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Ben Glass Interviews Phoenix Personal Injury Lawyer Mark Breyer

Ben Glass does monthly interviews and looks for the most fascinating lawyers around the country. Below is the interview that he had with personal injury attorney Mark Breyer. (TRANSCRIPT BELOW)


Ben Glass: Well hello everyone, this is Ben Glass and as you know, each month I hunt around the country to interview some of the most interesting, progressive and leading attorneys around and today I have on the phone Mark Breyer from Phoenix, Arizona from The Husband & Wife Law Team. Good afternoon, Mark, how are you?

Mark Breyer: Good, how you doing, Ben?

:: Mark Breyer

Ben Glass: Good. Mark, I'd like to start by talking a little bit about sort of you, tell us about your firm, how long you've been in existence and why you became a lawyer.

Mark Breyer: Wow, we have a little bit of a different story. I became a lawyer. When I look back in fifth grade I remember saying to anyone who would listen that I was definitely gonna be a lawyer. What's interesting about that is I came from a neighborhood where there weren't lawyers or doctors in the neighborhood I grew up, in fact there was one lawyer about four blocks away that we knew of and it was relatively a working class neighborhood. And when I hit about sixth grade and I found out how many more years I would have to be in school to be a lawyer, I dropped that idea pretty quickly. And much later when I was almost done with college and trying to decide what's really the best fit for me, through kind of a happenstance conversation with someone who was in law school I decided you know what, this is what I used to want to do, I still think this is what I would be very good at and, and I, I really thought, I don't know that I could like anything more than standing in front of a jury and fighting for somebody. And, and what's interesting about that is you always wonder - I'm sure this is true not just for me but for anybody or, are you faking it or, or is your choice of career real? I mean, is it really the right fit or do you just believe it is? And until I got my first chance at trial I was always convinced that, boy, standing in front of a jury would just be great, I'd love it, but you always have that small doubt in your mind. By the time that first trial was over I could say then and I can say now, I like my job more than most people ever will like their job every time I get to stand in front of a jury. And I went to law school with the idea of starting my own firm because I knew that I'm enough of a control freak or maybe have enough of an ego to believe I can do it better. I knew I wanted my own firm, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer, but I also knew that I wanted to do it absolutely by myself and I went to law school with the clear goal of not just having my own firm but coming out as a single guy with money. And about three weeks into school I met this girl who changed all of my plans and she is now my wife, the mother of our many children and she is the wife in The Husband & Wife Law Team and we have done nothing but practice personal injury law from the day we opened up the shop. She worked her way through college working in a law office. We both worked for different works, I worked for an insurance defense firm downtown, learning the ropes before we started our practice and Alexis worked for another personal injury firm which was about the third personal injury firm she had worked for in her life and, and covered about six or seven years of work in law offices before we started our practice together. And so now we are a practice that has the unique deal so to speak of being not just a husband and wife but I, I think one of the things that differentiates us to answer the question you had originally posed is, how, how can you be both a husband and wife and also try to be the best at what you do? And that was really something we struggled with and I struggled with personally because on the one hand I was very proud of our differences as a husband and wife but to tell you the truth, I didn't really want to be known as a Husband & Wife Law Team because I, I really had some concerns about the fact that that sent out a message of a mom and pop shop. And even back then I wasn't a specialist yet, I hadn't tried the cases yet. We started letting people know we were husband and wife and at that point I really thought that we can do a better job than most people are gonna do and, and we can work harder and, and we can, we can work it smarter and do a better job for our clients in every way and I, I was uncomfortable back then I think even though we were getting to be known as The Husband & Wife Law Team, and I guess the unique combination in our firm is less than 2 percent of all Arizona lawyers are certified by the state bar as a specialist in injury and wrongful death, as I am. A very small number of firms, I don't know the exact number, but a very small percentage do nothing but personal injury. That's all we've done for more than a dozen years. And so I think what we have is a combination of yes, we're still a husband and wife, yes we have the advantages of the fact that there are two sets of eyes on every cases, there are two knowledgeable lawyers always working together. This is not just a job where I go home and it's over, we live this, and that has real advantages to our clients. But the flip side is we're not just the mom and pop shop. I mean I, I, I'd like to believe that I have developed a reputation and, and really strongly believe I have from all the feedback I've gotten from my adversaries, from judges and, and from everyone else in the community that we've earned our stripes and worked our way up to where we are and so I think that, that creates a little bit of a, a relatively unique combination in our office that probably doesn't exist in other places.

:: more about Mark and Alexis

Ben Glass: Well, and you mentioned a couple things that, that are, would be very important frankly to a consumer who was injured and looking for a lawyer, and one is that you started your career as an insurance defense attorney. Tell the folks who are listening to this call what that means. Who were you working for and what sort of cases did you work on then?

Mark Breyer: It's very interesting because everyone hears of, of what I do now. Personal injury trial lawyers, trial lawyers, at least half of all the lawyer jokes relate to me or are about what I do for a living I guess I should say, and yet what's often missed in that is I must be going up against somebody and who are we going up against? My clients come to me, and at this point in our career really almost all of our clients have suffered life altering events, things that they did not expect, and we working through a terrible time for them and trying to help them legally and in every way to get from, from where they are to at least the best possible place they can be for them and their family. Well when we do that, who are we going against? Well for the most part we're going up against the multibillion dollar insurance companies and in the rare cases, or the smaller percentage of cases where it's not a massive insurance company on the other side, it usually is a massive Fortune 500 corporation that is self insured or has some sort of self insurance going along with the massive insurance company we're going against. Well they need a lawyer too and the lawyers they hire are lawyers that are called insurance defense lawyers. And so every time we bring a case for our clients who are we going against? We're going against people that are hired and their job, they are paid to try to make sure that my clients do not receive the full and fair compensation we believe they're deserving of. I think that there's an advantage to having seen the other side and having watched it from the inside in terms of the, the discussion and the deliberation amongst the, between the insurance companies and their lawyers that basically usually are not evil, although I've been privy to some conversations where I, I thought that the, the goals were, crossed the line. But even there it's, it's nice to be able to sit down and honestly turn to my clients and say listen, this is what they're doing, I know why they're doing it. I, I may well know their motivation and here's what we're gonna have to contend with. And so I started working in my career in a, in a downtown firm that, with people and companies trying to save a buck at the expense of my clients and I think, I think that gives me some advantages whereas Alexis started out immediately fighting for the people that, that deserve it most.

Ben Glass: Now, sort of the second thing you mentioned is your certification as a specialist and I would assume most consumers if they are gonna go and have an operation by a doctor they want to find a specialist, if you're gonna hire an attorney for what may be the, one of the most important transactions you have in your life, you'd like to find a specialist. So what should the consumer be asking a law firm about or seeking to find on a web site? I mean is there a, is there a badge or a statement? How do they find out if someone is or isn't a specialist?

Mark Breyer: I, I think that's a, a great question on a number of levels, Ben. First of all I think that many people don't realize how someone becomes a lawyer because to become a lawyer in almost every state in the country, including Arizona, it's not enough to have passed law school. For most careers you pass that schooling, you get that degree, you have then entered the profession. But to become a lawyer at all you have to pass a test that's called the bar and that is administered by the State Bar, in this case the State Bar of Arizona. So even to be a lawyer you have to meet certain criteria and be able to pass a certain test in addition to having all the educational requirements that come before it. Well what happened was in many states, not just Arizona, it became very confusing for consumers because unlike doctors that you raised, law is a very different situation for the consumer. If somebody is an orthopedic surgeon that doctor is not allowed to hold himself out or he doesn't in fact do anything with treating people with severe diabetes. He's an orthopedic surgeon and that's what he does. He may or may not be a specialist so to speak, he may or may not have fellowship training. In other words, he may just be an orthopedist but not be a specialist as an orthopedic surgeon but you can trust the fact that if you have a severe injury and you go in for surgery the guy standing there with those tools ready to try and put you back together is in fact an orthopedic surgeon. The same is true of every kind of medicine. You don't - family doctors are tremendous, but if you have a stroke you're probably not going to the family doctor in an ambulance. And the same works the other way. If, if you don't even know what the problem is because it's complicated, you better not go straight to the neurosurgeon, you better get to the internist or family doctor. In the law the reality is that any lawyer is allowed to take any type of case with almost no exceptions. That means somebody who has done nothing but handle criminal cases their entire life could take a personal injury case. That creates all sorts of problems. First of all with the type of cases we do we're talking about life changing, life changing potential for my clients. When, when somebody will never work again or when they've lost out of work for a long period of time, when they have a permanent disability, or when they've lost a loved one, the compensation they need for, for lost wages, the compensation for the overwhelming amount of medical bills that is the number one cause of bankruptcy in our country now, the ways to avoid tragedy on top of the tragedy that's already happened is by getting the right lawyer to make sure you get fair compensation. It's concerning when the little league coach you go to says, oh I'm a lawyer, I will handle it, and they in no way have to say, but by the way I really haven't learned anything about personal injury law except for when I was in law school. And so what the State Bar of Arizona did, and they've done this in a number of states, is they said we have to do something to protect the consumer and they set up a certified specialist criteria and exam. To be a certified specialist you had to have a lot of trial experience and by trial experience that doesn't mean you were in a big firm and you sat in the courtroom while it happened, you are only judged by what you've actually performed and done. Sitting next to the guy in the firm who's done it is not good enough. So you had to have extensive trial experience, part one. Part two, they would send out questions not just to your friends, and although you were allowed to say here are lawyers that know I'm good, that's not good enough in Arizona. They actually send out questionnaires to the lawyers you went up against to find out if they thought you were a good lawyer and what they say is anonymous, so they're free to say this lawyer's the, the worst lawyer I've ever gone against or he's the best. Passing that is not enough. First you have to have the experience of trial, you have to have done a majority of personal injury for enough years, you have to get the lawyers you went against to say the right things and then the judges who have thousands of cases assigned to them and many lawyers come in front of them are asked what they thought of, of the lawyer that's trying to become a specialist and if the judge and the, and the other lawyers and the lawyers you went against and everything else falls into place you still have a huge exam you have to pass that shows that you have the requisite knowledge. It's not a second bar exam but I have to say it was the, it was, it was much closer to it than I expected. It was a comprehensive in depth examination that you had to pass. And on the day I - it's, it's far from a shoe in - on the day I took it I was sitting next to the, a guy who, who had failed it. And he was the only I talked to. There was only four people in that room that day, which should show you how few people have qualified to be certified specialists. And so I, I will say now to you, Ben, what I've said to many people. You don't have to be a certified specialist to be a great personal injury lawyer. I mean I think that I'd like to believe I was very, very good at what I was doing before I got the seal of approval. What, what this certification does tell people is I am amongst, unlike 98 plus percent of the bar, the State Bar has said yes, Mark Breyer is a certified specialist in injury and wrongful death litigation. That, I would say this though, I think for the clients that I help, for the people who, whose, who are facing life changing situations, I don't think you have to hire a specialist but I think you have to make sure that the person either is a specialist and/or that they have done enough to satisfy you that they're not just taking the case because they see dollar signs because I cannot tell you the number of cases that I have handled over the years that I handled and had to try to rehabilitate and bring back to life because somebody thought, oh I can handle this case and they had no idea what they were doing. And so how do you find out if someone's a specialist? In Arizona you are not allowed to say you are a specialist in injury and wrongful death as a, by, by law or at least by the rules of the bar unless you have been certified as a specialist. And so people will use all kinds of words to try to say, oh I'm a good personal injury, I'm aggressive, I'm experienced. Unless they say certified specialist, that is no indication that they are a certified specialist. Any lawyer can say I'm aggressive, any lawyer can say I'm experienced. The truth is a lawyer who's handled one case in his whole life can claim he's experienced and, and the bar will probably do nothing about it and that will be in every advertisement, everything he says, he can put it anywhere he wants. What he can't do is claim to be a certified specialist and the bar does that to protect the people who need the protection the most.

:: more on certified specialists in Arizona

Ben Glass: Well it would seem - I mean I've, I've looked at a lot of lawyer advertising over the years and, and truth be told you really can't tell from one ad to the next who is a good, who is experienced, except maybe in Arizona now you can see if they're certified or not. And so for, from the consumer's standpoint in someone who doesn't have a referral to a lawyer, they're looking for someone it would seem to me to be a really smart step to at least start with that very, very short list of certified trial specialists in Arizona. I mean as you said anyone can be a lawyer, anyone can buy an ad or a web site as well.

Mark Breyer: I think that's true and I, but I, and I would go a step further. I don't think it's just about finding the right lawyer, I think it's about finding the right lawyer for you. And, and I can't tell you the number of people that I talk to years later, oh my, this terrible thing happened in my life and almost every time they tell me a horror story, which is not every time, some people, and I'd like to believe and I think we know this is true from our experience with clients, many people walk away and, and there is a very close bond with their lawyer, sometimes personally but almost always on that level of this lawyer really came through for me, this lawyer made a big difference. But when, almost every time I've talked to people who did not have that experience, their gut told them that at the start. And I think that's, the reality is that almost all of my clients are in, undergoing something they could have never foreseen. The reality is that these things that I handle are never planned. Somebody was on their way to work, they were walking around, they were living their life, there was nothing unusual when they woke up the day of this tragedy. They're in a vulnerable position and so you sit down with someone who swears to you, even if they said, I am a specialist, is it the right fit for you? And, and I have encouraged people who have come to sit down with me many times, which probably goes against what most lawyers do, I'm certain it goes against what the sales industry would say you're supposed to do. If there is any doubt, I won't let them sign with me that day. If you're going to work with me in our office, we are incredibly selective about what we do. We take a very small fraction of the people who ask us for help because we work on, on a select number of cases and with the people we believe we are the right fit for. And if somebody is the right fit, if they're the right fit both case wise and, and in terms of who they are and how we fit with them, then that's fantastic, but I think it's a mistake, it's a mistake to not ensure that anybody you're sitting down with has the requisite experience, and I don't just mean they're lawyers. And I think Step 2 of that is if you sit down with somebody and you have any doubt about whether that person is the right lawyer, that may just be the inherent concern that you have at that time in your life and it may be because your gut's telling you something and it's time to talk to somebody else. And so I encourage people to make sure they find that right fit in anything and that includes, maybe especially it is true in personal injury.

:: more on finding a lawyer for you

Ben Glass: Well let me ask you this 'cuz we're, we're running a little bit low on time, but I want to hit three topic areas, and the first is -

Mark Breyer: Sure.

Ben Glass: - what's your advice, as someone who has been in an accident typically what happens is insurance adjusters are calling them, maybe sending them forms, what do you tell that injured person to do? Can you give me two or three bullets points of what -

Mark Breyer: Yep.

Ben Glass: - they should do first in terms of dealing with that insurance adjuster.

Mark Breyer: Yeah. Touch nothing, sign nothing and talk to nobody. And that may sound awfully defensive and I cannot tell you the number of people who say, well I'll, I'll just the truth, I'll deal with my lawyer later. That's good. You're required to tell the truth if you want to work with a good lawyer. But if you don't think the other side's gonna try and have you sign something or to try and twist your words in a certain way at a certain time, it's very simple. You call a lawyer - even if you don't want to hire a lawyer - start by calling a lawyer and saying here's what somebody wants me to sign, do you think that's a good idea? Should you be there? Should you be on the phone call? So it's, the, the simple answer to your question is even if you don't think you need a lawyer, you may be right, it may be a case that doesn't need a lawyer, it may be a situation that doesn't need one. But before you do anything that someone may use against you or your family later, you start by calling a lawyer you can trust.

Ben Glass: I know that one of the things that you have done is you've actually written a book for consumers because as you said earlier in this call, you get a lot of inquiries, you and Alexis are very selective on the cases that you will work with and can work with, but I know you've, you've written a book just so Arizona consumers can find out more, so they'll be well armed when that adjuster is calling. Tell us a little bit about the book.

Mark Breyer: Alexis and I wrote this together. It was a lot of effort, it was a lot of time and it was with a very clear goal in mind. We have seen far too many victimized because they just didn't know. We sat down with a reporter recently who, who thought she was doing a story on just a book, just another human interest story and, and about this book that was written and by the end she had questions about things in her life she didn't even know she didn't know, things that had happened to, in her life that were directly related to the things in that, that we wrote about. We narrowed this book down. It is called the Master Guide to Arizona Injury Claims and it is the 13 Biggest Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Arizona Injury Case is, is the primary title. This is a book that is written to at least let people know what they don't know, to put up red flags about the various areas of injury law because I have seen far too many deserving people lose out on compensation they were not only entitled to but that they needed because they didn't even know the basics, they didn't even know the questions to ask. And so we wrote this for all the people out there, which is really the majority of, it's really, probably the majority of lawyers, it is a vast majority of, of the average citizen, even the average educated citizen in Arizona in terms of what they should know as they go through life to protect themselves when it comes to anything personal injury related.

:: Master Guide to Arizona Injury Claims

Ben Glass: Last topic area, you began the call by mentioning that you are married to your best friend, your sweetheart, you practice law together and you have a lot of kids. People want to know - well first, how many children do you and Alexis have?

Mark Breyer: We have seven kids.

:: read our monthly newsletters

Ben Glass: And people want to know how in the world do you get it all done? How do you, how do you combine being great parents with being great lawyers and, and working in the same office together. What's your secret there?

Mark Breyer: That, that's a great question. First of all as far as great parents, we'll give Alexis the title of great parent, I'm just trying my best, but she is the greatest and it, it is, it's, it's a great question. First of all a lot less TV and, and the reality is, I mean, I really think we, we do it all - I heard a long time ago, actually I heard this before I was anywhere near as busy as I am, if you want something done you give it to the busiest person you can find. And, and that may sound counterintuitive but if you think about your own life and certainly as I think about mine, the people who always find a way to get it done are the people who just get it done. They, at work, at home, school, you name it, it was always the person who had so much on their plate that could always get the big project done and done well. And I think that's really become true of us in our office. How do we do it? I am a huge believer in technology. I am going up against a multibillion dollar adversary in almost every case I handle, I level that playing field as much as it can be leveled, and I think anyone who claims that it can be equal is probably missing the boat on the fact that they have far more to say about the laws that are written, the judges that are on the bench and so forth. But the reality is that we can level that playing field with technology. Well we can also increase our efficiency with technology. We are able to more effectively process cases in our office than I believe almost any office that I have ever seen, and in fact maybe more than any I've ever seen. We, we are very clear on how things will be processed, very clear on what steps will be taken for our clients. I have the ability, and we, we have been scanning every document that comes or goes from this office for years. My clients can get anything in their case in a couple clicks of a button. And so the reality is I think that 30 years ago we could not have done what we do. We could have had seven kids and we could have strived to be the best injury lawyers in Arizona, but I don't believe we could have been nearly as effective if it weren't for our ability to log in from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection, and of course my computer gets an internet connection just about anywhere and certainly anywhere that I've been in the last two years because I make sure I, I equip myself accordingly. If you want to know the truth, Ben, I try to do it all. I coach my kids in, in little league, I am definitely not as good as that as I am at maybe some of the other things but I love coaching them and I, and when my daughters got dance, I'm there just about every time unless I'm with another kid at a different little league or a chess or a dance, you name it we try and do it. And what do I do? I will leave the office, I'll go coach the team, I'll get the kids to bed and I'm on the computer taking care of business or working with Alexis through a case. And so I, I really think that's the answer that, when, I think when many of my adversaries are sitting around complaining about what can't be done or hard it all is or how, how they're too busy to get anything done and, and they're doing it - and I have no problem with watching TV, but, but the reality is I don't have a lot of time left to do that except for Alexis won't stop watching American Idol and I can't get her to quit that. But other than that, how do we do it? We just, we just try and do the best we can and we push our way through it.

Ben Glass: Well this has been fascinating. Look, for anyone who's maybe listening to this, a recording of this call later, tell us how they can find out more information, maybe get your book. I know you've got a very, very interesting monthly newsletter that sort of chronicles the, the Breyer family. How, what's the best way for folks to learn more about The Husband & Wife Law Team?

Mark Breyer: Well for those that are into technology in any way or just have an Internet connection,, and, and the misspelling is common so think of the ice cream, it's There's a lot of information on our web site and that information is always growing. You can always call our main number for the office if you have questions about a possible case which is 602-457-6222. The reality is that, and I'll just mention it quickly, that you don't have to worry about where you are in the state of Arizona or even if you're outside of the state. We have helped people with Arizona claims every, from all four corners of this state, all, all parts of the United States literally from Hawaii all the way to the east coast and we have had clients who were in all different parts of the world. I just had a client interestingly here today who just flew in from London after he had just been in Africa and he's barely in Arizona. It's one of the advantages of working the way we do with technology the way we do it. So if you have any questions you call that number, we'll be happy to do everything we can to - if, if we're not able to help you we will do what we can to send you in the right direction.

Ben Glass: Well, terrific. Look, I've taken up enough of your time today. You've been very helpful and again I would encourage anyone in Arizona who is in an accident to at least call you up, visit your web site, get your book, don't touch, say or do anything until you read the book and then to contact you if, if they have a case, a case that's appropriate for your office. Thanks very much, Mark.

Mark Breyer: Thank you, Ben.

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