Prosecuting Legal Malpractice Claims in Washington and Oregon
After over a decade practicing law, first as a Deputy District Attorney, and later as an associate and partner in civil litigation law firms, I opened The Rundle Law Firm in 2003. With over 25 years litigating cases in state and federal courts throughout Oregon and Washington, I have learned a few things about “doing it right.”
In theory there is no difference between practice and theory – in practice there is.
— Yogi Berra
If philosophy is theory, rest assured – I strive to practice what I preach. Here are a few insights I gained from nearly three decades in the trenches.
Every client has a story to tell. While a trial affords every client the opportunity to testify, trial procedure and evidentiary rules dictate that the client needs a storyteller in the form of a lawyer to carry the load. Your lawyer must be a good storyteller.
A lawyer must make a compassionate effort, and spend the time, to truly get to know and understand each client and his or her story. I strive to build a personal relationship with each and every client.
It is vitally important that your lawyer is able to identify and extract from what is often a convoluted web of details and subplots a simple and compelling narrative. One must have a knack for seeing the forest through the trees -- for separating the incidental from the indispensable in a story.
At the same time, a lawyer must not allow this view of the forest to become a comforting distraction, and crash into one of the trees. Details are important too, though they must be understood in the context of the larger story.
To be brutally frank, lawyers do not learn this art of distillation in law school or on the job. They are either born with it, or without it.
I strive to obtain excellent negotiated settlements, but the best settlements come to those who do not have to settle, because their lawyer is prepared, mentally and logistically, to try the case if necessary. While I settle most cases, I plan and prepare early to try each and every one.
My first opportunity to tell your story might be in mediation to settle your claim. However, if further litigation and trial are necessary, you can expect the opposing side will do everything possible to try to deny you your “day in court” – your trial by judge or jury. The litigation process is a legal and procedural minefield in which the other side will have the opportunity to file a litany of motions either to dismiss your case, or to severely handicap your ability to tell the whole story at trial.
There is no substitute for a lawyer who has the experience, judgment, skill, and persistence to successfully navigate these challenges on the road to settlement or trial. First class brief writing is essential. Written arguments must be thoughtful, well-organized, succinct, and well-written. Oral arguments must be delivered with authority, precision, and above all, sincerity. In these I excel.
In private communications with my clients, I recognize my role is not to cheerlead. Instead, what is called for is objectivity, judgment, and a willingness to present at all times the unvarnished reality of the situation.
However, when dealing with opposing counsel and the court, my role is to be your advocate. In that role I strive to be persuasive, creative, and doggedly persistent. Every case presents flaws and risks, but I do not allow them to dampen my eagerness to find solutions, and to fight for a just result.
Your lawyer must be sufficiently schizophrenic to switch between these dual roles with ease, and never confuse one with the other.
Discovery is hard work, but it pays dividends. It helps to get there first. I like to know more about my case than the other side, and this means pushing discovery – always on offense, proactive, not reactive.
It also helps if your lawyer is obsessive enough to think about your case a lot, even at odd times of day or night. Often those game-changer epiphanies spring to mind in the shower or on a long weekend drive.
One must be able to take effective depositions. Sometimes this means aggressive cross-examination. Other times you get more with honey. Experience and instinct are your lawyer’s guide.
A compelling narrative is important, but to tell it persuasively there are no shortcuts. I have extensive trial experience, a penchant for storytelling, empathy, and an obsession with “keeping it real.” Sincerity is the cornerstone of credibility.
I will not sacrifice your stated goals and bottom line in pursuit of Pyrrhic litigation victories. I appreciate that the bottom-line can be more important than a technical win, and work hard to achieve good negotiated settlements consistent with the client’s objectives. However, I will not attempt to sell you a settlement that is not in your best interests. You will not be talked out of your day in court because your lawyer is unprepared for trial or does not have the fortitude to take a verdict.