Thursday, January 12, 2017

The magic number: ruminating on my first 10,000 hours as a trial lawyer

“The further I get, the further I want to go.” — Nas

Enrolling in law school in my mid-30s was exciting, but at times frustrating. It's not easy to start over in a new career, surrounded by people at least a decade younger than you are. It's like showing up to an amazing party that started four hours ago. The clock is running. Why didn't I get here earlier?

So it feels good to be barreling toward the end of my fifth year as a trial attorney. I'm close to passing a milestone that some view as the minimum threshold for mastering one's profession. According to author Malcolm Gladwell, practicing at least 10,000 hours in a given profession is the "magic number of greatness” to achieve mastery. If this holds true, I'll achieve ninja status as a trial attorney in the very near future. 

Based on what I've learned since 2012 as a lawyer, my black belt will not fall from the sky. I am still a long way from mastery. In many respects, I'll never get there. But that's fine with me. My first five years of practicing law have given me a staggering amount of information, opportunities and new skills. I've spent every single minute at Jones Ward PLC here in Louisville. A few highlights: 

  • Won a $12.9 million jury verdict against a drunk driver who killed three people in a fiery taxi cab crash near a casino. 
  • Argued three other cases to jury verdicts, including one that I lost at trial and then got reversed on appeal. 
  • Learned how to litigate class action lawsuits, with dozens of fact patterns involving everything from tire fires to cameras to bank fees, Internet scams, video games, and more. In one class action, a train derailment case that settled for $3.1 million, I had the privilege of personally handing out checks to hundreds of people in a small town in Kentucky where the derailment happened. 
  • Met and worked with some of the nation's top trial lawyers, and had the chance to practice against some of the most skilled and experienced defense lawyers, including top-notch attorneys at BigLaw mega-firms like this one and this one and this one. There are plenty of things to complain about in our industry — stress, risk, unfair decisions by judges — but I'm constantly impressed by the professionalism and civility that most veteran lawyers possess. 
  • Traveled like a mad man practicing mass tort cases involving medical devices and pharmaceutical products, the bread and butter of our law firm's practice. In just the last year, I've taken or defended depositions in Dallas, Baltimore, Boston, Seattle, San Jose, New Orleans and many other cities. 
  • Helped hundreds of people injured by drugs and medical devices that I never even knew existed five years ago. As a mass tort attorney, I represent plaintiffs in almost every state in the nation. Seriously, I'm missing Alaska and Hawaii but I have cases pretty much everywhere else. Here's a tiny sampling of what I'm working on nowDePuy Orthopaedics Hip Implant Litigation (Ohio and Texas); Testosterone Replacement Therapy Litigation (Illinois); Boston Scientific Transvaginal Mesh Litigation (West Virginia); Biomet Hip Implant Litigation (Indiana); Xarelto Bloodthinner Products Litigation (Louisiana); Zofran Birth Defect Litigation (Massachusetts, Abilify Compulsive Gambling Litigation (Florida); Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Cases (California). 

While there is no ninja belt in sight, I feel great about my first five years and can't wait for the next five and the five after that. It's not the easiest profession, but the intellectual challenge of practicing law and the ability to help real people keeps me bouncing out of bed almost every day, ready for more. There is no magic number to being a veteran lawyer. On a couple of narrow points, I may very well know more than any lawyer in the country. On a zillion other issues, I know very little or nothing. I'm smart enough to realize I can't solve every problem, and confident enough to keep pushing toward victory on the issues I do understand. Perhaps more than anything, I'm grateful to be part of a fraternity of professionals who help each other, help people, solve problems, and hopefully make the world a better place in the process. I can't imagine being anywhere else. 

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