Losing a case can be devastating for plaintiff lawyers such as Jessica Dean. Dean has dedicated her life to fighting for underdogs and working-class families against corporate negligence and malpractice. She works closely with families who have suffered debilitating diseases and loss of life due to unsafe working environments. So when a jury delivers a loss, it’s more than a bad day at work. It can be a tragic outcome for families and communities.
Unfortunately, losing cases is an inevitable part of being a plaintiff lawyer, especially when fighting back against powerful corporations. Throughout her 20 years of practicing law, attorney Jessica Dean has learned to leverage her losses into strengths to improve as a lawyer and win more cases.
Below, she details her experience with loss and opens up about her shortcomings. She also shares valuable insights on how others can deal with loss and failure in their careers.
Overcoming the First Loss
Camaraderie among lawyers often revolves around competition and celebrating wins. Nothing can prepare a plaintiff lawyer for the high that comes from their first win. And no lawyer is ready for the feeling of devastation from their first loss.
“I tearfully celebrated with the family after the first case I won,” Jessica Dean said. “I took the first case I lost very hard.”
Dean found solace after her first loss by remembering how lucky she was to be able to represent working-class families much like her own. Even when losses occur, it’s still a win for struggling families to know that someone is willing to fight for them.
“You proved to them, in the worst time of their entire life…being in this crazy legal system that
they have someone that genuinely fought for them and that they got to see it.”
Shifting priorities from always winning to fighting “the good fight” for families can help plaintiff lawyers persevere even after difficult losses.
The Pressures of Trial
Dean recalls that one of her first failures was related to pacing herself during trials.
“Litigation is a marathon,” she says. “Lawyers who don’t learn to pace themselves will not develop the endurance required to win.”
Dean works incredibly hard during trial, sometimes working around-the-clock for her clients.
“During trials, I typically work 18-20 hours per day,” says Dean. “You are in court 8 or 9 hours, meeting with an expert or family member in the evening and preparing in between those hours. Outside of trials, you may have a deposition, a hearing with a new judge, or a meeting with a new family who has never been part of this process.”
Throughout time, Dean learned to make time to rest and to better prioritize her actions during a trial. This enabled her to reach closing arguments with just as much energy and focus as she had pretrial.
Learning to Respect Opponents
Failures can cause animosity and rancor towards the opposing side. This can blind a plaintiff lawyer to the realities of a case, leading to poor judgment and losses.
“I was often overzealous and assumed that actions taken by the other side were done for the worst reasons,” says Jessica Dean.
When lawyers make these assumptions, they lose the ability to correctly predict the opposition’s strategy. Dean needed to learn that despite her personal beliefs regarding the wrongs done to her clients, the opposing lawyers were not always acting out of ill will.
“Learning to get context, build relationships with people on the other side, and apologize and own your mistakes when you have misread a situation, was invaluable to my growth as an attorney.”
Developing a Sense for Hidden Evidence
Each loss helps a lawyer develop a better understanding of how their opponents prevailed. Dean describes this as developing a “sense” for actions that may have led to an unjust outcome, such as hiding or withholding evidence. These actions are not uncommon when facing off against powerful corporations.
Unfortunately, losses are sometimes required to identify signs that something is amiss. However, many lawyers leave their losses behind too quickly and fail to learn from them.
Dean says tenacity and patience are required to confront one’s losses and identify the signs of destroyed or hidden evidence, but once this sense is developed, it can result in major future victories.
Dean recalls one case in which she suspected foul play by the opposition. She was able to find enough evidence of spoliation (destruction of evidence), resulting in the opposing side immediately settling the case.
About Jessica Dean
Jessica Dean is a plaintiff lawyer and partner at the Dallas-based law firm Dean Omar Branham Shirley. She has been practicing law for nearly 20 years and specializes in representing mesothelioma victims. In 2021, Dean was named a Top 500 Consumer Plaintiff Attorney by Lawdragon. She is one of the most accomplished and recognized mesothelioma lawyers in the U.S.