Experience. What Does It Mean? What Is It Worth? How Do You Get It and Keep It.


Experience. Experience. This word dominates websites for careers, professions, and skilled trades. Since the internet has become omnipresent in our lives and marketing is dominated by Google, the word experience has become ubiquitous in daily life. I am half-way through my fortieth (40th) year as an attorney. Over those forty years, I have primarily handled injury cases, criminal defense, and mass tort. Admittedly, for the first sixteen years, I handled almost anything that came in the door, but my focus was always on injury and criminal defense. I am thankful for those sixteen years because I learned how to do almost everything a general practice lawyer can handle. I think this overview of general practice was beneficial as I began limiting my practice to injury and criminal defense. I have practiced all over the Jackson Metro area and throughout Mississippi for my 40 years.

In 1980 when I started people found attorneys by word of mouth. It was in the early 1980s when advertising first started, but it was slow to take hold in the legal profession. In many ways, I liked word of mouth more than I do marketing on the internet, television, or any other medium. In the days before the internet (BI), if you worked hard and put your heart into your client’s case, word got out in the community and people seek you out. But “times they are a-changing.” I accept that marketing is a part of every profession or business now. I have presented a statistic recently stating that 80% of the people who sought out a lawyer looked at the lawyer using Google and looked at the lawyer’s website. So, this brings me to the competitive world of legal services. Nowadays you can see billboards, television commercials, internet ads, and newspaper ads for attorneys. I am not complaining about these forms of advertising. It is a way of life, or I should say the way of law-business now. (At Coxwell & Associates we still consider our law careers as a profession and way of life, but that is another blog for another day). It’s not just local home-grown Mississippi attorneys advertising anymore. Now lawyers from across the nation have reached into Mississippi via the internet and are pushing themselves as the lawyer to hire, even though they live 1000 miles away. I often wonder what would prompt a client to hire a lawyer 1000 miles away, but advertising obviously works because it happens daily.

I think of all the things I see, hear, or read in legal advertising and I always come back to the word experience. As I stated earlier, I am in my 40th year. I have handled multi-million-dollar injury (roll-over and big rig collisions) cases, single million-dollar cases (auto collision and private prison litigation), other cases worth only $10,000.00, cases with one injured party and cases with 2000 injured clients. At Coxwell & Associates, we have worked by ourselves and in teams with dozens of lawyers. We are currently working in three mass tort areas (3M Combat Earplug V2 cases, Round-Up cases, Hernia Mesh cases) with dozens upon dozens of attorneys. Many have become very close friends.

As I mentioned earlier, we also handle criminal defense cases. We have handled approximately 25 capital murder cases. We have had cases where we defended judges in trouble, politicians, executives, for the Mayor of Jackson, and hundreds upon hundreds of good working people. We have had so many clients over the decades that I cannot possibly remember them. Criminal law is no less competitive than injury law, you just don’t see as much television or digital ads, just advertisements on websites. I have heard some lawyers say you cannot handle criminal defense and injury cases. I say you can and should. When you fight the State of Mississippi or the Federal Government in a case you fight powerful adversaries. The experience and trial skills you gain in these cases easily transfer over to fighting insurance companies.

What does experience mean? Well, it means as a lawyer you have not just “litigated” cases-meaning handled the pleadings and discovery-but you have tried cases to a jury and appealed cases. It means you have been tested in court battles by the best civil insurance attorneys and defended people in criminal cases before a jury against the toughest prosecutors in the State. If a new attorney pushes his cases through the court and puts his heart into them, he can get great experience within 5-7 years. But these days so many cases do not go to trial. I know attorneys who have practiced over 10 years and never been in the courtroom. I suspect there are attorneys practicing longer than 10 years who have not been in the courtroom. If you are not in the courtroom in trial advocating your client’s case-ever-then I would question whether you have the right to say you are experienced. As you get more experienced, you tend to reach a settlement before trial because the insurance lawyers know what you can do in court, but every case should be prepared as if it going to trial.

What does experience mean to the opposing side, the insurance adjuster, the insurance defense lawyer, or the prosecutor? Every attorney puts on their website how experienced they are in personal injury or criminal defense. I see it on the websites of attorneys I have never seen in court. I see it on the websites of attorneys who I bet have never tried a case much a major case. Without “history behind the word experience,” the word is meaningless. Chuck Mullins and I have been “run through the mill” on big injury cases and criminal cases. We have been up against excellent national civil insurance or defective product liability defense lawyers and great local civil defense lawyers. Mississippi has some fantastic insurance defense lawyers and prosecutors that are equal to prosecutors anywhere in the nation. You can be certain of one thing: The insurance defense lawyers and prosecutors are like Santa Claus in the sense they are checking their list and they know which lawyers are experienced and which are not. They know the good lawyers, the bad lawyers, and the inexperienced lawyers. And it makes a difference when they deal with you.

I don’t call any single lawyer in Mississippi the best, including myself. I don’t like the arrogance of that statement. I have heard ads from national law firms that have moved into Mississippi. In their ads that belittle local attorneys. They imply that because their firms are all over the county, their lawyers are the best. I will not publish ads like that. I do know these national firms have good lawyers. Many are friends of mine, but they are not better than local attorneys just because they are in a bigger firm. When we get hired, people often remark that they hire us because we are a Mississippi firm. They hire us because I grew up in Mississippi (They hire us because we have families here, we are invested in our communities, and we participate in the social, charitable, and children’s sports activities that make a community great.

Some attorneys see law simply as a business and a way to make a living. We see it as a way of life and a life-long career. My dad was an attorney. I would say he was an attorney for the “underdog.” An attorney for the average person. My brother Frank Coxwell and his daughter, Rachel, are consumer bankruptcy attorneys. My first cousin Mel Coxwell is a family/domestic attorney. I hear great comments back about his skill when people ask if we are related. My other first cousin, Diane, who is Mel’s sister, is an attorney. Her husband is an attorney. My partner, Chuck Mullins’ wife is an attorney. My uncle in Alabama is an attorney. His wife is an attorney. My niece in Alabama is enrolled in law school at the University of Alabama. My stepson told me he wants to go to law school. He said, “solving people’s legal problems seems fascinating, challenging and ever-changing.” I have not told him about the long hours, stress, and 100% commitment it takes. (I’ll break him into that later).

Regarding Coxwell & Associates, I will state we are second to no one when it comes to personal injury and criminal defense. There are other great lawyers. Make no mistake about that fact. And there are attorneys who see the law as a business and nothing else. Unfortunately, as in other professions and jobs, there are also many mediocre attorneys. If there are any factors that help set Coxwell & Associates apart from other firms, I think it is the fact we view the law as a life-long profession. We understand the need for commitment and persistence. We understand, results matter. We spend time with our clients We get to know them. The comments on our website from past clients reflect our close commitment and friendship without our clients.

Remember this when you are looking for an attorney to handle something that may be one of the most important events in your life: Searching for an attorney is not like shopping on Amazon Prime for a gift or book that will arrive in two days. Finding the right attorney is important if you are injured or charged with a criminal offense. If you are injured, then you only have one chance to obtain your rightful damages. By rightful l mean all the damages the law allows you to collect. There is a real skill in collecting damages and it takes real experience. If you are charged with a criminal offense, the experience and wisdom of the attorney matters. An attorney with real experience and more time on this earth is going to have a better idea of what to do, is going to know the system, and be respected by the prosecutors or civil insurance lawyers.

If you or a loved one has a question about an injury case or a criminal case, call Coxwell & Associates. We are local, “home-grown” Mississippi attorneys who have real experience. When we handle a case for you, we know that we will see you around in the community, so we want to do our very best. We know the legal system inside and out. We are invested in our communities and can provide you top-quality legal assistance. Call (601) 265-7766. Merrida (Buddy) Coxwell

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