You have handled more than 30,000 personal injury cases. How did you get started in that type of law?
I was here when the casinos were being built in Atlantic City, and hotels had construction accidents, and I just started handling those type of cases. The first one was a minor one at Caesars Hotel & Casino. A young fellow, carpenter, broke his leg. The next significant one was at Showboat Hotel & Casino, a part of the parking garage had collapsed, and then it went on and on and on from there, leading up to the Tropicana garage collapse case, where I was a co-lead counsel. [Four people died and 36 were injured when a garage collapsed; D’Amato helped secure a settlement of $101 million for the families in 2003.]
And that’s the case you’re most identified with.
It was the highlight of my career. Because most of the lawyers were from northern New Jersey or Philadelphia—there was only one other lawyer from the Atlantic County area, who was representing an accident victim—we would have meetings here in the room I’m sitting in right now, and I have to tell you it was just fantastic. Every lawyer was top-notch, very experienced, and instead of butting heads we joined forces.
The pivotal moment was when the court told all of the attorneys that it would not allow any more postponements of the trial, and the court said that the courthouse in Atlantic City was not large enough to handle all the attorneys and all of the publicity that would accompany this trial, and that it was in the stages of planning to use space in the convention center in Atlantic City for the trial—so at that point when the defendants and their insurance companies knew that it was only a matter of time, a couple of months, before we’d be going to trial, that’s when they became serious and engaged good-faith negotiations to resolve this case. So in the end it took the threat of a trial to get the other side to sit down at the table and negotiate a settlement.
How would you define your legal approach?
I’m a builder of pyramids. I am building your case one block at a time. The accomplished defense attorneys that I have gone against in my career, their goal is to remove one pivotal block in that pyramid to make the entire pyramid collapse. Therefore, I become obsessive-compulsive about not allowing that pyramid to collapse, and the very last block on the top of the pyramid represents the successful resolution of the case.
How painful is it when the pyramid collapses?
I have to tell you, I have tried hundreds of cases before a jury, and when I have lost a case, I’m going back to cases I lost over 20 years ago, they still haunt me. So that’s another reason why you work hard to get a successful resolution, because the ones that you lose haunt you for the rest of your life.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
My wife of 40 years says that I’m in the best mood when I’m in trial, and she says, it’s like you’re walking three feet above the ground, and she says something happens to you when you’re in that courtroom and I can see it on your face, I can see it in your body language. Veteran lawyers will tell you, because I’ve heard other lawyers say the same thing, it’s because when we’re in trial we’re only thinking about that one case, and not the hundreds of other cases that we have in the law firm.
It lets you focus.
It really does.
What’s one thing you tell young lawyers about trial work?
The courtroom is a fluid, dynamic, breathing entity unto itself, and when you’re in there, no matter what your plans were and all your trial preparation, you have to be flexible because something can happen that wasn’t predicted and you very well may have to change your entire approach.
And speaking of young lawyers, I see that you practice with your daughter, Alexa. How’s that working out?
So many of my colleagues told me that it would not work. I called up two lawyers that I know. One had his daughter working with him and the other had two of his sons working for him, and these are lawyers that I really, really respect, and they told me it was an absolute delight. They were right.
Are you going to be doing this a while longer?
Well, I’m only 62. God willing, if my mind holds out, I want to be practicing another 10 years for sure. We are presently four attorneys, including myself. I don’t want to grow any larger. I don’t want to become a legal factory. As a dear friend of mine said to me, ‘Paul, more is not better than less.’ There’s a tendency to think it is but it isn’t.