let them know. Don’t just disappear on them, but let them know, “Hey, there’s a case being tried by this good lawyer. I want to go watch part of it,” because it’s not that you’re going to go and you’re going to see something and then you’re going to go mimic it because not everything stylistically is for everybody. You might watch it and say, “Man, that worked for that. That’s not for me.”
Justin: Or just to see what the final product is supposed to be. Maybe it’s not your style, but just to know, like the tone and timbre in the process, it’s so important.
Damond: I find that is helpful to young lawyers and then to non-lawyer staff and law offices to sometimes just see how this issue plays out in real life and in real-time. Sometimes we get lost in the piles of paper and the formality of filling out these forms or submitting these documents. We don’t really understand how they play out in a trial until we see somebody argue over the format, how it was done, and was this detailed, forgotten, and overlooked because if it was, it can be the single little detail that determines whether something’s admissible or not.
Justin: I was trying to give context to everybody in the office because I think it’s important that people know why they’re checking a box because that box means this and that’s what it means at the end product. But my first step I took guy Watts calls me, I think I’d been there one week and he says, “Hey, I need you to take a depo.” It was the accident reconstructionist for a double death tire case in Johnson City. It was the DPS accident reconstructionist. Even more difficult than an expert. I spend 40, 50 hours getting ready for this depo. Everything, he won’t talk to me, no advice, whatever.
Then we’re driving to the depo, “Well, what’s your plan?” I’m walking it through what I’m going to do. He says something along the lines of I wouldn’t do any of that stuff, but whatever, and no advice. It’s not like, “Well, I would change that.” Just I would toss the whole thing. Anyway, I go take the depo. He didn’t really have anything to add. He never tells me how you do it differently. I look back and I think, “Well, I still do it my way,” but he just dropped that bomb on me like an hour before the depo, that was very sweet of him.
Damond: My depo worked out pretty well. It was a food poisoning case and I was deposing one of the plaintiffs who had suffered food poisoning and I had a few medical records and that was about it to review. I went online, I was looking at the WebMD, or I don’t know what, but I was looking up these different diagnoses and the symptoms and all this stuff because it was a bunch of medical jargon that I wasn’t familiar with. I just went in there and said, “Okay, I’m going to ask as many questions as I can think of to make sure that I’ve covered every potential base,” because I have a decent grasp of this from whatever I could learn an hour, but certainly not a full grasp.
I don’t want to leave a stone unturned. I was very, very thorough. The doctor that the lawyer I was working for, who hadn’t hit the depo, the doctor that he hired in the case to review it, reviewed the depo and called over to the office specifically to thank the lawyer who took it for doing such a good job because he said, I’ve never seen this thorough before. That word trickled back down to me, they’re like, “Hey, whatever you did, it worked because our expert called back and thanked us for doing such a good job. It was the best depo transcript I’ve ever read.” I thought, “Well, that’s my first one.”
I guess it’s at least I’ll know, that there’s nothing bad that can come out of just being overly thorough, I think in most cases so it’s kind of [crosstalk]
Justin: I think that’s a good rule of thumb. My depo’s got a lot shorter whenever I had to start cutting them for trial and realizing, “I don’t want to cut my own six-hour depo,” but it changed the way I did things.
Damond: For sure.
Justin: You’re a 20-year lawyer, 18, 19?
Damond: What year is this? 2021. I will be 17 years this year in the fall.
Justin: You’re not that far ahead of me. You were ’05?
Justin: I was ’07. Okay. What do you see next? You’ve branched out on your own. You’ve been bouncing around defense plaintiffs. Now you’ve got clear head going forward. Any types of cases, any change of path. Are you ready to become a mediator? What’s next for Damond? After your reign of SATLA has ended as well.
Damond: After my reign of terror is over. Then, it’s going to be really focusing for a while on just building my own practice that I started recently, Garza Trial Law, and just honing that and getting it to where I want it to be for now. I am, whatever certified by the state, or I have whatever the statutes require to be a mediator, but I don’t necessarily–
Justin: I was joking about that.
Damond: I don’t necessarily think that’s something I’m going to do anytime soon.
Justin: I would terrible at it.
Damond: It’s something that I think I could do maybe down the road,
Justin: You have a personality for it.
Damond: I guess people have told me that, which is why I only reason why I think that otherwise I’m not really sure, but I’m just not sure that I’m there yet. I think I want to focus more on, trying more cases and just building my own practice for now. What I’m doing right now is where I think I want to be for the short term for sure.
Justin: I’ve talked about it for young lawyers. You’d be a perfect person for them to call to team up with for try case with them, teach them the ropes. You’ve more cases than almost anybody I know in this city. That’d be a really helpful option for some young lawyers who are going to trial for the first time.
Damond: Absolutely. There’s a number of younger lawyers that I’ve spoken to who are doing, I guess, what I’m doing now. Although I’m doing it a little bit further down my career line, but trying to start their own practice or they have begun to build a practice, but they’ve never really been in the courtroom. I tell them, “Look, you need a trial partner, let me know. I’m happy to walk you through my process and to help you learn from my mistakes because certainly there’s no need to reinvent the wheel and a lot of this stuff.”
I learned from working with other lawyers, so I enjoy it. It’s not just about sticking my nose into somebody else’s case. It’s really, I learned by trying cases with other lawyers, every case that I’ve tried with a different lawyer, I’ve learned something from each lawyer that I’ve tried a case with.
Justin: In every trial?
Damond: Absolutely. I think I’m getting better with each trial. I always learned something new about either myself or the practice of trying cases or all of the above and that’s kind of what I’m doing right now is talking to other lawyers who have cases like this but have never tried them or are still a little green and say, “Hey, let’s try some cases together.” I enjoy it. I think that I’ll learn something. I think they’ll learn something and hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll achieve something good for their clients.
Justin: So what’s your office number if somebody listens to this, someone wants to give you a call?
Damond: My office number is 210-625-5000.
Justin: If they want to email you, what’s the go-to email?
Damond: dkgarza, G-A-R-Z-A, @gmail.com.
Justin: All right, well, Damond, thank you for doing this. I will see you every day because we office just down the hall from each other, but I appreciate it.
Justin: Good job on your SATLA reign, even in spite of the fact that it was marred by COVID.
Justin: So thanks, Damond,-
Damond: You’re welcome.
Justin: -appreciate it.
Damond: Thank you.
[00:51:04] [END OF AUDIO]