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STAYING ON TARGET

MediatoroftheMonth_2013

Edward “Skip” Babbitt’s Focus On The Jury Trial Is Razor Sharp

Many attorneys in San Diego would draw a blank when asked if they know Edward Babbitt. However, as soon as they realize you’re talking about Skip Babbitt, that all changes. As one of the most active personal injury attorneys in the San Diego legal community, most know Skip for his trial techniques and tireless educational efforts in legal organizations and associations, including the San Diego Inns of Court and Consumer Attorneys of San Diego.

Skip Cover

Indeed, as the CASD Education Chair from 2010 – 2013, Babbitt has presented dozens of seminars. Likewise, as the immediate Past President of the San Diego Inns of Court and a workshop leader since 2001, Babbitt has made it a point to keep himself immersed in not only his own legal education, but has been determined to mentor and assist other plaintiffs attorneys in the community. This he does for two reasons. First, it keeps his focus squarely on his work as a trial attorney. Second, he does it “to make the plaintiffs bar in San Diego as strong as it can be.”

Skip Portrait 2Identifying the Target

Interestingly, one of Babbitt’s passions outside of the law is long distance precision shooting, which has proven to be a metaphor for his life’s work as a trial attorney. By gradually narrowing his focus from the very beginning of his career, he has been able to hit his target of successful jury verdicts with astounding precision for more than 20 years.

Babbitt’s desire to become an attorney started to come into focus while he was still in high school. “The year was 1977. I had a journalism teacher who suggested that I would be a good trial attorney, based on my class discussions while editing the high school paper. She was probably the most influential person in my quest to be an attorney, by forcing me to take the high School ROP tests to determine my aptitude. From that point on, I figured out the plan, spent four years getting a Political Science degree at UC Riverside and three years of law school at USD. At age 24, I had my license to practice law,” Babbitt recalls.

Initially, Babbitt’s practice was in an entirely different area of law. “In 1985, I joined the insurance defense firm of Shifflet Sharp & Walters as an associate,” he says. He was successful in the work, and by the time he left the firm 12 years later, he was a partner, and the firm had grown from seven attorneys to 32 attorneys. Although skilled as a defense attorney, “Eventually I realized that the reason I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 17 was to help people, not to save insurance companies money,” he says. “Both sides are necessary, but my heart was always with the underdog, not the corporate giant,” he adds.

As such, Babbitt decided to become a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney as a solo practitioner in 1997, and since that time has never looked back. However, he is quick to point out that his background defending the very companies he now brings to trial has served him and his clients immeasurably. “Having worked

Babbitt’s desire to become an attorney started to come into focus while he was still in high school. “The year was 1977. I had a journalism teacher who suggested that I would be a good trial attorney, based on my class discussions while editing the high school paper. She was probably the most influential person in my quest to be an attorney, by forcing me to take the high School ROP tests to determine my aptitude. From that point on, I figured out the plan, spent four years getting a Political Science degree at UC Riverside and three years of law school at USD. At age 24, I had my license to practice law,” Babbitt recalls.

Initially, Babbitt’s practice was in an entirely different area of law. “In 1985, I joined the insurance defense firm of Shifflet Sharp & Walters as an associate,” he says. He was successful in the work, and by the time he left the firm 12 years later, he was a partner, and the firm had grown from seven attorneys to 32 attorneys. Although skilled as a defense attorney, “Eventually I realized that the reason I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 17 was to help people, not to save insurance companies money,” he says. “Both sides are necessary, but my heart was always with the underdog, not the corporate giant,” he adds.

As such, Babbitt decided to become a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney as a solo practitioner in 1997, and since that time has never looked back. However, he is quick to point out that his background defending the very companies he now brings to trial has served him and his clients immeasurably. “Having worked for the defense industry my first 12 years in practice, I pretty much know how the insurance company and defense attorneys are going to behave three months before my clients’ incident happens,” he says.

Narrowing The Scope

Skip PortraitWhen Babbitt launched his own firm, he knew without a doubt that he would serve his clients –typically serious injury/surgical intervention personal injury cases ranging from car, motorcycle, tractor-trailer collisions; to highway defect, slip and fall, products liability cases, complex medical issues with multi-faceted surgical procedures and brain injury—as a trial attorney, not a settlement lawyer.

“I try cases. I don’t beg the defense or the insurance company for money. I evaluate my clients’ cases as objectively as is practical and send a reasonable settlement demand. If the defense does not come within 75-80% of the range for settlement, I cease negotiation, and set up for trial without much discussion,” Babbitt explains. “The worst thing you can do to an insurance company is give them the silent treatment,” he says with a chuckle.

Whereas many firms promote themselves as trial attorneys, but actually settle most cases, Babbitt’s record clearly proves that he is a trial attorney. In fact, in the last year alone, he’s tried an impressive 6 cases to verdict. Frankly, nothing makes him happier than being in front of a jury.

Aiming For Connection With The Jury

“The successful key to being a trial lawyer is becoming the most trustworthy person in the courtroom. We sell our cases to the jury, not the judge or the defense attorney,” he says.

Fortunately, the ability to connect with the jury in just moments comes naturally to Babbitt.

His mindset from the beginning of a trial is to form a bond with the jury, so that they are interested and eager to hear his clients’ cases. To build rapport, he will often open with questions to the jury such as “How many of you got your summons in the mail, and immediately thought “Dang”?” To show the jury that he understands, he too raises his hands, and acknowledges that jury duty can cause some disruptions to life, but then immediately sets about to empower the jurors.

“I explain to them that our jury system is the envy of the world. That there are few other places where a homeless person, for example, has the same access to justice as a giant corporation. That everyone is on equal footing in the courtroom. I present the opportunity to serve on a jury as an honor and a privilege,” he adds.

By the time opening statements roll around, “I am on, when I’m in front of the jury. I feel like I’m telling a story to 12 friends, like you would at a party,” he says. Of course, “you cannot tell their story without knowing who your client is and what their life is like,” he adds. Only then can he “paint a picture with words” that the jury can  see clearly in their own minds’ eye.

Yet Babbitt doesn’t preach. He views his role in front of the juror as that of a mentor, while the jurors themselves are heroes. “I am there to show the jury the evidence, explain how the process works, and give them the tools to make the right decision,” he says. Continuing, he explains, “Everyone wants to make the right decision, based on having the right information. It’s only natural,” he says. “That’s how I present to the jury—that I am just there to empower them to make the right decisions on their own. They are the true heroes,” he says.Skip and Wife

Honing His Skills

“Having practiced in San Diego for the last 28 years gives me tremendous insights as to how the personal injury practice has evolved,” Babbitt says. However, that’s not to say that he relies solely on experience to carry him through to success. On the contrary, it has been Babbitt’s concerted efforts to stay at the forefront of education, and then to educate others that has cemented his position as a true master of his craft.

“In the last 10 years, my focus has been on teaching litigation skills to attorneys. As the CASD Education Chairman since 2010, I put on approximately 10 seminars a year to plaintiff attorneys on various aspects of our practice. Since 2006, I have been on the board of directors for San Diego Inns of Court, teaching trial techniques to attorneys from both sides of the fence,” he says. Moreover, he does a great deal of attorney consulting, and says “I enjoy watching the light bulb come on when I brainstorm with an attorney on the strengths and weaknesses of their case, and show them how to make lemonade out of lemons.”

A perfect example of learning new techniques, then passing that knowledge on to others, came just a few months ago as a result of utilizing the Expedited Jury Trial Procedures under CCP 630 et seq. “The case involved a significant head on collision. At the TRC, I presented to the judge that the defense and I had agreed to the one-day jury trial. The judge responded that he was agreeable, but had not done one before and asked how they worked,” Babbitt says. “I explained to him the procedures outlined by the Code and we went forward the next week,” he continues.

Recognizing that if the judge himself wasn’t clear on these EJT procedures, it was almost certain that his peers were unfamiliar with them as well, Babbitt seized on the opportunity to educate his peers. “I notified members of the CASD ListServ that I was doing the Expedited Jury Trials, and invited them to attend and observe,” he says. Fifteen to 20 plaintiffs’ attorneys took the opportunity to witness the EJT first hand.

Two months later, Babbitt was involved in a second EJT, and once again, invited his fellow attorneys. Dozens of peers showed up again, and following this trial (which Babbitt also won), Babbitt invited both presiding Judge Dato and the opposing counsel to collaborate on a seminar with him for CASD several weeks later. Both were happy to participate. The seminar showed Babbitt’s peers how utilizing this new procedure could result in incredible cost savings for the client, and time savings for the court. “It’s a great way for young attorneys to get trial experience, without the cost of a full trial,” he says.

Clearly, educating others is nearly as important to Babbitt as working tirelessly for clients, but he admits that he gets gets a lot in return out of his efforts. “Teaching attorneys through CASD and San Diego Inns of Court keeps my finger on the pulse of lawyering skills and results in the San Diego legal community. The Education Chair for CASD has kept me involved with new and older attorneys who pick my brain on procedure and case evaluations on a monthly basis. Networking with some of the best legal minds in the San Diego plaintiff’s bar keeps me on top of the curve. Striving to stay on top of the current legal trends and trial techniques to enhance non-economic damages for settlement and trial purposes is a constant learning process,” he says. Clearly it’s one that pays off in referrals as well, as up to 50% of Babbitt’s cases come to him as direct referrals from fellow attorneys.

Staying On Top of His Game

For Babbitt, things have truly never been better. In addition to having amassed accolades such as Outstanding Trial Advocacy Awards and Presidents Awards from CASD, Babbitt is a member of ABOTA, and has lectured at his Alma Mater’s Consumer Attorney Division.

Outside of the office, life is also good for Babbitt, if a little busy. Between juggling cases and his involvement with CASD and Inns of Court, Babbitt admits that he just recently returned from his first family vacation in three years. There he spent two blissful weeks with his wife Ericka, 7 year-old son Gage, and 5 year-old daughter Devin. “The most precious moments were wading in the ocean with my children’s arms wrapped around me. Looking at their tanned faces beaming up at me, it was just perfect,” he says.

But for now, it’s back to business for Babbitt, who is busy as ever, but ever mindful of hitting the mark, every time. For him, that means keeping a low overhead, and abiding by the best advice he was ever given. “No matter how much you need the work, don’t take bad cases.”

To date, those strategies have paid off in spades, and he intends to continue in the same trajectory for the immediate future. “I see more trial technique teaching, and more consulting in my future,” he says. Yet, when you love telling a story to a jury the way that Babbitt does, it’s a safe bet that his future is also going to include lots of happy endings for his personal injury clients.

Contact:

Skip Babbitt

Law Office of Edward J. Babbitt APC
www.Babbitt-injurylawyer.com
619-543-1789
Skipdude37@aol.com

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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