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Today I am going to blog about legal advertising and my love/hate relationship with it.

First, why do Syracuse NY area personal injury lawyers like us have to advertise at all?

The question is a fair one.  After all, our law firm is, according not just to us, but to many of the best lawyers and judges in the area, one of the top personal injury law firms in all of Upstate New York.  We have won many awards and recognitions for our outstanding results and performances in court.  Judges and fellow lawyers sing our praises, as do former clients.  So why do we have to advertise at all? Shouldn’t word of mouth bring us more cases than we can handle?

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I have been representing personal injury victims for decades.  No two victims are alike.  They’re kind of like snowflakes: They are each unique.  This goes for how they deal with their injuries, too.  But generally you can think of how they handle their injuries as running along a spectrum, a continuum, which is the subject of my blog post today.

At one end of the spectrum is what I call the “tough guy”.  The use of the word “guy” here is deliberate, and not sexist.  This kind of personal injury victim is almost always a guy, not a woman, though I have seen exceptions to this rule.  The tough guy has to prove that he is too tough to let an injury bother him at all.  The extreme tough guy will not admit, even to his doctor, that he is in pain. He will refuse pain meds.  He will ask his doctor to send him back to work even when the doctor thinks this will be deleterious to the healing process.  The tough guy believes he is superman.

The problem with representing the tough guy is that when it comes time to settle his case, his medical records and his comportment have minimized the injury and so the case value is also minimized.  When he realizes that he has shot his case in the foot, the tough guy may finally admit to his lawyer, me, that he was in a lot of pain the whole while, and still is, but wanted to work and live through it without complaining.  He does not like to complain. But try explaining this to an insurance adjuster or a jury who is looking at reams of medical records wherein the victim had reported “no pain” or “minimal pain” or “nothing I can’t deal with”.  The tough guy is his own worst enemy in a personal injury case.  He sinks his own case with his bravado and chest pounding.

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You are walking along the shoulder of a road with no sidewalk.  You are facing traffic, as you are supposed to.  To your right, walking with you, is your husband.  Suddenly the car heading towards you veers off the road and onto the shoulder.  You have time to jump to the left and escape injury.  Your husband, on the other hand, is hit and killed. You watch this happen, horrified.

Clearly your husband’s estate has a claim for “wrongful death” against the negligent driver of the car. As his widow, you are probably going to be the administrator of that estate, and will sue on behalf of the estate.  The estate will recover all the financial expenses stemming from the accident (medical and funeral expense) and will also recover for any pain and suffering he endured before death, and for any loss of financial support you and other family members will suffer.

But what about you.  Do you have a personal claim (not just on behalf of the estate) against the driver for the emotional harm you suffered from being right next to your husband, and watching, when he was hit and killed?  That image is going to haunt you for the rest of your life!

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Several years ago, Lee Michaels, our senior member, was asked and agreed to endow this significant scholarship and award at Syracuse University College of Law recognizing a second-year top trial or appellate advocacy student.  The primary goal in initiating this scholarship/award was to help a worthy student, but it was also aimed at attracting fresh applicants interested in advocacy to the law school. That secondary purpose seems to be working out: The law school has risen significantly in the national law school rankings, in two tabulations, ranking 10th and 11th in the USA.

This year we are pleased introduce to our readers the third, and the first female winner, of the Michaels Award and Scholarship:  Marina De Rosa.  Marina was born in New York,  and lived in Staten Island until her family made the decision to move to Florida. While she often traveled back and forth between the two states, she decided to go to college in Florida, attending Florida State University, one of SU’s regular rivals in the Atlantic Coast Conference. After four years, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, a minor in Creative Writing, and a certificate in U.S. Intelligence Studies. Upon graduating from Florida State, she made the decision to go back to her first home, moving north once more to attend Syracuse University College of Law. The decision was an easy one, as the College of Law had the Institute for Security Policy and Law program, renowned faculty members, and a 24-hour library. These features of Syracuse’s program won Marina over.

​During her time at the College of Law, Marina pursued her passion for trial advocacy. As an “arguing” member of the intercollegiate trial team, she competed in two different trial competitions in the 2020-2021 academic year. During the fall semester, she had the pleasure of representing the College of Law at the “Tournament of Champions.” She was also a member of the “National Trial Competition” team in the Spring of 2021. During the National Trial Competition, her partner and she won first place in their Region and advanced to the National rounds. Additionally, she won Best Closing Argument in the Regional round. She  plans to continue competing on the trial team during the 2021-2022 school year, and hopes to achieve similar success.

I’ve been settling my New York personal injury cases here in the Syracuse area for what some of my colleagues see as larger than normal numbers.  It seems I don’t have to try as many cases these days because the insurance carriers want to pay me to go away before we get to trial.  My “secret weapon”?  The “Rules of the Road” technique to case preparation.

Here’s a litmus test for picking a New York personal injury lawyer:  Ask your would-be lawyer whether he or she uses the “Rules of the Road” technique from the start of litigation through trial.  If he or she looks bewildered, run away.  The best personal injury attorneys in New York and all throughout these United States use it from day one in their case preparation.

The method was devised, or at least perfected, by the team of Rick Friedman and Patrick Malone.  You can get their book here. (I am not affiliated with them and do not get commissions from sales of the book).

Mel Gibson was born in Peekskill, New York.  But somehow he got his first big acting gig (in the movie Mad Max, his break-through role)  in Australia in 1978 at age 22. But why was this Peekskill, New York-born US citizen in Australia? Because his parents decided to emigrate there when he was 12 in 1968. But why did his parents decided to emigrate there? Because his father’s New York personal injury lawyer obtained a $145,000 settlement for him for work-related injuries.  This gave Mel Gibson’s father the money to move to Australia, where his family was originally from.

If Mel Gibson’s father’s personal injury lawyer had not gotten Mel Gibson’s father a $145,000 settlement, Mel Gibson would never have ended up in Australia, where his acting talent was discovered.

So as you can clearly see, a New York personal injury lawyer (the one who represented Mel Gibson’s father) is responsible for the meteoric rise to stardom of actor Mel Gibson.  Thus, every time you watch movies such as Mad Max, Lethal Weapon and Braveheart, you should thank a personal injury attorney!

As a New York personal injury lawyer (serving mostly the Syracuse and Central New York areas), I have pretty strong opinions about so-called “tort reform” (which we personal injury lawyers call “tort deform”):  I’m against it. Generally, tort reform is just a power-play by big business, the chamber of commerce and insurance companies to get a free pass to act negligently and injure people without having to pay the price.  The “price” of their negligence is shifted to the people who can least afford it:  Their injured victims.

But I agree partially with the corporate/insurance lobby’s newest call to arms:   They want immunity from coronavirus tort lawsuits for businesses that open up to the public.  I agree that restaurants, gyms, and retail stores should get some kind of immunity. Total immunity, no, but rather “qualified” immunity.  I’ll explain what I mean further down.

But first, why would a New York personal injury lawyer like me be in favor of a form of personal injury lawsuit protection for certain businesses?  Because I want America to get back on its feet. This damn virus has slammed with particular vigor at our retailers and restaurants.  Some will never reopen.  Those that will are going to need some help.   Our restaurants and retail stores are like a boxer who has been felled by a near knockout punch.  We need to allow him to get back up on his feet before we can engage him in more fighting.  Otherwise, we could kill him. (For a contrary view, read here).

The old me

The coronavirus me

This Central New York and Syracuse area personal injury lawyer hasn’t set foot in his office in three weeks.  (He also hasn’t shaven in three weeks, but that’s another story).  Have I been on vacation?  No.  Have I been laid off because of the coronavirus?  No. (Since I’m self-employed I would have to fire myself!)

Introducing this year’s proud recipient, the second ever, of the Syracuse University College of Law’s prestigious Lee S. Michaels Advocate Award and Scholarship: Joseph Tantillo.

Congratulations Joe!

More about Joe in a minute.  But first something about the award itself.  Last year we announced that M&S’s senior lawyer, Lee S. Michaels, had established and endowed the Syracuse University College of Law Lee S. Michaels Advocate Award and Scholarship. Lee, a die-hard S.U. supporter, graduated from the Law College in 1967, was active in alumni activities and events for many years, and has been teaching trial practice since 1990 and deposition practice there since last Fall.

If you are like me, about 50% of your conscious life these days can be summed up in one word: corona-virus.  President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday.  We are urged to engage in “social distancing”, to avoid crowds, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and to refrain from touching our face.

What is Michaels & Smolak doing to keep its staff, clients and others safe?  Here’s our current policy, which is still evolving to meet new developments:

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