By Katrina Dewey | June 29, 2020 | Lawyer Limelights, Plaintiff Consumer Limelights
Brent Goudarzi was just a boy when his parents left Iran and the tumult of the 1979 revolution to return to Gilmer, the northeast Texas town where his mother grew up. Not only was he the sole dark-complected student in his school, a challenge in itself, his father was Iranian at a time when American sentiment against the Middle Eastern nation was running high due to the year-long detention of hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
“I had to be a little smarter, quicker, faster than everybody else just to survive,” he recalls.
Though athletic, he was routinely the smallest guy on the team. “I’ve always been the underdog,” Goudarzi says. “I had to out-work, out-think whoever my competition was.”
It’s an ethic he took with him into his career, founding the firm of Goudarzi & Young with his cousin, Marty, in 1997 after completing his undergraduate and law degrees at Texas Tech University.
Based in a town of just a little over 5,000 people about two hours east of Dallas – and best known as the birthplace of Eagles singer Don Henley – the firm has represented more than 17,000 clients, many of whom have been harmed by safety violations in the trucking industry. In 2019, Goudarzi obtained a $140M settlement, the largest in American history for a single-plaintiff case, for a 39-year-old man whose arms and legs were paralyzed after an 18-wheeler collided with his vehicle. The firm routinely sets new records in trucking accident recoveries.
A past president of the East Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Goudarzi serves on the national advisory board of the Association of Plaintiff Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, which works to reduce traffic deaths and injuries caused by violations of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
“What I’ve learned is there’s a way to try cases, depending on who your audience is,” Goudarzi says. “And we’ve been blessed. I’m blessed to have surrounded myself with probably the best trial team in the nation. Last year, we had $415M in verdicts.”
Lawdragon: That’s why I’m sitting here. It’s extremely impressive. So tell me more about your approach to these cases, including the $140M settlement.
Brent Goudarzi: Tenacity, hard work, preparation: We take very effective depositions. It’s also about the defendant knowing that not only do you have the resources, you have the determination to have your clients fully compensated and that you won’t stop short of receiving full justice for your clients. I don’t care who you are.
You have to continually prove yourself because there is always somebody who thinks, “Well, maybe it’s time for Brent Goudarzi to slow down. Maybe it’s time for him to reap the rewards of decades of trying cases.” And it’s just not me. I’m at home in a courtroom. The most relaxed I am is in a courtroom. I love the warfare, and that’s what it is. I don’t go to the courthouse to make friends with my opponents. I go there to win. It’s a zero-sum game and we play it that way.
LD: You’ve developed an amazing practice.
BG: Well, I’m blessed. But it’s because I have such a good team. A lot of people ask me why I still do what I do. It’s because I love it. And I want to be doing this until I can’t. I grew up watching some great lawyers in this area. One was Scotty Baldwin, who tried the first-ever asbestos case. And then there was a gentleman by the name of Franklin Jones who was a railroad, Federal Employees Liability Act, lawyer.
LD: You would go to court and watch them?
BG: Sure. And I tracked the career of Joe Jamail, the small Middle-Eastern guy known as the “King of Torts,” who just wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s what I’ve done throughout my life. And even now, there are lawyers around this nation who give me somebody to compete against, whether they’re in New York or California. I’m in touch with a lot of those guys, and we talk about their results and they ask me about my results and say, “How do you get those results, Goudarzi?”
It’s partly about how you find the case. I really think in today’s multimedia environment that people are more educated, they get information quicker. And it’s our role to get as much information as we can in the short amount of time that the judge gives us in front of a jury.
LD: Do you think it’s that sense of responsibility among jurors that makes this such a great region for plaintiffs?
BG: We’re blessed here in Northeast Texas with some of the great trial titans of Texas history. Again, Scotty Baldwin, Franklin Jones – and many more. And there’s always something you can learn from watching other good lawyers. That’s what I’ve done through the years: Read their transcripts, read books that they’ve read. But I truly think everybody has to be true to themselves. You have to develop your own style; you can’t be anybody else.
LD: So many of the really great trial lawyers that I’ve interviewed talk about that process. They want the transcripts. They’ve read everything. They go to court. They watch other lawyers. Only then do they really know enough to apply it in their own way.
BG: Right. No question. And what I’ve found is what works here in Northeast Texas has worked for me in Galveston, Texas. Has worked for us in the Panhandle. Has worked for us in Dallas, Houston, wherever we’re at. As long as you’re sincere, you work hard and you’re over-prepared and you have the tenacity. And that’s what you have to have to win, to see the case to the end. When I’m getting paid the numbers that we routinely get paid, you’re dealing with some of the best defense firms and defense lawyers in the nation. And it’s sort of harder now. When I was in my 30s and early 40s, I would sneak up on some lawyers, but it’s harder now at 50 with the track record we have.
LD: People do their homework. When you were going to law school, did you know you wanted to be a trial lawyer?
BG: From junior high I wanted to be a trial lawyer. I would read about these lawyers growing up, whether it was in the Texas Monthly magazine or the Dallas Morning News or local periodicals. And it was inspiring to me, and I always wanted to reach that level of success.
Take what Harold Nix did: He single-handedly took on one of the biggest manufacturing plants here in East Texas, Lone Star Steel. He parlayed that into being one of five lawyers chosen to represent Texas in securing a $17.6B settlement from the tobacco industry, the largest settlement that had ever happened up until that point. And I will tell you to this day, from time to time, I call Mr. Nix and will ask him for advice. And he’s always been gracious and will give me whatever time and whatever wisdom I need.
LD: That’s amazing. He’s done such inspiring work, and I know he has a reputation as a philanthropist.
BG: In this position, I think we have a great duty to give back to the community so that the community sees trial lawyers who advocate making a difference – truly making a difference – in their communities. Whether it be through charitable giving or taking cases pro bono, and we do that. I have sued some law enforcement groups because from time to time, there’s a bad officer who takes advantage of some group. We’ve taken on a lot of cases where we don’t charge. But again, it’s because I love the job.
LD: And you obviously love this community, too.
BG: I do.
LD: You mentioned communities and public perception, which is constantly changing. How do you see social standards affecting verdicts and awards?
BG: Juries definitely seem to be giving out larger awards, and I think it has a great deal to do with social media and what people see on the news, how we get our information. For instance, when I’m in Houston, I drive past cars that cost $400,000 or $500,000 on my way to the courthouse. Jurors drive by houses that cost millions and sometimes even tens of millions. So when you talk about someone who has been killed or been left paraplegic, quadriplegic or severely burned, it’s easy for them to envision awarding large amounts of cash as compensation because they see how wealth affects quality of life every day. When I look at the jurors and I say “This man or this woman is entitled to receive X amount of dollars,” it resonates with them because they see it every day.
LD: The dollars don’t scare them anymore.
BG: No, not like they used to.
LD: You’re spot on about the role social media plays in that. I think another thing it has done is make all of us more aware, in general, of difficulties that have befallen classmates or other people we’ve known along the way. There’s just a greater recognition that people out there are injured or ill, people we know.
BG: True. And the internet and social media have also aided consumers in finding the right lawyer, partly because they have at their fingertips our resumes, our accomplishments. And that’s something they didn’t have 15 years ago. They would just go hire the closest lawyer they might have heard something good about. Now they can do a web search to find out, say, if Brent Goudarzi has fought Werner trucking, and if he did, what kind of results did he get?
LD: That really helps people make smarter, more informed decisions.
BG: No question. Of course, there’s also a downside to it. Because sometimes an unscrupulous lawyer will make false claims, advertising accomplishments that aren’t genuine, and the consumer doesn’t know.
Another thing that bothers me, and I’ve encountered it time and time again, whether I’m mediating in Texas or New York or Chicago, are insurance executives who say, “We’re not used to paying the numbers that you routinely get. And if we see 100 cases, 99 of them go away for a much lower level than what you are demanding today.” Then, the fight becomes the process of educating them on why these other lawyers are underselling their cases and why they’re going to pay my clients maximum compensation for their injuries and losses.
LD: The numbers you get are astounding. And in the trucking sector, it seems like the accidents are so horrific and the safety issues are profound. Awards as big as the ones you’re getting in these cases really make people start paying attention.
BG: I know for a fact that the transportation industry pays attention to the results my office gets, and it has already effectuated change in some of the biggest transportation companies in the nation. I know that because I talked to defense lawyers whom I deal with on a routine basis and they tell me.
Now that being said, the problem in today’s society, within the transportation industry, is if you have a pulse and a commercial driver’s license, there’s going to be some trucking company that will hire you. Happens every day. So again, we need lawyers to take the time to do the appropriate amount of discovery and put the puzzle together. Once you know the law, and we clearly do, it’s easy to use it to show that this accident didn’t have to happen. Had they followed the rules, had they followed the laws and the regulations, we wouldn’t be sitting here today.
LD: Tell me a little more about the people at your firm, like your partner, Marty Young.
BG: He’s my first cousin. We grew up like brothers. He was an undergraduate when I was in law school and we just stair-stepped our way through. I’ve had no better trial companion. I mean, his instincts are always spot on, and again, have allowed me to reach whatever level of success I have. I couldn’t have done it without him.
LD: It’s neat that you’re family, right?
BG: Sure, we can get into it and then five minutes later, we’re over it. We’re that kind of family.
LD: Which means you have someone willing to ask you the tough questions, to say, “Are you positive about this one?”
BG: No question. He’s been my best sounding board.
LD: Walking through the hall here, there’s so much activity; the staff is so busy and there are clients coming in and out. I think it gets lost among lawyers sometimes how many people there are out here who need help, who have experienced horrible things and need good attorneys.
BG: What I think all lawyers should be reminded of daily is that even if we have 700 files in our office, each one of those files is the number one problem in that client’s life, and we are the custodian of their future. They bring it to us, and they expect us to treat them like family and to pour our heart and our mind into that case to get them the best result possible. I take every case like I’m representing my own family member, and I want to treat that individual the way we would want to be treated.
LD: It’s probably easier to keep that in mind when you’re sitting in the middle of a community like this and you walk down the street and you know the people.
BG: I always tell the jury, “I’m just a small-town cowboy lawyer.” It doesn’t matter where I’m trying that case, I remind them of that. And many times I look at the defendants I’m suing, their experts or their corporate representatives, and say, “So, it took Brent Goudarzi from little Gilmer, Texas, to show you this problem within your company.” And usually, by the end of the case, at least one of them will thank me for bringing it to their attention so they can make sure it doesn’t happen again.