The following is an interview conducted with Michael Leizerman, one of the leading trucking lawyers in America. Leizerman is also the co-author of The Zen Lawyer: Winning with Mindfulness with Jay Rinsen Weik.
Trial Guides: Which Trial Guides product have you used and do you recommend?
Michael Leizerman: Anything new that comes out from Trial Guides I just buy it. I love Trial Guides books, they’re great. They’ve been great from the start...Rick Friedman’s books are certainly classics to picking up Moe Levine and David Ball and other titles. There’s some things that are maybe off topic from my practice that I haven’t purchased, but I love anything by Trial Guides.
Trial Guides: How did you choose Trial Guides as the publisher for your book?
Michael Leizerman: Writing a book for Trial Guides was on my bucket list. Like of the things I want to accomplish in life one of those was writing a book for Trial Guides. To be in the same publishers as Rick Friedman, David Ball, Moe Levine, Gerry Spence. Wow. Why would I choose anyine else?
Trial Guides: Would you recommend Trial Guides as a publisher for other authors?
Michael Leizerman: For anyone writing a legal text that would be within Trial Guides’s subject matter, absolutely. What I very much like about Trial Guides is the support that I’ve gotten, from editors from everyone really...I’ve worked with different publishers for different types of publications and certainly working with Trial Guides has been a pleasure.
Michael Leizerman on the “Three Cores”
Michael Leizerman: There are two questions that predict whether someone will do well at trial. And the first is I ask myself, “Am I present at trial? Am I aware what’s going on? Am I mindful?” And the second question is “am I emotionally connected?” I think when it comes to trial there are two reasons why lawyers don’t get bigger verdicts. The first is they don’t ask for enough money and the second is when they do ask for money, they don’t believe it. So, in this book, it goes through the three cores that are important for everybody to develop. The first is the conscious quarter that we find in the gut. That’s where we’re mindful of what we do, mindful of others. The second is the emotional quarter and this involves looking at our own emotions, looking at others emotions, and looking at the emotional reality around the case. And last of all is the logical reality. So, as an example, if we look at our own emotions and how it relates to a case, one of the things that every trial lawyer should look at is their relationship to money. So, for me, I look back to my earliest thoughts of money and it’s my parents arguing, screaming at each other about money and not being able to pay the bills. And I remember as I thought back to those times being upset and promising myself, I’m never going to let money create these problems in my life, I’m going to have money so there won’t be fights like this. I know for other lawyers who I’ve talk with I’ll ask them about their earliest thoughts of money and for them it might be that they came from a well-off family and money meant that their dad was never around because he was traveling the world making money. Whatever it is, the point is it’s important for us to look at our own emotions around every part of a case that can be the race of people in the case, the socioeconomic class, maybe someone’s on a motorcycle and we have strong thoughts about that, or certainly about the money which is what we ask for in civil trials.
In the book it will go through questions so you can in a methodical way think through “what are my emotions around this case?” And then translate that to how can I use that in an authentic way to emotionally connect with the jury? And last of all, the emotional core, we’ll talk about the emotional reality of the case and how that can be introduced in a trial, mediation, or a deposition.
So the book goes through these cores and helps lawyers think about and develop their conscious core (how to be mindful in what they do), their emotional core (how to figure out their own emotions around a case and use that to connect with a jury in an authentic way), and the logical core which ultimately results in not just my motivations, the jury’s motivations, and how to best present to them to win the case. From that comes the creativity that culminates in trial in a core truth. The core truth of a case is the one truth we can distill the case down to in jury selection, opening, direct exam, and cross-exam we can come back to time and again to win cases some people call impossible to win.
Michael Leizerman on The Zen Lawyer
Michael Leizerman: The premise of this book is that lawyering is a way of life. So, you can try a case and win but leave yourself with a blackened heart. Or you can try a case, win, reduce suffering in the world, and create goodness. In a practical way it’s really about learning how to focus your mind where you want when you want. This is something that can be practiced. The ideas of mindfulness is we can be aware of what we do when we do it, especially when we are doing important things like taking depositions or interviewing a client or trying a case.
Trial Guides: What made you want to write a book on using Zen concepts in the practice of law?
Michael Leizerman: I think it’s important to have a conversation about lawyering as an avocation so that while what we do is a means to an end, it can be the end of itself. In other words, the way we do it, if we do so mindfully can actually help better our lives and the lives of others.
So there’s lots of books and conversations about "what’s the best new technique" and "what questions do I ask the jury." I know what wins cases and I believe what’s been responsible for when I’ve been successful, is when I am mindful, when I am aware, when there’s a flow that’s created because my body is centered.
We know persuasion is only a very small amount the words we use, so what I wanted to do with this book is start the conversation of two things. First, how can lawyers be more aware of their body’s, of their presentation, and understand the importance of that and really use lawyering as a way to help the world. Especially at a time when lawyers are the butts of jokes, where it used to be seen as a more honorable profession and for many people especially when you say plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer there’s jokes and there’s judgement. I hope this book can help change the conversation.
Trial Guides: What topics does the book cover and how is it structured?
Michael Leizerman: The book is structured into the cores. The cores are the conscious core that we can map that on the gut, the emotional core that we can map that on the heart, and the logical core that we can map that on the mind. Each of those cores are broken down into three sub-parts: the first person, second person, and third person. So, for example the emotional core, the first person would be my emotions about a case and how do I go through in a methodical way and look at my emotions surrounding a case. The second person are the jury’s emotions; what do they feel and how do I connect with them? And the third person is the objective reality of the emotions of the case. There may very well be a different objective reality in a death case than in a soft tissue case. They’re both important cases for that client, but it’s important to be aware of the emotional reality surrounding that. So we go through each of the cores looking at the first, second, and third person and from that comes a core truth. That’s the truth of the case distilled down that can help us win and direct our sequencing in trial.
Trial Guides: How does this book relate to the seminars you offer around the country?
Michael Leizerman: It’s a challenge to write a book where you’re talking about being in the body, being aware, being mindful. I’ve certainly read a lot of books that have been influential in my life in that regard. Ultimately, you need to practice it. You need to be with other people that can model. In the workshops we do that, we go through the different cores in the book and actually practice giving an opening statement, picking a jury, giving a closing with people that are trained in martial arts, meditation techniques, or mindfulness techniques who will help lawyers correct themselves or think about different ways they can present. So, the workshops are really the practical experience of the book.
Does Zen Lawyer apply to a specific field of law?
Michael Leizerman: I’m a truck accident lawyer. I sue unsafe truck companies, so there are a lot of examples in the book that come from truck crash litigation. That’s certainly not the purpose of the book, those are just examples because I need to use authentic examples, so they resonate with people. But certainly, the way the book’s laid out can be applied to a medical malpractice case, a contract case, really any type of case, but there are many case examples. Many of them are from motor vehicle collisions or truck crash cases
Michael Leizerman on Which Lawyers Benefit From Zen Lawyer
Trial Guides: Can you speak to people who might look at the title of your book and assume it’s about eastern religion? How would you answer that question for a person who’s a Christian, a Jew, or a Muslim who looks at your book and thinks, “oh that’s some religious thing, how is this relevant to me?”
Michael Leizerman: I certainly understand that people might have a reactions. “Oh Zen mindfulness, is this religious? Is this counter to my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or even my atheist background?” Mindfulness practice has nothing to do with religion in the way that we think about it. It doesn’t posit any creator or noncreator. There are no religious beliefs attached to it. What we look at when we talk about mindfulness practice is being aware of what we do, being in the moment. If you want to relate that to a higher consciousness to god to a collective consciousness of the universe, you can do that, but mindfulness practice is not linked to any religious, we’re not pushing a religious point of view here...I welcome people to check it out for themselves if they’re skeptical. When we talk about paying attention to your breath, paying attention to what you do, pay attention to the road when you drive I don’t see any religious overtone to that.
Trial Guides: Who is this book written for and who would benefit most from buying it?
Michael Leizerman: The book is written for me and I hope for everyone else who’s a lawyer and reads it, so when I say that I’ve thought a lot over the last 20 years about what am I doing? What works what doesn’t work? When I find something that clicks with me...More important than how I did that cross-exam was was I present and was I emotionally connected to the jury? What’s helpful to me, I’m hoping will be helpful with others. When I set down to write the book, I tried to translate my experience to something more methodical. To analyze what I’m doing in a way I can express and convey to other lawyers.
Trial Guides: What tough problems does the book help readers solve?
Michael Leizerman: The book is designed to arrive at simplicity on the other side of complexity. It’s so easy to look at a case and think “there’s all these issues it’s so complex.” We win cases because we make things simple, we come down to a core truth. But the question is how do we get there? It’s through a lot of hard work. The books talks about how to identify issues in the case. Which are the ones that are really important? Maybe not the ones we were taught in law school that we need for issue spotting in a law school test or the bar examination. Instead I am considering what really persuades? Ultimately it should be something so simple that it looks like you’ve barely spent any time on this when really I’ve spent hundreds of hours to get to this point where it’s so sublime and simple that you have to win.
Trial Guides: Who is the book written for or who would benefit the most from buying it, such as new lawyers, experienced lawyers, particular practice areas, and so on.
Michael Leizerman: Any lawyer would be able to benefit from this. It might be easier for a new lawyer who isn’t unlearning bad habits, But I don’t know about that. As human beings we have habits of having a monkey mind and so easily being brought into the story in our mind and not being present in what we do, so I’ve worked with brand new lawyers, lawyers who have been practicing for forty years, and everywhere in between. And they’ve all found this helpful, at least from what they tell me.
Trial Guides: How did you end up in a career practicing trial law?
Michael Leizerman: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I was 8 years old. I think that came from this place where we told kids who were precocious, that’s a nice way of saying they liked to argue with you, that they should be a lawyer. Maybe that’s why I always wanted to be a lawyer? And something happened after I became a lawyer and started practicing, I realized I want this to integrate with my life. With my life values of family and being mindful of what I do. Trying to reduce suffering in the world and create goodness in the world. That’s how I ended up handling truck crash cases because I saw an area where I could really help from a safety advocacy standpoint, because I saw a lot of need for that.
Trial Guides: What personal qualities make a successful trial lawyer in your opinion?
Michael Leizerman: The real question is how to define success. If you define success as who makes the most money, then you have lawyers who are jerks and lawyers who are nice people and everywhere in between. I like to think of financial success as a component of it, but the financial success really only comes when you don’t focus on the financial success. When you focus on helping people, doing good in the world then the financial success comes. So, I think it’s how we define success.
And no question in my mind, as I go around the country and talk to different lawyers what seems to resonate is the idea that we want to win with integrity. By treating others, even defense lawyers, insurance adjusters, compassionately not only do we feel better in the world, but we can actually do better in our cases. A lot of lawyers, I know I felt this way when I looked at older generational lawyers I thought I needed to know when to yell or be mean so people would take me seriously, I should correct a misconception; having compassion and being mindful does not mean being a wimp. I like to say you can be compassionate and be a badass. You can do both. You can be compassionate and still be angry. It doesn’t mean to be calm all the time. There’s a time especially trial, when it’s proper to be indignant, it’s proper to be very angry when someone’s made a choice that’s killed someone. It’s really a matter of us being able to control the anger rather than letter the anger control us. That’s the whole idea of mindfulness, that we’re aware of our emotions, whether it’s love whether it’s anger, whether the judge did something to tick us off. It doesn’t mean you’re always calm and don’t respond; I certainly have times when I lose it. But I have a practice where I can quickly be aware of that and if I want to be angry and yell it’s because I’ve chosen to. I’m controlling my emotions, they aren’t controlling me.