How is it even possible to go to trial in the middle of a pandemic with statewide stay at home orders?
In this episode, Brian Beckcom speaks with the first attorney in the country to go to trial during a pandemic.
Watch this episode on YouTube
John Black is a nationally known trial lawyer and the founder of Daly & Black. John and Brian discuss John’s experience going to trial entirely by Zoom, the pros and cons of remote trials, how some special interest groups are leveraging the pandemic for financial gain, and the real-time “experiment” we are all currently living in.
- How lobbying efforts to protect insurers pose new threats for small businesses
- John’s historic first-ever Zoom trial (and his family’s group chat)
- The pros and cons of remote trials and the implications they may have on our legal system
- The importance of a right to a trial by jury and how the pandemic has jeopardized our constitutional rights
- The hot-cold empathy gap that drives important decision making
- Tips for small business owners during times of crisis
- And other topics
John Black is a partner at Daly and Black, P.C., one of the most successful first-party litigation boutiques in the country. John and his law firm have a long history of winning cases against insurance companies who have left their policyholders out to dry after devastating natural disasters and crippling business interruptions. John is renowned for regularly standing up for the little guy and has built a reputation in the legal community as a man of great integrity and legal prowess.
Read the show notes!
[00:00:00] Brian Beckcom: [00:00:00] So Brian Beckcom here at VB attorneys. I've got my good friends, John Black. I've known John since, gosh, probably at least the mid nineties. John's lawyer here in Houston. And he's really in demand for a lot of different reasons. One of which is. John, as far as I can tell, is the first lawyer in the country to actually go to trial during the pandemic.
[00:00:30] And so he's going to talk about that a little bit today on the podcast. But before we get into that, John, how you doing, man?
[00:00:37] John Black: [00:00:37] I'm doing well. I'm like most folks. trying to not go crazy and make the best of the situation.
[00:00:45] Brian Beckcom: [00:00:45] So most people, I think your firm is daily and black, and I think most lawyers and Houston, and frankly, not just in Houston, but in most parts of the country, are familiar with, with you and your work.
[00:00:58] But for the people that aren't, [00:01:00] tell us a little bit about where you come from. you know, where you grew up, your education, how you became a lawyer, and kind of what you and your partner, do to help people.
[00:01:11] John Black: [00:01:11] Yeah. So I'm a native Houstonian, grew up here in Houston and then spent a little bit of time in Mexico.
[00:01:18] I'm from Mexico city. you know, went to a law school and undergraduate at university of Texas. And. you know, for the longest time knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I'm not sure if it was, cause I argued with my parents a lot or if I enjoyed debate or maybe both. But, I loved law school and when I graduated, worked at a firm called kitchen brunch, which was a really, still is a really exceptional commercial litigation firm.
[00:01:46] but I found that I wasn't getting into court. As much as I'd like. And my passion really was to be on the plaintiff's side or represent people in businesses and, and Lord just not keep track of my [00:02:00] time anymore. So, you know, I started doing that in a, I guess it was 2000 and Oh boy was with Rick.
[00:02:10] It was 2013 I think that we joined up. And really the idea was, you know, let's be a. primarily, you know, a boutique that handles, policy holder cases. We represent policy holders, folks that have disputes with their insurance, company. And it could be anything, right? It could be. you know, medical related, property related.
[00:02:36] a lot of what we do is catastrophe related events. You know, giant events like hurricanes or, earthquakes, hail storms, you know, fires where large numbers of people are affected. and, and even today with the, with the code pandemic, we're looking at and, and, and, and reviewing a lot of these business interruption clench.
[00:02:57] So, you know, we're really a [00:03:00] first party litigation boutique, but. but a plaintiff's practice, generally as well. And we just liked helping people and businesses that need, a good trial lawyer. We love to try cases. I mean, I think that's something that every trial lawyer says, but I'm not sure every trial lawyer means.
[00:03:17] and we actually really genuinely like it.
[00:03:20] Brian Beckcom: [00:03:20] And you've always been a really good at it too. I mean, I remember, we, we've known each other since law school, which was for both of us in the mid nineties. And. You were a successful advocate, even in law school, even before you became a lawyer, you were, you were kind of on that path.
[00:03:39] You were also the student body president of university of Texas had a lot of experience, as a, as a speaker and a persuader. you, you, so, so basically your firm is about, helping people that have insurance policies that might have disputes with their insurance company. That's kind of your.
[00:03:58] Specialty. I think most people [00:04:00] probably consider your farm to be, if not the top firm in that area, you know, certainly one of the top farm. So I have a question for you before we get into, your trial during the pandemic. Tell the listeners a little bit about, as somebody who sees these insurance disputes on a daily basis, what kind of.
[00:04:23] problems with insurance policies. What kind of insurance company disputes are you seeing now? And do you predict? You will see that we will all see over the next few months as a result of the pandemic? Like what? What should people be. looking at and being careful about right now.
[00:04:41] John Black: [00:04:41] Well, these are, you know, the pandemic related cases are our business interruption claims.
[00:04:46] These are, you know, businesses that, that have been forced to shut down, or, you know, negatively affected because of stay at home home orders or, [00:05:00] other kinds of disruptive events. And a lot of these insurance policies. provide coverage for that business interruption coverage. It just says, look, if, if there's some form of interruption in your business, we'll cover you for X period of time.
[00:05:12] And, and it wasn't until about 2006 with the SARS outbreak that insurers decided to start really excluding those types of events. So there are a lot of policies out there that have virus exclusions. And then there's some that don't. and, you know, these are terribly important claims for businesses because we've never seen, a level of shutdown in this country.
[00:05:37] Like, we are now and there, you know, these are companies, businesses, large and small, that are, you know, facing bankruptcy, going out of business permanently. So incredibly important cases that are going to turn on some legal issues. I think that that, for the most part, courts have not had to deal with it.
[00:05:56] Before, although there, you know, analogous situations, [00:06:00] this is pretty unique. And, and so there's just, there's just going to be a wave of this litigation and people, you know, filing these cases and, and courts and even lawmakers are going to have to figure it out. And it's. Yeah. It'll take years for it to get sorted out and it will likely require some form of legislative backstop or action if the insurers are, are held to be partially or fully responsible.
[00:06:28] Brian Beckcom: [00:06:28] Yeah. So we actually, my, my law firm just got a denial letter for our business interruption policy yesterday. So you may have a, another client to add to the stable pretty soon. But, you know, I, I, I read something the other day, John. I don't know if you saw this or whether you can confirm it or not, but I think I remember reading that the insurance company's national lobbying group has already weeks ago, started lobbying Congress to pass special legislation.
[00:07:00] [00:06:59] Essentially say you don't have to pay any of these policies that you wrote. Is that you read that or do you have any knowledge of that? I
[00:07:07] John Black: [00:07:07] have. I've heard that that's happening. And that, Senator McConnell's got a piece of legislation that he's looking at to broaden immunities. And I would imagine that would include for insurance companies as well.
[00:07:18] And, you know, on the flip side, of course, I've heard there's States like, you know, New York that are trying to pass legislation at the state level to require insurance companies to. Hey on these claims. And you know, the reality is, you know, it is a litigator. I mean, my job is to look at the, at the policy and to figure out what the law is at the time.
[00:07:40] And you know, the reality from my perspective is, you know, making these laws retro active, I don't think is very fair. And then eliminating their liability makes no sense to me whatsoever. You know, if you bought. in pay for coverage that, that, covers this type of loss and it's not [00:08:00] specifically excluded, then it should be covered, you know?
[00:08:04] And so, but of course, the insurance companies. Are terrified of that because it really could be just a catastrophic, liability for them.
[00:08:15] Brian Beckcom: [00:08:15] Well, and, you know, unlike many businesses, you know, my view of this is the insurance companies have an army of, people that evaluate exactly these kinds of massive risks.
[00:08:28] And if you decided to write an insurance policy for somebody and took their premiums, and then the risk happens. you, you should, you should pay for it. I mean, this is the entire business of the insurance industry is predicting risk and, and collecting premiums to. To cover people that experience unlikely events.
[00:08:52] John Black: [00:08:52] that's exactly right. I mean, if the insurance company can, predict the risk of [00:09:00] nuclear war or terrorism and write exclusions about it, it seems odd to me that they can also do the same with viruses. And in many cases they didn't. Some of them did. But I mean, you've got movies. Right contagion outbreak, dating back here where these events were predicted.
[00:09:16] So the idea that an insurance company whose job it is to, like you say, sit around and assess and predict risk, didn't think that this was a possibility. It's just fault, right? They really want to do is avoid paying, which is also improper. And you know that really the biggest argument you hear coming from them is, well, if we have to pay.
[00:09:38] it's going to bankrupt us, but if they don't pay, right. there are a lot of businesses that are gonna be bankrupt. If they bought the coverage, they should be entitled to it.
[00:09:48] Brian Beckcom: [00:09:48] Absolutely. That's absolutely. There's a, there's actually a, an author named Nicholas that seem to lead. He wrote a famous book called black Swan, which was about totally unforeseen, [00:10:00] unpredictable events.
[00:10:01] And he's coming back cause people are like, Oh, this has been a, this is a black Swan. And he's like, that's crazy. I w we've known about these problems for years. This is not a black Swan. This is something people have been talking about for a long time. We knew it was inevitable and then the insurance companies ought to honor their promises.
[00:10:19] Well I, we could talk about that a lot, Jim, but I think. One of the things that, that, that people are going to be really interested in hearing about is, you and your partner actually. Did a real complete full trial during the pandemic buys zoom. And, and we were talking right before the podcast. I, I'm a little jealous because I have a case is set for trial in may.
[00:10:44] And I was really hoping that, w we can go try that case and be the first ones to try it, but you beat me to it. Like you beat me into a lot of things over the course of our careers. But anyway, I'm jealous and I'm, and I'm real proud of you and I'm real excited to hear about this. So why don't you tell [00:11:00] us.
[00:11:00] A little bit about the case, about the judge and about, tr being the first off from as far as I know, in the entire country to try a case during the pandemic by saying,
[00:11:11] John Black: [00:11:11] yeah. So, we were really fortunate to have, judge Bo Miller in the a hundred 90th who was open to the idea and, and, and suggested it, the parties, both thought it was a good idea because it was a bench trial.
[00:11:27] And, um. He's a very, very good judge. We, we were trying a pretty discrete issue. This was a case. like so many of ours, it's a property damage the first party claims basically. you know, our client had property damage to their home, from a pails storm in 2015. They made a claim. The claim was essentially denied, and underpaid.
[00:11:50] and, he sent the case to an appraisal process, which is. like a croissant or [00:12:00] arbitration type process to try and resolve the matter. That didn't. Fully resolve the case. there were still issues related to interest in attorney's fees that are out. So, those discrete issues, the interest and fees, were before the court and don't require your jury.
[00:12:18] So we were able to try that to the core in about six hours. The parties had, told the court that it would take two hours. So a little bit longer than expected, I think. Not because it was done by zoom, but because lawyers love to hear themselves talk. But, but it was surprisingly, efficient and effective.
[00:12:43] And, um. You know, I've got some strong feelings about whether I like zoom as an alternative, but, but in this environment, it was just a, a great way to get our client, his day in court, and we're just really grateful [00:13:00] to have a court that was open to it. So how,
[00:13:02] Brian Beckcom: [00:13:02] how, tell us like logistically and kind of practically how it worked, whether there were things that you thought were, were went really well, maybe things that didn't go quite as well.
[00:13:12] Like what advice would you have for other people, lawyers, judges that are, that are interested in doing remote trials? Like what would you, what would you tell our listeners about
[00:13:25] John Black: [00:13:25] that. So, but the way this worked was we provided, the court, all the exhibits electronically, as PDFs. And so the court had all of those.
[00:13:38] and the court provided a zoom link for everybody to log into designated time, and then there was a separate link for people to watch the proceedings. Courts proceedings are obviously intended to be open. And so the court was my, I am told. that, as many as [00:14:00] 2200 people watched some or all of the trial.
[00:14:05] and, you know, you could see, I never paid attention, but you can see how many folks are logged in at any point. and you know, the court basically went through, allowed the parties to make pre-trial arguments, which we did. and you know, that was all done. Um. By presenting documents through zoom, sharing your screen.
[00:14:31] It was, I would recommend people figure out how to do that. Some of them, including myself, were not as. adaptive, sharing the screen and sharing exhibits.
[00:14:43] Brian Beckcom: [00:14:43] It wasn't a problem with that yesterday, John,
[00:14:47] John Black: [00:14:47] that was a little, that was a little wonky. You want, you might want to practice that in for you, you know, start a trial.
[00:14:52] but we would, you know, share the exhibits as we went, you know, throughout the trial. And it. [00:15:00] During the examinations, you know, you have the option of throwing the document up on the screen and showing it to the witness. So you really, you are kind of your own choreographer as a trial lawyer, which I kinda like, I can go to the document whenever I want and kind of direct the audience, very easily.
[00:15:17] I would tell people, turn off your alerts. I have various gadgets around me and I'm an Apple user, so my texts are pinging through my laptop. Turn that off. I was annoying everybody, I think throughout the proceedings intellectually. I don't know how to turn that off. it turned out it was just a very animated family group chat that, I couldn't shut up.
[00:15:41] So, the one of the difficulties is, examining witnesses and getting everything on the record cleanly. The court reporter. Several times stop parties more so than when you're an actual trial, because it's [00:16:00] hard to know when someone is, is about to talk because you're all remote. And so people frequently would talk over one another, not intending to, but so that is challenging.
[00:16:10] You really need to wait for full stops, which makes examinations. Very difficult, particularly cross examinations. you know, my direct examination of, daily was fine because we've done it so many times. And w w w w what's going to come up out of his mouth after 25 years of being his friend. But cross examinations are really much tougher remotely.
[00:16:37] And I would tell people that, you really need to, to keep it punchier. And, um. And maybe a little cleaner and more organized. otherwise it just, it can get really,
[00:16:53] Brian Beckcom: [00:16:53] get out of
[00:16:53] John Black: [00:16:53] hand. It can get out of hand.
[00:16:56] Brian Beckcom: [00:16:56] You know, this, this John, you mentioned something [00:17:00] about, there being a link for the public. And that, to me, that's, that's really, really interesting.
[00:17:05] Really fascinating. So for the non lawyers, not judges on that, on the podcast that are listening. Generally speaking, courthouses are supposed to be open to the public. Anybody can come in and watch a trial, but unless it's a really big trial or something that's been in the news, you normally don't see anybody watching trials that people have other things to do.
[00:17:25] But, but, now that we've got, the zoom capability. Potentially thousands of people can watch run of the mill cases. To me, that seems like a good thing on balance.
[00:17:38] John Black: [00:17:38] I think so too. in, in, I, you know, I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I know the Texas constitution has open courts provisioning, and so obviously it's intended to be an open process.
[00:17:49] And so, you know, our judge was very mindful of that. I do like the idea of people being able to. To, to watch remotely and see their judicial system. [00:18:00] it, you know, work, you know, live. and I'm told, I had a discussion this morning with, a news reporter from Bloomberg that more and more courts are, warming to the idea of zoom.
[00:18:14] Trials. Apparently in Virginia federal court, there is a $500 million patent case going to trial. It's got a bench trial and it's going to be done via zoom as well. And so, I, you know. In, in times like these where you don't have the option of going to court and being there in person, which I much prefer.
[00:18:38] this is just a, great alternative and it's great that judges are becoming more and more open to it.
[00:18:45] Brian Beckcom: [00:18:45] Yeah. And you, you w when we were talking before we got on the, on the podcast here, you mentioned that there had been some media reaching out to you about being the first farm to actually do exam trial.
[00:18:58] So tell us like, this reached [00:19:00] out to you, what, what, what is the media like? What kind of questions they have, what are they interested to hear. As it relates to trying lawsuits via video conference.
[00:19:11] John Black: [00:19:11] So I know NBC nightly news was watching the Zune trial. you know, as I mentioned, I talked to Bloomberg this morning.
[00:19:19] A Texas lawyer did a piece on it, so did law three 60 and you know, the, the, the. Angle seems to be, you know, what went right, what went wrong. you know, kind of some of the things we're talking about. What things can you expect. if, if you do this, the other is, did you like it? Did you, did you think zoom was a good way to try a case
[00:19:43] Brian Beckcom: [00:19:43] about that?
[00:19:44] John Black: [00:19:44] You know, I will tell you that it is a, a good alternative to being, let me rephrase that. I think it's a fine alternative to trying a case in person. You know, as someone like you, Brian, that enjoys being in the [00:20:00] courtroom and is, likes to think of himself as being good at it. And there's a lot to the art of.
[00:20:05] Putting on a case in front of a jury and presenting in front of a live audience and, or a judge and, examinations and advocacy and in person require, you know, a lot of skill, you know, on your feet skill and thinking, some degree of that is taken away, right? When you're doing it remotely. I mean, it, you know, it rewards, um.
[00:20:31] Lawyers that are not a skill, right? You can have your script in front of you. You can, you know, you can really prepare things and, and, and it come across very nicely. you know, but, but a tremendous courtroom presence, you know, pick your legendary trial lawyer is not going to be as exciting or dynamic or interesting by [00:21:00] which, um.
[00:21:01] Which I like less. I mean, I really think that's part of, our, our trade, our craft, and that's, that gets diminished some, right.
[00:21:12] Brian Beckcom: [00:21:12] You know, you, you, you talking about, this brings to mind, and I know you've had this, I've had this multiple times where you're, you're, you're either examining a witness or you're making an argument or something and you can kind of tell.
[00:21:25] That the jurors are with you, or, or a couple of jurors are reacting a certain way to a certain witness or, or they mouth something or you can just, there's, there's a, there's a field to it, a judgment to it, which, I mean, I, I don't know what your experience with, with judge Miller being the fact finder, but even in a bench trial, when you're talking, when you're arguing to the judges you want, you want to know how they're reacting.
[00:21:49] You want to have a feel for the reaction. And I, I don't see how that can possibly. Be replaced by, video trials. So
[00:21:58] John Black: [00:21:58] it can't, I mean, I always [00:22:00] call it the energy in the room, right? A really good trial lawyer can gauge the energy, both of the jury and the judge and everyone, right? I mean, that can take so many different forms.
[00:22:11] They're irritated, they're, they're hungry, they're whatever. Right? And you know, that element is really removed almost entirely. Not, not, I mean, you still gauge facial reactions to somebody. and so I don't like that. I mean, I really, I really think part of our skill is, is, is knowing, right? Cause if you, if you are there in person and you can gauge the reactions and the energy in a room, you know, when to push a little more, you know, you know, when you might get that extra additional answer or you might know when to back off.
[00:22:46] Yeah. and it's hard to make that. Determination when you're on a zoom call.
[00:22:54] Brian Beckcom: [00:22:54] You know, the other thing is, and I don't know what you think about this, John, but like I can see, [00:23:00] so being in person and be able to think quickly on your feet or being able to ask the right question at the right time. A witness gives an answer and really listening to his answer and then going in a different direction based on the answer.
[00:23:13] Those are the skills of a good traveler, but I think they're also maybe the most effective way of getting at the truth because if you can script everything out and everything's real clean and antiseptic and it's all preplanned and there's no surprises, then you're not really doing everything he can to get to the truth where it, when things happen quickly before you have time to think too much, or a witness says something that's not in a script.
[00:23:40] Oftentimes I would argue you're getting to the truth much more effectively where I do worry a little bit about there being the trials being far too scripted. Let me ask you this question because I know there's probably plenty of people that are thinking about this has to do with the jury system. So [00:24:00] I, I had a podcast with judge Robbie sandal last week and we talked a little bit about the logistical issues we have.
[00:24:07] Calling juries in Houston right now, and it's not just Houston, it's everywhere that's been affected by this. And you know, I was telling judge sandal, I had jury duty in Houston roughly six months ago, and you got to go to the tunnels and there's thousands of people all packed in together, and they
[00:24:20] John Black: [00:24:20] go,
[00:24:21] Brian Beckcom: [00:24:21] yeah, then you gotta, you gotta get in the elevators.
[00:24:25] And right now there can only be two people on the elevators and things of that nature. So I was asking. Obviously we, there's a lot of issues right now with getting juries together and I don't see us being able to do that, anytime in the near future. What would you think about a trial by jury via video conferencing or zoom?
[00:24:45] Like what would upsides, downsides, potential pitfalls, potential, good parts of that. What, what would your thoughts be on. A jury trials video conference.
[00:24:57] John Black: [00:24:57] One concern would be the jurors not really paying [00:25:00] attention. I mean, it's hard enough to get them interested in a trial, when they're there in person.
[00:25:06] I think it may be tougher to do it via zoom. jury selection would be a real challenge. Right. just the logistical issue of having that many people on a screen. I mean, I guess, I guess it's possible, to, to do it that way. Um. But once they're in the box, they're, the fact-finder no different than judge Miller was.
[00:25:31] And it's not like they get a chance to, ask questions that the things I'd worry about or, you know, like you said, not, not being able to necessarily gauge their reactions as well as. you might, and maybe, and maybe the risk of losing that. some, if they're remote, I mean, there's something to them being captive and having to be there in person to listen.
[00:25:56] although, although I don't know, I mean, you know, when you're on a zoom [00:26:00] call, I had one with my staff not long ago, and they, they made the crack that it's, it's hard for you to hide on a zoom call that everybody sees your face. And, and you know, you got your own little box. So. I dunno, it might work.
[00:26:16] Brian Beckcom: [00:26:16] and then we get some technology where if a juror falls asleep, it like, starts is zoom box starts flashing.
[00:26:23] John Black: [00:26:23] But it's interesting you mentioned your conversation with judge sandal because I got a call from, the American college of trial lawyers and they're doing a study, and I'm not sure exactly what the issue is, but I think it has to do with the, the.
[00:26:37] The possibility of doing remote trials resumed trials, and, and the interplay with kind of our, you know, our jury system and know, I would just say, again, I'm in my, my preference and belief is that, you know, being in court and being in front of the jury is, is the best way [00:27:00] to, to, to try case.
[00:27:01] But. You know, I mean, I'm sure that's what people used to say about candle lights and Abacus, you know, you know, it may be that, you know, but I certainly do think that going forward, you know, judges across the country, you know, maybe starting with some of the federal courts are gonna see this as a viable alternative to having hearings.
[00:27:24] I mean, the idea of getting it. You know, getting on a plane and flying to Virginia for a status conference. To me, being in Texas doesn't make a lot of sense anymore. I mean, maybe the judge judges are going to be more open to that and that would be a great thing. especially for, you know, smaller firms like mine, but, but this is coming.
[00:27:44] I mean, this technology is here. It's coming. It's going to change the way we do a lot of things. I hope it doesn't ultimately replace the way we. Try the case drudgery, but, but I, I would never swear they won't.
[00:27:59] Brian Beckcom: [00:27:59] Yeah. Yeah. [00:28:00] No, I'm, I'm, I'm, I couldn't agree with you more about that and I can actually see it being easier in federal court to do remote trials, jury trials because, you know, federal courts agenda, and first of all, we only have six jurors.
[00:28:15] Generally speaking, plus voir dire is very, very limited. So you don't have that problem quite as much. but you know, this is an important issue. People, I, I think even as lawyers take for granted our right to a trial by jury, and that that is such a, I mean, that is, if not one of the most fundamental rights that the founding fathers wrote in the constitution.
[00:28:41] I mean, clearly one of the most important written into the seventh amendment. Right. It's in jeopardy right now. I mean, it truly isn't jeopardy.
[00:28:50] John Black: [00:28:50] It is. And it has, I think it has been for a long time. I think seventh amendment rights to a jury trial have been, you know, under siege for, for years, whether it's, [00:29:00] you know, arbitration clauses or you know, ADR provisions, you know, appraisal provisions.
[00:29:05] My business, I mean, you're exactly right. The founding fathers had very much in mind a process of resolving civil disputes that involved our peers. And. You know, I very much caution against anything that strips that away.
[00:29:22] Brian Beckcom: [00:29:22] Yeah. And I think we nowadays with the pandemic on top of all the efforts that we had in the past, we can, the jury system, we gotta be really cautious as lawyers and judges about, we got to fight back against any attempts to make, to weaken the jury system during the pandemic there.
[00:29:43] There are certainly interest groups and we won't. Name who they are, but there are interest groups who absolutely will take advantage of this opportunity to try to weaken the jury system even further.
[00:29:53] John Black: [00:29:53] So I think that's right. I mean, in in. You see the political maneuvering already, [00:30:00] certainly at the federal level where, you know, tort reform agendas are being pushed because now's a good time to say, Hey, we gotta really immunized this industry or that industry and we can't, you know, we can't, we can't allow our, our heroes or our drug makers, or that, you know, can't, can't allow anybody to ever Sue them.
[00:30:19] And we've gotta be very careful about, you know, giving away our rights. you know, in a moment of crisis. I mean, I was told. long ago by a lawyer that I really like and admire and trust a lot. He said, you know, I never make, important decisions. when I'm angry or when there's a crisis going on at the firm.
[00:30:40] It's always wait until it passes. and you know, I w we're clearly in crisis right now. We're clearly in react mode, and this is not the time. To eliminate constitutional rights. Yeah.
[00:30:54] Brian Beckcom: [00:30:54] Yeah. You want to talk about a complete and total overreaction. I mean, that, that, [00:31:00] that, but, but there, there, there are legitimately groups that will do exactly that.
[00:31:06] They'll try to use this crisis as an opportunity to advance their own personal interest. And so we just gotta be real cognizant of that. So, John, let me, let me ask you, so you're a small business owner and yeah. What is, what steps have you taken? Like what are you telling your people? Kind of tell us. You know how you shift maybe shifted to more of a work from home type of model.
[00:31:30] Like what, what are you as a small business owner doing to make sure you keep the wheels of your business going during these times?
[00:31:38] John Black: [00:31:38] So we shut our firm down about a week or two before everybody else did. We kind of saw it coming and my saw coming on just reading the news and seeing what other places were doing.
[00:31:51] and we had folks within our firm that were concerned, had small children, so we wanted to be cognizant of that. So we very quickly went to, weekly [00:32:00] zoom meetings with the staff. and then weekly move, you know, zoom meetings with our intake folks. and then periodic calls and touching base with lawyers.
[00:32:11] And it has worked surprisingly well. I mean, I think the one thing that I, I try to emphasize to our firm, and I'm lucky to have really great group of people working with me, but, was it, you know, this, this will only work if everyone works. Yeah. If everybody sees it as vacation, it will not work and our staff will not do well.
[00:32:33] and so everybody really saw it as a blessing to be able to work from home. and, and pushed hard and would touch base periodically. Um. In these weekly calls, but it has worked very, very well. And what I've, what I've come to learn, like I'm sure a lot of businesses are learning, especially service businesses like ours, that, you know, so much of what we can do can be done remotely and now apparently [00:33:00] trials and hearing.
[00:33:00] So, you know, as long as you have good people and remind them that they need to be pulling their weight. They don't, it'll be obvious quickly. yeah, that can be done from home. And, and so our plan at least now is to, remain, you know, shut down at least through the middle of may. and then we'll just reassess where things are then.
[00:33:25] I don't think we're gonna open things back up on Monday. we were just,
[00:33:30] Brian Beckcom: [00:33:30] we just had an office manager meeting, today, right before I got on the call with you. And we were talking about that very. Topic and I was asking are we going to order everybody back to the office on May 1st and I think the clear answer is no.
[00:33:45] It's a little too early for us neither. There are other businesses or other types of work that I think you can do in a, hopefully a safer way, but. We're, we're, we're essentially conducting a realtime experiment right now is what we're [00:34:00] doing.
[00:34:00] John Black: [00:34:00] And
[00:34:01] Brian Beckcom: [00:34:01] hopefully the experiment will succeed. but, but we'll see.
[00:34:06] So John and, and one of the things, I think it's real important for people to know is essentially like a business like yours that helps people with insurance issues is going to be indispensable over the next. For six, 1218 months. Because without businesses like your business, I mean, these insurance companies would just absolutely run rough shot over everybody.
[00:34:34] So I'm personally really glad to hear that you guys are still open, still still doing well. we're, we're kind of. You know, we, we, we had a fire in our building 10 years ago. We had hurricane Harvey. Now we've had this and we haven't shut down for one day for any of that stuff. And that's great. So it's good to hear that you guys are doing well, John.
[00:34:55] You know, I think it's fair to say that you're kind of, a lot of [00:35:00] people consider you to be kind of a thought leader in our profession and you have a lot of interesting. ideas. So tell us a little bit about, and you know, obviously none of us can predict the future. We don't know what's gonna happen in the future, but what is your sense of, what is going to happen in the next six, 12, 18 months as it relates to the legal system and the pandemic?
[00:35:24] Do you have any predictions or any fields for, for what's, what the future holds.
[00:35:30] John Black: [00:35:30] Well, I mean, I, you know, I think you're going to see a lot of, firms suffer and you'll see more consolidation, I think, within our industry. And there's going to be. You know, consolidation stemming from not just the pandemic, but the town, you know, the downturn in the oil, industry.
[00:35:51] And so, you know, you're already starting to see that. And so you're gonna see a lot of lawyers that are, that are out of work, that are, [00:36:00] you know, a lot of firms reducing pay, have, having to readjust or change the way, they, they practice. and you know, I think that, you know, you will see changes to, the way firms allow people to work.
[00:36:19] I mean, I do think this has opened our eyes to a different way of working and being, and I think that's a good thing, right? for sure. All firms are gonna. Um. You know, recognize that certain functions can be done remotely. Their lawyers don't need to come in and wear a suit, and, and their clients may not even expect it.
[00:36:40] Right? For years, you heard clients, we dress up, or we have really nice office space for our clients, not for us. And you know, maybe some of that will start to fall away, but it really, you know, this, this will shift our consciousness. certainly
[00:36:57] Brian Beckcom: [00:36:57] I, and I think that is absolutely [00:37:00] phenomenal way, but there's, this is one of those, one of those events that literally shifts the entire Globe's consciousness almost instantaneous.
[00:37:10] Let's see. I, the last thing I can remember, like this was nine 11, where literally everybody looked at the world differently almost immediately. You know, I'll give you a good example, John. I have a person that works. At our firm that lives in Tomball, which is about an hour away. And so she has a two hour drive there and back every day, and she can literally do a hundred percent of her job from home.
[00:37:33] And so I'm not sure she'll ever need to come back in the office other than, you know, one of the things that I've been struggling with a little bit is you got to have some human connection, right? So a hundred percent remote work. At least in the legal profession. I just don't know if that is feasible. but certainly, I think what you said about this really opening our eyes, about, [00:38:00] some of the ways we've been doing things and, and maybe changing those things.
[00:38:03] I think that's a really, really important point. I, like I said, I, I still am struggling a little bit with the balance between remote work and then also having the human interaction that we've been talking
[00:38:16] John Black: [00:38:16] about. Yeah. And some people crave it more than others. I mean, I think right now everybody, on the planet to some degree or another, is hurting for human connection.
[00:38:25] And they find themselves talking to strangers in the park. They might not otherwise just, you know, to get a nod or, you know, you know, my, uh. Oldest daughter turned 16 during all of this, and we had a, my ex wife and I planned a, a little drive by parade jus so that she had a moment where she felt some connection.
[00:38:47] And so it really, it really is a, a shift in consciousness work for the first time, really in my lifetime. you know, we can all, whether we're in Houston or in Stockholm, Sweden, we can all [00:39:00] point to one thing and say, well, how is. You know, how is the coronavirus there where you are? It's like we're all under the same moon.
[00:39:07] Brian Beckcom: [00:39:07] It's unbelievable. Yeah, no, it's unbelievable. My wife and my family and I were Turks and Caicos for spring break and everybody there is talking about it like literally everybody on the entire planet is talking about one thing. It is truly remarkable. Well, John. I'm, I'm very cognizant of your time. I know your, your, your time is valuable, very valuable.
[00:39:31] So I don't want to keep you that much longer, but I do have a couple kind of a wrap up question for you if you don't mind. So tell us, I ask this question because I'm personally curious. I like to ask successful people this question, who, what people person or people had the most influence on you and what, what you become as a man and [00:40:00] what you do.
[00:40:01] John Black: [00:40:01] Wow. That's a really good question. I would say there, there are a handful. you know, my dad was a huge influence in me early on, teaching me, to work hard even when he had money and, I didn't feel like I needed to. when I got to college and became student body president, I really was surrounded by people.
[00:40:26] I had no business being around that were incredibly. influential, but there was, a man, Bobby Ray Inman, a retired Admiral that, really, taught me the skills of leadership and, and just being around him and seeing the way he conducted himself, was. Was really influential, in my career. And he, he told me once it launched, he said, you know, cause I asked him, I said, you know, what, what the hell are you doing?
[00:40:56] Spending so much time with me? Because he, he really kind of took me under his wing [00:41:00] for awhile. And he said, you know, young man, he said years ago, someone told me that they were going to open the door for me and give me opportunities I have no business getting and that the only thing I had to do in return was open the doors of opportunity for others.
[00:41:13] And so he really, um. He was a, he's a, he's an incredible man. I'd say those, you know, those two folks that, that are living, have had the greatest, impact. I mean, I, I'd throw one last one in there if I had, and I'd say my, my grandfather, my mother's father, who was a Mexican citizen, and he managed to run an incredible.
[00:41:43] business, and also be an incredible family man and a father. And, and the value of his family was. so important. And I, you know, unfortunately, as you know, [00:42:00] and divorce, relax while we're very close, but I think we've still been able to maintain a really tight family group, and that's very, very important to me.
[00:42:13] Brian Beckcom: [00:42:13] yeah, that's a. That's really cool. Well, well, John, again, I'm, I'm, I'm jealous, but I'm also proud of the fact that my friend at 25 plus years. was the, his farm was the first firm to try the case during the pandemic. By the way, I didn't ask him, cause I probably should ask you at the beginning. I think I know the answer, but did you win the trial?
[00:42:37] John Black: [00:42:37] We don't know yet.
[00:42:39] Brian Beckcom: [00:42:39] We don't know yet. Okay.
[00:42:42] John Black: [00:42:42] I don't think we're going to know until the end of may. The court asks for some briefing on a couple of legal issues.
[00:42:50] Brian Beckcom: [00:42:50] Well, if you win, you gotta promise to come back on and tell us. Tell us.
[00:42:54] John Black: [00:42:54] I promise I'll, I'll come back all the time.
[00:42:57] Brian Beckcom: [00:42:57] Alright, John. So before I [00:43:00] let you go, we've talked about what, what you and daily do, where, where can, where can people find you if they want to find you on the internet?
[00:43:08] John Black: [00:43:08] daily. black.com D a L Y B L a C k.com. And, you know, we're here in Houston, we've got an office in. Denver when we really practice nationally now, and as to where they can find me individually these days. Right here at home. Sitting at my desk. Yeah,
[00:43:28] Brian Beckcom: [00:43:28] me too. Hey, great to hear from you, man. Tell kids, Oh, Jennifer's doing well and everything and take care of yourself.
[00:43:36] John Black: [00:43:36] You too. Thanks, Brian for having me on.