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Creativity in The Courtoom

Jeff Bennion Uses His Talents to Teach, Help Other Attorneys to Tell Compelling Stories, and to Win Trials

“As the Education Chair of the State Bar of California’s Technology Section, I’m always on the forefront of neat things,” says Jeff Bennion, Founder of the Law Office of Jeff Bennion. However, Bennion’s interest in bringing creativity to the practice of law through the use of technology was piqued years before he held that position, or served as the Vice Chair of the Law Practice Management and Technology Section—which is responsible for educating the 245,000 lawyers in California on running an efficient law practice, with the help of technology. Indeed, Bennion was also fascinated by the invaluable role that technology can play in terms of helping injured victims, and fellow attorneys long before he sat on the Board of Directors of Consumer Attorneys of San Diego.

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Tapping into Tech
From the early days of his career in law, which began as a paralegal with Luce Forward, Bennion seized upon any and all opportunities to further his own technological education, which was no small feat considering he was simultaneously attending the evening program at University of San Diego School of Law. He was simultaneously working fulltime, married with two young sons, and about to become a father of three. “It was a challenge to juggle all of that,” he admits. “My third son was born the day after the Bar exam. So, I took the Bar Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Then we had a baby on Friday,” he recalls with a chuckle.
All the same, during that time Bennion still managed to find time to indulge in his love of all things technology related. “I’ve always liked graphic design. I used to do graphic design work on the side in law school, when I was writing for the comedy website Cracked.com. That’s where I saw that graphic design has great application in the legal field, and started incorporating it into my cases,” Bennion says
The extraordinary effort was all worth it, though. “By the time I got out of law school, I had assisted and sat through 20+ jury trials. I thought I knew what hard work was. After all, on the defense you get paid by the hour and there was always work to be done when trial came around,” he says. Yet, he was soon to find out that no amount of work he’d done previously prepared him for just how hard he would work as a plaintiff’s attorney. Fortunately, he was equally surprised to discover just how enjoyable the practice of law became, once he began “bringing creativity to the [sometimes] stuffy world of law.”

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A True Passion for Teaching
Soon after launching his own firm, focusing primarily on personal injury cases, Bennion accepted a position teaching at Cuyamaca College, all the while maintaining his solo practice, beginning to teach MCLE courses, and continuing to sharpen his own technological skills. In fact, as the result of teaching a MCLE class, in 2014 Bennion was invited to teach for his alma mater. “The Program Director at UCSD happened to be at one of the MCLE classes, and invited me to teach Business Law,” he says.
Continuing he says, “I love teaching. It is personally so rewarding. Every week, I battle my schedule because it takes a lot of time, but I will teach forever. Education in some form is in everything I do. I can’t help it. I like helping people.”
More recently, his role as a professor of Business Law at UCSD led to a position on the Advisory Committee for UCSD Extension’s brand new litigation technology certificate. “I teach a good number of the online classes. We just finished an 18-hour class last fall on the science behind creating great trial graphics and presentations. It was a really fun class to teach.” All told, Bennion says, “I’ve been teaching for about 7 years now, and explaining complicated legal principles to bored people who don’t want to be there turns out to be great practice for jury trials,” he jokes.
Likewise, his role as a weekly Legal Technology columnist for AboveTheLaw.com—the nation’s largest legal website— provides him the opportunity to teach others about the pros (and occasionally cons) of making technology a keystone in a case. “I have a lot of fun with my column. I keep it informal, and occasionally push the envelope. The column I wrote on why Word Perfect is not the best program out there got me some hate mail, though,” he laughs. “And my column about Microsoft Excel was one of my most well-read columns, which is also pretty funny.”
Finally, Bennion is looking forward to yet another venue for teaching others, through a unique collaboration with preeminent Trial Consultant, Finlay Boag. “We’re launching LegalStorytellers.com, where we’ll be presenting seminars, and offering boot camps for attorneys to attend so that they can tell their clients’ stories in a way that will captivate their audience,” he says.
This collaboration came about as the result of both Bennion’s and Boag’s respective experiences, and ensuing insights. “If you ask most lawyers to give an opening statement of whatever case they have in their office right now, they might start with a chronological history of the world,” Bennion jokes. “And that’s a pretty good way to spew out information. Reciting facts is what we were taught in law school. But, there’s a reason why movie makers don’t do that. Too many lawyers think that trial is about getting your facts out there. That’s a small part of it. Trial is about getting the jury to not say, ‘So what?’ after you get your facts out there. It’s about getting the jury not just interested in your story, but motivated to fill out the verdict form.”

Helping Other Attorneys Tell Compelling Stories Through Technology
Of course, none of these opportunities to teach others would be possible were it not for the painstaking work Bennion has put into mastering his craft of using technology to help secure incredible wins for his clients, and for the attorneys who hire him as a trial consultant. By way of example, he recently became one of a handful of Adobe Certified Experts in Photoshop, which is overwhelmingly used to make graphics for trial and mediations. “The test was really difficult,” he says honestly. “I think there are only two other Certified Experts in San Diego, and only 85 in the entire state of California.”
Despite being challenging, Bennion says that learning to use the program with acute precision can make all the difference in the world to a client. In fact, although his trial consultancy work is most often utilized in personal injury cases and medical malpractice cases, he has also used these skills to help defendants in criminal cases. “When it comes to personal injury or medical malpractice cases, I only work on the side of the plaintiff. But in business cases or criminal cases, I will work with whatever party is being bullied. I don’t like seeing people bullied.”
For example, in one criminal case, Bennion’s expertise helped a defendant to avoid life in prison. “The D.A. had cell phone photos that were taken at night, which appeared to show the defendant holding a gun. But through analyzing it, it became clear that a reflection in a window was responsible for the supposed gun. He had no gun in his hand.”
In civil cases, he uses this expertise to create medical illustrations, scene overlays, timelines, and a variety of charts and graphs. The final products that Bennion delivers to attorneys who bring him in to help develop trial themes, or to serve as Trial Tech Support are so exceptional, that he’s now Of Counsel to one of San Diego’s most awarded Personal Injury Firms, Estey & Bomberger. “I was brought in to help manage e-discovery on their Skechers case, a complex litigation case with millions of records and thousands of clients across California. I thought it would be a 3-6 month case, but I’m still working with them, and my role has evolved a bit. I do some briefs, but I’m mostly behind the scenes helping to develop and/or illustrate trial themes,” he says.
Another example of just how influential the products Bennion creates can be to a case can be seen through a brain injury case he was brought in to assist with last year. “A woman who had just gone out on retirement was hit in the head, causing injuries that gave her the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. Her claim was pretty straight forward. We knew her medical expenses and what her life would be like for the remaining 18 years she was expected to live. We represented her husband as well. At the settlement conference, the judge suggested that we not focus on the husband’s claims because there was no way to do it without taking away from her claim, or worse, making him look like a complainer for having to take care of her. I knew she had a powerful claim, but I thought her husband did, too. He took care of her from morning to night. Because of her injury, she got anxious around others and he was the only one that could take care of her without causing her serious distress and anxiety. She was afraid of riding in the car too, so he was homebound with her for the rest of his life,” Bennion explains.
“I put together a short video that started out as a page out of a day planner and it had everything he did for his wife every day, starting at 7:00 am, and going until 8:00 pm. Then, as the camera zoomed out, you could see a week of identical days planned on the calendar. Then a month. Then a year. Then you could see about 8,000 pages of the calendar with every waking hour of his life planned, taking care of his injured wife, instead of travelling the world with her as they had previously planned.
The animation was only about 30 seconds long, and I ended it with a few excerpts from the day in the life video showing him taking care of his wife,” Bennion says. “We were able to get a confidential 8-figure settlement in that case.”

Winning Trials Through Innovation
Bennion’s technological works of art are certainly incredible tools to use in the courtroom, but before a case makes it to a jury, he often uses his tech savvy to assist attorneys with focus groups. “A lot of attorneys do a lot of focus group. Focus groups are great ways to uncover hidden landmines in your case and to polish your case to make it better,” he says. All the same, Bennion is not content to hold status quo focus groups, thus he explains he looked for a way to improve upon the process.
“The last time I did a focus group on one of my own cases, instead of just doing a mock opening in front of the participants, I decided I would put a code on their nametags. The participants scan the code with their phones and it opens up a survey that tracks how they are feeling and which way they are leaning during the focus group. I output that data to an Excel file and created a scatter graph that I then superimposed and synced up to the video file to get their realtime reactions,” Bennion says.
“By doing this, I can look at the recording and see that at 42 minutes and 12 seconds, for example, I said something that prompted 6 of the 10 participants to change their minds on something. Scrolling to that point in the video shows me what I said and what people were reacting to. I can see which potential jurors I turn, I lose, or those who stay the same,” he adds. Not surprisingly, Bennion is now routinely called upon to provide this service for fellow attorneys throughout San Diego.
Between juggling his own caseload, serving as Of Counsel to Estey & Bomberger, teaching, serving as a trial tech consultant, writing, and parenting his 3 sons with his wife, suffice it to say there is never a dull moment in Bennion’s life. Fortuitously, he wouldn’t have it any other way. In short, his unconventional legal practice is frankly everything he had ever hoped to build.
“I love what I have developed. I wake up excited about everything I do—my caseload, working with other attorneys, teaching, writing. I get to do all of the stuff that I truly enjoy. I get to be creative with law, and I get to help people.”

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» EDUCATION

  • University of San Diego School of Law – 2009
  • University of California, San Diego – Undergrad (Dual Major in Political Science: International Relations and Russian and Soviet Studies) – 2004

» AWARDS

  • Top Young Attorney – San Diego Daily Transcript, 2012
  • Rising Star – San Diego Attorney Journal, 2013
  • Best of the Bar – San Diego Business Journal, 2015-2016
  • Rising Star – Super Lawyers, 2016-2017

» ASSOCIATIONS

  • American Bar Association – 2011
  • Consumer Attorneys of San Diego – 2012
  • Louis M. Welsh American Inn of Court – 2013
  • Board of Directors of CASD – 2017
  • Vice Chair of the State Bar of California's Law Practice Management and Technology Section – 2017
  • Education Chair of the State Bar of California's Law Practice Management and Technology Section – 2017

» RECENT SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

  • LegalTech NY 2014, Emerging Local Technologies – 2014
  • State Bar of California Annual Meeting, Advanced E-Discovery Techniques – 2015
  • NALA Annual Conference, Legal Technology – 2015
  • Legal Tech Talks, E-Discovery Concepts – 2015
  • State Bar of California Solo and Small Firm Summit, Tools for Preparing for Trial – 2015
  • Academy for Private Practice, E-Discovery for Small Firms – 2015
  • State Bar of California Annual Meeting, Cybersecurity for Law Firms – 2016

Contact
Jeff Bennion
jbennionlaw.com
trialtechsupport.com
jeff@jbennionlaw.com
(619) 609-7198

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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