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Insurance Defense Lawyer - John Nunnally

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

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

Speaker 1: You're listening to Law Talk With Bill Powers, your resource for answers to your most pressing legal questions. Attorney Bill Powers sits down with some of today's leading legal minds to discuss everything from legal issues and legislation to practice tips and policy. Now here's your host, an NBTA board-certified criminal law specialist, former president of the North Carolina Advocates For Justice, and renowned trial lawyer, Bill Powers.

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This morning, my guest is someone I've known for 30 years or more. Our lives have tracked one another, in some way, serving as opposite reflections in a mirror. And yet, I don't think we've seen each other much face to face since that hot summer day in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and graduation from Campbell Law School. John Nunnally is one of the most widely respected and best known lawyers in Raleigh. John graduated from NC State in 1988. I graduated from NC State in 1988.

John has a senior student athlete in high school. I have a senior student athlete in high school. John has dedicated his professional life to courtroom advocacy with more than 75 jury trials under his belt. I don't know how many trials I've handled in both district and superior court jury trials. I know it's a lot. John is dedicated to teaching young lawyers and is a sought after presenter at professional legal conferences and CLE, which for non lawyers is the acronym for continuing legal education.

As one of the best lawyers in North Carolina, John Nunnally teaches other lawyers. That's really something. If I weren't actively engaged in the practice of law, I think my career choice would be teaching. And while we share many similarities, our paths have gone in different directions. John lives in Raleigh. I'm from the great state of Mecklenburg in Charlotte, North Carolina. I'm a former president of the Plaintiffs and Criminal Defense Association known as the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

John is a partner at Ragsdale Liggett, known not just in North Carolina, but nationwide as a premier insurance defense law firm. John's practice is focused on civil litigation and insurance defense, particularly construction, transportation, premises liability, and product liability. John helps architects, engineers, and other design professionals defending them against professional negligence claims. His transportation practice, law practice, excuse me, is concentrated on defense of trucking companies.

John regularly and routinely lectures to multiple national, regional, and local audiences on legal matters, including and for Defense Research Institute, Claims Litigation Management, American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Institute of Architects, the Construction Defect Claims Managers Association and the North Carolina Trucking Association, and their many annual conferences. His speech topics include issues related to risk management, professional liability, indemnity, standard of care, claim trends, and other timely legal issues.

John also frequently leads continuing education seminars for the insurance industry. His professional accolades, just to name a few, and there are a lot, include an AV preeminent peer rating by Martindale Hubbell, Best Lawyers in America, 2020 Lawyer of the Year, Construction Litigation in the Raleigh Metro region, which is absolutely spectacular. Best Lawyers in America, listing construction law, construction litigation, and commercial litigation, the Super Lawyers, North Carolina magazine, in construction litigation, Business North Carolina, Legal Lead in Construction Law.

Like the other best lawyers I know, John Nunnally is also clearly active in the community outside the practice of law, having received the Walter Zeller Fellowship Award and the Kiwanis Club of Raleigh. Good morning, John.

John Nunnally: Good morning, Bill. How are you doing?

Bill Powers: I'm doing well. John, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I'm truly honored to have you as a guest on Law Talk.

John Nunnally: It's an honor to be here.

Bill Powers: I'm glad to have you. I've always respected and admired you, watching your successes and personal life, although it has been somewhat from afar. I truly enjoy seeing you on Facebook attending basketball games to watch your son play, and seeing all the different CLE presentations you've made over the years. We, too, come from separate worlds professionally. I do criminal defense and plaintiffs work, you're the go-to guy for insurance defense issues. We went to the same law school literally and graduated together.

Some would say, at least generally as professionals, and for the record, I don't think we've ever had a case against one another, we serve diametrically opposed interests. To some extent, I'd probably disagree with that. I think we serve justice, help people, and resolve disputes in a peaceful fashion subject to the rule of law. We just do so in different ways. I want to make it abundantly clear, I respect you and the work you do. And I think that's part of being professional. And I sometimes think that outsiders don't always understand that.

It's possible not just to be friendly, but to be friends with opposing counsel. So it's possible to disagree, even sometimes vehemently, and still respect and even like your adversary. What are your thoughts on that, John?

John Nunnally: I totally agree. And I've found my best friends are people I go into heated battle with on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. My circles tend to run in the legal community, and most of the lead lawyers are on the plaintiff's side or on the other side. So there are not a lot of us who do insurance defense or civil litigation defense. So it's not unusual. It's funny that when I first started out, everybody would tell me how back in my day, everybody used to be much more professional. And I kind of feel that way now 30 years later, how when we first started, it seemed we were a little more cordial.

However, I think there's still a lot of cordiality when you look around for it. And I still think there is a degree of respect. However, it certainly has become, in some respects, more adversarial and a little harsher. But I think the best lawyers can look past that and see that it's a profession, and you're representing the interest of your clients and you don't need to make it personal.

Bill Powers: Absolutely. In fact, I think sometimes... Well, there's an old proverb said, "For lack of wood, a fire goes out, and a kind word turns away wrath," meaning that someone may be having a bad day, and if you go the extra mile, the extra effort, it really goes a long way. What do you see as the role of lawyers relative to justice and resolving disputes? You mentioned that things have changed over the years. We're courtroom lawyers, but before we get to the courtroom, there's a role of lawyers. What do you think about that?

John Nunnally: That's an interesting point. And it's certainly changed even in the years that we've been practicing. Although I like to say it's not that long. But when I look at my bar number, compared to the new people we hire, it's apparently getting long, long time. It's interesting, mediation has now become mandatory. That was something that was just in its infancy when we started practicing in a few counties. Now it's, of course, mandatory to try to resolve cases before they ever reach trial. And that's been very successful. Used mandatory settlement conferences, non-binding arbitration, and other ways to alleviate the needs of jury trials.

So there certainly has been an effort to get cases resolved in a less adversarial manner than when we started practicing law. And I think that's been a good evolution over the years. It's been interesting to see just even in the three decades we've been practicing what has happened. I don't know how people getting out now are trying the cases that we got to try when we first started because there are so many barriers to ever getting to a jury trial now, compared to when we started. It's interesting.

Bill Powers: Right? Well, that's a really good point. I hadn't really thought about it. And it's probably for a lot of different reasons, including there are more lawyers out there. There have been stop-gap measures put in place to try to avoid the courtroom litigation. And as our population centers have grown... I've tried a case or two in Raleigh, but not a lot compared to Charlotte, but the dockets just aren't as open as they used to be. Is that true? And you go all over the place, right?

John Nunnally: I do. Yeah. In fact, yes, quite a bit. In fact, I'm licensed in Georgia now too. We opened a Florida office, so actually get down to Georgia a bit now too. And that's been a real eye opener, how differently they do things down in Florida and Georgia compared to North Carolina. So it's interesting. I still like the way we do in North Carolina. I think we have an excellent system here. People may complain about it, but I do get to see it a lot of different places and ways. Candidly, I'll give props to Charlotte.

Part 2 >>

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