Catch Steven Lefkoff on the #PirateBroadcast
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Steven Lefkoff 0:02
You have to go to a new repair shop to get it fixed again and the new repair shop says, well, that fix is going to be $2,500 or three grand, right? And you say, well, I don't have $3,000, so I'm going to sue the old repair man, for screwing it up so that I can get the money to pay the new repair shop. Russ, when I say this is very common, it's really, really common. Because people don't have that kind of money just sitting around in a bank account when they've already paid the old repairman what they thought would be to fix the problem, right? So they show up to court, and they say, Judge, I want $3,000 so that I can pay the new repairman to fix the car. The judge says, well, is the new repairman here? And the person, the litigant, the plaintiff says, no. They say, well, what evidence do you have? The plaintiff brings that estimate that says it's $3,000 and the judge says, I can't look at this, it's hearsay because the person that wrote it is not here. Then we get into the reason for that. A lot of it's all because of authenticity. Right? How do you verify that the plaintiff...I mean, we trust people, generally, but how do you verify that the plaintiff didn't just put a random number in a spreadsheet and say, this is how much I want? Because this is the amount of the repair, right? They could have put $10,000 in the spreadsheet.
Russ Johns 1:22
Pick a number any number.
Steven Lefkoff 1:23
Totally. So the judge says, well, I can't look at this estimate, because it's hearsay, that person who wrote it, or the mechanic, the owner of that business, who maintains those records, is not here. So I can't verify that this is an authentic document. Then the judge says, you're not an expert in cars, Mr. Plaintiff, or Mrs. Plaintiff. So I can't even confirm that what you're saying is accurate, that the repair, that what you need to do now is directly related to the first repair, versus having nothing to do with the first repair and just being an independent problem, right? Because you're not a car person, you're an accountant, or you're a secretary or whatever you are, you're not a car person. Or
Russ Johns 2:13
Or you run a radio show.
Steven Lefkoff 2:15
Right, or you're a pirate.
Russ Johns 2:17
Or you're a pirate. That gives you even less credibility. (laughs)
Steven Lefkoff 2:22
So then the judge says, I have to rule for the defendant here, because you didn't bring the right people...
Russ Johns 2:30
It's not that the car repair was completed, you know, everything was in place, everything was done correctly and/or incorrectly, It's the fact that the evidence wasn't delivered in the right, sequence or order.
Steven Lefkoff 2:48
That's 100% right. I mean, if the plan is to be believed, which we trust that people under oath...they raise their right hand and swear under oath, they're telling the truth. If they're to be believed that they are telling the truth, which the system relies on, then had the plaintiff had the mechanic in court, had the plaintiff insured the mechanic was there, the plaintiff would have gotten the $3,000. No problem in that example. Then they would have been able to go repair their car all would be well. Instead, they walk out of court with nothing, except a busted car, and no money to pay for the repair.
Russ Johns 3:22
And probably some fees for actually taking it to court.
Steven Lefkoff 3:27
100%. Yeah, they have to pay for the filing fees and to serve the defendant. In Georgia, we have to serve with the sheriff, so they have to pay the $50 to serve with the sheriff. So you're right, not only are they out the car repair amount, but they're also out the fees that they paid.
Russ Johns 3:43
And the time it took to show up to court and not go to work and not, you know, do anything that you were generating revenue with?
Steven Lefkoff 3:51
That's right. I mean, there is so much lost here. Not to mention, the judge had to sit up there, the county had to pay for the judge to be there and for the clerks to be there all to watch over a case that didn't go the way it should have gone because the plaintiff didn't know what they were doing. That example happens all the time. On the defendant side, it's a lot more of timing. How long do you have to file the answer? We see all the time that defendants either don't answer because they're afraid and don't know what to do, they clam up, or they take too long to answer and then file an untimely answer. Then they're in default. Or in court, they just lose it, frankly, emotionally, because this credit card company is suing for $10,000 and there's a reason they haven't paid it, right? I mean, they, frankly, are already depressed. They're already in distress and so they come in without confidence, without any knowledge of how to negotiate a resolution or that they even can negotiate a resolution, and that's if they show up to court at all. So when you look at both sides of the aisle here, as we would say, plaintiff and defendant, both have very fixable problems with the small claims process.
Russ Johns 5:08
You know what it boils down to it, Steven, there's so many opportunities for people to actually come together, find a resolution. There's so many situations where we've probably had an opportunity to negotiate long before court even became part of the conversation at all. The court typically is the last part of the equation in many cases. I think people are already emotionally invested in the outcome, or the potential loss. So they really are kind of stumbling emotionally around the subject already. So it's really something that people have to realize that, okay, calm down. Let's just look at this logically, let's walk through the process. So your course actually walks business owners or individuals through the whole process to kind of give them an overview of this process, right?
Steven Lefkoff 6:15
That's right. There are other services out there that do the letter writing, the document generation piece of this. So before court, you're right, it should be in every case, court should be a last resort option when you have done everything you can. One thing I haven't done, and it's on the radar, but it just, it's not our priority right now is the document generation for pre trial demand letters, okay, for a letter to say, hey, this is your last shot before I file suit. One of the reasons we haven't done that is because A - it already exists, there are services out there that'll do it and B - I don't want to call it low hanging fruit, but it's really just a template, you push a button, and you fill in the name and the amount and that's not what I'm trying to do. One of the things I'm trying to do as a practicing attorney who's been in court is solve the problems that have never been solved. That's not the letter writing. The letter writing is not that problem. The problem is the training and coaching for actually doing the case in court.
Russ Johns 6:16
Yeah. It's like one of those people that says, I'm contacting my lawyer.
Steven Lefkoff 7:30
Yeah, and I'll tell you a quick one, speaking of people being kind to each other, one of the videos that I talk about is on settlement. It's a whole lesson on just settlement. In that lesson, I actually go through and say, look, your best chance of settlement is being nice and being kind. Being a jerk isn't going to resolve the case. Really. It's and it's also not going to make you feel better at the end of the day. I say this about other lawyers, I mean, lawyers have a knack for being jerks. That's a personality trait that a lot of them hold. They're very argumentative. Type A personalities always want to win at all costs, but we all have families to go home to or homes to go home to or dogs or cats or whatever, at the end of the day. So what's most important to me, and this is what I get into in the settlement video is about smiling. About knowing that look, you're in court, right? You might have a good case on either side, plaintiff or defendant. You might want to go before the judge and give it a roll the dice or tee it up and go, as I say, but sometimes the best option is to put a smile on your face, agree to a resolution that, yes, you might be losing a little bit, and the other side might be losing a little bit in a compromise. I mean, that's what compromise is, but at the end of it all, you're most likely winning a little bit, too. That's something that a lot of people forget in this whole process. Sure, in that example I gave on the car repair, could $3,000 be the total price? Yes. Would that make you whole? Yes. Okay, but if you don't have the right evidence and the witnesses you walk out of there with zero. If you negotiate a settlement and give in a little bit, maybe you walk out of there with $2,000. Yes. All right. You pay a little bit. You're not made whole, we get it. That's the way the system works, right. But you got more than zero. Sometimes the stubbornness of demanding it all leads to a worse outcome than putting a smile on your face. Remembering something, too, that everybody in the courtroom is a person. The judge is a person the clerk is a person the sheriff's a person, the other person there that you're suing or being sued by. is a person. They're all people. So to treat people, even when you're in court, as less than people with disdain or just animosity, yeah, it's not going to help you succeed.
Russ Johns 10:14
You know, my statement to that is smiles are always free, give them away as often as possible. It helps you in the long run every single time. There's no experience I've ever had where a smiles created a problem for me, personally. But, hey, I'm sure that could be the case in some circumstances; however, now that you've had this experience, and you've had kind of a range of cases in some courts and you've had some experience with individuals in court and the judges and the clerks and the attorneys, how do you define justice? What does that mean to you now, today? After being through this process for a number of times?
Steven Lefkoff 11:09
I can tell you this. I don't define it by winning and losing. Because I think it's, as any lawyer would tell you, it's complicated. That's how we answer every question. It's complicated, right? I don't want to give you a yes or no answer on anything. Justice to me, is being able to walk away knowing the right thing, the with the right result, or the just result, right? That's where the word justice comes from. I know I'm using a word to define a word. That's the same word, which is like, come on, Steven, be a little better than that. But going back, let's talk about the settlement example. All right, like justice isn't always 100% of what you want. Sometimes justice takes into account, always actually not just sometimes, a lot of different factors, including economics, including evidence and argument and the law. Sometimes you give into the law to have a just outcome. Yeah, right. A good example is in criminal cases, which is not something I do regularly. I did at the old firm with the door law, we did a handful of criminal cases. But sometimes, you have cases where a an innocent person will plead guilty to a lesser charge. Okay. When I think of criminal cases, my mind just goes to murder because I think of the news, and that's all they talk about and whatever else, but you have some cases, like a DUI, let's say is probably a good example, where maybe the evidence doesn't point to it doesn't support the charge, where there's a whole host of different things that say nothing. I'm not guilty of DUI, right? I'm not guilty of anything. I wasn't even driving, right there crazy things happen. I'm the wrong person. All kinds of crazy things can happen in the law, without observations and the things. But rather than go through a year long court case that costs $20,000, you plead to a reckless driving charge in a week. Right? And it costs you 500 bucks. You get a couple points on the license, and you move on. I'm not saying that that is recommended, every circumstance is different. Again, this is not even an area of law I really know much about, so for everybody watching, take my advice as a real grain of salt. I call me a fool when I'm even...if any criminal attorneys are watching this, they probably are calling me a fool. But when you think...
Russ Johns 13:54
There areccases where that could be considered a win in the fact that you didn't get charged in and prosecuted for the the other original case?
Steven Lefkoff 14:10
That's right. And the person who made the plea, the defendant, would say that's ridiculous. There's nothing just about that. That's not justice. Yeah. Right. But the way our system is set up, sometimes you have to make a sacrifice, to move on. And that's in settlement for civil cases, that's in resolution of criminal cases. It doesn't really matter where you go, it's because there isn't a perfect system. Why there's no such thing as 100% justice in every case. It can't happen. The system can't support it. No system I know of can support that, but that's the idea. We do the best we can and we hope for an outcome in every case, whether it's civil, a monetary case or a criminal case, we hope for an outcome that at the end of it all, you say, the right result, given all of the factors is what happened because no case is in a vacuum.
Russ Johns 15:13
No, no, not at all. People forget sometimes, especially like, disputes with property lines or a road has been established in the property, the fence line is out of alignment and things like that. All of these different nuances in these cases, can really, I mean, it's really driven at times, you know, like, you talk about the Hatfields and McCoys battle, and I'm thinking to myself, it's probably over a fence line that was put in some place, and they just had to go around a tree or something. All of a sudden, they said, that's my property. No, that's my property and fence has been there for 30 years. Those types of arguments are just always going to come up, they're always going to be there, and compromise in consideration, and kindnesses is probably nine times out of 10. The only thing you need to solve the problem is to come up with a resolution.
Steven Lefkoff 16:13
True, I mean, those are the hardest of my cases that I've had. I'll be honest, if I can classify from cases that had been the easiest to the hardest, and when I say easiest to hardest, I mean to resolve, and then for the parties to move on, neighbor disputes are just awful, because it doesn't matter. What happens at the end of it, you still live next to them. So if there's ever a problem that is so pervasive, or so strong, that it requires an attorney to be involved, then the settlement is irrelevant, actually, because it doesn't matter what you agree to, or who does what, you're still going to leave your driveway and see them,
Russ Johns 16:54
It's almost salt in the wounds after that point.
Steven Lefkoff 16:58
It can be and it's one of those things I tell people all the time, you don't get to pick your neighbors. It's like your family. You don't get to pick your family. You're born into your family, you bought...one of the things we don't do when we buy houses, is we don't interview our neighbors. Yeah, maybe some people do, but it's like a job interview in 30 seconds. How much are you really gonna get? How certain are you really going to be about your neighbors?
Russ Johns 17:20
Hey, Steven, we want to want to recognize a few people that came into the room. Angie, good morning pirates.
Steven Lefkoff 17:27
Russ Johns 17:28
LinkedIn user, great to see you here. Mark Morrison. Hello, all. How are you doing? Sarathy, he's late in his day. Hi, Russ and Steven from India. Good evening/morning, I practically study your laws and Indian constitution articles versus bureaucracy and various stuff on administration. So love my subjects. That's fantastic. A lot of people are fascinated by the law and some of the the famous cases that are out there. It's like you were saying about London, Steven, once you're in a position where you can see it operating at its best, you can kind of understand what is possible and how it looks and why and watch the process.
Steven Lefkoff 18:16
You're right and I'll tell you a little story on that because it happened. It's Wednesday, it happened on Monday. Okay, I was in court two days ago, in a small claims case and it's one of the few times I've actually been in the building post COVID, or I shouldn't even say post COVID, during COVID. I guess we're still...but I was in the building. I was talking to the other attorney on the other side of the case and we're talking about how different things are now that COVID's happening. The reason I bring this up is because one of the topics we talked about was people being able to watch cases. It's always been our society relies on having open courtrooms, so that the society can come and verify that, hey, this is going the way it's supposed to go and that nobody's being railroaded and that the procedure is happening as it's supposed to happen. Now that these courts, many of them have gone to zoom or online forums for performing the cases for going through trial, it's been a complete shift and very difficult for the average layperson to come watch a court case. You can't just show up to the Gwinnett County courthouse and sit in a pew or show up in London right to Old Bailey and just sit and watch because there's nothing to watch. There's nothing happening. That's been a big a change because it is something that a lot of people like you said, Russ, are interested in. There are a lot of folks that comment just they have nothing to do that morning. They're retirees they're interested, whatever it is, they're in the neighborhood. Their first meeting is not till two o'clock and they want to see what's going on with the courthouse. So they come and they just sit and watch. It's a fascinating thing to watch. But in COVID it's hard to do that.
Russ Johns 19:58
Yeah, and it's our legal process that is in action. I mean, it's an active participation and the reality is, like you said, all the clerks, the judges, the attorneys, they're all people. I mean, they're all doing their lives and have different degrees of stress or anxiety or happiness or joy, whatever it happens to be, whatever emotion happens to be brought to the courtroom that day from the participants can sway or make some adjustments in the way that things go because you don't necessarily, if you're in a bad mood and you just had an argument with your spouse, it's like, you might be more argumentative in court. It just carries over. So there's no downside to being kind.
Steven Lefkoff 20:48
It's true. So I saw that.
Russ Johns 20:50
Angie just said it.
Steven Lefkoff 20:50
Angie is right. She's right. She's 100% right. If you really want to talk about the reason I created gavel, what really started at all, was I was in court and watching a case before mine, and the plaintiff, who should have won a $6,000 judgment for a loan that she gave to the defendant that never got paid back. The plaintiff was so emotional in court and was arguing with the judge and went on...first, they ask you for, at the call of the calendar, how much time do you think you're going to take? And they said, 10 minutes? Well, she gets up and starts testifying. An hour later, the judge says, are you done? And she says, no, Judge, I've got to tell you more and the judge says you have five minutes, she went on for another 20 minutes. The judge just became so frustrated with the case, because they're people too, right. Like, as much as we expect judges at every level, to remove emotion, make determinations and decisions based only on the law on the evidence presented. Sometimes that doesn't always happen. In this case, it didn't. The judge ruled in favor of the defendant, which should never have happened. On appeal, it would have been reversed in a heartbeat. I couldn't believe what I saw. I said, this is...you're talking about an easily preventable problem. This is something that should have never happened. Once I saw that, it started to become a pet peeve of mine, like turning the lights off when you leave a room, or closing the door when you're out on your patio or whatever people's pet peeves are, that I started just noticing these things. Every time I would go to court, I would notice somebody do something that I'm like, oh, man, if they hadn't done that, they would have won their case, right? If they hadn't done this, they would have won their case. So that's where the program, which started as about five videos, grew to 70. Because I started noticing all of these things and I'm like, you know what, if I'm going to make something for people, like small claims gets small attention from attorneys, it just does. But I said I want to change that. I want to give small claims big attention. So if I'm going to make a program, I want to make sure it covers as much as I can possibly give, as much information, as much advice, as many tips and tricks as I can possibly give somebody, so that they really do have as much as they can when they go into court.
Russ Johns 23:08
Sarathy had a question. Do LinkedIn Steve, would like to know what the opts on Indians doing the courses you offer on pm? Cheers, guys. Love from India. So, Sarathy, are you talking about courses for your country? Or are you talking about....maybe you could clarify that? Cassandra had another question, how do you recommend providing a better understanding of "kindness" can still be direct and consistent in delivery method. Oftentimes, I'm told, the direct and specific information I provide isn't "kind," however, it's only for purpose of gathering information in a non emotional matter. That's a great point. There's fact finding, and there's an opportunity to be direct. I was in an experiment or an experience where someone from New York...I was in Seattle, and sometimes people just ramble on about an explanation or something. He was like, just spit it out. What do you need? It's like, be direct, just tell me what you need. Tell me what you need. It was a realization that it's really about, cut the embroidery, get to the point. And you're thinking to yourself, well, what is the point? I guess from Cassandra's point is she was delivering clear, concise information. That may not necessarily sound as kind and it's probably the kind way to deliver it because it's the quickest way to arrive at a solution. So I don't know there's a balance in there someplace, I'm guessing. What are your thoughts on that?
Steven Lefkoff 25:05
Yeah, there's absolutely a balance. I mean, there is a difference between, hey, I need to just get this information from you and I want to learn more about you. That's same with the situation, I want to get the information about the situation versus I want to learn more about why and how, and these are conversational topics. Part of that is upfront, just being upfront about what you need. In my mind, almost like a preface to the conversation, right to that portion of whatever it is you're doing. Russ, you would learn nothing about people if you said, okay, we're going to do a #piratebroadcast. I'm going to ask you three questions. It's going to be four minutes long, keep your answers concise, and then we'll hang up and you can enjoy the rest of your day. But that's not the format of your program. It wouldn't make any sense, but if it's, look, I need your name, your email, address, your phone number and your mailing address so that we can contact you. Right? That's being direct, but it's certainly not being antagonistic, it's not being mean to somebody, but by laying it out that way ahead of time, you've given them the heads up, okay? They mean business, this is what they're trying to gather. And then you go through, okay, so what's your name, you've already told the person, this is what I need from you. I need to do it fairly quickly because that's the way the system is set up, or that's how my job, my role, whatever it is, that's what I need to do. But by practicing that, instead of just like, you know, throwing first pitch, you're letting them warm up a little bit. I think that that heads up, makes a world of difference.
Russ Johns 26:48
I think, also, that kindness can show up in subtle ways. Like you said, turning the lights off when you leave the room, returning your shopping cart in the parking lot, throwing the trash away when it's two feet away from your common area or saying please and thank you and making sure to be human and help out and contribute.
Steven Lefkoff 27:12
I'll tell you what my grandfather says, Russ, my grandfather says all the time. He uses one word. He says, "think." Just like that. Just think. He goes, when I was a kid, we thought, but now people don't think and he used to always tell me, if you think, that's all you really need to do to get ahead of and he would just make up a number, 80% of society. If you just think, you will be because we all know it's like a dietician, right. You know, eat less. Or that a salad with light dressing is going to be healthier for you than the hamburger, but we don't think about it. Returning the cart is the nice thing to do at the grocery store. Or throwing the trash away at your trash can, instead of just tossing it on the floor and waiting for somebody else to do it. Cleaning the dishes, right? These are things, sure they take a little bit of time, but if you just think, you know that it's the right thing to do.
Russ Johns 28:03
Yeah, that's a great statement. That's a great statement. I just want to give a couple of people...we started late, Steven, I just I appreciate your flexibility on here. Because for some reason, this show didn't want to start. The audio wasn't working. So I was like, okay, but Gabriel says love the background flag, Russ. Thank you. I'm glad you noticed that Gabriel. I'm changing it up, trying to do some things. Angie, says, if you have a commune, you could pick your neighbors.
Steven Lefkoff 28:36
Yeah, there's truth to that.
Russ Johns 28:37
There is truth to that. Gabriel asks, what do you think is the hardest thing about becoming a lawyer?
Steven Lefkoff 28:46
What's the most difficult thing? That is a great question. I've got to really think about that. My initial thought is law school is the hardest thing about becoming a lawyer. Getting into law school, going through it two, three years, or four years or night school, or however you do it, graduating, and then you're a lawyer. Now there's a whole host of secondary questions to that. The hardest thing about becoming a good lawyer, a successful lawyer and then where do you measure success? Right? This is what lawyers do. Like I said, there's no simple answer, but I do think that the most important thing about being a good lawyer is developing a rapport or a connection with your clients. I mean, and that's in any business that's not limited to just being a lawyer, right? I depend on my clients to hire me, and to pay me and to hire me again. A lot of times I tell people, I'm not working for today's case, I'm working for tomorrow's case. Because I want you to know that I'm here for you and that when you have an issue or a problem, I'm the guy you go to. It's the same thing about shopping. The stores that you shop over and over again, it's very rare that we buy one thing from one place and never go back again. Unless the experience was bad. That's when you're thinking about...a lot of lawyers get hung up in the day to day putting out the fires, right? How do I handle this case? Right now? This is a phone call I need to make, the courts waiting, I need a motion filed, I need the responses due next week. We forget that when we're in that fire, you forget to look at the forest. To me a lot of that and I'm waxing poetic a little bit. I tend to do that, lawyers do. But to me, what's most important about being a good lawyer is remembering you're dealing with people, you are people, people rely on you, you rely on people. And without those connections and without those relationships, you're nothing. You will be unsuccessful. You will not be a good lawyer.
Russ Johns 30:59
Yeah. People are people and you have to deal with personalities, the emotions and everything that come along with being a people. So that's just the way it goes. Angie says, that will be Tracie when she's retired. lol. I'm not sure what statement that was Angie, but Tracie's the producer on the show. Gabriel says, I interviewed former judge Kathy Schrader from...
Steven Lefkoff 31:28
Gwinnett County. That's here in metro Atlanta. Schrager is great. She's wonderful. We're lucky to have really good judges here.
Russ Johns 31:35
Sarathy says, yes, true legal process is always lengthy. Angie also says that kindness is powerful. Thank you. Surathy says, 1st pitch nice you a basketballer for sure, man. Baseball. Yeah, baseball.
Steven Lefkoff 31:53
There you go.
Russ Johns 31:49
Thanks, Steven, for being here today. I just really appreciate the fact that we were able to do this. For some reason, it didn't start exactly on time. So forgive....I've done a 270 some odd shows and it's like there are occasions where things happen. It's just a matter of being able to be flexible, compromise, be a human, #kindnessiscool, #smilesarefree. I just really appreciate bringing some of these stories to the #piratebroadcast and becoming a pirate today, Steven.
Steven Lefkoff 32:28
You bet, Russ, I thank you for your time and for your audience. I hope we brought some smiles to people's faces, because that helps your day. That's for sure.
Russ Johns 32:36
Well, I think having someone bring the humanity into the legal system right now, especially, is really something that we all can appreciate. Because like you said, If you turn on the news, we're all gonna die. Like, the sky is falling, the world is ending. However, in reality, we're here. We're doing good work. We're having fun. We're sharing a little bit, a little bit of kindness every single day. So thank you so much for being here.
Steven Lefkoff 33:10
Russ Johns 33:11
Hey, everyone, as always, thank you so much for joining in the #piratebroadcast. If you're watching this in the future, are listening to the podcast, please like and subscribe, leave a comment. That's what gives it the juice that allows us to spread the word. Encourage others to be kind and as you know, #kindnessiscool, #smilesarefree, so you #enjoytheday. Till next time, we'll see you later.
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