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Insurance Defense Lawyer - John Nunnally - Part 3

Insurance Defense Lawyer John Nunnally joins Law Talk with Bill Powers, discussing:

  • The Practice of an Insurance Defense Lawyer
  • Professionalism
  • Trial Strategies
  • Professional Development

And I've noticed that as well, how we look at cases and how we present them, there is a difference in the culture of... Like I had mentioned before, I was at what used to be the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers conference versus the North Carolina Association of Defense Attorney conference, and the personalities, the dress, the way you guys interacted, it definitely is a different culture. And same goes for criminal law. But earlier in my practice, I did a little bit. We were general practice firm, and I would go in those back rooms and the lawyers in there would be smoking still with their sport coats. And it was just a different world. I was really like, "Can I get back over to civil superior court please?"

It's interesting how, I think that still on the insurance defense side, there's probably still more of the old school, probably still more of the suit and tie or... That's gone away. There's more business casual, but probably reluctance to change more so than on your side, on the plaintiff's side, or on the individual or the criminal side. It is interesting to see that difference on how... I can tell if I'm in an Association of Defense Attorneys conference or often in a plaintiff's conference.

Bill Powers: Sure. Sure.

John Nunnally: Yeah. That's interesting how... Not that there's a difference. It's just how you view the law too. It's what your advocacy role is and how you are doing it. I don't want to say we're more like tradition or keeping the status quo, but kind of we are, and you're more trying to advocate passionately for and zealously for your client's position.

Bill Powers: It's funny you say that. I remember, and I'll just say, we were at a meeting where it was for the celebration of the courts. And I don't remember, I think it was for the court of appeals in Raleigh and we were at our alma mater, John, at NC state. I don't know if you've seen the student-center at [inaudible]. We were there [crosstalk]-

John Nunnally: Oh my gosh. Yes, I have been. Yeah.

Bill Powers: But we were upstairs in one of the great hall that they have up there, and had a little reception. I can assure you that the reception for the judges is different than a reception for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

John Nunnally: Yes, I'm sure.

Bill Powers: That's a little bit more buttoned up. I was still [crosstalk]-

John Nunnally: Actually digress for a second, but my son actually got accepted to state and was debating that, but we did the tour, and my gosh, I hardly recognize that campus. I've been on it for sporting events, but hadn't really looked around. My goodness, that's grown a lot since our days there.

Bill Powers: Yeah. It's unbelievable. My daughter, she's a tennis player amongst other sports. And we did a tennis tournament up there, and I had some time to walk around the campus. One, I forgot how beautiful the campus is. And two, I looked at the building names and the ages of some of the buildings and it's unbelievable what they've done across the board. And I'm not just talking about like the Centennial campus and all that.

John Nunnally: Right. No, no, I know what you mean. But even that's grown so much. They'd just started opening that when we were there, and now, tremendous amount over there.

Bill Powers: Right. Well, you mentioned that a judge said, "Hey, you'd be a good insurance defense lawyer," how did you get into that? Was it, "I kind of fell into the practice"? Did you just realize it was something you were good at, something you enjoyed? You mentioned doing some criminal work, which I frankly did not know. And I think that's a great background. I wish more lawyers would do that to test out things a little bit.

John Nunnally: Yeah. Well, yeah. Actually, I ended up basically it was the job. I actually had a different job. I was going to move up to DC and then I was going to clerk at a judge up there. Her clerk left and she needed somebody right away. So she had to withdraw all the offers, because the only way she could get somebody was to offer them the position for the full year. So suddenly I was coming up on exams without a job. Luckily, Judge Eagles who was teaching a criminal procedure at the time knew of this firm looking and said that'd be a good fit, and shot a resume down with his recommendation, and got the job.

Again, Charlotte and Gastonia area wasn't where I was really concentrating. It was just a great general practice firm, mainly doing insurance defense, but they were... For those who don't know, Gastonia is kind of outside of Charlotte, smaller city. But there are not a lot of lawyers there so they do a little general practicing. Even if they have a concentration, it's nothing like in Raleigh or Charlotte with the more specialized big firms. So I got to do a mix of everything. I did some family law. I did some criminal. I did plaintiff's work as well a little bit. But obviously mainly on insurance defense.

Then after doing that for seven years, we had an opportunity to take this job up here. That's been it, two firms in almost 30 years, long time. But that was good. I do treasure those times of doing a little bit of everything because, one, it taught me, unlike you, I do not want to do family law. I did enough of that to know I definitely didn't want that. It was interesting to see the criminal aspect of it, and the traffic tickets I would handle and all, but it wasn't anything I wanted to be a career.

Same thing with workers' comp, doing that as a defense, I didn't enjoy that. I'm one of those few lawyers you ever meet who really enjoys what he does. I enjoy what I do. I enjoy practicing law. It's interesting to me still. I'm one of the few advocates to be able to go to law school. I think it's a great profession. It's something you should consider doing. It's been a fantastic journey, and hopefully it will continue for a long time because after this lockdown, I'm ready to go back to work hard.

Bill Powers: Right. Criminal defense is a type of practice for people to have very short attention spans. And I enjoy going to court. I just enjoy seeing people in court and I miss it terribly. I miss seeing the DAs, and the judges, and the clerks, and the police officers. You mentioned the back chambers area. There's a lot of just good natured fun that goes on in the back in talking to one another and-

John Nunnally: Yeah. That's so true. And that's interesting you say that because I remember somebody at law school had taught... One of the outside attorneys who came in and spoke with us had mentioned taking time to break bread with other attorneys or sit down and have a cup of coffee at the courthouse. Then when I first started practicing, my managing partner had mentioned to me how I need to get over and meet the people, the clerks office and get to know them, and get to know the magistrates, and get to know all the people. And I did.

I would go over every day and chat with them. It was easier in a small town like that, but it was very beneficial to hang out at the courtroom and chat with other attorneys and watch other trials. Candidly, if I had a few minutes, I'd sit and watch a trial for a while. It was always fascinating to me. And you're right. I can't emphasize enough that it will pay enormous dividends if you know the clerks and you take a few minutes to get to know them and their lives. They can help you so much, and especially as a younger attorney, getting to know how to do something properly.

Bill Powers: Sure. Well, clerks, they're so important because they see so much. I've had clerks pull me aside and say, "Hey, can I give you some advice?" I'm like, "Yeah." And say, "You know, this legal issue wasn't working for you. Next time, try this." I'll tell you who else is really invaluable, and they get on me all the time. Court reporters, because apparently I get excited and I start speaking quickly. And I'm know for-

John Nunnally: Yeah, I have the same thing. I have the exact same thing. They will tell me to slow down. I get going too fast. And they say if they're having trouble taking it down, the jury's going to have trouble understanding my point.

Bill Powers: Right. And I'm also known for, they say, it's called trailing off, which means what happens is we have our thought and we're thinking of our next thought while we're saying our first thought, and we tend to lose our volume. And the other thing that-

John Nunnally: I can-

Bill Powers: You do that too?

John Nunnally: Yeah, I do. But I was going to tell you, my all time thing that I have since broken myself up because of this judge. And it wasn't me, it was another attorney. But this judge, I'll name him. He's retired now. But Judge Gardner, he used to be in the 27D district, which was Cleveland, Lincoln. We had the plaintiff's attorney, after every question, he would say, "Okay." It'd be like, "So what speed was the vehicle going?" The person would go, "55 miles an hour." "Okay." "So then what did you do?" And the guy would answer, he'd say, "Okay."

What the judge kept pointing is to not say okay after your questions because he thought it was an impermissible comment on the testimony. So he imposed a rule half way through the trial. He sent the jury out and goes, "Okay, I've had it. Next person who says okay after questions will be fined $50 every time. I'm done." You talk about scared of asking questions, we were sitting there just absolutely worried to death, more focused on the form of our questions than what was happening, because we're also worried about being popped for $50 because you said okay. At one point he said okay, and he went, "Oh, oh, no, I didn't mean that." [inaudible].

Bill Powers: That's so funny you say that. That's always been a fear of mine, of getting called down for something that the judge didn't like. It was nothing ever intentional, but yeah, that's a really good point. In fact, I had a judge one time say, "Mr. Powers, why do you always stand up when I'm addressing you?" I said, "Well, I think you can blame maybe Tom Anderson maybe-

John Nunnally: Yeah, at Campbell Law School that-

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