EPISODE 12 — Mike Papantonio — Building a Legacy by Redefining the Status Quo
Mike Papantonio is a big name in mass torts — perhaps the BIGGEST. He’s scored many multimillion-dollar verdicts throughout his career and established himself as a disruptor and innovator in the industry.
Mike’s been broadcasting hot legal topics to the masses on his radio show Ring of Fire for over 15 years, his television program America’s Lawyer is viewed internationally, and Netflix has even created documentaries about his cases.
So what makes this attorney’s stories so magnetic? In this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, we dive deep to discover the man behind the media…
Here are just a few of the many topics Mike covers in detail:
- Embrace rejection. Light a fire with failure.
- Niche down or diversify, but stick to your brand.
- The real secret to courtroom success? Tell great stories.
2:13 – You need someone to talk to and be creative with. “A lot of people don’t know this, but John Morgan and I used to be roommates at University of Florida, so John and I have always been in touch. We’ve always taken the time for him to say to me, ‘Pap, what are you up to?’ And I’ve always said, ‘John, what are you up to?’ The first step is having somebody that you’re able to talk to and be a little creative with. It lends itself to an expansion of vision.”
3:11 – Hit ‘em where they ain’t. “What I understood right off the bat was to move into a space where no one was there. It’s kind of like when they asked Babe Ruth, ‘How have you hit so many home runs?’ He said, ‘Well, I just hit ‘em where they ain’t.’”
8:43 – A trial lawyer must have a bit of anger in them. “It’s genuine. There’s no affectation here, Michael. What you see is what you get. Whether I’m on television in attack mode, whether I’m in trial in attack mode or a deposition in attack mode — that’s who I am. I always tell every trial lawyer that a trial lawyer that doesn’t have a bit of anger in them, that doesn’t have a bit of anger that they can call on when they need to call on it, that they can go from zero to 100 in two seconds — if they don’t have that, it’s evident in their role as a trial lawyer, and it’s evident in their role in the bigger community of lawyering.”
9:40 – The moment Pap changed the class action game. “I’ve never been a class action lawyer. I’ve always been a trial lawyer. And so I’ll never forget the moment — we were in Atlanta, and the breast implant litigation had just taken off…I remember these old guys up on the stage. There were 400 people in Atlanta at some big hotel, and they’re telling me what they’re going to do with my cases, because they’re class action lawyers. They were mass tort lawyers who were terrible mass tort lawyers, who never really were there for the consumer. They were there for themselves. They were there to make big fees and then move on. I remember the arrogance and the audacity of this character standing up on the stage, telling me what I was going to do with my cases and how he was going to handle it. I remember grabbing the mic — I was a kid, but I remember grabbing the mic and saying, ‘Mister, I don’t even know who you are, but you are not going to be involved with my cases. There’s not going to be a time where you make a decision for me as a trial lawyer about what I’m going to do with my cases.’ It was at that moment where I decided that I wanted to build out a new reality in the area of trial law. I wanted mass tort lawyers not to be class action lawyers. I wanted mass tort lawyers that wanted to be able to try their own cases and do what a trial lawyer should do: get top dollar for their clients and make it about the client, not about them.”
15:30 – If you’re comfortable with the status quo, you’ll never reach your full potential. “People get too comfortable, you know. They’re doing the same thing the same way. They handle these cop cases, they make a pretty good living — but what does it really do for your need to brand and your need to expand? How are you different than anyone else?”
19:23 – You can’t fear rejection if you want to do something differently. “Some people have the guts, and they have the vision, and they’ve got the character to say, ‘Yeah, I think I can do this. I want to do something differently. I want to associate with this law firm — they help because I can’t do it alone. I want to build a new relationship with these people.’ Why would they not pick up the telephone and talk to people they’ve never met? ‘Why don’t we work together? I want to get involved in this project.’ Why don’t they do that? It’s fear of rejection.”
20:30 – It’s helpful to have alliances — just give them a call. “When I was a young lawyer, I would keep two pads out on my desk every day. One pad over here is a list of people that I don’t know yet but I would like to meet because they’ve done interesting things, and I would randomly call them. Just give them a call…I would go down this list every week, and I would make 10 calls every week. Over here is another list. That other list is co-counsel that I already work with, and I would call them and talk to them about ideas that I would just kick around. Sometimes I did it at night. Sometimes I make calls until 10 o’clock at night because that’s the only time you can find.”
24:25 – Leave money on the table before harming your relationships. “My lawyers know this: if I ever find that you haven’t treated somebody right, if somebody who’s just worked with us does not come away with exactly where they think they should be — I tell my lawyers, ‘Leave money on the table. Take it away from yourself before you take away from them. Always do more for the other guy.’ That is actually part of our brand.”
25:46 – You can’t brand with just advertising. “If you’re dealing with a lawyer and they’re coming to you and they say, ‘Michael, I want you to help brand me,’ what you have to say is, ‘Well, we can’t do that with just advertising.’ The brand has to be a comprehensive picture of what it is that you really stand for. What is that mission statement?”
30:03 – Corporate media is an abysmal disaster. “That’s why I started doing America’s Lawyer. It’s not typical corporate media. In five years doing this international program, not one time have they said, ‘You can’t do that story, Mike.’ I don’t care if I’m going after Dupont, Behr, Monsanto, whoever I’m going after. All they want is the truth. Get it right. Corporate media is a disaster. They’re dead.”
32:04 – Where you create energy, people pay attention. “When you create energy, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a TV element, whether it’s a radio element, whatever it is — when you create energy, something comes out of it. For example, the C8 case that I handled up in Ohio that went on for several years: a documentary came out called ‘The Devil We Know.’ It was the #1 documentary for Netflix. There’ll be another documentary that comes out in a matter of months. It’s about the opioid crisis. Same caliber of people — matter of fact, the people who did Tiger King are the same people who did this documentary that’s going to be coming out in a couple of months. So out of that comes energy. I could go and give a speech to 100 people, and the issue disappears. Or I can put it in the documentary, where it’s going to be seen again and again and again. People are going to get it, that these people we were dealing with, that there was a level criminality that was off the charts.”
39:35 – If not me, then who? “Until we pushed the tobacco industry, nothing was going to change. Until we pushed the opioid into the corner, nothing was going to change. Until I took Dupont up in the Ohio River Valley, they would still be dumping C8 into those waterways, killing people. So you say to yourself, ‘Okay, if I didn’t do that, would anybody else have done it?’ And in each one of those cases the answer was no.”
40:54 – What you do as a lawyer really matters. “I love to see younger lawyers come in buying into the idea that what they do really matters, buying into the idea that hopefully when it’s all over, they can leave a legacy. They can sit down with their grandkids and the grandchild says, ‘What did you do as a lawyer?’ Well, let me go down the list for you.”
41:19 – What does being a game changer mean to you? “It means always trying to wake up with another idea and never saying ‘I’ve done enough’ and never saying ‘Okay, I’m comfortable.’ Being too comfortable is a very dangerous thing.”
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