Photo of John C. Taylor (left) and Dave Ring by Amy Cantrell.
This is a story about what can happen when two of the best trial lawyers around – who happen to be the nicest people you’d ever want to know – decide that maybe they could join forces to build a firm that focuses on excellent work for injured people. No politics, no drama, just great lawyers doing their thing.
“We started the firm on a handshake,” Dave Ring recalls, of he and John C. Taylor’s decision to leave their firms in 2002 to start Taylor & Ring. Taylor was already a name partner at Greene Broillet and a much-admired member of the L.A. plaintiff bar, where Ring was on the rise as one of the top young talents. “That set the tone for 17 years later.”
The firm has earned a reputation as a leader in sexual assault, police misconduct and personal injury cases, making headlines with multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements including the wrongful death suit filed by the family of slain actress Lana Clarkson against 1960s music legend Phil Spector.
In 2017, Ring reached a settlement with the Marlborough School, a private academy for middle- and high-school girls in Los Angeles, on behalf of a woman who became pregnant by a teacher when she was a student there.
“It takes tremendous courage for people to come forward, especially with these most ultimate violations, then deal with law enforcement and then courts,” Taylor says. “The civil treatment in litigation of sexual abuse victims can be really brutal.”
Lawdragon: That’s the truth of it. With all of the sexual misconduct cases that you’ve handled, knowing what the victims are going to face, what can you do to help them through?
John Taylor: There’s always a tendency in these cases for the opposing side to imply that the victim somehow invited this or that it was consensual, that it’s somehow the victim’s fault. What the lawyers here do is protect the clients through the depositions where those types of questions are asked. The defendant has a right to the deposition, and the victims are going to have to talk about what happened to them, but we make sure it’s done in a way that is the least scarring and intrusive, and that it’s done with respect to the person, the victim.
LD: When a potential client comes to you with a case like that, what do you look for in terms of understanding what their claim is and whether they’re forthright?
Dave Ring: Very, very few people ever come in and are making it up. It’s a myth that people make up sexual assault claims. I think the statistics are that it’s less than 1%. They come in here, and 99.9% of the time, something bad has happened to them. Then the real question, and this is really the part of the business that does trouble me, is whether it’s a case where we can help. If it’s an uncle or a cousin or a neighbor across the street who’s responsible, there’s not a lot that we can do here for them because that’s in the criminal arena.
I’ve seen civil litigation in that context actually hurt the victim more. Why? At the end of the day, you don’t get an apology in any case, all you get is a settlement, a monetary settlement. If they’re not getting a monetary settlement from these people, and they generally are not because those people are broke, bankrupt or flee the state, that’s devastating, too. We’ll sit down with those people and tell them, “Look, civil litigation is not going to get you to where you want to go.” That’s a tough conversation to have.
LD: And the people who have the cases in which you can help, what should they know before they come in?
DR: Here’s the biggest eye-opener for the clients who come in here. Most people say, “This happened to my kid at school, or the supervisor at work did that or whatever,” and think that the entity, the school, the church, is responsible automatically because that’s their employee and it happened on their watch. Everyone thinks that and when you say, “No, in fact the law says they’re not responsible and we have to meet this very high standard to show that they are,” they’re like, “Really?” These cases are incredibly difficult to win because the law is completely stacked in favor of the employer or the school or whatever the entity is. The law is totally in their favor.
And these organizations that are sued in civil cases often say all the right things beforehand: “Oh, we’re so compassionate,” and all of that. Then you get them in a deposition, and they re-victimize the victims. They really do. That’s tough.
LD: But you’ve dealt with helping victims of such abuse amazingly well. And clearly you’ve managed to strike a balance between those cases and the other types that you handle.
DR: The thing I love is that half our practice is what it’s always been, serious personal injury cases of all types. That really keeps it vibrant and fresh and interesting. We have so many different types of cases. You pick up a file, it’s a totally different type of case than the file you picked up the day before.
LD: You guys knew that would be the foundation of the firm?
DR: We didn’t, but we discovered after a few years that it was working out.
LD: Which brings us back to the beginning. How cool is it that two good guys end up doing really great? You don’t always see that. You both left where you were at, good firms, for righteous reasons and you’ve done extraordinary things.
DR: We’ve all seen a lot of partnerships over the years, two-person partnerships that turn super awkward, super unfortunate, when one person brings in all the business and the other person gets lost in the shuffle. Which is always a possibility anytime you’re starting a partnership. I’ll tell you, it has been so down-the-line equal as far as successes and rainmaking and shared responsibilities and who wins which argument, it’s been truly amazing. We’re more like brothers, and we bicker here and there, but it’s all in good fun. I cannot remember ever having an argument with John, a real argument.
LD: I believe it.
DR: I’m sure we bicker, but we have never had any serious disagreement, ever. We’ve told the story a million times of how we started the firm on a handshake. A little of it may be luck, but it’s both of our personalities, too. We don’t have the same personality, but we do share common traits that really sync up well. It’s like Oscar and Felix from “The Odd Couple.”
JT: I think we were lucky that our prior working experiences were really good. I liked all the guys that I’ve worked with before, and Dave really liked all the guys and women that he’d worked with before. But for whatever reason, the timing worked: We were ready to do something different. We talked about what we’d like to do, what each of us could contribute, and we had a deal. We shook hands, and that was the beginning.
DR: It wasn’t easy, though. It wasn’t as if by the second day, everything was great and we were knocking it out of the park. Sure, we had some early successes, but we also had a couple of flat years. I remember, early on, trying to figure out what our niche was.
LD: The cases that would keep the lights on?
JT: Fortunately, both of us brought enough cases with us, and then I think people were happy to do business with us and we have good relationships with the attorneys who refer cases to us. We’ve always allowed them to have as much or as little involvement in the case as they want. Some people really want to be involved and other people want to do nothing more than to hand the case over and be done with it, and have you do it.
The timing of the sex cases and Dave’s experience and trial results before we got together in that particular area, allowed a lot of lawyers to consider us for those cases. We’ve worked every conceivable angle on sexual abuse and molestation cases. At the same time, we’ve been able to keep the other cases, car accidents, product liability and insurance bad-faith cases. We’re game for anything that’s going to end up in a courtroom.
LD: Can you think back to some of the early cases that helped define the firm?
DR: I remember the first one that I brought over, a case against the MTA involving a woman who’d basically been sexually assaulted by the bus driver after she fell asleep on the bus. He drove to a secluded area, she was the only one on the bus at that point, and he sexually assaulted her. He ended up going to prison. That was literally one of the first cases we had. This is where I learned a lot about John, that John’s the greatest negotiator ever. That one, truly, was important because we got a lot of media coverage on it. It was a nice start to the firm and then paved the way for a lot of other clients.
LD: Do you ever go to trial together?
JT: Dave and I tried a motorcycle accident case together in the firm’s first several years. We’ve worked other cases together, but that was the only one in which we ended up doing the trial together, and we won an $18-million verdict.
LD: Did you learn new things about each other?
JT: That it’s hard to have two Type-A personalities sitting at counsel table.
DR: We did great, really, dividing the responsibilities. It worked out fantastically and we should do it more often, but for some reason, he does his cases, and I do mine. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it again.
LD: Except that you have so many cases to do.
DR: And it’s a little unfair to the associates who work up the cases.
DR: They want to be part of the trial. So to say, “Hey, you’re out, I’m stepping in now,” we’ve never done that. We’ve always let the other partners or the associates, whoever worked up the case, go to trial.
JT: There has to be somebody involved with the case who is absolutely able to deal with all the minutiae in terms of whatever finally has to be pulled together. Both of us, we don’t necessarily want to do that as much anymore, as opposed to having somebody else do it who’s better at it, maybe.
When we try the cases, it works out well to have two people doing the trial. I think it’s a very good model. But if you’re going to do it, it means you’re not just doing cleanup, you’re going to end up handling important witnesses, and sometimes maybe more witnesses than he and I would do. We want you to be involved. We don’t want the picture presented to the jury to be that somebody else is in charge.
DR: Trials are very different now than they were 10 years ago. There are judges who want everything to happen very, very quickly – they want it to happen yesterday. You’re dealing with video depositions and technology and many, many, many depositions and documents. I don’t know how lawyers could go to trial by themselves anymore. At least on those types of cases. That’s why it’s always a team effort here on any trial.
JT: It’s easier to keep a perspective on the case, too. That way, you’re not believing everything that you’re telling yourself – it isn’t as bad as you think it is, and maybe it’s not as good as you think it is. It’s another leveling set of eyes, hopefully.
LD: What are some of the cases that you guys are most proud of?
DR: The Marlborough School case is one of mine. It didn’t go to trial, but went right up to the weekend of trial. The victim who was our client is probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever met. She’s beyond. The case was high profile, and there were some very good defense lawyers on the other side. There were some very tough issues for the plaintiff to overcome, including a statute of limitations issue. It was a lot of work, and a lot of stress. There are cases where from Day One, I’m confident that we’re going to win, but with this one, I was always on the precipice. Finally, after three years and a lot of battles and a lot of publicity too, it turned out wonderfully. It’s one of those clients where if it had not turned out well, it could have really devastated her because for good or bad, this meant a lot to her to get closure.
LD: You guys have also done some amazing work with police misconduct cases. Tell me more about those.
JT: Oddly, that’s another area where people think the cases must be really easy. I’ve often asked, “Why do you say that?” The answer usually involves cell phone videos and recording badge numbers. But our experience is that for every person on a jury who has had a negative experience themselves, there’s another person sitting right next to them who absolutely loves the police because law enforcement is the only think keeping the crime wave from coming down their street. The standard that’s allowed for police officers, and the defending of police cases, is that they’ve got a split-second to make these life-and-death decisions.
All of which is true, and all of which we have tremendous respect for. However, they’re trained to make those decisions, they’re put into those situations in training so that the decision that they make in real life doesn’t end up with somebody who is unarmed being shot.
LD: Those cases always make headlines. And so do a lot of the cases your firm has handled. But you’ve been very strategic about which cases you discuss.
DR: There are plenty of times that we’ve turned down media requests on cases because it wouldn’t be the right move for that particular victim or client. There are certain cases and clients where you just know that’s not going to benefit them.
JT: The media has just been a huge factor in the growth of our practice. It’s one thing to advertise, but it’s another thing for the media to cover the results of your case.
DR: You know, you go into a venture like we did with this firm a little naïve, which is probably good. I said in the beginning, “Oh, everything’s going to be fine.” But there are so many pitfalls to being a plaintiff’s lawyer – you see firms with partnership disputes, losing a couple of large cases or running into cash-flow problems – that I’m really proud of the job that John and I have done sustaining the firm. Sure, we’ve hit some speed bumps along the way, we have, but not many big ones.
JT: It’s really a testimony that nobody has left here. People don’t leave. Either we must be incredibly lax taskmasters, or they’re getting paid too much money. I think that the stability of the firm and creating a working environment where everybody feels that they’re part of whatever the effort is, I believe that has been rewarding for everybody.