Knowing What Sells
Another top trial lawyer, Mark Werbner of Dallas’ 15-lawyer Sayles Werbner PC, has found courtroom success by sometimes taking things less seriously than other attorneys. Werbner once asked a reluctant witness if he’d like a cookie for answering a question. Jeff Tillotson (right) describes Werbner as “very animated and lively,” and “very good at recognizing what sells and how to sell it.” Distinguishing himself from lawyers like Mike McKool, who strive to master every detail, Werbner says, “I try to keep a little distance, in an effort to see the case from the jury’s perspective. … That tends to make me cut to the chase and hit the punch line quicker.” Werbner, a veteran of more than 150 trials, relishes the opportunity to “craft the story and set the pace” when litigating against companies.
His approach has worked. Werbner has won some eye-popping verdicts, including a $73.5 million verdict in Dallas last year against Sears, Roebuck and Co. on behalf of a group of bondholders who claimed that Sears had violated certain investor agreements. He also won a $454 million award in 2001 against Comp USA Inc. and its president, billionaire Carlos “Slim” Helu, in a breach of contract case (it was later overturned on appeal).
For CEOs, Werbner warns against being arrogant or bossy in the courtroom, a perception that can arise not just from words, but from one’s posture or interaction with the bailiff or court reporter. He also urges CEOs to get back in touch with “real people” by viewing their bad habits in a mock trial. “You don’t want to come off like a fish out of water in front of a jury full of people who might be working two jobs to make ends meet,” he says. “A mock trial can clue you in about diversity, about your vocabulary, and use of business jargon.” Executives, according to Werbner, have great potential. “If they come across as down to earth and genuine, they will have a lot of credibility with the jury,” he says. “When people feel accepted by someone they perceive as powerful, that’s a very positive dynamic.”