Frank Branson, of Dallas Law Offices of Frank L. Branson PC, a nine-lawyer boutique, has made a lengthy career out of verbally eviscerating executives on the witness stand who fail to heed advice like Mark Werbners (see p. 32). For Branson, a CEO is the voice of the company through whom the corporate attitude shines to the jury. The guru of Texas personal-injury trial lawyers, Branson reminds executives that, as the juryperceives them, they will perceive the company. One good illustration of this conceptcame in the Ford/ Firestone tread separation litigation several years ago. Branson spent a week preparing for what would be a seven-hour deposition of Jacques Nasser, the former president of Ford Motor Co. Branson confronted Nasser with his own quotes from Fords web site about trust and the companys partnership with the Americanconsumer, and ultimately got Nasser to admit that Ford was a fiduciary to its customers. One of the biggest mistakes CEOs can make, Branson says, is to not look at their own web site. According to Branson, too many I dont know responses can be even more damaging to a company than one truthful but damaging admission, since CEOs are presumed to have a lot of information. In a wrongful death case against a truckingcompany, Branson once played the jury 17 minutes of I dont know answers in a videotaped deposition by the companys safety director. Using razor-sharp cross-examination skills honed by years of trial work, Branson excels at getting what he wants out of a witness. Take, for example, the time he forced a manager of a railroad to admit gross negligence. I put him in a posture where, if he answered truthfully, it was gross negligence and, if he didnt, he was between the devil and the deep blue sea, Branson says. The notches on Bransons gun include multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements against companies like American Airlines and Mitsubishi, as well as hospitals like HCA and major pharmaceutical companies. Of course, Branson doesnt get by on cross- examination skills alone. Having learned as a young lawyer that juries remember the visual aspects to a trial better than the verbal, the attorney employs a staff that would rival a Hollywood special-effects outfit.Branson not only has a full-time medicalllustrator for personal injury cases, he also employs sophisticated video and editing professionals using state-of-the-art technology. As I toured his Highland Park Place office, one staffer was working on a computer-generated animation for a product liability
case against a nail-gun manufacturer, feeding in data that would aid in reconstructing the incident, right down to a CSI-like recreation of the nail penetrating the plaintiffs brain. Such technology is crucial, Branson says, not only because jurors have becomeaccustomed to seeing such effects in movies and on TV, but because our real function is to educate the jury and create images that they will remember. To get inside the mind of jurors, Branson also makes extensive use of focus groups, shadow juries, professional reenactments, and mock trials (he even has a courtroom built out on one floor of his building).