On November 14, 2020 I was honored to accept the Keenan Trial Institute Faculty of the Year Award. As part of the ceremony, I was asked to prepare an acceptance speech, which I’d like to share on the blog today.
Good evening, and thank you, Danny, for the warm introduction.
As the first female to receive the Faculty of the Year award, I am honored and very grateful.
2020 has been described as unprecedented – starting a new chapter for the entire world and certainly for the practice of law.
Keenan Trial Institute jumped headfirst into virtual classes – Danny Ellis being the first faculty member to teach on the new platform without hesitation.
Truly, every faculty rose to the occasion and taught virtually. Each of you deserves this same award. Teaching is challenging, but to add Zoom, ten to twelve faces in a square, role-play, and COVID-19 material into the mix – it was a test. A test each of you passed with flying colors! Thank you to the faculty members, and a special thank you to the Witness Preparation faculty members: Gus Brown, Amy Gibson, Maureen Manning, Mike Lennon, Steve Skiver, and Brian Sanford. These folks jumped on Zoom with me multiple times to talk about how the course would change on virtual and what new material needed to be covered and they taught to rave reviews.
I would be amiss if I didn’t stop to recognize the HUGE amount of legwork and behind the scenes magic that happened to allow virtual classes. Thank you to William Entrekin and Clennette Reid. Because I know they juggled virtual classes, virtual seminars, and the multitude of free webinars at the same time!
At Keenan Trial Institute, I serve as a teacher and dean of the Witness Preparation course and the Advanced Witness Preparation course. According the student reviews, the Witness Prep course is ranked as one of the top courses that changed students’ law practices. It certainly changed how I practiced law, and, ultimately, how I created my law office.
Of course, this would not be possible without Mr. Keenan. Mr. Keenan gave me the opportunity. The opportunity to be a better lawyer but to practice in a way to impact my clients’ lives, not just their pocketbooks.
I met Mr. Keenan at my first seminar, St Paul MN August 2012 for Depositions. Seminars – if you remember and haven’t blocked it out of your memory, where Mr. Keenan would speak for HOURS, no breaks, and you just feverishly type as fast as possible. As you sit there, you know it’s amazing material but are not quite sure what it all is.
So that’s me – day 1 – typing fast, grateful for a system to take a deposition.
On the second day of the seminar, Mr. Keenan called me to the front to role-play a deposition. I had to play a defendant who didn’t remember the crash, blocked it out because it was so painful and had killed the plaintiff. Now I was terribly nervous, but despite being nervous I was still intent on not letting him “get me.” I’m very stubborn. We started the role-play and I tried and tried and damn if he didn’t get me to admit the crash was my fault. What was impressed upon me was the power of the role-play, and understanding what our own clients go through.
Naturally, Mr. Keenan asked ”What are your takeaways?” Me: “I have been preparing people all wrong”. He immediately introduced me to the Keenan Witness Preparation and said, “learn it, watch the DVDs and use it.” And I did, and I loved it. Now along the way I stumbled but Mr. Keenan helped me through calls and emails to find the mistakes and move forward.
Speaking was another opportunity Mr. Keenan gave me. I spoke at seminars about the witness preparation and it opened up an opportunity to work with other lawyers and their clients using witness preparation. But it also helped me grow my speaking skills and my confidence.
Teaching was another opportunity. Teaching isn’t for everyone. It is a commitment of time, of self-education on the material, and, for me, a young female, it was tough to face a room of male lawyers with more years of practice, and, at times, with children same age as me. But I took the opportunity because I knew it would make me push harder to understand the material and be prepared. This turned into setting up the Advanced Witness Preparation course. Again, Mr. Keenan asked, “What does it need? Let’s put this together” And we did.
Being the first Keenan Law Firm Fellow was a huge opportunity. If you thought a seminar was like drinking from a fire hose, try two trials in two different states with two different causes of action (medical malpractice and premises liability) with, I think, two days in between. Well, maybe more like 4 days. You get my point – the bullets are flying. Not to mention the third trial, which started over and then lasted nearly three weeks. A huge opportunity. No way to describe the education I got in one year.
Mr. Keenan thank you for the opportunities. I took the opportunity and along the way I made lifelong friends, I found a community of lawyers who seek to learn and grow and I found a way to practice law that helps me serve my purpose, my passion.
Using the witness prep, I have helped a girl dying of cancer to find her voice and speak her truth about the doctors that failed her. Casey was 16 years old and had been fighting cancer since she was 13. The cancer took her left arm and left shoulder, a forequarter amputation, but she powered on. When I met Casey, she was riddled with anxiety and depression; facing experimental drugs that constantly kept her at the doctor and never knowing what the cancer would do next. The lawyers that hired me said she is strong but she’s very quiet. As we went through role-play preparation, she broke down in tears and turned to me to stop. I told her we must keep going, to remember her truth and keep going. I knew if I let her off the hook, she’d never see the power of her truth and gain the confidence she needed. She pushed through and finished the role-play. At her deposition, she was a superstar and spoke with confidence about her story and her truth. The defense lawyers later admitted, after settlement, they were afraid of Casey. Afraid of a 16-year-old.
At the time, Casey was one of the largest preparation challenges I had ever faced. I prepared Casey, her mom, and her dad all in the span of five days. Each person was dealing with the impending death and emotional toll of the weary treatment journey in a different way. I knew I would need to dig deep and show up in a new way. But I was confident in my education. It was one of my hardest but remains one of my most rewarding preparations. I made lifelong friends with the clients and the lawyers. Casey’s mother reached out this past January to tell me Casey had passed peacefully. And to the lawyers, Syd and Justin, who never met me when they called to ask me to help, thank you for the opportunity, and for your trust.
We all have the opportunity to be great people, to be great trial lawyers. Some take the opportunity, and some don’t. I encourage you to take the opportunity, to do the work and you will reap such amazing rewards.
For the graduating class, you are here because you have taken the opportunity and you have done the work. Congratulations!
I have one more person for whom I am grateful every day – my husband. Carson, thank you for your love and support!
Thank you again for the Faculty of the Year award!
-Elizabeth Larrick, November 2020