Sean Luchnick is a personal injury attorney in North San Antonio practicing with his wife and father. He joins us to talk about some of the challenges and lessons from his first few years of practicing.
Justin: 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.
Sean: I hope you’re off too.
Justin: Welcome to this episode of Hill Law Firm Cases Podcast. I’ve got Sean Luchnick with me right now. Sean, thanks for being here.
Sean: Thank you for inviting me, Justin.
Justin: You’re one in a long, illustrious list of lawyers in San Antonio who have joined me on the podcast to talk about the law, being a lawyer, and the type of work we do.
Sean: I’m honored that you had me here today.
Justin: Well, you work for the Luchnick Law Firm, it’s you, and your father, and your wife?
Sean: Yes, that’s why it’s named after my last name.
Justin: What type of work do you all do?
Sean: We do predominantly a personal injury, but any case that comes to the door, we’re all ears.
Justin: Yes, you all are going to do a big massive antitrust case?
Sean: Absolutely. That’s why I’ll refer to you.
Justin: Okay. Sean, how long have you been practicing?
Sean: I’ve been practicing for about three years.
Justin: Did you always know you’re gonna be a plaintiff’s lawyer?
Sean: Well, when I knew I was going to be a lawyer, I knew I was going to be a plaintiff’s lawyer. I didn’t know I was always going to be a lawyer.
Justin: You had dreams to be a football player?
Sean: Yes, I did have dreams to be a football player.
Justin: You played at Penn State and then UTSA?
Sean: Yes. I was pretty realistic that probably going professional wasn’t something I would–
Justin: Were you? When you were in high school, were you thinking you were going to be pro?
Sean: Yes. [laughs] I mean, if you’re in any profession, you got to have the dreams and aspirations for the highest level. Yes, at that time, not to boast about myself but no one at the high school level could stop me, so until I got to a point where you get to a point where there’s people that are just so incredibly talented, you probably think you’re going to be at the highest level.
Justin: I was recently watching a CLE with Brian Panich. He was one of the most successful plaintiffs lawyers in America. A trial lawyer out of LA. He was a college football player and he said that working with other athletes he has found to be beneficial in our profession because he thinks athletes and growing up in athletics, you learn competition, you learn how to work together. What are some of the things that you think have translated from playing football at a high level to being a plaintiff’s lawyer?
Sean: I think that’s what Panich said in the podcast or webinar you watched. It makes a lot of sense. A lot of my cases I feel a lot of passion, which I think comes from my competitive nature. The thing about the law, it’s a little different. When you’re playing football I could just get really mad and go wall up somebody on a play if this guy pisses me off. In the courtroom, it’s a little bit different, but you still can do things like that.
You get gratification at winning. It’s one of the few things in the world I think we could really win or lose. I think if you have that background–
Justin: Did you watch that webinar?
Sean: I watch portions of it, yes.
Justin: That is one of the things he said there are very few professions in life where there is a winner and the loser. Sports is one. Courtrooms are another.
Sean: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with that more.
Justin: In terms of teamwork, you all have three lawyers at your firm. You’ve got a bunch of staff, much bigger law firm than my law firm. Do you think the team aspect of it translates into the law profession? Or do you find it more of one-off you’re doing things on your own?
Sean: No, I think the team aspect, absolutely. I think you got it when you play sports, there’s a great camaraderie in the locker room, so I tried it at our firm. I think our employees love working for us.
Justin: When you all settle a big case, do you dump water on your dad’s head?
Sean: Gatorade, yes, not water.
Justin: Okay. We talked about this last time, but the audio was pretty poor, so we’re going to make another run at this. What are some of the things that are part and parcel of what we do working the case and trying to get a case ready for a trial that you have found to be some of the more difficult things to learn, and some of them that you think, I’ve just really taken to this like a fish to water.
Sean: Difficulty-wise is stuff that I guess wouldn’t really be that hard. Just I probably should have worked full time for someone like you for a while just to get the hang of it. When you’re trying to do things on your own, you don’t, my firm doesn’t have what I call litigation support staff. A lot of these just basic things, learning how to file things like this deadline, stuff like that. Just I got to learn do it on my own.
The depositions, mediations, preparation, that stuff came natural to me I feel, but the little more basic, medial tasks, I had to get accustomed to doing them myself. Then teaching others so I could delegate it, so they do it. I’m not ultimately doing day-to-day stuff. That doesn’t help me settle cases.
Justin: I don’t think I’m good at mediation, do you think you’re good at medi– Is there an ability to be good at mediation when a non-lawyer adjuster walks in, and they’ve just decided, here’s what your case is worth?
Sean: It just depends. It’s a strategic thing. If it’s a case where you think you have a high chance of settling at mediation, I don’t mind putting on a presentation, showing them what I got, what they’re going to get a taste of if it goes further. A lot of times, you don’t want to do that, because you may have some smoking gun. You don’t want to reveal it at the mediation in case it doesn’t settle.
Now, you gave them a preview of what’s coming so they could prepare better for it. You got to gauge at every case, but I’ve had some. A lot of them had to do with defense counsel may be making some mistakes they didn’t know, and I sprung it on them. The mediators always say, “You should have told him this before because they could have got more authority,” but I tend to think that’s just an excuse they have.
Even on those, we’ve had pretty substantial settlements at that mediation. I think if it’s the right one, and you have a good vibe of getting it settled, maybe you trust the defense attorney that they are going to bring some money, and the right people are there to make the decisions that day, I sometimes will put a show on at mediation.
Justin: Have you done any corporate rep or expert depose?
Sean: Expert, not corporate rep.
Justin: Okay. When you say expert, defense experts, or treating doctor types?
Sean: Treating, I’ve only done a defense expert once, which is annoying because there’s a lot better than taking your own witness. I’ve done several–
Justin: I think treating doctors are hard depose.
Sean: They’re hard depose. I have a script I stick to and it went pretty seamless the last few I’ve done, but they’re definitely when you do your first few, its–
Justin: How did you go about preparing for your first few?
Sean: I pretty much typed out every single question I wanted to ask, and reviewed it myself.
Justin: Why did you do that?
Sean: I just wanted it to flow well. I knew where I wanted to go, but I was very well-educated on the case, the plaintiff’s treatment, all of that. I figured that if I laid the groundwork, not that I wanted the expert to give his opinion. I wanted to guide him to the answers that I wanted to help the case.
Justin: Did you find that asking question-by-question or having scripted questions made it harder to listen?
Sean: I didn’t think in that context. I think when you’re deposing someone else, like an adverse witness, you can’t script your questions, because you don’t know how they’re going to answer.
Justin: Me and another lawyer who’s a little bit ahead of you in our generation, he had some expert depose coming up. There is something that I forgot this young lawyer that you’re never even taught how to prepare. I didn’t know how to prepare, so I read other people’s depose, and that’s how I learned to prepare. This lawyer asked if there was a paper, I could give him showing how to do this. I thought that was just–
I didn’t even really understand that basis. Then I had to step into his shoes and thought, “Man, you’re never taught how to prepare.” What is your method of preparation when you’re going into a depo that you think is new or novel or you’re not 100% sure how to handle it?
Sean: Well, I’ve seen another lawyer. He’s an older lawyer too. I’ve seen people that they Google, how to depose an expert in this, right? It gives him legitimately question-by-question how to do it. I have, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve maybe taken a template, and taken a few things just to make sure there’s not some obvious question that I need to ask this person that I’m missing.
I think the majority of the time I do what you did, where I would look at depose, some of your depose I looked at, and saw the questions you asked. How you would lead into it also. Of course, watching depose early on, I got to see you do a lot. That helped me to prepare. I’d say a hybrid approach, but mainly reading other depositions.
Justin: Do you like the business side of being a lawyer or the trial side of being a lawyer? You had your first two trials this year. You had two back to back and they were probably great learning experiences. What do you prefer more? I mean, into each their own. We’ve got a lot of good friends that are great business guys don’t really care to be a lawyer. Then we’ve got friends that don’t get to run a business, but really like being a lawyer.
Sean: I’d say, I mean, the trial is just incredible. It’s a lot of fun. A lot of stuff going on. You talk about the competition aspect. Not only is it whether you win the case that day on the verdict, at the end of it, in the morning, you have three motions you’re ruling on. You’re constantly getting wins and losses throughout the process. You could have a case, I saw you try a case that may be the outcome wasn’t good, but you clearly won throughout the case, right? From the competition–
Justin: You can’t change the facts.
Sean: You can’t change the fact. You had to hold your head high when you walked out. The only thing about trials, it’s a lot of preparation, right? Honestly, to be in a situation where if I could just go I think we were on that same webinar the other day with Mick Nick, he just gets to do the trials. That would be a dream to just step up there do the trials. Of course, there’s a lot of stuff when you go to trial. Especially in a bigger case, a lot of doctors–
Justin: Would it be a dream to be gone 80% of the year, every year living in comfort inns and suites?
Sean: Probably not that much, but I mean–
Justin: Yes, there’s a romanticism to it, but it’s exhausting.
Sean: I’d rather do it more than two weeks. [crosstalk] Yes, I’d say that. I don’t know if I could be one of the people that does it like all the time on the jet every day doing that stuff. Again, to each their own. When you get to the point where you’re getting monster verdicts and you’re renowned and doing that, maybe I would want to be on the road 80% of the time.
Justin: You were a lawyer learning and then you got two back to back trials that went on for a couple of weeks. What were the biggest things you learned being part of a trial team?
Sean: Really just being a part of a trial team, nothing’s given to you at all. You could think it’s the easiest little thing that there’s no way they’re going to fight you on. I mean, you’re going to get fought on every single issue. Things they know they’re going to lose. They’re going to fight you on just, it’s exhausting. You got to be ready to put in the work every day it’s a marathon. I think that aspect of not being exposed to trial prior to that, I didn’t realize how crazy it is.
Justin: The work ethic?
Sean: Yes. The work part of it is just unbelievable. What you got to do. I mean, you could get through it and not put in way more work than your typical day, but if you want to win on everything and have it as perfect as possible, you are going to get little to no sleep and you’re got to be at the top of your game.
Justin: I remember I’d taken– not a time, but quite a few depots for a young lawyer when I’ve tried my first case, and then I was cutting depots. I thought, why the hell did I ask so many questions because then it’s just more work for me getting ready for trial when at the end of the day I’m going to be taking a four-hour depo that I’m patting myself on the back about and thought I did great, but I’m only using 30 minutes of in trial and it just took up three hours of my day trying to cut it up. I’ learn how to try to prepare my evidence with an eye towards presenting it, not with an eye towards just asking every possible question under the sun.
Sean: That’s an incredible point because that probably is the main thing, I learned at trial was exactly that. That you start thinking, wow, I’m going to take my depositions completely different because all that really matters is this. Not, which you probably it has helped me in the future prepping my depositions of what to ask. There are certain things that when you get to that stage where you’re fighting every little thing, and I’m like, man, if I would have asked this in this previous deposition, we wouldn’t even be dealing with this right now. Maybe if I would’ve filed summary judgment on this, or did certain motions or it would just– You got to prepare it up to the trial, like you’re going to the trial and then it’s the most seamless trial possible at that point.
Justin: Well, I don’t think they were ever seamless?
Sean: They are never seamless, but at least you could try to work towards that. I’ll be honest, the first trial I was part of which is my fault, was not prepared that good. There was a lot of problems like we weren’t really prepping on how we’re going to present our evidence the best. We were trying to figure out how we’re even going to get our evidence out there and do certain things. That was not a good experience.
Justin: I know you got an eye towards admissibility too.
Sean: Yes, for sure. That’s good. I mean, now that it’s happened, it won’t happen again.
Justin: Yes, Sean, you and I have worked a handful of cases together. You were an intern here at one point if people want to learn more about your law firm, what’s a website?
Sean: L-U-C-H-N-I-C-K L-A-W F-I-R-M.com.
Justin: All right. We have a few other episodes where we’ve talked about some of the cases where we’ve worked on, in the future we’ll talk some more and learn more about how you’re progressing as a lawyer and learn more about your career.
Sean: Sounds good.
Justin: Thanks, Sean.
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