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Injury Mastermind

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221. Micha Star Liberty, Liberty Law — Lessons From a Street Fighter, Trauma-Informed Practice

Think you can’t get referrals from opposing counsel? Top litigator Micha Star Liberty (@michastarliberty) proves otherwise. The fierce fighter and founder of Liberty Law (@lbklawyers) explains how running a trauma-informed practice wins cases and referrals. Micha also shares her battles against courtroom bias and personal struggles with burnout. Her candid wisdom will inspire and empower you.

Tools in this Episode:

  • Getting referrals from behind enemy lines.
  • How trauma-informed testimony training strengthens any law firm.
  • Marketing that aligns with vision and mission.


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What’s in This Episode:

  • Who is Micha Star Liberty?
  • How to prepare a client with trauma for a deposition.
  • Using speaking engagements to establish authority.
  • Why Micha is a certified street fighter.

Past Guests

Past guests on Personal Injury Mastermind: Brent Sibley, Sam Glover, Larry Nussbaum, Michael Mogill, Brian Chase, Jay Kelley, Alvaro Arauz, Eric Chaffin, Brian Panish, John Gomez, Sol Weiss, Matthew Dolman, Gabriel Levin, Seth Godin, David Craig, Pete Strom, John Ruhlin, Andrew Finkelstein, Harry Morton, Shay Rowbottom, Maria Monroy, Dave Thomas, Marc Anidjar, Bob Simon, Seth Price, John Gomez, Megan Hargroder, Brandon Yosha, Mike Mandell, Brett Sachs, Paul Faust, Jennifer Gore-Cuthbert


Micha Liberty:

There is no hiding that I’m on a mission to do everything I can to protect women and children.

Chris Dreyer:

You can be the best trial attorney in the world, but if you don’t get those opportunities, it’s not going to be a thriving practice.

Micha Liberty:

When you really are invested and you really care, you want to learn every trick there is to do that in the best way possible.

Chris Dreyer:

Welcome to Personal Injury Mastermind. I’m your host, Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO of Rankings.io, the preeminent legal marketing agency. Each week you get insights and wisdom from some of the best in the industry. Hit that follow button so that you never miss an episode. All right, let’s dive in.

Micha Star Liberty is a certified Street Fighter. As one of the top female attorneys in the country, Micha doesn’t shy away from tough cases. She’s a fierce advocate for victims of abuse, harassment, and discrimination.

Today, Micha shares how to get referrals even from opposing counsel, the power of authentic marketing and why trauma-informed staff will get maximum value from each case.

Micha also opens up about her own struggles with burnout and courtroom bias. If you ever feel overwhelmed, Micha’s wisdom will give you hope and empower you to stay the course. She proves that authenticity, compassionate and tenacity are an unbeatable combination. Here’s Micha Star Liberty, founder at Liberty Law.

Micha Liberty:

I didn’t realize that I had always been interested in a legal career until it became clear to me that that was the only way for me to accomplish certain goals. So I worked in politics, that was my career after college. And once I left the White House and went to The Hill, I kept wanting different jobs and different titles. And I would be told time and time again, “Well, you need to have a law degree to serve in that role. If you want to draft public policy, we are going to need you to have a law degree.” So I said, “I’ll be back in three years.”

And came back to California to go to law school. And then this whole plaintiff’s career representing women and children and civil rights cases, this has been almost 24-year tangent and not what I expected. But it just became clear to me you got to understand how to write the law and how the law gets interpreted to do the kind of legislative work and to make the public policy change that needed to be made in my opinion.

Chris Dreyer:

You’ve been dubbed one of the most feared lawyers, eight years running. But one award really stuck out was this Street Fighter award that you received in 2015 from the Consumer Attorneys of California. For those who are listening, this award goes to a small practitioner, no more than five attorneys in the firm and less than 10 years, a member of the bar that achieved a significant result in a case that exemplifies the everyday struggles of the small practitioner in California. Tell us about that case and what winning that award meant to you.

Micha Liberty:

Winning that award meant so much to me because of the connection that I have with that family and with the client in particular. And that award came from the first time I represented this young man with special needs. He was sexually assaulted in a bathroom on school grounds. He has autism and other cognitive developmental deficiencies or differences. And we were able to hold that school district accountable. Tragically while that case was wrapping up, he reported additional sexual abuse by other students on the campus. So we filed a second lawsuit. We litigated the heck out of that lawsuit for a couple of years.

And two weeks before the trial of that second case, I got a call from the local police department and they had arrested a man who was abusing special needs adults in a group home. But he spontaneously confessed to abusing our kid, our client, during the time that he was on the school campus. He was the man the district hired to watch Brennon B, to make sure Brennon B was safe on campus and he was taking him to the gym and sexually assaulting him. So we amended that complaint. We ended up filing an additional civil rights case in federal court. So that was a decade long odyssey. Those cases, that relationship with that client are so meaningful to me and I will always be a part of that family because of what we went through together to get justice for Brennon.

Chris Dreyer:

How do you go about in getting a case like that? Is it a referral situation? Is it from the media? How did you land these types of cases and get involved in them?

Micha Liberty:

A lot of the time I get cases from defense lawyers who frankly tell me in all candor, I was a complete pain in the you know what to litigate against and that I was fierce, and opinionated, and aggressive. But I hear time and time again that if something happened to their child or their wife, they would want someone like me to fight for the victims. And so from a lot of opponents, I get cases referred to me. And I get a lot of cases referred to me from prior clients.

I mean, we are all trauma-informed. We go hand in hand with our clients through these processes. We get the best help that we can to help our clients recover. We build community, we help them build peer support. So we do as much as we can to make the litigation process as easy as possible and try not to trigger them. But it’s that.

And then also before the Me Too movement, there were not a lot of us doing this kind of work, and I’ve been doing this my entire career. And so reputation, and folks reading about cases that I’ve done in the media, I think have helped as well.

Chris Dreyer:

There’s a clear path for a lot of your organizational design, what you’re doing in helping people. And I noticed on your website you talk about how looking at a small firm and just the amount of attention that you give and how deep, and you don’t care who it is and you’ll go to a trial against anyone. There’s a lot of different ways to approach this, right? Some people want to do a high volume of cases, and you can grow a business like that. And then there are others that want to specialize and be this expert, and be this thought leader in this area. How did you make that decision yourself?

Micha Liberty:

When I first started practicing law, we were in a revival window for priest abuse cases and I was involved in those consolidated cases. And the firm that I worked at at the time, we were doing a lot of those. And we did a lot of good for a lot of people. But I am not a volume practice. I take the cases that I’m passionate about, I represent the people that I think I can help and I put my all into it. And you have to be able to do that and give these types of clients with the significant trauma that they have, the individual attention that they deserve.

Chris Dreyer:

That’s amazing. And you have your direction and you’re designing your business for you and to help people. Leaning into that, you talked about depositions and testimonies are critical to a case in trial. And you gave a talk about trauma-informed testimony training. What is this training and why is it important?

Micha Liberty:

Lawyers who do this kind of work, I think all lawyers actually, but especially if you’re working in the field of sex assault, sex abuse, sex harassment and sex trafficking, you got to be trauma-informed so you don’t trigger your client. And so they don’t go through this process, like walking through a landmine of things that are going to set them off. And I feel so passionately about this. I actually started two other businesses so I could go out and speak, and get folks to train themselves, train their intake people on how to be trauma-informed.

And so one of the things that one of my businesses does is consulting. And I get asked by firms to come in and help prep their clients. Whether it’s a TBI case, an abuse case, whatever it is, if they have a significant history of trauma, to train them on how to prep their clients for testimony at deposition or trial. Or I will do the training, I will train the client myself.

What happens when you you’re triggered or you have a trauma responses, your entire brain shuts down. There’s a wash of norepinephrine and cortisol, and one whole hemisphere goes offline. You’re not going to get the best testimony out of your client. They’re not going to reveal information in the way that you’ve seen them as their lawyer working with them for a couple of years, or months and months, or whatever it is, testify in the way that’s going to be the most impactful and the most beneficial.

And the defense wants them to be triggered so they shut down and they can’t recall because they’re disassociated or whatever. So it takes work. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to get those witnesses prepared. And not everyone knows how to do that. Sometimes they’ll run through some documents, give them the general admonitions and send them to their deposition. But that’s not productive, and that’s not as far as I’m concerned, the best practice when you’re talking about preparing someone with trauma for a deposition.

The other thing is the lawyers don’t always want to be the bad guys. So sometimes it’s helpful for me to come in and play the defense lawyer role. Because you want to protect your bond and the trust that you built with that client. And it’s not like I go in and abuse them. But it’s a different tone and you just don’t want to change that dynamic that you’ve spent all that time, that rapport that you’ve built with your client. So bring someone else in to push back and help them come up with strategies to get through testifying in an intense and acrimonious setting.

Chris Dreyer:

From bullying to outright discrimination, bias in the courtroom is a problem many face. Micha shares her firsthand experience and advice for tackling hard situations with professionalism.

Micha Liberty:

One, address it when you can with the judge. Make sure that those sidebars are on the record and everybody knows what’s going on. If you check in other box, the judges have an obligation to make sure our work environments in those courtrooms are not filled with discrimination, name-calling and hostility because we are different somehow.

So what I do with bullies in any respect is I call them out. I name what’s happening and I keep doing my job to the best of my ability. We as a bar need to make sure our judges are trained up and skilled up in identifying this kind of stuff.

Also, I’m a smart-ass and sometimes I’ll just make a little comment or whatever and everybody knows what’s going on. I’m not the only one. Other people can see when a female lawyer is being called certain names like abrasive or aggressive, all those dog whistles. Sometimes I’ll just say, “Well, that’s a dog whistle and I’ll keep moving.” But I’m not going to let it slide. I’m going to address it hoping the behavior stops, and then you just take it up with the judge who can’t make your record.

Chris Dreyer:

Yeah. You spoke recently on representing multiple plaintiffs. And so what are some of the key strategies to effectively managing a case with multiple plaintiffs? How do you keep everything organized?

Micha Liberty:

When we’re thinking about representing multiple plaintiffs, we need to think about why we’re doing that. What’s the purpose of us doing that? I always say, “You can do well by doing good.” And I think a lot of folks now are moving into this area, but they didn’t come up in it. They didn’t have training. And a lot of times what happens is firms that do mass torts, for example, and I’m not picking on the mass tort bar. But they assume that doing a mass tort for a sexual assault case is similar enough to a bad drug case or a defective product case. And there are similarities of course, but this is a totally different segment of the population that we’re talking about. Their injuries are not seeable in a lot of instances. And until you get to know them and all of their triggers, it really is fraught with problems with the clients, and conflicts with the clients and you can harm the clients.

So I think one, stopping and thinking, “I can represent a lot of people.” I think needs to be followed up with, “Should we do that in this case?” And then you just have to focus on what all of your obligations are. And I think one of the most important obligations if you’re going to do a mass case with multiple clients is not just know all your ethical rules, but make sure that you have trauma-informed training, and everyone along the line does in your chain of command. These are not plaintiff fact sheet only type cases.

And the other piece of this is not just for what the clients deserve and what the clients need, but if you own a firm or you’re in management, you owe it to your staff to make sure the staff are trauma-informed so they can protect themselves. They need to figure out boundaries with the clients.

Otherwise, what happens is you get burnout. Organization itself can become traumatized and fall apart. There are tons of different symptoms that you can look for. High turnover conflict. When I go in and consult on this, I always ask the lawyers, “How many times in the past week rather than call a specific client back, have you asked your assistant or your paralegal to call that client back?” Because that is burnout. That is burnout. And every lawyer knows what that feels like. You get back from a deposition and you’re exhausted. And that one client who’s calling every day and crying on the phone, and you understand it all, but it’s a lot to take in. We do that when our tank isn’t full.

And so really training everyone how to make sure they’re ready to show up fully for their clients is really important. And unfortunately what we see time and time again is people buying up leads and taking on a lot of sexual assault clients when they don’t have enough experience and haven’t developed the skillset, and haven’t gotten the training necessary.

Chris Dreyer:

I want to talk about originating the cases. Because you could be the best trial attorney in the world, you could be very skilled. But if you don’t get those opportunities or enough of them, it’s not going to be a thriving practice. And you have a large, large list of speaking engagements to say the least. You have a ton. Talk to me about that.

How did you get your foot in the door? How did you start? What was your thought process behind this medium for distribution? Tell me about getting involved in speaking gigs.

Micha Liberty:

I think I was in my second or maybe third year of practice. And someone canceled at a travel seminar and I got a call and went down and did it, and I loved it. There is no hiding that I’m on a mission to do everything I can to protect women and children. So I realized that the only way for me to get out my message and what was important to me, and why I do what I do was to engage in these speaking opportunities. Then it’s the gift that keeps on giving. I really enjoy it. I feel like it’s a great way to give back to my legal community, to share with them what I have learned the hard way. I mean, these lessons don’t come easy. We all have the bruises and the scrapes, the scars to show for each battle we’ve been through.

And if we can help someone either prepare for what they’re about to go through, or recover from some disappointment, or some loss, which we don’t talk about enough in the law. And now honestly, I feel like a proselytizer because if I get asked to speak on trauma-informed topics, I will go anywhere at any time to do it because it’s so important.

And honestly it was my own research into figuring out how to be trauma-informed that I think allows me to do what I do today, and frankly got me out of bed one day when I couldn’t. Because I was so exhausted. Because I wasn’t having boundaries, I wasn’t protecting myself. I was saying yes to everything.

So a little bit of this is like self-preservation, and I also know that there are practices that help this community. And I want everyone to have the tools so they can keep doing what they want to do and what they’re passionate about. Because when you really are invested and you really care about helping people, you want to learn every trick, quote, unquote “there is” to do that in the best way possible.

Chris Dreyer:

I love every bit about that. And I imagine when you’re doing these speaking gigs and you’re speaking engagements, and you’re preparing, you’re improving your craft because you’re going to be speaking to a wide audience.

And you mentioned community and your sphere of influence. So what other tactics would you say to really touch on these main cases that you want to acquire? Are you doing the speaking gigs, the community? Are you doing social media actively? What other tactics do you have?

Micha Liberty:

We do social media. I’m pretty proud of the stuff that we do. We try to put out a lot of information for people. When survivors go through the litigation process, I hope that I make it a cathartic process and then go from a sense of victimhood to a sense of empowerment. And that’s usually the case depending on their level of trauma and their experience.

But to a one, when we do get accountability, it only comes in the form of money. And so many of my clients at the end don’t want the money. It was never about the money for them. But unfortunately, that’s all we can do in our civil justice system. And so I’m not one of those who talks about case settlements unless it’s extraordinary for some reason. Once we got an apology from a nationwide hospital system and I thought, “Well, that’s worth talking about because you never get an actual apology.” Those kinds of quote, unquote “tactics” are just not my style. We try to get information out and help people know what we do.

So if they need those services, whether it’s the consulting piece, I’ll go in and I’ll consult with someone. If they just want to report to the police but they don’t want anything else, I’ll help them through that for free just because that’s part of their process. I don’t really look at it like marketing, I guess it is, but it’s more information sharing.

Chris Dreyer:

Yeah, I would say it’s education. And also from your experience its document, don’t create. It’s kind of what Gary Vee talks about. It’s trying to create new things. It just doesn’t seem right. But when you’re sharing your expertise, it holds so much more water and weight.

What’s next for you and your firm? And where can people go to find you?

Micha Liberty:

They can check us out on social media, the worldwide web at libertylaw.com, thesoaringcenter.com, lionheartedleader.com. And I just started a coffee company which I’m really proud of and really excited about. Because doing research, women in coffee globally have been discriminated against, oppressed. They’re not paid the same amount. They don’t have the same ability to grow or get better positions. And this is globally and there are global NGOs that give back specifically to women in coffee. So I started a coffee company that’s going to give 15% of any profits back to these NGOs to help women globally who are working in coffee. And that’s called radiantstarroasters.com.

Chris Dreyer:

Thanks so much for Micha for sharing your insights. Let’s go over those takeaways.

Fight like hell. Referrals can come from unexpected sources, even from the other side of the courtroom.

Micha gets cases from defense lawyers who admit they found her aggressive but would want them fighting for them if the tables were turned.

Micha Liberty:

I get cases from defense lawyers who frankly tell me in all candor, I was a complete pain in the you know what to litigate against, and that I was fierce, and opinionated, and aggressive. But I hear time and time again that if something happened to their child or their wife, they would want someone like me to fight for the victims.

Chris Dreyer:

Train up. You won’t get that most powerful testimony if your client is triggered or shuts down emotionally. After months of building trust, you want them to share details in clear, impactful ways. To help get your clients to be their best, consider trauma-informed testimony training.

Micha Liberty:

What happens when you’re triggered or you have a trauma response is your entire brain shuts down. There’s a wash of norepinephrine and cortisol. And one whole hemisphere goes offline. And the defense wants them to be triggered so they shut down and they can’t recall because they’re disassociated or whatever.

Chris Dreyer:

Share stories with intention. Marketing is about connecting your values and your needs. You don’t have to be flashy or dance on TikTok to be a good marketer. Micha knows her clients want justice and healing, not settlement figures. She provides practical information to empower survivors because that aligns with her mission.

Micha Liberty:

We do social media. I’m pretty proud of the stuff that we do. We try to put out a lot of information for people. Part of that is when survivors go through the litigation process, I hope that I make it a cathartic process and then go from a sense of victimhood to a sense of empowerment.

Chris Dreyer:

All right, everybody, I hope you got some takeaways from Micha’s insights. For more about Micha and Liberty Law, head over to the show notes. While you’re there, leave me a five star review. I’ll be forever grateful.

Thanks for listening to Personal Injury Mastermind with me, Chris Dryer, founder and CEO of Rankings.io. Catch you next time. I’m out.