David Lira's advice to aspiring PI lawyers:
"Roll up your sleeves, read the file, don't delegate, and always be respectful of your client's situation. And believe in what you're doing."
Girardi | Keese's go-to products liability lawyer was born in Blytheville, Arkansas, and now makes his home in Pasadena. In eighth grade, it was prophesied that David would become a lawyer - and that's exactly what happened. David is now a partner at the Los Angeles law firm of Girardi | Keese.
In this interview, David covers a lot of ground, ranging from where he likes to get his morning coffee, to what he thinks of Tom Girardi's forays into reality TV on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Most importantly, he explains what it means to be a personal injury trial lawyer, and why his tools of choice are an assortment of felt pens and a plethora of Post-It notes.
First, Let's Talk Coffee, Reality TV, and Donald Trump
Sure. This should be good.
So I hear your favorite haunt in Pasadena is Peet's Coffee. Tell me about that.
There's not much to tell, except that I am there nearly every morning. The coffee is that good. And every time I'm there I run into a friend or neighbor.
What do you think of Tom Girardi's forays into reality TV with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?
I think it's great. Tom is very happy of Erika's success and supports her any way he can, just as she has supported him. And Tom deserves to have some fun.
What do you think of Donald Trump and the current political climate?
I am very concerned about the attacks on the judiciary. President Trump's attack on United States District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was very disturbing. Brazen. I'm not one to tout the "slippery slope," but it wouldn't surprise me to also see attacks on lawyers during this administration. We don't want to go down this road as a country. And I say that not just because I myself am a lawyer.
While we're on the subject of politics, may I ask why so many personal injury lawyers seem to be Democrats?
I wouldn't want you to paint with too broad a brush, but PI lawyers do tend to share the same vision as Democrats when it comes to our court system. Both are concerned about preserving the jury system and preserving our country's independent judiciary. On the other hand, Republicans tend to support damage caps and eliminating certain claims against businesses. We can let that speak for itself.
And while we're on the subject of personal injury lawyers in particular, let's discuss the ambulance chaser myth.
Sure. It doesn't particularly bother me, that myth or trope. There's really not much truth in it. But if I am in a mood and I hear cynical remarks or jokes, I might try to gently point out how so many safety improvements in products and the workplace got done because of lawyers, not despite them, as if lawyers were some sort of obstacle to progress.
So what do you think of "tort reform" then?
The bar needs to do a better job highlighting the good work done on behalf of consumers. The focus should be on the societal gains from making claims - not on the fact that we lawyers get paid for our work or that injured clients sometimes are awarded hundreds of thousands or even millions. Forget about "tort reform." The truth is that some politicians are all for it - that is, until they find themselves or a loved one in a jam. Then all bets are off. Their tort reform ship suddenly reverses course.
Now Let's Discuss What It's Like to Practice Personal Injury Law
Tell me about being an ambulance chaser. I'm kidding.
You've caught me in a good mood, so I'll humor you. This "ambulance chaser" has not once ever entertained the thought of quitting and doing something else. I love what I do.
Where do you practice and for how long?
My home base is L.A. but my cases take me across the U.S. It doesn't feel like it, but it's been 28 years and counting.
What type of law do you practice?
Personal injury with an emphasis on products liability cases.
What is your favorite piece of lawyerly equipment or tool while working on a file?
At night, sitting in my den reading testimony, I surround myself with an assortment of colored felt pens and Post-Its. Low tech, I know, but sometimes that's best. No distractions. Just me, the pens and Post-Its, and the file.
What would you say to the statement that someone has to get hurt in order for you to make a living?
On that, there really never has been any moral ambiguity for me as a plaintiff's lawyer. People are going to get hurt. Someone harms another person, that person causes damage, sometimes irreparably, and that person must be held accountable.
Describe a typical day.
I'm usually in the office by 7:00 with my coffee and various newspapers. I check my emails. At 9:00 the phones start ringing. Most days, though, if I'm not in the office, I'm in court or at depositions.
What is your average caseload?
Currently, I am the lead lawyer in 50 cases. About one-third of those are wrongful death cases.
How often do you go to trial?
I average four jury trials a year.
What are you most proud of having achieved in your role as a lawyer?
I am most proud of having given a voice to my clients and for bringing claims for corporate malfeasance. Essentially, it's the David vs. Goliath story, at the risk of over-dramatizing it.
Bring yourself back to your first major trial or settlement in which you achieved a multi-million dollar result. What did that feel like?
It felt great that I helped obtain a measure of justice that had a meaningful and profound impact on my client's life. But it was also very humbling, because my client's reaction was more of a closing of a sad chapter in her life. The result I won for her gave her financial security, but there still was that giant void from her loss.
Two Final Questions
What characteristics, traits, or habits make for a "good" PI lawyer or trial lawyer?
A PI trial lawyer needs dogged determination, to put in the necessary time to learn the subject matter and rules of evidence. And believing in what you are doing is essential, in your client and in your work.
What is the best thing a client has ever said to you?
"Thank you for giving me my life back."