December 3rd, 2013
The Importance of Listening
There is not a day that goes by that I don't hear a story in our office about telephone calls we receive by people in need. Many of the people who call don't really have a case that will be filed in a court of law, but rather have an issue that is bothering them that needs to be listened to, addressed and have suggestions offered for resolution. There have been numerous times over the course of my practice of law that people on the other end of the phone have thanked me simply for taking the time to listen. It still surprises me, even today, when I am thanked simply for listening. One would hope that most would listen even if they are not able to act on the problem that is being presented. Nonetheless, that doesn't seem to be the case. There are oftentimes things I would much rather be doing than listening to a person talk about a problem that I know will be a case that we will not be able to take. As a lawyer, I have a duty as a brother of lawyers to listen so that the public receives a good impression of me and lawyers in general. If for no other reason, I would encourage other lawyers to take the time to accept phone calls and listen even though you know from the first few seconds of the conversation that the caller is describing to you a case you will not be able to take, still pay respect to the individual by listening to the problems they are presenting you.
I have found this listening thing to be a lifelong quest. Certainly, I have had my wife tell me a number of times that she said something when I simply must not have been listening. That is a problem I've been working on since the day we got married. I am still not as good as I would like to be but I am much better than I was as a young husband.
Listening can be an art form and is something I believe we ought to aspire to develop simply because it is the right thing to do. Listening can, at times, bring big monetary rewards. I have had three major examples of cases that paid big dividends in which I simply listened and asked questions when no one else would.
The first was a gentleman by the name of Dale Riggle who, along with his wife, Millie, came into my office in Elm Grove before my wife graduated from law school. Dale wanted a will. As I talked to him further, I determined he had a social security issue that needed resolved. In talking and listening further, I learned that Dale had been exposed to and injured by chemicals at the Allied chemical plant in Marshall County, West Virginia. I took Dale on as a client and ultimately tried his case and recovered one of the largest toxic tort verdicts in the history of the state. It was followed up by a bad faith case against the defendant's insurer and I was able to receive a substantial fee as a result of my representation of the Riggle family. Although Dale recently passed away, I continue to count Millie as a good friend of mine.
The next case was the case of Marylu Marook. Marylu was a woman who was being sued by what was formerly known as Bank One, at the time one of the largest banking corporations in the United States. This case started about the time Linda graduated from law school in 1985. I was not the first lawyer with whom Marylu discussed her issue. As a matter of fact, she told me she had talked with twelve other lawyers, all with offices in Ohio, before she decided she would contact me, the only West Virginia lawyer with whom she spoke. She told me that I was the only one who would listen to her.
In listening to the story about how she came to be sued for over to $200,000.00, I became incensed by the conduct of the bank. I continued to listen to Marylu tell her story for about an hour and a half. I asked some questions but mostly listened. I agreed to undertake Marylu's defense on a pro bono basis but told her that I thought we should file a counter-claim, and I would charge my regular fee for the counter-claim. I had no idea at that time as to what my chances might be with respect to the counter-claim and had never represented a single client in a lender liability case.
The bank was represented by a Jackson Kelly attorney who was one of its top litigators at the time. It was a very daunting task for me, at that point in my career, to take on Bank One and the Jackson Kelly litigator, for the most part, for free. Nonetheless, Marylu had convinced me that the bank's case had no merit and she was greatly wronged. The bank made no offer to settle the case until the day the case was set to go to trial. As we were walking in the courtroom, the bank's corporate lawyer offered $50,000.00 to settle the case. By that time, I had advanced more than double that in expenses, most of which went to the experts I retained and for the numerous depositions that were taken of all the witnesses in the case.
This was the last twelve-person jury to which I presented a case, as the rules in West Virginia changed and cases are now presented to a six-person jury. The twelve-person jury, I was later told by the foreman, had arrived at their decision within a half an hour. However, they respected and liked the defense lawyer and did not want to embarrass him by coming back with a verdict in half an hour. The verdict they first decided on was $10 million. The foreman told me that they later reduced that to $2.5 million because they felt the West Virginia Supreme Court would set that aside as being too generous. The foreman also told me that while the jury was out for two hours they spent the time telling each other about themselves in order to pass the time. This case, likewise, paid big dividends inasmuch as I earned a substantial fee for the counter-claim that I filed on Marylu's behalf.
The third example of listening was the most recent lender liability case that Jason Causey and I tried in Ohio County. It was on behalf of the Browns, a mother and daughter who were about to be kicked out of their home because of what had transpired during their dealings with Quicken Loans. Many of you who are reading this blog may be aware of the Quicken Loans case. It has been in and out of the news for the past couple years due to the substantial verdict that was recovered by me and Jason on behalf of the Browns and which later was argued in the West Virginia Supreme Court. After remand to the Circuit Court, the trial court verdict in the millions was actually increased. That multi-million dollar verdict came about after I listened to Monique Brown sobbing in my waiting room telling her story to our receptionist as to how she was going to have to move out of her house. She went on to tell me that her mother was going to let the bank take the home. I called Monique into the office, listened to her story and told her I would help.
The point I am trying to make is that it is not only morally correct to take the time to listen, but it also can pay big rewards. The obvious reward is a better relationship with your spouse, children, parents, office staff and others. It can also bring about monetary rewards as shown in this blog.
The results in a legal case depend on a variety of factors, many of which are unique to each case. Prior results by this firm or any other do not guarantee future results. Case results presented here are illustrations of the type of work done by Bordas & Bordas and not a guarantee that any prospective case will yield any particular amount.