Rob Blank Talks Trials and the Importance of Building Trust

04.28.15 | Permalink

Rob Blank, Administrative Partner in RKC’s Tampa office, is a Board Certified Civil Trial lawyer who defends a number of high profile clients in products liability and casualty defense cases. Whether representing theme parks such as Busch Gardens and Sea World, manufacturers such as Toyota, Mercedes and Black & Decker, or beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, Rob’s focus is always to partner with and involve the client every step along the way. 

Building trust with clients doesn’t happen overnight. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of the same clients over the years, and have worked hard to build strong relationships from day one,” said Rob.  “My philosophy is to treat clients as co-counsel and involve them in important decisions. While getting good results is extremely important, it’s also important to build a strong relationship where clients help build the strategy and know what moves were made and why. In the end, you can never promise a win, but the client needs to know that you’ve done everything you can to put them in a position to win,” he explained.

In addition to involving the clients in decisions and strategy, Rob notes that being sensitive to client needs goes a long way in building meaningful relationships. “It’s important to have the lines of communication open. I’m never afraid to pick up the phone and call when something happens, whether it’s good or bad,” said Rob. “And, I am also sure to respond to clients when they reach out to me, even if it’s a client on the West Coast or in another country calling me after hours. I make sure they get a reply as soon as possible.”

As a result of focusing on client needs and building trust, Rob has found he is able to give clients the confidence to go to trial when needed. “It is my job as a counselor to offer an objective assessment and value of the case. I take the facts of the case and determine the percentage of time we would win the case, the verdict value if we lose outright, and the settlement price if a settlement is desired.  I do this as early as possible in a case,” he explained. 

“However, once it’s determined that we are indeed going to try the case, I am focused on serving my roles as trial attorney long before any trial date is set,” said Rob. “I’m fortunate that most of my clients allow me the honor of representing them at trial and the opportunity to present their case to the jury.  Most clients do want to try a certain number of cases, and I am happy to help them achieve that goal.”

According to Rob, going to court can be very important in determining the client’s power at the mediation table and sets the bar for future cases. “Sometimes it may seem to make sense to settle a case for $50,000 instead of trying it for $100,000, but in the end a client may end up losing money over the next two years by overpaying settlements,” explained Rob. “The plaintiff’s side needs to know that if they don’t take my client’s best offer, the client is willing to go to court over it.  A lot of plaintiffs’ attorneys think there is extra money in our pocket to stay out of the courtroom, but my advice to my clients, which I am thankful is usually heeded, is that there is no premium on the courthouse steps,” he said.

Rob says that going into trial is a lot like a chess match. He likes the battle and the opportunity to win. “A lot of what we do on a daily basis, from taking depositions and filing motions is all about setting up for the trial. Once we go to trial, all of the groundwork has been done and we put the chess pieces in motion. It takes complete focus and good strategy.”

According to Rob, he most enjoys delivering the closing argument. “All of the work is done—case assessments, motions, depositions, jury instructions, sometimes four or five years worth of work, and I have one hour to wrap it up and get six people on the jury to see the case our way,” said Rob.  “I truly enjoy that challenge.”

Rob knew from the beginning that he wanted to be a trial attorney and specifically sought to join a firm that would allow him the opportunity to begin working on trials right away.
“Dick Caldwell was opening the Tampa office as I was coming out of law school and told me that I’d have an active role in trials right away. True to his word, weeks after I passed the bar, he threw me into the fire,” Rob said. He also noted that he’s one of the few attorneys at RKC who has tried cases with all three of the founding partners, Thom Rumberger, Bud Kirk and Dick Caldwell. “I learned so much from my experiences watching and assisting them. The mentoring I received was key to my development, so I try to do the same for the associates with whom I work today,” Rob continued.

Actively participating in trials is the best way for associates to hone their trial skills. RKC has remained a strong litigation firm because it focuses on training and mentoring associates so that they will become the next generation of litigators at the firm. Rob says that he typically brings a second chair to trial and gives the associate the opportunity to do the opening statement, a cross-examination and a direct examination.

“Being involved in the trial really helps the associate get integrated and comfortable in trial. And because there are so many unknowns and moving parts during a trial, it really takes four to five trials before an associate gets into his or her comfort zone,” explained Rob. “It can be very overwhelming for new attorneys, so I feel like it’s my role to show them it can be a fun environment. Of course, you have to do your homework in order to be prepared. There are so many important aspects to learn from picking the jury or the art of cross-examination. You can study all the articles you want, but until you get into the courtroom and do it, you won’t know your strengths and weaknesses.”

Besides keeping an active trial schedule, Rob stays busy away from work traveling to hockey tournaments for his sons. Keeping up with one traveling team is difficult enough, but Rob and his wife balance a schedule with both of their sons who play on different travel teams. “It’s been challenging, but the tournaments are scheduled in advance so I’ve been fortunate not to have missed any significant ones. We’ve had a lot of fun traveling with the teams and have covered a lot of territory including Canada, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee,” he said.

In addition to traveling with the hockey teams, Rob and his wife also take time each year to travel internationally together. Married for 21 years, they’ve managed to visit more than 30 different countries, noting South Africa, Australia and Japan among their favorites.

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