Law360 is a top legal industry publisher owned by Lexis-Nexis. Its daily newsletters are a must-read for trial lawyers involved in big-ticket litigation. This interview, Trial Consultants Q&A: A2L Consulting's Ken Lopez, was originally published on April 28, 2017, and is reprinted here with permission. Links to A2L articles and resources have been added by A2L in this reprint.
Q: What aspect of trial consulting do you and your firm specialize in? What is unique about your firm, compared to other trial consulting firms?
A: Founded in 1995, our firm is a leading national litigation consulting firm that helps trial lawyers and other advocates more reliably win complex and high-dollar disputes.
We are typically in trial year-round and deliver world-class client-pleasing results in three key service areas: jury research and consulting, litigation graphics consulting, and trial technology consulting. We have recently been voted #1 in each of these categories by major legal publications.
The composition of our leadership distinguishes it from other trial consulting and litigation consultant firms. Unlike firms whose origins are rooted in the trial technology business, the engineering business or the marketing/public relations fields, our team is composed of experts in the persuasion sciences. These include former litigators from top law firms, attorney-artists and social science Ph.Ds with decades of experience working with judges and juries.
We primarily serve AmLaw 100 law firms and their clients. However, the firm regularly works with boutique law firms and in-house departments. It counts amongst its clients nearly all top law firms and a large portion of the Fortune 500.
Most people find A2L through its litigation and persuasion-focused blog, The Litigation Consulting Report. It has nearly 10,000 subscribers and was named one of the top ten blogs in litigation by the American Bar Association.
Q: What was the most interesting or memorable case that you worked on?
A: The average case at A2L Consulting is a business dispute between global companies with $100 million at stake where we provide jury consulting, a mock trial, litigation graphics, and courtroom hot-seat trial technology support.
One of our most memorable cases was entirely — not average.
Through a top trial lawyer, we were hired to work on behalf of a surviving family member of the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Everglades.
This was not a plane that exploded or quickly crashed. Instead, oxygen containers in the cargo area helped fuel a fire that caused smoke to fill the plane. Then, the oxygen-fueled fire burned through the passenger cabin floor from below. After some time, controls on the plane were destroyed by the fire. Then, the plane flipped and dove into the Everglades below. No one survived.
It took a long time for the tragedy to unfold and the passengers had awareness of what was happened. We know this because the plane was equipped with recording devices in both the cockpit and the passenger cabin. The recording is confidential, but none of us who worked on this case will ever forget what we heard on that recording.
To help the jury visualize the experience the passengers had, we could have created a 3-D animation to show what the experience inside of the cabin was like. Instead, we synced that chilling audio with an animation we created that helped tell the tragic story. Once the animation was admitted into evidence, the case quickly settled.
Q: Which stage of the trial process is the most challenging, and why?
A: While we support all phases of litigation from prefiling to appeal, our firm most often focuses its consulting efforts on the opening statement. Indeed, we speak and write about opening statements often.
Perhaps second only to jury selection, the opening statement can make or break an entire case. It provides the framework and narrative upon which the judge or jury will hear the evidence. For many, consciously or subconsciously, the decision about the outcome of the case will be made during opening statement.
Because the opening statement is so critical, the best trial lawyers expend enormous amounts of effort preparing for openings. I’ve seen some trial lawyers practice their opening more than 100 times over the course of a year. Not surprisingly, these trial lawyers tend to win their cases.
In every type of litigation consulting we provide, the opening statement is a central focus. When we conduct a mock trial, the attorneys present their openings to mock jurors or mock judges. When our senior litigation consultants work with top trial lawyers to refine their trial presentation, we ask them to present their openings as part of that process. When we design a PowerPoint presentation for opening, we ask our clients to do run-throughs of openings. When we introduce one of our trial technicians/hot-seat operators to a trial team, we ask the first chair to practice opening statements so they develop a rapport with the trial tech. Indeed, sometimes, we are asked to draft an opening statement as part of our litigation consulting effort.
Opening statements are the most challenging part of the trial process because they should be. Cases are regularly won and lost because of them.
Q: How has trial consulting evolved over time? What major differences are there between the industry when you started and the industry now?
A: Our firm, now a national litigation consulting firm with jury consulting, litigation graphics consulting and trial technology consulting practices all voted #1 by the legal industry, was started as Animators at Law, an animation and litigation graphics firm for trial lawyers focused on persuasion.
Back in the mid-1990s when we started our firm, the idea of using demonstrative evidence/litigation graphics during a trial was new. Today, no serious trial lawyer would go to trial in big-ticket litigation without litigation graphics and nearly all would hire a litigation graphics consulting firm like ours.
When we started our firm, PowerPoint did not exist. Most litigation graphics were printed trial boards. Today, trial boards are used as unique emphasis tools that supplement a PowerPoint trial presentation.
The practice of jury research has changed too. It has evolved from a guru-dominated practice where gut instinct drove many decisions. Today, there is more scientific rigor among top jury research firms. They let the data speak for itself and supplement that data with advice based on experience.
Of course, the trial technology practice has radically changed. In the 1990s, it barely existed. Now, the complexity of cases demands that an experienced trial technician/hot-seat operator run the technology, show the trial presentation and be ready to pull up evidence on a moment’s notice.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges when working with attorneys and their clients?
A: One of my colleagues likes to say, “they call it the practice of law, but nobody is practicing.” I agree wholeheartedly. If I could change one thing about the way trial lawyers prepare for trial, it would be the way they practice.
The correlation between open practice in front of peers and winning cases is unmistakable. Half of the time, trial lawyers practice extensively and seek feedback from litigation consultants and colleagues. These lawyers tend to win their cases.
When we see a trial lawyer who wants to privately prepare their trial presentation on the eve of trial, we worry. It’s not that this approach can’t work. It often does. Instead, we simply recognize that the more a trial team openly practices, the more often that trial team wins.
Kenneth J. Lopez is the founder and CEO of A2L Consulting. While attending Delaware Law School, Lopez taught himself computer animation as a hobby. It was that hobby, combined with his ’95 law degree and a ’92 degree in economics from the University of Mary Washington that helped launch A2L Consulting.
Best-selling business author Dan Pink highlighted Lopez’s firm in his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, and Lopez has been quoted by many news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Inc., the Washington Post, and the BBC.
In 2013, Virginia’s governor appointed Lopez to a four-year term on the Board of Visitors of the University of Mary Washington. He also serves on the Dean’s National Advisory Board of The Delaware Law School.
Lopez still lists his top passion and proudest accomplishment as being the father of triplet girls born in 2008.
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