Hunter Craft has handled some of the biggest cases against car makers, trucking companies and major corporations in the United States. He blazed his own path and had hard times along the way. Now, he is running a great practice and doing great work for people in need. He joined the podcast to talk about being an attorney and give advice to young attorneys. He is my friend and the closest thing to a mentor I ever had.
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.
Justin: All right. Welcome to this episode of Hill Law Firm Cases podcast. I just made Hunter Craft listen to our ominous intro music, which the podcast that I started for the law firm has really kind of changed since I’ve started it and it’s become more of just kind of a– I really think if you just listened to the podcast, you would learn everything you need to know about my law firm, who’s here, who we work with, and the types of cases we handle. Honestly, I think that’s been a pretty big success. Hunter, thank you for being here.
Hunter Craft: Justin, thanks for having me, man. I’m looking forward to visiting with you.
Justin: Yes, a little color commentary. Hunter is who I tell people has been the closest thing I’ve had to having a mentor. As a lawyer, he was a Attorney at Watts when I started, he then became a capital partner with his name on the wall at some point, which was well deserved. I worked in his office. I worked on cases with him, and then over time, we started our own law firms, and still occasionally, we work together. I rely upon Hunter heavily to provide me guidance, sometimes tell me when I’m being an idiot, and really just be a great friend. I’m glad you’re here and I want to talk to you about the things that I think are interesting about you.
Like I told you before the show, the context is, a lot of people nerd out about being lawyers. I tell people you’re the best lawyer they’ve never heard of because you’re not into the pomp and the stuff on Facebook and all that, you do it quietly and you do a great job. I’m getting the opportunity to ask you questions that I’m sure a bunch of lawyers wish they could.
Hunter: Well, I appreciate it. I tell you, I’ve told a million people that the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten is the one you gave me, and that is that you refer to me as the greatest lawyer that people have never heard of. It’s a source of pride with me. I’ve always been taught, and since growing up under my father, that it doesn’t take pomp and circumstance, you don’t need billboards, you don’t need TV ads, you don’t need to brag about everything that happens is good, if you do a good job for your clients and you’re fighting every lawyer out there, to whom that will eventually be relevant, will know about it.
Justin: I think to everyone that comes across your path, they know who you are. It’s funny in my world, there are so many lawyers I run across and talk to, and there’s some that have never heard of you, and then the ones that have worked with you or against you have nothing but great things to say. Let’s just get started. You and I are both Baylor Law graduates. You were there a little bit before me. You left Baylor and got the job at one of the firms that everybody leaving Baylor wishes they could get. Fulbright & Jaworski, man, that was one of the top echelon firms. What drew you to Fulbright? Then honestly, you weren’t there that long, so what drew you to leave?
Hunter: The obvious answers on Fulbright, it was one of the jobs that everybody really wanted. You got to crawl into an elevator and go up 41 flights and get out and hear the Dane and look around and see some of the greatest talent in the country walking the halls. You walked down the hall and you were picking the brains of people like Steve Dillard and OtwayDenny and some of these names that a lot of your listeners will know too.
I don’t know how you turn down that opportunity. Every case that you were working on was important. The guidance, the leadership, the brain power, the resources that you had was– I can’t think of a better way that I could have started my career, but ultimately, I wasn’t drawn to defending corporate America. In fact, my heartstrings pulled me in the opposite direction. I know that they deserve a defense and they deserve a good defense, but that was not my cup of tea.
Justin: Also, a different thing about the air when you came out, where the big building silk stocking firms, most of them still had some amount of litigation power in them. They’ve all moved away from that, it seems like, but you were on the back end of the big firms having stud litigators. Fair to say that a lot of those have moved away from that, right?
Hunter: There’s no question. I’m not necessarily proud of it because I would scold a young lawyer for approaching it the way I did, but honestly, when the offers went out after clerkship, I made it a very clear point to Fulbright, and I had another neat opportunity, and we can talk about that later if some other people have clerked on it, but ultimately, one of the conditions to go into Fulbright is I said, “You’ve got to put me on one of these two last tort teams. There was two teams and it’s divided into teams and those were the only people doing real world litigation anymore. All the rest of it was paper pushing and these giant commercial lawsuits and that sort of thing.
In terms of actually having an opportunity to get there and fight it out a little bit, there were really only two teams left, and I insisted upon it, and frankly, instead of kicking me in the rear end and sending me on down the road, they were receptive to the idea. I did, I got a lot of great experience [unintelligible 00:05:16] the last waning years of that opportunity in big firm law.
Justin: What were your other job offers? You mentioned it, so what were they?
Hunter: I was really torn between– You have the usual slew of some big firms that I had interviewed with, but the other clerkship I took was really interesting. Someday when we have another 15 minutes, I’ll tell you how I ended up in Fulbright of Houston, but I grew up in Dallas and I had a really unique opportunity to work under somebody that was a defense lawyer then who is now one of the pre-eminent plaintiff’s lawyers in the country, Charla Aldous.
Justin: I didn’t know that.
Hunter: I did, I clerked with her back when it was Cooper, Aldous & Scully. I walked in day one, and for whatever reason, she happened to be in the office, because she was always out of the office, [unintelligible 00:05:59] cases, and walked by and said, “Let’s go grab lunch. I want to meet the new kid.” We hit it off and I did the predominance of my work for her and through her. She was real honest with me that she wasn’t probably long for that insurance billable defense work, that that portion of her career was winding down at the time, and so it made it a little easier to end up at Fulbright, but that was certainly a unique opportunity.
Justin: She’s gone on to have an incredibly successful career-
Hunter: She’s amazing.
Justin: -yes, as a plaintiff’s lawyer now. You were at Fulbright. You stayed what? Nine months-ish?
Hunter: No, I was there 18. I was there twice, Justin. [laughs]
Justin: So, two. For whatever reason I was in gestation periods to me, two children worth. [laughs] Yes, there’s reasons, I think, in those terms at this point in my life, but from there, you went straight into what would have been Watts and Heard at the time. That’s about the time– What year would that have been?
Hunter: It was April of 2001.
Justin: That’s probably about the time I started looking in Texas Lawyer and stuff like that, and they were on the full page ads about these monster verdicts and monster settlements. Those guys, they were the new kid on the block, and they were hot as fire could be.
Hunter: All I can remember is, back when people used to get Texas Lawyer in print format, and you could see these full page of Denman and Michael walking up to the courthouse and it would say, “Watts and Heard coming soon to a courthouse near you. Have $35 million in verdicts and 35 whatever, all before the age of 35.”
Justin: It was pretty good.
Hunter: It was a flash and I got a hand to those guys, not only did they market it well, but frankly, they backed it up. Two of the better trial lawyers, I think, I’ve ever had the privilege of watching work.
Justin: Watts came on here and I had a lot of young lawyers reach out that, “How did you get him to come on your show?” You know what I mean? There still is that mentality of there are people that are kind of untouchable. If you’re a guy doing TV commercials, you can never meet George Clooney, and I think a lot of young plaintiff’s lawyers trying to make it, and that’s the top of the heap and he deserved it.
Hunter: In fairness, that’s something that I was drawn to always, about what he is, a tremendously successful lawyer, well earned. He has had a lot of notoriety, all of it based upon hard work and success, but really, if there’s ever a guy you could sit down and drink a Miller Lite with, as you know, [unintelligible 00:08:31] would be happy to pull up a chair right next to him, wherever he’s sitting and visit with somebody, pick their brain, and let you pick his brain, communicate with you. He was definitely influential in my career in terms of that.
Justin: How did you get over to Watts? Leaving Fulbright, I’m sure there were lots of options for someone like you, you’d already had a good academic career, you’ve got the pedigree of Fulbright & Jaworski, you worked on a tort team there. Otway Denny, I know was one of the guys that, you said, has mentored you at that point in your career, who still is a legend. How did you choose and end up at Watts?
Hunter: Its a really funny, it was all through Denman Heard. I’d never met Michael. There was a lawyer, who I just hold in great regard, that was a little ahead of me at Baylor and then at Fulbright, and then he jumped to Michael. A guy named Roger Braugh. Roger had already left. His family was from the Kingsville area. He had already left to go work for Michael when Michael was just in Corpus. Word had leaked that Denman was joining Michael and that they might need an associate. It leaked through one of Denman’s old law partners when he was at Williams Bailey or whatever the iteration was when Denman was.
Just by word of mouth, I ended up meeting Denman for a bucket of beers at a place that’s no longer there in downtown Houston. After about two hours, I was sold. I walked in the next morning and had a painful conversation with the guys at Fulbright that I’d made a decision to do something different.
Justin: You went through this in a way I did not. Without getting into details, you left a real salary to go work for Michael, which was basically eat-what-you-kill type of environment. What was your process in doing that, sit down with your wife at the time and say, “Look, we’re going to have some lean years,” or did you just expect it was going to be super easy?
Hunter: I didn’t. I thought it was going to be easier than what it ended up being, and it certainly wasn’t easy, and I’m grateful for that. This day, it was a situation where we were pregnant. We had just bought a house and I didn’t have a salary. It was a draw. I didn’t even know what a draw was. I remember the first question that I asked when we got into a firm meeting as somebody kept using the term referral lawyer, and I raised my hand just like I was in law school and asked what a referral lawyer was.
I was green. It was a hard steep learning curve. I tell the story. It’s really funny. I got into a fist fight in my front yard with a Ford Motor credit guy that came to repossess my expedition that I’d bought when I had a Fulbright salary and I physically could not make the payments on it anymore. I had bill collectors calling me, I had everybody calling me, and that’s when– My wife had a job and a salary. She was doing the best she could, but ultimately, her goal and our goal for her was to be a stay-at-home mom. You can imagine the compounding problems that I had created by taking a steady certain job when she’s pregnant and ended up to a place we were physically fighting off bill collectors.
Looking back on it, I can say it with a smile. It wasn’t funny then explaining to the West View police why I had just taken a swing at the Ford Motor tow truck driver. Looking back on it now, I’m so grateful for those years because it’s made me hungry, it’s made me smart when we’ve had the opportunities to have some success, that those days can come again and don’t let them catch you off guard.
Justin: I think the dumber thing was taking a swing at a tow truck driver. Those guys are grizzled.
Hunter: It ended quickly, thank goodness.
Justin: They have tire irons.
Hunter: It was more of a crime of passion than of wisdom.
Justin: My experience at Watts I was told I have a salary and then I was coaxed to leave that fore draw that I paid interest on. Now, when I meet with young lawyers that especially want to get on the plaintiff’s side, I have a different perspective of how compensation should be structured, because you look at people like you, me to a much less extent, who struggled when you had the opportunity to make a lot more money elsewhere. It’s a different mentality. I think once you’ve had to go through that and you have to humble yourself [unintelligible 00:12:43] “I chose this and I’m broke right now.”
Hunter: It’s interesting as you look to hire young lawyers, there are just no young lawyers really anymore that are willing to take that eat-what-you-kill right off the bat. I tell everybody, I said, “You’re welcome to have a salary and I’ll pay you a salary because I don’t want anybody have to go through what I went through. At the same time, I can promise you you’re going to be a better lawyer. It’s going to make you hungrier and it’s going to teach you to invest in you.” It’s real easy to take an automatic deposit to your account every two weeks, it’s a whole different idea to completely bet your financial independence and survivability upon you, your ability, and your work ethic.
Justin: I think I learned a lot of that from you. I just started cold calling every lawyer I could find in town because somebody was going to refer me a case and that was going to help me get out of my financial straits.
You went over to Watts, you had a handful of years that were rough. I think you told me about even going to the Hammer’s office and picking up some of their referred out stuff that nobody wanted. You got to go on like the third day and pick over trash, but you were hungry, you were doing what you could, take what you could. Then if I recall, you said you had a big break because you had a Ford case. Watts had just got into a war with Ford and yours was the first set for trial in that war. So much of that is luck. Talk to me about how important the Ford wars were for you as a lawyer in your development? How much luck just played a factor in that.
Hunter: I’ll always say this, I love Denman Heard to death, but Denman Heard’s background was not necessarily in automotive and tire products, and that was Michael’s bailiwick. I was in Houston and I got a phone call, and the great ironic tragedy of it is he’s a fellow that I used to play baseball against in high school then went to a rival high school. He and his wife were returning home from her birthday party and a family in Temple, Texas when they suffered your classic Firestone wilderness tire tread separation, OEM tires on a Ford vehicle.
Justin: Fast forward, Firestone for people that don’t know.
Hunter: Firestone, I apologize. I know some of the viewers look at me– It reminds you how old you are when a lot of people look at you with a blank face about Ford Firestone, but that was one of the great- [crosstalk]
Justin: You were on the end of it though to be fair.
Hunter: Yes, I was. It was one of the great historical torts, but I had that case and I didn’t have a ton of leadership on how to work it up. Roger, like I said, was with Michael then and it was very helpful, but it really forced me to grab myself by the bootstraps and just invest myself. It’s hard to explain because it sounds like stories that you tell everybody, “Oh, you know back when I walked to school barefoot, uphill both ways in the snow,” but it’s true.
I was up at the office until 2:00 AM every day. I was back by 6:00. There were plenty of times where I snuck in and slept on Denman’s couch just trying to learn about vehicles and tires and I owed it to that family. Back then, they had formed a statewide MDL. They had federal MDLs, but it was a brand new concept back in the early 2000s. They became the gatekeeper for these Ford Firestone MDLs. They had this draconian list of things that you had to do to be able to get out of the MDL to be able to go to your trial court and try the case.
I was proud to say that, post formation the MDL, that case was the very first case that checked all the boxes and got sent to a trial court. I remember one of the nicer Ford lawyers. He was one of the national guys [unintelligible 00:16:19] 9 or 10 different Ford lawyers from four different firms working on it. He called me and said, “I just want to congratulate you. I can tell you that there have been conference calls that you had been called every name in the book and we have done everything we can to prevent you from being able to go to trial. I hope you go kick their ass.”
Justin: Where was the MDL at?
Hunter: The MDL was actually in Montgomery County, our region. The region for our area my case was pending in Orange, Texas. It was the actual MDL [unintelligible 00:16:51] in Montgomery County in Conroe.
Justin: Was that Barahona?
Hunter: Jeffrey Harden.
Justin: That was the first in the Ford wars, right?
Hunter: That was the first for me. Now, Michael had a long history with Donna Bailey. Michael and [unintelligible 00:17:06]. They had definitely unturned the stones and done the discovery in their own rights and had cases. In terms of the post-MDL or what they called the new wave or the second round of litigation, where it switched from the ATX tires to the Wilderness AT tires, that was the first one to actually go through and get dismissed out of the MDL.
Justin: You correct me if I’m wrong, but if I recall Watts telling the story, and I always like to tell their stories because everybody likes to hear cool stories that you heard. Watts would tell the story of how he settled a bunch of these. Then at some point Ford called him and said, “We need to reset values on these cases,” and he said, “We’re going to have to try them.” There was a year where six got tried and my understanding was in that year, yours was the first.
Hunter: It wasn’t the first, they had some guys. Iwant to say Carrizo Springs, they tried to roll over against long odds and were successful. I think Frank and Michael, and I don’t want to leave anybody out. I’m pretty positive those two were involved, hit a rollover and it really, really made Ford mad. Then I remember we had a post settlement meeting with Ford on the docket after that verdict. There were some things that were said and some positions that were taken that soured the relationship.
The next thing that I specifically recall is Michael having a meeting with some people that had more experience and were more versed in the product liability things gathered us in a conference room and said, “We’re going to war.” I tried three different cases that summer I think mine ended up being the second, which was tried up in the Eastern district and Marshall. Then the next one out of the bat was an F150 rollover that I tried in Cameron County. Then we tried an Explorer rollover in Hidalgo County. Then we tried an F250 rollover in Hidalgo County.
At some point along the line, after we had a little over $100 million in pending verdicts against Ford and judgements, they called Michael and had one of the most interesting and fun nights of my life sitting in the conference room at our old office and really getting to explore with Ford’s new concepts about the value of these cases and what these families had lost and how they’re not going to be treated like a grid or a square and grid.
Justin: Part of this luck, I tell people, is right place right time and also hard work I think goes into success in our industry. You got to be part of Ford trial teams against Ford. One of those was your cases, and for listeners who don’t understand. You had a case that was your case and Watts was also on it, but if it weren’t your case, it was another lawyer’s case, and for the most part you had no involvement in other people’s cases, you somehow got to be part of those trial teams for your case as well as non-your cases. How did you get to be part of that trial team? Talk to me about the value of getting to trial? What was it, 20 weeks probably worth of product liability cases in one year?
Hunter: Well, if you’re newly-married, it’s not a good idea. That’s one of the side effects. It’s difficult on your family, but it was amazing. I was not a part of the first trial team in Carrizo Springs. The Ayala case, like I said, was in the Eastern district and then I helped on two more. To reel off four trials, and again, that was in a period from August to November. We’re talking about a very compressed trial about trying four multi-week product liability cases. Just the things that you see. You learn stuff that are obvious, You get to hone your skills on how to address a jury, how to talk to a jury, when the right time to get angry, when the right time to be soft, when the right time to be whatever is.
Some of the more important trial skills that people get lost or that are lost upon people is simple stuff like, what do you do in the war room? What are you doing to prepare your case? What time are you going to bed? What do you look like when you turn and whisper to somebody in trial? What are you dressing like? Are you showing them that you’re tired? Are you showing them you’re frustrated?
A lot of opportunities to skin your knee in some high-stakes litigation that have forever taught me some things or at least reinforced a lot of the things that I was taught at Baylor by watching just some really great trial lawyers, both on our side in terms of who we got to work with and some of the defense lawyers. Ford and Firestone do not hire cream-puff lawyers, in case you haven’t noticed. It is some of the top defense lawyers that I’ve ever seen grace a courtroom. Just to watch them, to anticipate what good lawyers will do, how to counteract that sort of thing, it’s lessons. You can’t sit down over a drink or at law school and teach a lawyer, you’ve just got to go skin your knee and see it done.
Justin: Watts is one of those guys that is not going to sit down and mentor you and tell you how to do something, but to his credit, he’s going to let you do it. I went to the Lanear Academy and Lanear says he tries his case start to finish, only him, nobody takes a witness, nobody does anything in trial but him. Watts lets people participate. If it’s your case, you get to participate fully and learn by doing. I thought that was a great lesson I got from Watts.
Hunter: To your credit and while you’re selling yourself short is Watts did do that if he trusted you. You were in that boat where he trusted you and thought you were a great lawyer. He was right, you are. The cases that we got to try together, you did get more leeway than a lot of lawyers did. After a time, I was afforded that same thing too. You’re right, we did get a rare opportunity from a lawyer that not only had an excellent stronghold on the litigation and how to approach it, but also knew that there was a future generation of lawyers who are going to need that same sort of experience.
Justin: You stayed at Watts for a long time, you built your own book of business. No inside baseball, but for young lawyers who are trying to build their book of business, what is your advice on how to do that? Because you did it masterfully and you did it from the junk case to the cases everybody wishes they could see once in their life.
Hunter: I try to have the same philosophy today. Hard work, number one. I used to have a saying. I don’t think it’s unique to me, but it seemed unique at the time. I would go to a referral lawyer. Like you said, you mentioned Jim Adler, I did some stuff with him. If you could name a big advertising lawyer, number one, it’s having the courage to walk in their and face them face-to-face, pick up the phone and visit with them.
My whole big pitch to a lot of the people that were great to me and are still loyal to this day is, “Give me one chance. I know that you are working with other lawyers, I know that there are a lot of great lawyers out there. You may or may not know who I am. Give me one case. If you’re happy with it, give me a shot of the second one. If you’re not, you’ve lost nothing.” I’ve built relationships upon that.
A couple of other things that I would tell young lawyers, always be honest. Don’t walk in there and tell a referral lawyer, “Oh, I’ve got $5 million for a case like this.” Don’t oversell yourself. Just be honest with them. If it’s a case that after you’ve reviewed the facts that you don’t think that you can be successful on, ultimately, it’s helpful to them because they don’t have an unhappy client like you do. They know upfront. I’ve always said, “I’d rather have the truth upfront even if I don’t like it than I would on the back end.” Shooting them straight and not getting in money fights.
The thing that I said, and Laura, who is one of the lawyers that works with us, she’s my law partner, said today on evaluating a referral agreement, “A deal’s a deal’s a deal.” There is no reneging. You hear horror stories about these big-time lawyers that’ll bully their referral lawyers over fees.
Justin: Watts always said, “Never trade up a deal.”
Hunter: Don’t. Cut your deal upfront and honor it. If the next time they choose to send you a case and you think it’s going to be more money or more effort and more risk than what the proposal is on the table, address it then, but a deal’s a deal’s a deal. Treat people fairly, do what’s right. Like I said, give yourself a chance to prove yourself. That’s the big deal. Don’t make promises other than, “Give me one shot at this. [inaudible 00:25:58] off.
Justin: You took all that you learn, you took the business acumen and your referral sources, you started your own law firm in I guess ’12, ’13?
Justin: I left Watts in 2012, you left in 2013. You now have your own shop, lawyers, partner, [unintelligible 00:26:20] of council. You all are in Houston. You do product liability, you do big industrial accidents, oil field, truck wrecks. You run your own shop. I have been a outside lawyer on some of your work due to you letting me sit in on some jury consultant focus group stuff. You’re working on monster stuff and you’re doing a great job and your clients are getting great results. I want to talk to you just generally about some of the fanboy stuff about being a lawyer. What are some of your favorite cases you’ve worked on and then talk to me about some of the most important cases you think you’ve worked on because those might not have anything to do with numbers.
Hunter: In terms of importance, and I think it’s good, anybody that’s heard me speak or had to hear me speak, I’d give the same stump line at every speech and it’s because I really mean it. There’s 100,000 lawyers with a license to practice law in Texas. No matter what case you have, no matter what your client is, no matter what the facts are, whoever has hired you has picked you out of 100,000 lawyers. It is the most important thing in their life.
You may have a docket of, as we do, we try to keep it around 30, 40 cases, because I don’t think that we can handle a larger variety given the type of case we work on. You may have a car docket of 500 [unintelligible 00:27:41] cases. All of those are great, but remember that everything that you were doing is the most important thing in their life. When I tell everybody, “What’s the most important case on your docket?” Every damn case on your docket is the most important case.
In terms of social issues, one of the more important cases as you well know is the Megan Small case, which was the texting and driving case. It was the first texting and driving verdict in the country. It was important for social issues because it really brought about awareness. It gave us a media platform post-verdict to bring to light a lot of these issues. I think insurers when they write these corporate policies, began to require fleet managers to have cellphone policies and things like that that didn’t exist previously.
It brought about a new wave of experts in terms of forensically downloading events. Back then, you’d try to go the best you could off of the time on a police report versus an entry in a cellphone record, [unintelligible 00:28:46]. Now, it’s brought about a new forensic analysis that I think has– I hope it’s made a difference, at least in terms of commercial and fleet vehicles. I would say that’s one of the more important ones, especially given that family. I still keep up with their family and [unintelligible 00:29:07]. She was a Baylor student and so that was super important to me.
I know that you have done and continue to do sexual assault cases. I think that is incredibly important. I have two daughters. I cannot imagine the horror of what they go through. Like you said, maybe they’re not the most financially lucrative in terms of a plaintiffs lawyers, and sometimes they are, but that doesn’t matter. Everybody at my office laughs. I take on these pet passion projects sometimes. Sometimes I will get involved and bang my head against the wall, that may not ever have the upside of more than $50,000 or $100,000, but I’ll treat it like it’s a $10-million case. It’s for issues like that.
I think the texting and driving, I think the alcohol-related incidences, when you have somebody that’s behind the wheel and they’ve been drinking and the sexual assaults, at least in terms of a longstanding impact or societal change, those have been some of the more important cases.
Justin: What about product safety? Weren’t you involved in a Range Rover case that led to a recall, maybe?
Hunter: It was Mike Guerra and he did a fantastic job on that case. He did, and it was one of the first times I’d ever seen somebody parlay excellent plaintiff’s work into forcing a company to make a recall. That was outstanding on the fuel filler neck cases.
Justin: Look, we’ve all had cases. There are cases I look back on and I say, “That case made me a lawyer. It just took me 10 steps and one year that would have taken me 10 years to get there. Do you have any cases you worked on in which you just look back on and you think, “That case really made me the lawyer I am today”?
Hunter: Yes, no doubt. I think you’ve got to start with Harden and then that we talked about a little bit earlier, talked about a guy that had defended chemical exposure cases and silicosis cases for big law firm and jumped in and all of a sudden I’m suing for Firestone. That was an amazing learning experience. Followed shortly thereafter by a fellow by the name of Eric [unintelligible 00:31:11] from who he and his family were on a trip across America and suffered a vehicle failure that resulted in a rollover and his wife became quadriplegic and his daughter died. He was sitting upside down on the side of a highway in Moab, Utah waiting for MTS to come cut out his quadriplegic wife and his deceased daughter sitting right next to him.
That was my first experience with the rollover Air Kirks and that was one that was the first time that Ford Motor company got into a fight and we forced them to produce the rollover activated seatbelt pretensioners and the rollover activated air curtains. Even as Harden was fun, [unintelligible 00:31:56] and Michael and so many of the people at [unintelligible 00:31:59] had done a lot of the liability work on the Ford Firestone stuff. That was cutting edge.
That really taught me a lesson about putting pressure on the [inaudible 00:32:12], even in the face of their typical bullying. Man, I grew up a lot learning how to punch back in that case. As Art Briles used to say, “The best defense is a good offense,” it taught me that don’t be defensive, the best way to push your cases playing offense. I learned a tremendous lesson representing that family.
As you mentioned earlier, Barahona, that Toyota case with a five-year-old ventilator dependent quadriplegic young man, if I could go back in my life and revisit the way that that case was negotiated prior to trial, maybe or maybe not it gets done, but we chose to fight, we fought a good fight, but ultimately, as you know, we hit the trucking company who had limited amount of insurance and then declared bankruptcy and lost the case against the more profitable Toyota, you learn a lot and a loss. I spent a long time staring at the ceiling and staring at the wall after that six week trial learning. That was a loss, but that was certainly formative.
I still remember Garcia, which was the first big verdict I had, where I got to learn as I was already in Hidalgo County trying the next Ford case during this Ford Wars, we argued the case on Thursday, the jury had it all day Friday and never came back. I went to give opening statements and the Explorer rollover case on Monday morning came out after opening statements lunch. Got to call on my old flip phone and learned that we had hit Ford Motor company for $31 million.
All I remember is I couldn’t even catch my breath. I was trying to call the office, and I was trying to call my wife and kids, and I was trying to call the referral lawyer. It’s just the sheer thrill and excitement of that, that gave me a lot of confidence [unintelligible 00:34:02] “Hey, it could be done,” because like I told you, I wasn’t on the first trial team in that Ford fight, I was on and ran that second trial team along with Michael and we lost that case.
In terms of confidence and being able to do the job, I was in a place where I was really suffering. You’re beat down, you’re tired, your home life is suffering, the rest of your practice was put on hold, and you have been excluded and lost. Those were my first two experiences. To really come through and hit on that one, that was a formative case as well.
Justin: Then, how did you all do in the rest of those Ford war cases?
Hunter: The two subsequent rollover cases, and trying to think about this in my head, the Explorer case, and then the F250 case, both settled during trial. Those were ongoing and that’s when we had the a last, I hate to refer to it like this, but it’s one of the come-to-Jesus meeting on Ford on, A, “We’re not doing this on a grid, we’re doing this about the families and what they’ve lost.
Justin: Before we did this, I want to talk to you about your philosophy about being a lawyer as well as some of your other war stories. I’ve learned a lot from you about being a lawyer in a couple of different ways, but one thing has been, you don’t always have to stay in control and it is okay to let your emotions show. To be fair, you said I could ask you anything. Sometimes I think you are over the top with it, [laughs] but you and I’ve had these discussions and sometimes it does, it gets the better of me, it gets the better of you. I think seeing you be as passionate as you are has empowered me to know that it’s okay to be that advocate that is in a street fight against somebody spending hundreds of thousands of dollars or $50,000 to say your client is either wrong, or a liar, or not hurt, or whatever it is.
What empowered you to feel as though you could let your emotions guide you in the way that they do? Because I think that makes you a better and a different lawyer than other lawyers I see.
Hunter: Well, for right or wrong, there are a lot of times, and I tell everybody this, I do on occasion tend to go over the top. It’s one of two things, sometimes my emotion and my competitive to get the best of me and sometimes it’s very calculated. Sometimes it’s an effective intimidation tactic that’s used, but it’s these it’s these clients. It goes back to what I’m saying, out of a hundred thousand people that chose me, this is all they have. This is their only shot at replacing that income that their patriarch lost when some jerk was on a cell phone, driving an 18-wheeler and swerved over into his lane. That’s all that Ford Motor company can relate to when they make a decision to save a dollar and 37 cents on what power window switch they put in their vehicle.
To me, it’s like a shock and all, what do I need to do to get your attention? This is not a business decision to me. I understand it is to you, but I always hate the misnomer when people say, “Oh, that guy’s a true believer.” You’re damn right I’m a true believer and you better be a true believer, because if you’re not a true believer, you’re not doing your job in this case. Again, I’m not condoning losing your emotions constantly, but I am absolutely condoning being a true believer. If you’re not a true believer, and it’s just a 9:00 to 5:00 job, you need to go in-house somewhere.
Justin: I agree.
Hunter: You need to go defend insurance companies and sell your life in six minute segments. That’s what you need to do, but if you are going to do this business, and you’re going to represent somebody and understand that every day when they turn that key, they’re going to walk in to somebody sucking and blowing on a straw to move them around in a wheelchair, or that baby that’s laying in a crib, that’s brain damaged, will never grow up the way the kids that look a hundred feet to your right or a hundred feet to your left to your neighbor’s house, they’re never going to be okay, they’re never going to be the same. You as their lawyer are the only one that can do a darn thing about it.
I agree, and I understand we just fight for money, but that’s the only language that we speak. If you’re not passionate about that on behalf of your clients, I don’t know why you’re in this business. I really don’t.
Justin: I think he made a really good– Look, your passion is without doubt on all of this, but I think you made a really good point that I always try to focus on and I talk to people about, you want them to pay attention to you, and you want them to pay attention to your case, and you want your case to be a pain in their ass because they’re going to pay more attention to it. Defense lawyers, are they selling their life in six minute segments? They want you off of their butt and they want your client off of their docket because you are paying for them.
Whenever you take the position on a case, how you want to strategize, I have seen you be as sweet to defense lawyers and as agreeable throughout a case and I have seen you drop bombs nonstop by email, phone call, all of that. Is that a managing personalities thing with the other side? Is that different cases require different personalities? What changes you as a lawyer per case? In my estimation, it’s usually who you’re dealing with on the other side, but am I reading that correctly?
Hunter: You’re reading it correctly. There’s nothing worse, and it’s just the way God wired me and I don’t make any apologies about it, but if somebody calls me and wants to tell me how the cows going to eat the cabbage in the case, that’s strike one and we’ve got a big problem moving forward. I make no secret about it, I am the alpha male, I’m going to be the alpha male in a litigation, and if anybody else for a second misconceives that they have an opportunity to be the alpha male, we’re going to get that straightened out in a hurry and I’m going to fight you at every opportunity.
It is my lawsuit, it is my docket control orders, it’s my set of allegations, it’s my client, period. We’re going to set the tone for the lawsuit. Yes, sometimes it’s a personality thing, sometimes it’s a thing with an adjuster. There’s been plenty of cases where there’s an adjuster or a moneymaker where I have a different relationship than I do with the actual person, that’s the trial law and vice versa. You just never know, but, yes, I think it is very much a personality combining with just the passion and the way God wired me.
Justin: I think how I practice law, it’s equal parts who I am and equal parts who I’ve looked up to and been taught by. Who are the people that have taught you and informed who you are as a lawyer? What sets them apart?
Hunter: I’d tell you the person that’s taught me the most about being a lawyer is not a lawyer. The person that’s taught me the most about being lawyer is my dad, Graham [inaudible 00:41:05] It’s just a fundamental. He was accepting of things that his industry didn’t accept when it wasn’t cool. He did it because it was the right thing. He did it out of the love of people. My mom just has an amazing passion for people. I would tell you that my two biggest mentors are them. Neither one of them has ever been to law school or has a law degree. When my dad was alive he acted like he was a lawyer, he thought he was a lawyer, but he never had a law degree. Those are the two by far.
In terms of-
Justin: Legal mentors.
Hunter: -legal mentors, you’ve got to throw Watts in there, because he’s just so dadgum smart, but what a lot of people don’t understand and what I learned during those fights is his level of sacrifice, personally, time-wise, emotionally, financially. That’s some of the sacrifices that he had to make on behalf of clients in his fight at home. I don’t know how you ever repeat that. I think he’s one of a kind. I really do. He taught me that significantly.
I tell you, I learn a lot from people that I would consider peers too. You always think of mentors as being older than you. I have great conversations with you. Approachable conversations that you and I can I have, I learn from that. A guy like Craig Cherry who is in Waco Texas and lives under the radar as well. You’re not going to find him on a billboard, you’re not going to find him in an ad. A guy like Justin Jeter in Dallas who’s one of my dear friends, and Scott Pruitt. Just guys that are smart and wise and have a real cool and calming effect on me, have really helped me with stepping back, making a good strategic decision and executing on this. I’ve been blessed.
I throw a lot of my former law partners in there and a former lawpartner of yours, John Ramsey. I think he’s just a prince of a guy. I’ve just been real honored and privileged to get to practice alongside. Do I use the moniker mentor? I don’t know if I would or not, but I would certainly use it as good friends, necessary friends, people that I learn from, people that I thrive being around, people that I think make me a better lawyer.
Justin: How about Brian Egan, how is he in the formative years of your career?
Hunter: Wow, that’s a name that I’m so glad you brought up because I would go back and listen to this to just be sick that I had left his name out. Brian was unbelievable to me. When Michael was- [crosstalk]
Justin: A little background on who he was. He was a partner and Watts when you went over?
Hunter: He was. Well, he joined the same time I did. He played that role of, I don’t have time to go all the way into it, but he played that role of what we used to call law lawyer, [unintelligible 00:44:08]. He was a law lawyer for the Houston office, but he was wise. He had worked Ernest Cannon, he had a career as an engineer, he had been at ANN, he had been in the military, he was a career guy. Nothing flat.
That was when I was super young and just full of piss and vinegar. He had an amazing way of communicating with me. Because he knew how to communicate with me, it gave me great willingness to sit down and listen to him and accept the wisdom that he had, and he had a lot. He was just a really bright, really smart guy. We lost him way too soon to cancer. He got sick and so I only had three years to practice around Brian. Once he passed, I had to take over and run the Houston office– I’d been ’04, so I was 29.
Justin: That’s right. I forgot about that.
Hunter: [unintelligible 00:45:15] Houston office. I used to curse him every day for a dying on me. Well, the administrative stuff and everything else, that I had to do in here, but to just his kindness and the way he approached and taught me, the time that he always had to sit down and answer questions, to discuss issues with me or any other lawyer in the office, honestly, I haven’t ever seen anybody like him since.
Justin: You honored him by putting his picture in the conference room at the old office. I don’t know if it’s in your new one, but you honored him. That’s how important it was to you. So much of your answers to everything have been the human characteristics and human quality of who you’ve worked with, who you’ve represented, why you do what you do.
I want to talk to you a little bit about your philosophy as a lawyer, you do not do a lot of speaking, you do not do a lot of these– During the shutdown, every lawyer who was doing weekly CLEs, watch me and I’m going to tell you all these great things, you speak very rarely. You have a fantastic presentation on corporate wraps, people can get that through TTLA, but you put a ton of time and effort when you decide to talk about what you’re going to talk about as opposed to in the frequent flyers who speak on the same thing all the time, which is great, but for me, I don’t get a lot out of it.
I see people like you speak, I get a lot out of it because I don’t see it that much. You and I really don’t talk law that much when we hang out. We have a beer and we make fun of each other. I wore this shirt because you make fun of it when I wear it. You’ve been a cover model for a men’s clothing store in Houston. We both have our own sartorial jokes to make.
Let’s talk a little bit about being a lawyer. You’re fantastic. I’ve told people I think you’re the best trial lawyer I have seen. That’s totally subjective obviously, but when I watch you in trial, I relate to how you do things. I’ve seen people I think are impressive, but I also think, “I could never do that.” I see a lot of myself being able to do the things you do. I like your style. It is a style that I relate to, but outside of what you’re good at, what are some of the things you think you still struggle at being a lawyer and that is hard for you to– I still find it hard to depose treating doctors. They’re still wild cards to me. It’s not the most technical, it’s herding cats for me. What are some of the things you find difficult?
Hunter: Honestly, you said you’d ask the hard question, I’ll give the tough answer. The honest answer is, when I find that I’m making mistakes, I find that there’s one of two things, either my emotions or my egos are getting the best of me. It’s one of the two things. There are times where I dial back, I wish I hadn’t said something, I hadn’t done this. I would say in some aspects, that could be a lack of discipline. It’s made out to the right place. It’s a passion. Thankfully, it’s usually recoverable. It hasn’t burned me too bad yet. Things I could do better is keep that under control and just keep my eye on the ball.
I think it’s really important to young lawyers, and it took me a long time to learn this now, is have a game plan and stick to it, man. It sounds silly but when Matt Rhule was the coach at Baylor, he used to have this saying called ‘trust the process’. He sucked when he came in, and he was 1 in 11, and then the next thing you know, they’re in the Sugar Bowl and he’s off to the NFL in a three-year process, but since the day he got hired, I remember I was like, “Who in the hell is Matt Rhule? Coming from Temple. What is this?” He had a saying ‘trust the process’.
I’m learning. It’s hard for me, but I’m coming to the point, “Sit down and think about it. Have an analytical approach, put a game plan and follow it. Follow it. It’s going to be rough, It’s going to be tough, things aren’t always going to go your way, stick with the game plan.” Those are certainly all things that I can continue to do better, no doubt. [crosstalk]
Justin: To be fair, you’re a game planner.
Hunter: And all host of others. I’m sure you have a list that you’d be willing to share.
Justin: I think if I was going to say your biggest challenge would be your temper, that I’ve seen. I don’t see you have weakness in a lot of things, but I have seen things happen and think, “Oh, he’s getting sanctioned for this,” [laughs] and you didn’t somehow, I don’t know how, but somehow. I think the answer to this would be probably expert crosses, but what are some of the things that really excites you about not being a lawyer, but the actual things you do day to day. It sure as hell isn’t answering discovery, but what are some
of the favorite things that you do in litigation, and in what we do?
Hunter: Anything that gives you the platform to show that you’ve outworked the other side. I think that is key. We’ve talked about experts, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak of our corporate reps, about discovery, about being the landmark or the benchmark for discovering a national defect and that sort of thing, that geeks me out. I love to show up, and the greatest compliment you could ever get is, wow, they’re really prepared. They really understood what they were doing. Any opportunity that I have to show that.
If it’s [unintelligible 00:50:46], if it’s an opening statement, I can’t stand people that have these ragged pages on a notepad, and are up there talking to a jury trying to flip through stuff with their shirt half untucked. Be prepared, be ready, look like you know what you’re doing anytime you have the opportunity to do that, and be in control of the room. Those are absolutely my favorite opportunities.
Justin: No, you’re very polished. I don’t think people that haven’t seen you in trial or seen you do anything, it’s not just that you’re going to be dressed impeccably. You’re going to have everything ready to go. You’re going to be in control of the room probably because of your attitude either way, but you’re always going to be in control of the facts, which I think makes you in control of the room because how often do you sit across from an expert or a corporate rep who is as prepared as you.
Hunter: It’s embarrassing for them. I just presented an expert this week, and we sat down afterward, and I just shook his hand. I said, “Man, it’s a real privilege to get to work with an expert who doesn’t feel entitled just because they have a great CV, but somebody that sits down and really digs in and cares and prepares and understands.” That’s not prevalent enough in our industry, to be honest with you. Be it experts, be it lawyers, be it, you name it. It’s one of my pet peeves. It’s one of the, what I really believe is the downfall of what we do, is just sloppiness and lack of preparedness, and people losing focus on– it’s not about money. It’s not about you. It’s about that client that you represent, and how do you look them in the eye, and how do you put your head on your pillow.
If you are not the most knowledgeable– That’s what you get paid for. You get a fair and reasonable 40% of the recovery, but you get a fair and reasonable 40% of the recovery because you earn it. You better earn it, and that’s just something that– I challenge–
Justin: How many opportunities do you get to really show you’re earning it? That’s another point. How often do you get to sit down and geek out and go just crush somebody in and across. It’s not that often, so you should be able to spend the time when needed.
Hunter: That’s right.
Justin: I learned a lot from you. You used to torture me and make me come to Houston occasionally, which meant I wasn’t going to sleep, I was going to drink too much, and I was going to be given tasks that there was no way I could accomplish in nine days or five days, whatever time I was there. I remember thinking, at the time, that you had unsustainable work ethic. I think when you got your name on the wall, you slowed down, which just meant you worked harder than everybody but just by less than you used to. How do you maintain the breakneck crushing work ethic that you’ve always had?
Hunter: I don’t know. Good genes God just gives it to me, and again, it’s just motivation. I can’t come home at night. I really can’t come home at night and lay my head on my pillow if there are some open issues that I haven’t addressed. I think about it all night. It wakes me up. It gets me up in the morning. That’s just what drives me. It’s just what motivates me. As long as that’s the case, and as long as, God willing, I’ve got my health and the physical ability to do it mentally and desirable-wise, I hope I always am able to sustain that.
Justin: All right, let’s talk a little bit about philosophy, mediation. What’s your philosophy on mediation? What do you think it’s good for? When do you think it’s useful? When do you think it’s not useful?
Hunter: I think it’s the downfall [unintelligible 00:54:26]. I think mediation is stupid. That’s what I think it is.
Justin: You’ve got a position that you won’t mediate until, when in a case? We’re still trying to be productive here, Hunter.
Hunter: Outside of a very few trusted defense leaders, I will not mediate a case early. My philosophy is, if somebody calls you and there are sales pitches, before we spend the money on experts, and before we spend the time on this case, let’s sit down and see where we are. That is talk for let’s not do the work. Let me see if I can pick you off because you’re lazy or financially unsound.
Justin: Yes, I think that’s fair.
Hunter: I hate that, and I also hate when they file a bunch of motions right before mediation, and then they want to use that as a negotiation point. Look, if that’s your stick, fine, but we’re not going to mediate until we have a ruling on all those, because how in the heck am I supposed to evaluate my case if all you’re going to tell me is that you’ve got a 50/50 shot at getting a summary judgment? Let’s go figure out if you’ve got one, big boy. If you do have a summary judgment, fine, maybe I’ve made a mistake.
If I’m competent enough that I’m going to beat that summary judgment, and I’ve done my job, we’re going to negotiate on my terms. I think it really changes the tide of the room, and as you’ve seen, and I’ve given a speech on pressure, I don’t know how you apply pressure if the first conversation you ever have in a case, or early on in a case, is how do we resolve this case? How much are you going to pay me? How are we going to get it done? There is no pressure because in the back of their mind for the rest of the litigation they’re thinking he’s willing to negotiate on this case. There is no real pressure that puts them in an uncomfortable position with them and their clients.
Justin: Which I think is applicable to your cases. I think once you start getting lower value cases, there are the cases that justify mediating earlier because the expenses can eat up the whole case. When I get bigger cases, I take the Hunter Craft approach to that. The response from defense lawyers, when they file those motions right before mediation of me pulling mediation unilaterally, is as though I’ve just done– they’re dumbfounded.
Then you explain what you just said and they still just don’t understand it at all, but I think it always works out in our favor. Our favor meaning I’m copying what you have taught me, but I think it works out in the favor of the people who are unreasonable in their eyes, but in our eyes, they can’t say we’re not doing best by our clients.
Hunter: Yes, I agree with you. One of the greatest piece of advice I ever got is, they don’t owe you a thing by filing a lawsuit. When you file a lawsuit, it’s your job to go take it, period. Everybody that walks in mediation’s like, “You owe me this for this case.” No they do not. They owe you zero until you’ve proven your case, and it very well may be the case that you have to go take it from them. My philosophy is, look, you don’t owe me a dime. It’s my job to take it from you. If you want to negotiate in the meantime, fine, we’re going to negotiate on my terms. I’ve got a widget, which is a set of factual allegations. I own it. It is for sale, but it’s for sale when I put it on the market and for the price I put it on the market for.
Justin: You know, widget is also the thing and a Guinness beer that makes it frothy when you pour it out.
Hunter: I didn’t know that. Widget was always the hypothetical example Dale Williams gave us at Baylor Law School in product liability [unintelligible 00:58:10]
Justin: The only actual widget is that thing in a Guinness beer can that shakes, because while you’re a really good lawyer, I’m really good at jeopardy. I’m just giving you that factual thing for today.
Let’s talk about depositions. I have sat through, and there’s a lawyer in town in San Antonio who’s got to be one of the best lawyers in the state of Texas. He’s famous for taking six, seven hour depositions. I don’t, you don’t. What is your philosophy in a deposition, and I guess really my question is, you seem to, in my opinion, set up the deposition with the eye towards trial. Is that what you’re doing in a deposition, and if so, what are you leaving on the table, philosophically how do you approach that?
Hunter: I would tell you discovery, but requests for disclosures, which are uniform, every request for production and every interrogatory is designed specifically for that case. There is no set of 50 RFPs and 20 interrogatories that our paralegals just automatically send out. That doesn’t happen. Every single one of them is specifically geared for particular trial issues or summary judgment issues we may face given the facts of that particular case.
In deposition, you’re exactly right. If it is– I have a different– We don’t have time to go into it about whether or not it’s state court versus federal court and corporate rep versus expert and this sort of thing.
Justin: Let’s talk about state court.
Hunter: Generally speaking, I will absolutely leave some meat on the bone, and I will challenge them to bring that expert to trial. I will not give an expert my best cross, unless I’m really going after him for a Dauber issue. I filed three Dauber challenges or Robinson or whatever the equivalents are, in my career. We’ve been right on two of them. One of them was taken under advisement. If we’re going to shoot that bullet, we’re going to be right about it. If you’ve got a dog with fleas, I would so much rather instead of keeping it out of the courtroom, bring it in front of the jury and swat it and let the fleas go everywhere.
Justin: That was philosophically with you and Michael. If I recall– I mean, clearly I’ve been wrong when I say, “If I recall.” There was the judge in Del Rio in Yol Valdez’s case who said, “I don’t do Daubers. If you’re a good lawyer, you can cross them.” Did I recall that one correctly?
Hunter: Yes, and he also said the same thing about motion in limine. He showed up for pretrial and he was like, “What is today?” “It’s pretrial.” He’s like, “What is pretrial? We say, “We have some motion in limine.” He says, “I don’t do motion in limine. If you’re good enough lawyer, cross yourself out of it.” Then they brought up [inaudible 01:00:49] we got some expert challenges. He said, “What’s the challenge about an expert. Ain’t that what cross-examination’s for?” And he hit his gavel and left, and that was pretrial.
Justin: On a first note, I was right on that if I recall. That’s one of seven, I think. Also, that was your philosophy and Watson’s philosophy. I’ve taken that philosophy because I think– I got lucky in a case and I got to cross this guy and it was a case we tried together with that Dr. Bauer who starts on video and is beautiful and his hair is perfectly quaffed, and by the end of the cross, he’s red-faced and his hair is all messed up and he’s admitting that he had been kissing patients and getting in trouble for sexually assaulting his own patients. If we had not been able to put that in front of a jury– I mean, we lost, whatever. We lost on a different issue, but that was more powerful than having him not testify, I thought.
Hunter: No question. There was an exchange on AIG, one of these lawyer, whatnot, websites, chat rooms, listers. There was a real big debate on who takes expert depositions. Some people would chime in, “I never do.” Another, “I always do, but here’s what I limit it to.” The other people are like, “I always do this.” That’s the great challenge to a lawyer. Somebody that you and I both [unintelligible 01:02:21] Louis Muldrow where he may have been gone, but he had a great saying that I say all the time, and it’s like, when you’re a lawyer, it’s a good idea every now and then to stop and think. Think. Well, I don’t have any boilerplate rules of “I’m going to depose this expert. I’m not, I’m going to save it for trial. I’m not.” What I try to do is get the reports in, and I do try to put that in DCOs, right? That everybody agrees to exchange reports so that you have a good idea. If you have a report and you have a pretty good idea of the basis of what they’re going to say, you could make an analytical approach on, “Hey, do I want to depose this person and get admissions that help me in my case?”
That’s a very valuable and plausible explanation for deposing an expert. Hey, here’s an expert that’s vulnerable because I don’t think he has a scientific reliability to testify about this. I’m going to go after him on a Dauber challenge. Also a very valid basis. I worked a case with a guy in Tyler, Texas. This was a fantastic trial order, and his rule is, “I never depose an expert if they give a report.” Also, a very valid approach. At the end of the day, what I would encourage people to do is take those reports, sit down, read them and think about it. Don’t make a knee jerk reaction decision. Don’t have a boilerplate. Here’s what we do with experts. Here’s what we do with corporate reps. Sit down, think about it. Do I want to save stuff for trial? Do I want to hit them with it now? How do I want to approach it?
Justin: I was probably eight months out of law school. I was deposing an expert in that case that we tried together against Texas Lutheran. I called you and I asked you, “Hey, I have to depose a defense expert.” For whatever reason, we were able to designate an expert with leave of court 18 days before trial. They were able to designate a rebuttal expert 12 days before trial, but we had to depose him. I’m deposing her six days before trial. I asked you, “What am I supposed to do?” You said, “Make sure you get all of her opinions and all of her bases.” That was your advice to me. Like a hound dog with two things to do, “Is that all of your opinions? Okay, what’s the next one? What are all your bases? They’re all your bases?”
Then after reading the depo, I thought that was actually really good. I mean, it just made everything get fleshed out and made clear she had no clue what she was talking about, and you’re just asking simple questions. Where I run into this more often is, I have run into this situation where I get 10 experts designated on designation deadline. Trial’s in 60 days and they’re saying, “Well, you can depose them, but we’re going to have to get a continuance.” That’s usually in those situations, I’ll say, “I don’t need to depose them.” You’ll see them use that as a cudgel to try to buy more time on their case.
Hunter: Man, there’s no doubt when I– I’ve preached to every single lawyer that I’ve ever worked with, or that’s worked for me. Every single staff member understands at our office, the single most valuable thing that you have in a high-value case is a trial date. It’s a trial date that’s going to stick. People’s evaluations change. The process that is required by adjusters and corporations change. It forces people to focus on the issues, and they see things a little different. Heck, I’ve gone through in cutting depositions on the Eve of trial for page nine designations and discovered facts or testimony that I’m not necessarily proud of that I was previously unaware of.
There is nothing more valuable or precious than that trial setting. I agree with your philosophy. If somebody dumped 10 experts on me 60 days before trial and said, “We’re not going to let you to depose any of them unless you agree to a continuance.” I’d say, “I’ll take them all alive.” Remember, there’s a great– You got to crawl inside of the head of an adjuster too and a defense lawyer too. You got 10 experts. Where’s the case pending? Are you really going to take 10 experts to Beeville Texas? Because that would require you flying them from Chicago to Houston, Houston to Corpus, running a car, driving to Beeville. They’re going to be there for at least two, if not three days. You’re going to have 10 of those guys on the clock? Come on.
Justin: I think it also lets them know their frequent flyers probably have a lot of dirt that they don’t know about at that point. Let’s talk about, what is the best advice you were given as a young lawyer?
Hunter: Man, I’m telling you, it’s, nobody owes you anything. Okay? Nobody owes you a thing. It is your job to take it, and to put your passion behind the most important thing in anybody’s life. A mistake that I see commonly and that I would warn against, is people start counting the money. Everybody– We always pejoratively joke like, I can do anything times 0.4, right? Don’t ever start counting your money, because when people start doing that and they head into mediation and are like, “Well, if I get $3 million for this case, golly, that’s a $1.2 million fee.” Then in your head, you start buying bass boats and new Suburbans and Lake houses and all that kind of thing, and then you show up to mediation and it’s just what the defense and the adjusters and everybody want, you become beholden to the concept of those items, and you begin to lose focus. You are now focused on, “What if I lose my bass boat? What if I lose my suburb? What if I lose my lake-house?” You can’t, can’t, can’t do that. It’s always got to be about what is best for that client, period, full stop, end of story.
Justin: You’ve had incredible success. I mean, not to get into any of it, you’ve had incredible success but you’ve avoided the trappings of the success. Why? How? I mean, we’re in an industry where everybody is just pulling out their wallets and bragging and showing–I mean, I haven’t had the success you’ve had, but you could play in that world and you just choose to stay in– Look, you’ve got a nice house. I’ve been there, but it’s not ostentatious. Your dress– I mean, to be fair, you dress like a dandy, but other than that, and your taste for expensive wine, but not like crazy wine, just upper-middle-class wine. You’ve avoided the trappings of success. Is that a parenting thing?
Hunter: Yes, no doubt. I think about it all the time. If my father was still here, what would he think? My mother was really sweet. About 30 minutes before I went on with you today, she sent me a text, and because I didn’t respond, picked up the phone and she was embarrassed because I was supposed to go up and see her last week and visit her, but because of coronavirus and she’s 77 and it’s not a good idea to see her right now. My sister and I have decided to split the expense of an iPad, and we’re going to send her a new iPad.
Hunter: Then we sent her an iPad. I don’t know what they are. I mean, they’re not inexpensive, but they’re not over the top. We didn’t get her the pro or the air, just–
Hunter: -iPad. She called me up almost in tears and said, “Well, honey, you have a daughter starting college next year. You don’t need to be paying for an iPad.” Then I said, “Mom, we’re going to be okay.” I said, “That’s why I’m splitting it with [unintelligible 01:09:58]. We’re going to be okay. As long as I’ll restrict myself to paying for half of it, we’ll be fine.”We’re going to be with my sister.
Justin: Well, she is sweet. I met her once or twice, I think. She’s very nice. You said I have as much time as I want, so I’m going to keep asking you a few more questions, but I’m not going to drag you on too much longer. You’re a very [unintelligible 01:10:20] human being, and when you don’t like something, you don’t kind of not like it. You hate it. When you like something, it’s the best. I remember early on at some point, you were very against focus groups and jury consultants. I remember talking to you about it and it was huey to you. Now you’ve really got into the focus group stuff. I don’t know about jury consultants, but focus groups you like. I’ve gotten to sitting on in one, maybe two. At least one. It’s become part of your practice now, and I think you find a lot of value in it the way you did not. What made you turn the corner on focus groups? Sorry, you froze a little bit, but it’ll come around.
Hunter: Can you hear me?
Justin: Are you there?
Hunter: Yes, yes. A little backlog.
Justin: Did you hear me on all that sort of what changed your mentality on focus groups?
Hunter: Yes, I’d tell you. I absolutely did a 180 on that. Men, there is no doubt. I think that my change in philosophy was meeting the right people. I’m not on the show to endorse anybody in particular, but, man, Robert Hashon and Jennifer Lopinski who work with him have their work product and their value that they bring has absolutely changed the way I think about that. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, some of it can be redundant. It is laden of diamonds and just things that you would have never thought about. I’ve seen them sit down with our clients and say, “Here’s how I want you to dress at trial.” Just little things like that, and the honest criticisms and critiques. Things that I’ve learned from them, people that you work around are not always quick to offer criticism, for whatever reason. They’re just objective.
Justin: Because you’re scary.
Hunter: Well, they’ll tell you things you don’t want to hear, is what they’ll do. They’ll also give you just great advice that– I don’t know how many juries Hashon and Lopinski have picked, but I bet I can’t count it. They just bring a valuable insight, and as I get older, I’ve learned a lot. You’re always smart as the day you graduate law school. For this, you can get away from law school. The dumber you are. You know I’m pretty dumb, and I realize that there’s a lot of really smart people out there that have a lot of things to offer, and I am a big believer in that process. Especially on big cases and when there are opportunities to learn how to address specific issues. No doubt.
Justin: What are some of the other things you’ve come around on that you used to think I don’t buy that, I don’t do that, I don’t want to be part of that, and now you think this is actually great?
Hunter: That’s a really good question, man.
Justin: Have you gotten into the three-camera depot set up yet?
Hunter: No. I’m still kind of an old dog on all the electronic stuff.
Justin: Have you seen anyone use the three-camera set up?
Hunter: No, I haven’t.
Justin: You’ll love it. It looks great, and your cases can justify it. I mean, we’re in CNN and Fox News world where people are in boxes and it’s pretty good. It’s linear is new thing.
Hunter: Delegation, I would say, is the one thing I’ve come along to. I’m an absolute control freak. You’ve alluded to that earlier but in a bit much kinder way. I am a control freak. I still am, but have really learned to trust and to delegate to others. That’s been the big paradigm shift too in my practice.
Justin: You’ve never really grown your practice even though you could. Why?
Hunter: I don’t want to. I want to keep it really focused. Like I said, I can sit here and preach to you all day long about why I want to recognize the fact that every client that we represent, we are working for them and the most important thing in our eye. If I don’t allow myself the opportunity to treat the case that way, and to show the client that way, and most importantly for the client to feel that way without me having to tell them that, then I’ve lost my grip on what my co-fundamental is. Right? I started my own practice because I want a small boutique firm that is focused on very specific clients, and I want to be active and involved, and I want them to feel like we agree that it’s the most important thing. I can’t do that with 100 cases. I can’t oversee 100 cases even if I have 10 lawyers I trust.
You’re right. I have resisted opportunities to grow, I will never grow. I’m just telling you that right now. We’re in the market for hiring one or two more lawyers, but the concept of getting any bigger than five lawyers or four lawyers will never happen with me. I’m not interested.
Justin: Yes. You’ve sort of stayed around the same size. You’ve slowly grown a little bit. What do you think is next for your law firm moving forward? What do you want for your law firm moving forward?
Hunter: I had a conversation with somebody the other day that was doing some spiffing up the website and this kind of thing, and I made the statement that I won’t always be in this business. I won’t, and I don’t think it’s any great secret. Honestly, my next goal as I continue to I hope provide the best legal representation that we can, is grow some young lawyers. We are in the process right now of interviewing some lawyers, and not that I have anything against them. There’s been a lot of great success, and I was a lateral hire but I’m not looking for lateral hires. I’m taking people right out of law school, and I want to do and give people the opportunities that I was afforded. That is, train them, give them. Instead of catching the fish for them, teach them how to fish. Honestly, that’s where my heart is. In bringing upon the next generation of lawyers that are going to fight the bullies. They’re going to fight for victims’ rights regardless of what’s going on. As my dad always said, and I’ll tell them the same thing, take what you like and throw the rest in the trash. If I do something you don’t like, don’t do it. If I do something you like, do it better than me. That’s sort of where my focus is before I sail off into the sunset and become probably more philanthropic than a fee-based.
Justin: What does the sunset look for you, best case scenario? Teaching? Sitting on a couch? Being a sports commentator?
Hunter: [unintelligible 01:17:17] on the couch [laughs]
Justin: A men’s suit model? There’s lots of options for Hunter Craft. What does the future look like?
Hunter: What you failed to disclose to your listeners is that male suite model is about 30 pounds and 10 years ago. I’m not as in demand as maybe I once was.
Hunter: I don’t know, Justin. I think the next thing is going to be, like I said, training. Is that teaching? Maybe. Is it philanthropic? Maybe. Is it cutting back? You were talking about keeping up the work ethic. It’s sustainable now, and I’m grateful for it. I’ve got kids, as you know. One of them is going off to Baylor, the other one is a senior in high school. My goal is to be the granddad, or at least the active parent as they enter into young adulthood and be available for them. They’ve sacrificed a lot in terms of letting their dad go and do the things that have blessed the family. As that begins and as those responsibilities of providing for the family in terms of immediate needs, at least in financial aspect wind down, I suspect that my fight will too, and it will move to probably their education or philanthropic interests.
Justin: You say philanthropic, what are your sort of interests on the philanthropic side. What are the passions for Hunter Craft?
Hunter: Yes, there’s a couple of things. Number one, as you well know, we are really involved in the MS Society. We have a team every year have written– almost every year, not every year. With some interruption through the last 10 years. Raising money for people with Multiple Sclerosis. I am heavily involved in missions for the church that I attend, and that’s important to me. Then the food bank here in Houston is important. It has absolutely had an exclamation point put on it in the last six months. Obviously, we have taken a little interest in that. Then human trafficking, there is a group here called Elijah Rising that I’m involved within Houston that is super important to me, and that works in terms of education, and saving young ladies and bringing them into an environment where they’re rescued, rehabbed and retrained in terms of being able to be on their own outside of the oppression and the horrible environment that they’ve been forced into.
Justin: Are you doing any of the trafficking lawsuits? I know some law firms are into those.
Hunter: You know I’m not, and it’s not a philosophical issue, it’s just that the opportunity the right opportunity hasn’t walked in. It’s not one that I think this or that about the lawsuits. I just know that there’s a lot of people out there that are really focused on it and they seem to get the predominance of the cases, and God bless, I wish them all–
Justin: You never keep a broad practice, you always keep a pretty tight practice of a whole bunch of cases that are in your wheelhouse.
Hunter: In terms of an educational and experienced basis for the clients, to me that’s the best way to represent. If I know a whole lot about just a little bit but the most important thing in their life follows in that small pot and I know a lot about that small pot, then I do a better job for him than I do trying to go learn employment law or–
Justin: You would still be better than almost everybody doing it even if you were doing it as a one-off. That’s a Justin health comment. [laughs]
Hunter: You’re kinder to me than I am to myself. Thank you. I’m not sure that’s right.
Justin: Okay, so here’s one of my complaints about you, Hunter Craft, is you don’t speak enough, you don’t do enough education stuff. When you do speak, you prepare more than almost everybody else that speaks. You provide more value-added information for real-life practitioners. How do I convince you to put these on YouTube where people can see and– No, I mean it, where people can see, where people can download your papers and read them. I don’t take a corporate rep without reading your corporate rep paper, and that just came out what, two-three years ago, and I steal, that is my source to review.
I learned a lot about being a lawyer reading your demos when you give me a paper. That’s a lot easier than reading your demos, but you have so much great information that you could be disseminating to people right now. I don’t think you realize how well received it is from the people who listen to it. I would love to see you do something on experts, how you prepare for experts. That would be fantastic information for everybody, whether it’s through TTLA or not, how do I convince 100 craft to disseminate more wisdom to us plaintiffs lawyers?
Hunter: Well, the first thing you got to do is teach me what YouTube is and how to use it. That’s the first thing you’re going to have to do. After that, look, I’m always happy to do it. I can’t think of saving except one time where I got jammed up, but I’ve ever turned down an invitation or an opportunity to speak. I love doing it. I love, after the last TTLA speech that I was fortunate enough to give, which was at the mid-year conference, maybe a month or six weeks ago, I got a phone call from somebody that said, “Hey, why do you always give away state secrets, man? Keep the secret sauce to yourself.
I don’t believe in that. I really enjoy educating people. I really think that the more people know, the better off we all are. It’s a real challenge to me [unintelligible 01:23:05] it’s very personally, that what we do for a living and who we fight for is putting the best eye in the best light. The public is hard on us. They think that lawyers are greedy. I hate the commercials where they have their cowboy boots with their suit and feet are propped up on their desk and they’re smoking a big cigar.
Anything I can do to educate young lawyers, middle-aged lawyers, older lawyers, whatever it takes, at least in terms of work ethic, and explaining to them hey, look, here’s how I do it. It may not be the right way. I’m not up here telling you this is how to do it. I’m telling you, this is how I do it take it with a grain of salt again, if you don’t like it, throw in the trash. If you like it, take it and build upon it. I guess that’s a long way of answering it. I never mind, taking that opportunity and doing it, what I honestly perceive a lot of people and when they do that is a giant marketing opportunity. I’m just not going to do that. If somebody wants to sit down and have a beer, somebody wants to sit down and have a cup of coffee, or if I have the opportunity to speak when people have sacrificed their time, money, opportunities to come sit and listen to a CLE, I’m happy to visit with them, but to the extent that it would ever be viewed as marketing or for sale information, or the tip of the iceberg, if you refer me your case, I’ll give you the rest. I’m not interested.
Justin: None of your stuff is like that. There’s a lot of speakers that that’s not their stick, that’s not your stick either. Even if I have to force you to come on my podcast to do this, the value is– really, it’s just fantastic walking through the way you prepare, and what matters in a corporate rep is so different than the people that give corporate rep demos based on what the law says and the cases say, I mean, it’s just there’s such a different quality you provide to your advice that is real-world based on the actual experience and how it is used in trial. You need to give it– You need to give this to our industry, I think people really want to hear it.
Hunter: Well, anytime you call me, you know that I am, I will pick up the phone and I will do anything I can for you. I’m happy to donate the time and the energy.
Justin: Well, maybe next time you’re speaking at the CLE, I can do a pre CLE discussion about what you’re going to talk about and you can just put it all out there. Because this is posterity. I mean, if you had a YouTube channel or a podcast, write it on a piece of paper, write a book. I mean, dude, you are a font of knowledge about this stuff, practically. I mean it in a real sense. I still get people who will tell me about when you spoke at Sadler how that was– The same way I refer to your papers, they still say how important that was and how it was the most informative they heard, I hope you do teach one day too.
Hunter: Well, that’s kind of them. I hope I never– I’ve got a plenty healthy ego, but I hope I never think of myself that way. It’s that I appreciate you saying that. I put a lot of time, and I try to prepare, and frankly, part of the advantage of preparing for a speech like that is I’m teaching myself, and when I’m going through and learning this stuff, and creating an outline and creating a PowerPoint, I am looking at it from the eye of the viewer, and I’m constantly thinking about questions that I might be asked, or questioning a certain tactic, or how would I defend, here’s how I do this.
Honestly, I’ve put stuff on a slide and talk myself out of it, based upon just general wisdom. That is what ends up going into a speech. I like doing it, I enjoy doing it. It challenges me. It gives me the opportunity to be a better lawyer, and I’m always happy to do it when I can.
Justin: Well, if people want to know more about Hunter Craft and his firm, the firm that– If something happened to me, y’all are who I would hope to be called craftlawfirm.com, is that right?
Hunter: It is. I think that’s right. I had to look it up. Yes, craftlawfirm.com
Justin: I just said before you came on.
Hunter: I’m not on my website very often.
Justin: Hunter Craft, Laura Cockrell, Bo Daniel, Houston Base, they do practice all over America, but mostly all over the state of Texas. One of my best friends mentored to me an invaluable resource to me as a lawyer and co-counsel on a few cases. Thank you for doing this, Hunter. Just sit tight and listen to my overdramatic outro music, and then we’ll talk. Hold on.
Hunter: Hold on. I’m not going to do that until you acknowledge and tell everybody and we have a chance to congratulate you and Lindsey on your newborn Lincoln. I’m sure it’s made one of your podcasts previously.
Justin: It has not. I don’t talk about that.
Hunter: Well, let me tell you something, as proud as I am of you as a lawyer and all the great things I’ve done, I’m excited to see you and proud of you as a father and as a husband, and so congratulations to you–
Justin: Thank you.
Justin: It’s a very exciting time, and it changes your perspective real quick.
Justin: Yes. Hold on. That’s going to do it for this episode. We’ll see you next time. Hopefully, we can get Hunter back on to give us some of his CLE information, or some practice tips. This was getting to know Hunter, co-counsel, somebody who’s provided us advise, worked with us on cases. We’ll see you next time.
[01:28:42] [END OF AUDIO]