Lawyers are sort of like Congress. Almost nobody has anything good to say about Congress, but voters almost invariably reelect whoever represents their Congressional district. Same thing with lawyers. Everybody laughs at lawyer jokes, but that lawyer representing you against the insurance company that wouldn’t pay your claim? You’re going to love him or her.
Kelly Hyman, founder of The Hyman Law Firm, P.A., knows all of this very well. We recently discussed high profile legal cases, celebrity hijinks and no-nonsense business advice from her perspective as a nationally-known legal justice advocate.
Elephants and Lawyer Jokes
I got to business right away with Kelly, tackling one of the big questions of our time: whether, and I say this tongue-in-cheek, lawyers are a “litigious drain of time and finances,” or a first-on-the-field needed defense of rights and the law.
Kelly responded in the spirit of things, commenting that this goes back to the age-old joke, “what do you call 100 hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean…?” Of course, no punch line needed here; it’s oldie and not necessarily a goodie so far as humor goes.
The reality is, she noted, that as much as people bemoan our legal system, we have one of the finest working systems of justice in the world. It’s not perfect (very few things are) but people have access to
the court systems, and the juries are made up of our peers siting in fair judgement according to the laws of the land and instructions about those laws.
My thought at this point is that, in an enterprising society shouldn’t the most talented, determined and knowledgeable individuals in any field deserve to create a prosperous living based on their success? While I personally have no issues with people earning good (or great) incomes based on their skills, perseverance or talent, Kelly had the type of perspective that comes from commitment to social justice.
Righting the Wrongs
Some of the most important societal protections of our time, Kelly pointed out, have come from expertly prepared and passionate attorneys arguing their case with conviction in our court of law. From voting rights to racial equality to righting egregious wrongs from unscrupulous business, attorneys – and the legal actions they bring to a court of law – are the defenders of individual rights and democracy at large. This makes sense, as Kelly has been involved in a number of critically important class action and mass tort lawsuits. One such important case involves the fight against human trafficking, in another she and a legal team have gone up against Big Tobacco in the fight against American Spirit cigarettes.
In our interview, Kelly is humble regarding her work. She feels honored that she’s been able to help large numbers of people prevail against wrongs done to their health, wellbeing and ability to earn a living or live a full and unencumbered life. Kelly noted that her passion for creating social justice and equity is what drove her to pursue a legal career and her commitment is to stand up and make the case for the legal industry’s role as the first line of defense in a free, fair and democratic society.
Johnny and Amber
Time for a shift in gears and topic. Clearly the legal system does, albeit at times imperfectly, function as the first line of defense in ensuring fairness and practice of the law. But now, it’s time to talk about the topic that is on all of our minds: Johnny V. Amber. I knew that Kelly had changed course from a career as an actress to the legal field. As an attorney with professional acting experience, including a stint on “The Young and the Restless,” I wondered if she could tell us where the legal defense ended and the acting and emotional engagement picked up in this lawsuit. And would there have been a different outcome if some of these purported acting or emotional elements were handled differently?
Court of Law Versus Court of Opinion
Kelly believes that, while this was a fascinating case, it was thoroughly and appropriately adjudicated through our court system – but the “court” of social media was an entirely other issue. In that arena, she felt, it was much less fairly judged through the lens of social media.
She shared that she is a strong advocate of our legal system as well as the #MeToo movement. Being raised by a single mom, she’s always been a strong advocate for women supporting women on all women’s issues. Having said that, there are standards to achieve in any juried courtroom and these legal standards outweigh belief systems and any attendant emotions. Kelly then proceeded to outline the things we need to remember about our legal system – and the process and outcomes in any highly visible court case:
It’s important to remember that we have a great jury system in the U.S. and that, based on the facts and evidence, the jury believed Johnny Depp on all of his claims of defamation, she explained. Based on the facts and evidence, the jury made a determination that Johnny proved all the elements for his case of defamation and he prevailed on all of his counts. It’s important to note that it comes down to the credibility of the witness–who the jury is going to believe based on the facts and evidence presented–the jury verdict reflects the fact that Johnny Depp was very credible and the jury believed what he had to say. While Amber did win on one of her defamation counts, she didn’t win on all of her claims.
Having clarified this, Kelly proceeded to add that connecting with the jury and helping them understand – or believe – you are telling the truth is important to presenting your case. While jurors should adhere to the instructions they are given regarding adhering to the law, being credible, succinct and sincere can help greatly in conveying your case.
To Be or Not to Be: Truthful
So here is where it gets a bit juicy and draws upon Kelly’s experience as an actor. Informally, her impression is that Amber was overly dramatic. While this might not have changed legal outcome, it certainly made an impact in the court of public opinion. It further undermined the perception of her case in that she made several accusations that were proven not to be true, such as her statement that Johnny Depp had pushed a former girlfriend down a flight of stairs. Once the jury feels you have lied to them, they will be very vigilant to ensure “standards of truth” are met in the case before them.
Acting and Law
While Shakespeare’s Hamlet ponders to “be or not to be,” one might wonder if an acting career was meant to be a help in the legal field, or not?
Kelly feels her acting career enables her to see things in life from different people’s perspectives, that it was literally her profession to take on other people’s lives, personas and perspectives.
Because she honed that particular skill, she has the ability to understand, and have empathy, for what another person may be experiencing. The advantage for her is not only seeing things from her own perspective but also experiencing the situation from the eyes of the other person.
The take-away? This filter has helped Kelly tremendously in her legal career as a plaintiff’s class action and mass tort attorney, where she is tasked with the duty to help people who have been harmed. Empathy, she shared, has enabled her to step into their shoes and understand what they’re going through. This empathy also helps her to prepare clients for their deposition by guiding them through their experience and helping them capture their thoughts, feelings and experience in a way that helps them communicate and connect with jurors.
Having grown up in the entertainment business, the skills and values of empathy, communication, creativity and passion are tools Kelly relies on every day to advocate clients and get justice for them.
The First Rule for Entrepreneurs
Redirecting the conversation, I wondered about entrepreneurs. What are their stumbling blocks, legally speaking? What should they be mindful of to avoid legal action? Once again, the take-away from Kelly was succinct. If the motto “Think First” could be emblazoned on a t-shirt for every entrepreneur, that would be an excellent first step was my impression from Kelly’s feedback.
Her priority for business owners is simply: it is important for entrepreneurs to think before acting or reacting. “Think First, Act Second” should indeed be a guiding principle, whether it’s emblazoned a t-shirt, positioned prominently on their desk or simply top of mind each and every day.
The Big Three: Advice from the Trenches
Kelly had three key action items for entrepreneurs:
Create a Plan and
Prepare for Outcomes.
Sounds great, but what does that look like in the real world?
First and most importantly, seek legal counsel before forming your business. Just as critically, make sure you connect with a legal expert who specializes in the area in which you need legal advice, whether it’s forming a corporation or just the day-to-day business. It may seem convenient and inexpensive to tap a friend or family member who, for sake of argument, is a divorce attorney, but it is important to seek the legal advice of someone who focus on the area of law in which you need legal advice.
Secondly, every entrepreneurs should plan to have business plan.
When she launched my own firm, one of the first things that Kelly did was create a business plan to establish the type of structure I wanted and envisioned for her firm. It’s the key to success, as it creates the roadmap to the type of business and outcomes you are seeking. As entrepreneurs, it’s important to think about different outcomes and the impacts of those outcomes so you can be prepared for the experiences that may come your way. Kelly added that outcomes can include success as well as failure and the middle-earth realm of so-so success. Understanding that you may end up in any of these three outcomes – and knowing how you want to respond, can turn almost any situation into the success you are aiming for.
When You’re in Front of a Jury
Time was starting to run out now, Kelly has some to go forth and battle evil in the courtrooms, yet there was a final burning question I needed answered. What to do to increase your odds of success if you find yourself on the wrong side of the juror’s box? Kelly’s thinking on this was equal parts advice and philosophy.
She feels that if you’re bringing a civil case, you have the burden of proof and you need to prove all elements of your case. Understand that jurors are human beings, and if someone comes across as not being believable, the jury sees that. Credibility is key. It’s important that when someone testifies they come across as believable and sincere.
We as human beings are not perfect; we make mistakes, but it’s important to own up and take responsibility and be accountable for the mistakes that you make. Owning your mistakes ( Like Johnny Depp did in his trial) can create empathy and connection with a jury in the right situation. Otherwise, you don’t come across as being believable – and it’s very hard for a plaintiff or defendant who the jury doesn’t find believable to overcome that obstacle and successfully make their case.