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Trial Lawyer Techie

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There are a few things you’ll pick up on about Jeff Bennion from the minute you talk with him. The first,is that he’s extraordinarily funny. The second is that his love for capitalizing on the opportunities afforded via the use of technology is probably on par with that of the NSA. All joking aside though, Bennion, a trial attorney specializing in personal injury and employment law, is absolutely sincere when he says, “Trial is without a doubt the most important part of any case. An attorney can spend two years working up a case and it all comes down to 4-5 days of testimony. You can do everything right for two years, but make one critical mistake on one day during trial, and you’re done. All of that work is for nothing. Attorneys often spend so much time focusing on being right,that they lose sight of being convincing. Times have changed. The jury pool has changed. The methods used to convince jurors have changed. You can either take advantage of it, or be taken advantage by it.”

Bennion has clearly taken advantage of the changing times and methods, and the decision to do so was intentional. “After undergrad, I got a job at Luce Forward. Not long after that, I was promoted and put on a team that worked almost exclusively on high stakes trials across the nation. It didn’t take long after being surrounded by some of the smartest attorneys in San Diego that I signed up for the LSAT and started applying to law schools. I applied and was accepted to the USD night program so that I could keep my job and go to school at night,” he says.

jeffbennion

While working at Luce Forward, going to law school, and awaiting the arrival of his third son, “I was chosen to be in a small group of employees that got trained in the TrialDirector trial presentation software,” Bennion says. This happened to coincide with the start of the recession. “I started law school in 2005, during a healthy economy. Halfway through, I realized that I was going to be one of 7,000 people looking for an entry level job at a law firm. I needed to differentiate myself. I didn’t want to be the curve; I wanted to be ahead of it,” he explains.

So armed with his experience in TrialDirector, and his determination to make himself stand out in a tough market, Bennion took a job in an insurance defense firm while still in law school. “At my first trial with that firm, I asked the partner if he wanted to put all of his eggs in one basket and trust me to present all of the evidence electronically and to do some custom graphics for his trial. He did, and it turned out great. After that, I was asked to participate in all of the trials,” he says.

But by 2011, Bennion recognized that he wasn’t particularly smitten with insurance defense work. He wryly recalls the turning point. “I put together some neat impeachment evidence which showed that the plaintiff-a grandma- was a liar. We fought tooth and nail and got a defense verdict. The grandma got zero. The joy of that lasted until I reached the parking lot and started thinking about how there’s now a grandma who won’t be able to get the medical treatment she needs, won’t be able to play with her grandkids like she used to and will probably die much sooner, all because she had the nerve to be driving in her own lane that day.” However, he admits that the experience defense work has served him and his clients well. “I have a diverse background of plaintiff and defense work. I think it’s important to have that perspective. If you can’t look at your case from a neutral perspective, you can’t see your case from a juror’s perspective and you are putting yourself at a disadvantage,” he says.

By contrast, what gives Bennion’s clients, including attorneys who hire him as a consultant, a huge advantage is Bennion’s ability to utilize technology in ways most attorneys have never even considered. “My whole practice involves being innovative by showing people new things, learning new techniques. I am blessed that part of my business involves buying the best and newest gadgets. I have a projector that shoots out an invisible laser grid and interacts with a wireless stylus, turning any surface into an interactive touchscreen. I have a touchscreen tablet PC that broadcasts a wireless high def audio and visual signal to my projectors. I have a pocket-sized, wireless super high resolution document camera. I have a pocket-sized, battery-powered projector that I use for mediations. The speaker that I use in court is about the size of soda bottle, but it is so loud that they will come from two departments over to ask you to turn it down. It’s wireless, of course, and will run for 2 court days on a single charge. If opposing counsel gives me a hard copy of a document and tells me it’s too bad that I can’t show it with my computer, it’s no problem. I have a scanner built into the bottom of my mouse. I just run my mouse over it and it scans it and saves it as a text-searchable document. I’m really hoping to get a brain injury trial soon so I can use my newest toy where I wave my hand over my motion controller to control the 3D model of the skull like Tony Stark in Iron Man.

Make no mistake, Bennion makes jokes about using technology, but he is dead serious when it comes to the results he has gotten for his clients, and on cases he’s consulted on. “When I went on my own in 2011, I had participated in 20-30 trials. I had worked on about 80 cases from complaint to verdict and won several big motions. I specialize in making trials interesting and enjoyable for jurors and judges. I take the evidence in a case and synthesize it into easily digestible charts and timelines and graphics. I help attorneys focus on not just making the correct arguments, but also understandable and memorable arguments,” he says. “And it works. It’s rare that I don’t get comments from judges or juror about how helpful it is.”

Bennion’s skills have not gone unnoticed by the legal community nor by legal educators. Recently, Bennion was asked to go in and train the San Diego City Attorney’s Office on trial presentation. He also signed on to assist Estey & Bomberger in discovery for their massive claim against Skechers, USA. He has at least one trial each month for the next four months. And his excitement about them is palpable. “A lot of the cases I get asked to work on are high-stakes cases in the 7 or 8 figure range, so I get to work with and against some of the best trial attorneys in Southern California,” he says.

Bennion also teaches paralegal classes at night at Cuyamaca College. “It helps me put things in perspective. I know exactly what it is like to talk about boring legal subjects to groups of people who would rather be somewhere else. I try to keep that in mind when I’m working on trials—I assume that the people to whom I am trying to explain ‘implied warranty of merchantability’ don’t care and don’t want to care. How do I make them care? How do I ensure after I’m done explaining it to them, I can send them back with confidence that they will make a million dollar decision in my client’s favor?”

For Bennion, it all boils down to being prepared, whether he is representing a client or assisting fellow attorneys with trial technology, techniques or presentation. “Every time I go to trial, people always say ‘Good luck in trial!’ It’s a nice sentiment, but my response is always, ‘Luck is for the unprepared. Part of my job is planning for contingencies. Anything you can think of in 5 minutes as the worst case scenario for using computers for your trial, I had thought of and created a solution for, probably in 2007 or 2008 or 2009. I bring 2 projectors and 2 computers to every trial. I have 2 or 3 scanners that I bring with me. I have a quiet color laser printer that goes under the table. I’ve thought of it because I’ve been there. Certainly luck never hurts and every trial attorney could use a little luck, but I’ll take preparation over luck anytime. It’s so much more reliable.”

Jeff Bennion
Law Office of Jeff Bennion
501 W Broadway, Suite 1330
San Diego, CA 92101

619-609-7198
www.jbennionlaw.com
www.trialtechsupport.com
jeff@jbennionlaw.com

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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