THE EFFECTIVE LAWYER EPISODE 23: MAKING THE SWITCH FROM DEFENDANT TO PLAINTIFF LAWLast updated on: January 23, 2022
Join Zinda Law Group CEO and lead trial lawyer, Jack Zinda as he gives an overview of what it’s like to make the switch from defense work to plaintiff law. Joining Jack is his law partner, Neil Solomon, who decided to make the transition from defense to plaintiff law several years ago. Since joining Zinda Law Group, Neil has partnered with Jack on some of the firm’s most groundbreaking cases, was named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, and is a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Choosing to pursue a career in plaintiff personal injury law is not an easy decision, but Neil offers unique insights as both he and Jack weigh the pros and cons.
Discussed in This Episode:
- A trial lawyer right out of law school
- Making the switch to plaintiff law
- Overcoming new challenges as a plaintiff lawyer
- Resources for new personal injury lawyers
- Weighing a career change
- Other tips and tactics
A Trial Lawyer Right Out of Law School
When Neil finished law school, he knew he wanted to be a trial lawyer, but the legal job market was tough at the time. When his wife landed a position in Austin, Neil took his first job as a litigator at an insurance defense firm. In law school, Neil wasn’t introduced to many opportunities to join a plaintiff’s firm, as there was a bigger emphasis on business law career paths.
“It goes back to educating the public and everyone about what we [personal injury lawyers] do and how helpful and good it can be for the community and as a career,” Neil said. “I don’t think they really portray that in law school whatsoever.”
Making the Switch
When Neil’s former firm began taking on personal injury cases, Neil gained valuable experience working in personal injury law from the defense perspective. He enjoyed the work, and after a few years, realized the “defense life” wasn’t for him. In fact, plaintiff attorneys he worked against evaluated his skillset and encouraged a career in plaintiff law.
“For attorneys who make a successful switch, it always seems to be about the clients, and it seems that the story is very common,” Jack said. “Rarely is it about the money because you make good money on both sides. It tends to be who is focused on really helping individuals.”
After making the switch, Neil had to change his mindset in litigation. Instead of analyzing a case and always wondering what could go wrong, he had to shift his focus toward what could go right.
“On our side, we’re trying to tell a story that is compelling,” Jack said. “On the defense side, you’re trying to break down and destroy a story.”
Why Defense Lawyers Can Excel on the Plaintiff Side
“I find a lot of attorneys who start off on the defense side make great plaintiff lawyers,” Jack said. “They see the holes in the case, and they don’t drink their own kool-aid and they don’t buy too much into a case.”
In fact, defense-turned-plaintiff lawyers truly understand the value of a case. Defense lawyers are often more skeptical early on, and when they overcome the skepticism, that’s how they know a case will work.
Overcoming New Challenges as a Plaintiff Lawyer
One adjustment Neil had to make as a new personal injury lawyer was working with a different case timeline. Defense attorneys receive a case once a lawsuit has been filed. Plaintiff lawyers, however, get calls from potential clients soon after something terrible happens. It also took time for Neil to get used to evaluating cases and being more selective about who he represents.
“It did take a little bit [of time] to figure that piece out,” Neil said. “Obviously, there are cases we know as soon as they call in that it’s a good one we want. But we have to figure out who we can help out and which cases would be better suited for someone else.”
Resources for New Personal Injury Lawyers
Neil praised the plaintiff practice for its camaraderie when asked about resources for lawyers like him who make the switch.
“Everyone is helping each other out, trying to share what they do,” Neil said.
Neil recommended Rules of the Road, Reptile, and David Ball on Damages 3 for new personal injury lawyers. Neil also recommend Don’t Eat the Bruises by Keith Mitnik. Jack also noted the importance of joining local and national trial lawyer associations. These organizations have valuable list servers for attorneys to openly ask questions about the practice of personal injury law.
Weighing a Career Change
When someone decides to change the type of law they practice, the shift can be rather daunting. That’s why it’s incredibly important for lawyers making these types of moves to be prepared.
“Make a list of the characteristics that you think [a practice area] requires,” Jack explained. “I do think there’s a level of risk tolerance you need to have as a personal injury lawyer. Over time it gets easier because you start realizing it’s not as risky as you thought in the beginning because you get really good at evaluating cases.”
Still, when a lawyer makes this type of change or opens their own practice, they must be prepared to withstand any potential obstacles or setbacks early on. Some defense lawyers who make the switch and then return to defense law cannot handle this part of the process. For others who want to stick with plaintiff law but are struggling early on, they can consider other options, such as teaming up with someone who does hourly work. This provides a useful buffer for “down months.”