How to Bake the Perfect Loaf of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

  1. Combine the yeast and 2 cups warm water in a mixing bowl and stir to dissolve. Add the butter, sugar and salt. Use a wooden spoon to stir in one-third of the flour until smooth. Add another third of the flour and stir, then turn it out onto a floured board to knead. Knead it over 15 minutes, adding the rest of the flour as you knead. Don’t let it get dry too fast; it should stay sticky. Put the dough in a buttered bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise for 1 hour.
  2. Knead the dough another 5 minutes, place it back in the bowl and let it rise another hour.
  3. Butter 2 loaf pans. Shape the dough into 2 loaves and transfer them to the prepared pans. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  5. Bake the loaves until golden brown on top and cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

Loaves of bread

Does Your Trial Look This Good?


              I’ve always wanted to bake the perfect loaf of bread.

I don’t really know why.  I mean, nowadays I can go pick up an “artisan” loaf of bread – rustic and crunch on the outside, light and pillowy on the inside – from any nearby store.  From the restaurant chains to the local grocery, everybody sells a great loaf of bread our parents could only dream of in high-end fancy bakeries or restaurants.

But, I wanted to do it myself.  Maybe it is the desire to have something result from my own hands – the kneading and the pushing and pulling —  and see the achievement in front of me.  On the other hand, maybe it is the idea that a loaf of bread is special, after all, it is the most basic food staple in human history.  From the time humans could grow grain, mill it and transform it into a loaf of bread, the course of human history was changed forever.  Mankind was able to feed large amounts of people.  Groups could set down roots in one living area rather than following the roving packs of animals to hunt for food.  We became a community rather than a nomadic herd and bread was the lynchpin.

But, where people gathered together to live in large groups, interactions created disagreements.  There needed to be a set of rules for people to follow to reduce disagreements and a means to settle those disputes were necessary.  And lawsuits were born.

I have always wanted to bake the “perfect” lawsuit and trial, too.  I have never achieved that, despite several million-dollar verdicts, I have always had the nagging suspicion later that a little tweak here and a little push there and perfection would result.

So, last Saturday, I tried again – to bake the bread, that is.  And I realized that baking a loaf of bread and taking a personal injury case from start to finish are actually a lot alike.

In this blog, we are going to examine how baking a loaf of bread – the most basic food staple — is similar to prosecuting a successful personal injury lawsuit.

First and foremost, despite what you might hear from teachers and chefs, the right ingredients make the job much easier.  In baking, you want to have the basics – flour, water, salt and a leavening agent like yeast.  In a personal injury lawsuit, we always say you want the basics – liability, damages, causation and a deep pocket to be able to collect from.  Miss any one of these ingredients and your bread or lawsuit will never be able to make it up.  I mean, sure, you can attempt to do a flatbread or your loaf can resemble a good product, but the result isn’t what you had hoped or what might have been.

And just a final thought about ingredients – the flour itself is an important part of the process.  Sure, you can use all-purpose flour and achieve a good, sturdy loaf.  But, bread flour as a replacement works much better.  Fluffier and crustier, without the density and heaviness that can result from the binding effects of all-purpose flour.  I have found the single most important ingredient in any personal injury action is a good, sturdy, likable plaintiff.  Sure, you can go to trial with an irascible, rough-edged client who wants to complain and whine to a jury, while arguing every trial strategy with you as the lawyer.  I’ve done it before.  We all have.  But, there is simply no replacement for the good, likable plaintiff.  When I look back on all of my bigger accomplishments in trial, there is always one common ingredient in every result – a person who I liked and who the jury liked and didn’t mind making “rich” (I have always thought that juries tend to think they are making a plaintiff’s life easier than their own with the award of damages – even though we go to great lengths to explain it is meant to compensate for harms and losses).

The next step in baking the perfect loaf is adding the ingredients together in proper order. You must combine the yeast with the warm (not hot) water and add a little sugar into the mix to start the rise.  Then you must be patient and wait.  Similarly, in personal injury litigation, you must do things in the proper order – meet with your client, get the story, contact important witnesses, acquire the medical records and billing and then add the research of the case to know the safety rules and laws that will control your case.  Then, just like in baking, you must wait.  Simply wait and think to allow the “rise.”   The “rise” is the part of the overall process where you take a breath and look at what is in front of you.  Do all the ingredients exist?  Is the plaintiff likable?  Am I missing anything?  Only then, can you begin the process of building the perfect loaf of a personal injury lawsuit.  Find your theme.  Develop your theme throughout your discovery in every deposition, every interrogatory question and discovery method you do.  Every question must be geared toward your overall theme of the case.

The next step in baking the perfect loaf of bread is to pull the risen dough out of its bowl and punch the air out of it.  This allows a nice rise in the oven while cooking and the crunchy crust that we all adore.  A little kneading and punching is necessary before the final baking.  Likewise, in a lawsuit the “kneading and punching” occurs during your discovery phase – don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and punch it out with opposing counsel.  It’s a business and civility are paramount, but proper discovery is essential to your finished product.  Request the inspection, make your objections during depositions to form, prepare your motions in limine – all things that will annoy the opponent, but you have a loaf to make and a client to serve it to.

Finally, you return the kneaded and punched loaf back into the pan for a final rise before baking.  You, too, need to take a deep breath before trial and allow the case to rise.  Did you do everything you needed to do?  Are witnesses in order?  Are your evidentiary depositions done and summarized?  Did you extract significant clips from your video depositions?  Did you prepare a PowerPoint opening that makes sense and isn’t overly wordy or boring?

Then you place the loaf into the preheated oven.  Some bakers cook the loaf in a covered Dutch oven, some in an oiled loaf pan, some use parchment paper to prevent the crust from becoming too dark, some add humidity and water in a separate pan in the oven while baking.  Similarly, trial lawyers all have different styles in court.  Sure, there are some basics we must all follow – like the temperature of the oven we don’t want to burn the finished product – but there are many ways to get an edible result.  Some lawyers are combative, some entertaining, some methodical and precise.  Whoever you are is who you are.  Imitate the masters, but developing your own style is equally important.

And finally, pull the loaf out of the oven at the right time.  Likewise, know when to end your case and shut up.  Nobody wants a burnt, overbaked loaf of bread.  Also, know when you have proven your case and don’t allow a mistake by adding an extra witness you don’t need or asking a question too many.  I have walked out into the hallway of a trial and told an expert witness to go home several times in my career.  Sometimes, I did it because I felt we already established the evidence and other times it was just a gut feeling that we didn’t need to overdo it or expose a weakness that could be brought forth.  It results in some hurt feelings for sure.  I have suffered some anguished phone calls later from experts expressing displeasure, but you must have a “feel” for when the loaf is done.

And when it is done correctly, there is simply nothing like a warm piece of bread with cool butter.  It’s my favorite food in the entire world.  And it can be achieved, I am certain of it, although I have never quite accomplished it.

But, I will keep trying.  Because, after all is said and done, I am one hungry mother—-r.  And so is everyone at Shaw Law.

Until next time.