Gerald Fox Interviews Greg Sobo
"The Verdict Is In" is a new podcast series that discusses what is driving innovation and excellence in the legal industry, hosted by top trial lawyer Gerald Fox (co-founder of Gerald Fox Law). Fifteen episodes have been released since the podcast’s launch in October 2020. Each provide clients with unique and practical advice on a range of legal subjects including bankruptcy, intellectual property, trusts and estates, and more. The October 29, 2020 episode features Greg Sobo: CEO and co-founder of Sobo & Sobo, who with Fox explores the key values that his firm holds to promote client satisfaction and practice excellence in personal injury and workplace injury law.
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Gerard Fox: Hello, this is Gerard Fox and The Verdict Is In. Yes, I have another guest, one that I think a lot of people out there will want to hear from. I have Greg Sobo, one of the top. When I say the top, I always mean it. You can check it out, verify me. I am not a fake news guy. I am a true, true reporter of the truth and I'm here because I'm a lawyer myself, and I want to promote other lawyers who are excellent in their field. This is Greg Sobo. Greg, welcome to the show.
Greg Sobo: Hey, Jerry. Thanks so much for having me.
Gerard: Greg is a personal injury lawyer and the managing partner of Sobo & Sobo. He graduated from Pine Bush High School in 1990, for those of you who might have been in that area. He graduated from Colgate University in 1994 cum laude, and was named the Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year several times. Quite an accomplishment. Greg was the East Coast Athletic Conference Diving Champion four times, and was an N.C.A.A Division One finalist two times.
He then took two years to devote to training for the 1996 Olympic Trials in springboard diving and was a nationally ranked diver. Greg retired from competitive diving in 1996, and attended the Syracuse College of Law in 1996, where he graduated magna cum laude. He became a published author in Syracuse Law Review with an article that was cited by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, and was chosen as one of the top prospective trial lawyers in the nation by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy.
Now, these are great accomplishments, and one of the things I want to point out to you is when you interview a lawyer, get to know them. When you hear that somebody was an accomplished Olympic Trial team participant, you realize how disciplined they are. And you want a lawyer who's not just there, got their degree, taking your case in and doing the bare minimum—you want a disciplined attorney, one who's paying attention.
So right off the bat, we know that Greg knows how to be disciplined, and the importance of winning, which is important for every client who comes through the door. He is admitted to many different aspects of the bar, he's a member of New York, he's a member of the Southern District of New York, the US District Court, Northern District Court of New York, the Eastern District of New York, the 2004 Orange County Bar Association.
He's a professional member of the American Association of justice, New York State Trial Lawyers Association, the Mid-Hudson Trial Lawyers Association, the City Bar of New York, and the Middletown Bar Association. He has won many awards, and most importantly I can tell you that I know the world of what I will call personal injury or mass tort lawyers. And I want to set the table before I talk to Greg, because he wants you to hear my honest opinion, and I'll tell you that Greg sits at the highest level.
When these lawyers work, they work on a “contingent fee,” which means they get a percentage of your recovery, and many of them advance some or all of the costs for experts—medical experts, or people who have to recreate accidents, or talk about things like medical conditions, post-traumatic stress syndrome, psychiatrists, counselors. When they do that, they have to win, and that's how they get their money. But they have to have enough cases going at a time so that they're getting money and cash flow. If they don't do that, it's very difficult and they wouldn’t be able to pay their attorneys and staff.
Some of them run what we call a “chop shop.” They bring you in, you meet with a paralegal—not one of the lawyers—they intake your case. Nobody talks to you for months, and months, and months, and months, and months, and months, and months—and then you show up at trial and they mispronounce your name. Or they settle your case, have you come in to sign the papers so that you get your check and they get their percentage of it. And there's often a complaint by people who are hiring these attorneys, that they expected that these people would be like their doctors, or that they'd be like other lawyers who work hourly and call them back the minute they call. And there are some who aren't very good.
So if you get into a car accident, or if you are in a mass tort disaster, or you know that you ingested a product that has made you very sick, or you have a sexual harassment claim, or something that's going on that's very bad, the worst thing you could do is see a billboard on the side of the highway and say, "Oh, honey, write that number down. I'm going to call them.” Or listen to some jingle on TV and say, "Oh, I've heard that firm and their jingle during all the Yankee broadcasts," and call them. Because what you should do is you should look for reviews, ask around, find a person who knows somebody. I’m that person, today's the day, and I'm telling you if you get into these situations, call Greg Sobo and his firm. Greg, welcome.
Greg: Thank you, Jerry. Thanks so much for that introduction.
Gerard: First of all, Greg. When you first went to law school, did you picture yourself as someone who would become a trial lawyer?
Greg: Yes, I always wanted to be in the courtroom, so trial lawyer was a must for me. I started my craft early in law school, and chose my law school based on which one created and prepared the best trial lawyers. Ironically enough when I came out of law school, I think one of the places that most new lawyers feel the most uncomfortable is in the courtroom.
But for me, that was my place of peace. That was where I felt the most comfortable. Because all the training I received at Syracuse—which at the time and still today, dare I say, almost 15, 20 years later—is one of the top five national trial teams in the country.
Gerard: Now, many people listening to my podcast know that not everyone can be a trial lawyer. In fact, many people hire very big law firms and bring litigators into the courtroom who haven't even considered what proof they have to put on to carry your case forward. They don't know how to pick a jury. There are many things that we'll go over, and Greg knows them all and so do his lawyers.
When you're looking at a jury and you're doing voir dire, you want to hide your good jurors so they don't get eliminated. You don't want to give that warm-up of your opening statement that will just identify the people who are sympathetic to you, and the lawyers get to strike a few jurors, and you're just losing your good jurors.
You want to make sure that you have a short cross-examination on points that can't be disputed, and you want to not bore the jury, because he who bores the jury typically loses. You want to simplify complicated things.
So Greg, when did you first start trying cases, and taking them to a jury?
Greg: I started in a small country firm upstate trying personal injury cases. I was in the trial department, and it was the perfect time. This was a firm that had taken in a lot of cases that most people felt were unwinnable. It was a new firm so they were just trying to get as many new clients as they could. Sure enough, they pushed the can down the road until these things came up for trial, and none of their quote-unquote "seasoned trial lawyers" wanted to try those cases. I was the kid in the back of the classroom with my hand raised, saying "Please, please I'll do it. Let me do it. I want to do it. Please, please, please."
They gave me one case to start out with, and sure enough, I won it. They were shocked, they gave me another one and I won it. That happened 12 straight times, and then they started to say, "Okay, I think we can trust him in the courtroom." From there, I took on bigger cases and the bigger verdicts came. For me, to this day, Jerry, I don't care if the case is "big or small," what the injury is, how the accident happened. When we take on a client, I believe in their story, I believe in them, and I'm in it till the end, and I'm happy to take it all the way through if I need to.
Gerard: Now, ladies and gentlemen who are listening to this podcast, what’s very important, maybe you're not picking up on it, is that Greg talks about winning. He doesn't have a fear of losing. Now, I have to tell you that the lawyers who fear losing will push you into a bad settlement, tell you it's a good settlement but they don't really want to try your case.
But you're hearing it in the excitement in his voice: this man loves to try cases. And you want that kind of a lion, that champion in your corner, because you'll get the most money! So Greg, what types of cases do Sobo & Sobo handle now? So that the audience knows what kind of cases to call you up on.
Greg: Any type of injury case is certainly what we consider ourselves to be our area of expertise. Those are typically car accidents, most commonly. They can be fall accidents, they can be an accident on a construction site, a dog bite case. The firm also does workers' compensation injuries, so an injury that happens at work. Someone who is disabled and not able to work—we also represent them in front of the government to get them benefits. Generally speaking, any type of injury, we can help.
Gerard: How about workplace harassment, hostile work environment, sexual harassment, age discrimination, race discrimination. Do you handle any of those?
Greg: We do. The law, as you may know—has changed quite a bit, and it's become a lot more favorable. We feel that we want to be part of that change, we want to make workplaces a safe place for everybody, and we're happy to champion that cause with them.
Gerard: Do you handle the cases where somebody has a drug that they've taken, and it turns out it has side effects that make people sick, or the mesothelioma cases, or the mass tort cases. Do you do those?
Greg: Yes, mass tort cases we do as well. Those are typically, as you mentioned, those can be a defective drug or lack of warning on a drug when someone takes it, and they weren't properly warned about some of the side effects or repercussions to take it yet. Also, the product liability aspect would be something like an IVC filter that malfunctions. These are large actions that affect thousands of thousands of people across the United States and really across the world, and we do take a leading effort in representing those plaintiffs as well.
Gerard: Now, how many lawyers do you have within your firm?
Greg: Right now we are, I think, right at sixty. And I'm happy to say, fully, so dedicated to helping clients. If you come to our office at eight o'clock, they're still here and plugging away. We have a great group of lawyers, and I can't believe I'm saying it out loud but we're up to sixty of them already.
Gerard: That's a very large, firm. The beauty of having a large firm means that they have a deep bench, which means if they're going up against a defendant who has a lot of money, they can put the number of people on the case that'll allow you to go toe-to-toe with them. Now, and all these lawyers, pretty much like you, get off to a quick start and start learning how to feel comfortable in the courtroom, correct?
Greg: Yes, absolutely. We take great pride in training trial lawyers. We literally have a trial courtroom in our building. When they come, they're going to get trained, and they're going to be in a courtroom from their very first day, practicing, drilling. We train them to make sure that they’re at their very best, so that when we go out there, we've got that advantage in court. That's what we expect.
Gerard: That's a beautiful thing to hear. For the average person, they may not know-- "Well, doesn't every law firm have a moot courtroom where they train their attorneys?" No. No, most firms do not. Again, I've tried to stress in all of my podcasts, the difference between lawyers who can file a complaint, maybe take a deposition, go to a mediation with a pad, kick around some numbers, tell you it's a good settlement, and then your case is over.
Did you get the most value for your case? Probably not. The lawyer didn't want to go to trial. The same lawyer said, “Rah-rah, great case!" But all of a sudden was letting a retired judge or an arbitrator tell you your case had some holes in it. And they're telling you, "But we got good money!"
Now, let's talk about how a contingent fee works, because for some people listening to this for the first time, they will really be hearing this for the first time. S how does a contingent fee agreement work, Greg?
Greg: Well, with Sobo & Sobo I tell every client that I do meet that hires us—and we so appreciate their trust,--that it is impossible to owe us money. There's no way that they will ever write a check to us, and they will never receive a bill from us. We only get paid if we win the case. If we win the case, then we follow a New York State standard that says the firm gets a percentage of what is won and its expenses back.
When I say expenses back, that's important too, because the cases we take, the stories we believe in—we not only put it on our own time and sweat and toil into those cases, Jerry, but we also put our own money in them. We back them with our cases with our own money. If something needs to be filed, we pay for it. If there's a deposition transcript we need, we pay for it.
If there's an expert that needs to be paid so that we can bring the truth to the court, we pay for the expert's time. That way, if we lose the case, the client owes us nothing. The money we spent on that case is lost. It's important because for us, we believe very much when we take a case that we're going to win it, and we're not afraid to put our time and money behind it.
Gerard: That's so important, because if your lawyers are going to invest—let me add up some numbers for you. Every filing is a couple of hundred bucks, and you have to pay the messenger. That adds up. And then the deposition. The court reporter can charge you over $1,000 or more, especially if it's a video deposition. So you have thousands of dollars, especially if you take 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 depositions. Experts will charge you tens of thousands of dollars, because that's what they do for their deposition, for the mediation, for the court hearing, and then you have to pay your jury fees.
You might have to pay a jury consultant, and you have to usually buy the jurors lunch. And you have to pay for the transcript, because if you want to appeal the case, because you think that the decision that the judge made to not allow some evidence in is wrong, you have to appeal that possibly. So, that is a big deal.
That means that this firm, Greg's firm, is writing checks. Thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars, it could be over $100,000. Could you imagine that? That's a college tuition for a child and they're investing that in you, so circle this firm's name: Sobo & Sobo. Tell us about a few of your more interesting trials that the firm has handled.
Greg: Sure. I think unfortunately for us, the most interesting trials are the ones that affect the lives of our clients so much. And certainly, some of the more recent cases that I can recall is a wrongful death case of a construction worker who fell from a roof 20 feet onto a cement floor, and suffered a severe brain injury and bled to death. The terrible stories—and we had the privilege of representing his five-year-old little girl for compensation to replace a father. When you talk about interesting… it's compelling and it's also such important work. That's certainly one of the cases that comes to mind recently that we've handled and were successful in.
Gerard: Well, that's a sad case. There's a daughter who's lost her father, you can never bring him back. There's also an employer, who you likely determined to have been negligent in caring for their workers. That's a big deal because when you hire somebody, especially for a job like construction, or if you hire them to work in a coal mine or work in a factory, there are laws that require that you follow certain safety guidelines. Some companies, to preserve a profit, do not do so, and then someone's life could be lost, or their limbs could be lost or their health can be altered.
These are probably some of the more important cases, because the cases that I handle, while very important, involve money. Corporations that owe each other money, or an artist who used another artist's song. All of that pales in comparison to two types of cases that you see in the courts: one, personal injury, death, wrongful death, and two, criminal cases where a person's liberty is an issue. That's a lot of pressure, wouldn't you agree, Greg? Those kinds of cases where you're dealing with the surviving members of someone who's passed away, and they're bringing this type of emotional case that makes them relive the incident?
Greg: Oh, absolutely. It's a trust—I mentioned that word before—that we take so seriously here. In this case, in particular, that family's livelihood really came down to our ability to get compensation for this death. Not only was this little girl out of the fact that she doesn't have a father to provide nurture, care, guidance for her, as tragic as that is, there's obviously also a large financial component to it, where we have to make sure this girl is taken care of with a lifetime of earnings from what her father would have provided. Insurance companies, they fight these extremely hard. These are where they win or lose their profits. To them, it's a business, but to us, it's personal. Absolutely a lot of pressure, a trust that we don't take for granted, and something we do in every case: fight it as hard as we can.
Gerard: Greg, your lawyers, do they have a good bedside manner? Do they understand the people that they're talking to, A, don't understand litigation process, B, are untrusting of lawyers sometimes in the process, and C, have lost somebody dear to them or have been injured in a serious way? Are your lawyers able to show the care and concern as opposed to being callous and just viewing as another file?
Greg: Absolutely. Having a caring lawyer is something—I mentioned our training earlier, I mentioned we have a courtroom in the building. But trial is just one of the many ways in which we train people, and why my firm Sobo & Sobo is different. That bedside manner, to use your words, how we care for clients, how we take care of them, is really what sets us apart.
We know when people call us, they don't want to call a lawyer. Not only because they were just in an accident, where they're injured, or a family member was injured, but they also don't want to call a lawyer because some of them are just—they're embarrassed. They don't want to be perceived as a suing person. They really don't want to make a big deal of the accident. They just want to know what their rights are.
So right from that first call, it's important for our attorneys—and they're trained this way—to understand that you are getting a reluctant caller, and it's important for you to build a rapport, to make sure that they trust you, that you build a relationship of confidence and trust with them, and so that you can build their confidence of doing the right thing by calling, finding out what their rights are. And that client care continues not just from that very first day when they first call, but all the way to the end of the case.
You've heard it probably a million times: what's someone's major complaint about a lawyer? What they complain about most—other than them being egotistical—is, "They never call me back!" That's the number one complaint. With us, we actually call the clients. There is no call back most times. We're the ones calling them proactively to update them regularly. If they do call us, we have a policy that they get a call on the very same day.
That's a promise that's even on any one of my attorney's voicemails: “If you're a client, I'm going to call you back before I leave the office for the day.” Client care is really our—I'm going on because it's something I care deeply about, Jerry—it's something that's always set us apart and it really drives the case. It makes a difference because when you build that relationship with the client, it becomes personal for us too. We squeeze for every penny at the end and it shows in our results.
Gerard: Let me set the scene for you, ladies and gentlemen. I'm not a personal jury lawyer but I know many. Greg, again, is one of the very best in the country. I've been in their offices and I remember one day, I walked into one of their offices and it was an elderly African-American couple. Their son, only son, and his wife had been hit in the inner city by a truck driver delivering bottles of water. The truck driver was intoxicated and there have been other incidents reported, and the company that was responsible for this was going to be on trial.
These are people in their 70s who had three kids that they had to raise. They were nervous. They were not people who used their smartphones very well. They were never really in a commercial office building so they were hoping that they were okay. I noticed immediately that, as with Greg's firm, you're going to be met by somebody who's very nice, who knows you've been through something, who understands why you're there.
They’re better than the people you find at doctor’s offices. They're not just shoving you a pad and saying, "Write your name down and somebody will be out to see you in 40 minutes." They're going to take good care of you. They’re going to take care of you like you're their own family, and that's what Greg's firm does. How do people get in touch with you, Greg, if they—first of all, where are all your offices? Let's start there.
Greg: Thanks so much. We have eight offices throughout New York. We also have a New Jersey Law Department so we're able to help pretty much anyone in the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania. We have two offices in Middletown, one in Manhattan, one in the Bronx, one in Newburgh, one in Poughkeepsie, a Spring Valley office, and a Monticello office.
Gerard: That's a lot of offices, ladies and gentlemen. Do you have a website that people can go look on so they can figure out, if they didn't take that information down, where to find your office?
Greg: Absolutely. Our website is packed with real good legal information for anybody. It's www.SoboLaw.com.
Gerard: Is there a main number people can call to get in touch with one of your lawyers if they need to?
Greg: There's a toll-free number, 855-GOT-SOBO. 855-GOT-SOBO. They can also call directly at 845-343-SOBO, which is 7626.
Gerard: Now, ladies and gentlemen, you’re hearing from someone who cares. It's apparent from their voice. Their entire group of lawyers and their support staff are aware that you suffered a great loss, and they're going to take good care of you. Before you can even call them for an update, they're calling you to provide you an update. Which is the one thing that clients in every business complain about: not enough updates.
People never really know what it feels like to be a client until you're in that role, until you're in that position where you're nervous about something. They'll prepare you for the grilling in cross-examination. You won't just show up at a deposition and be surprised. These are amazing people. How are you handling the pandemic, where the courts are not really trying these cases right now and they're stacking up?
Greg: Well, one of our core values, Jerry, is find a way. Whether you hit an obstacle in a case or whether the climate for the legal profession right now is what it is, where the courts for personal injury cases are largely closed. We are finding ways to resolve cases for the best results possible without the assistance of the court, which is a really good thing. We're able to negotiate great settlements, use mediation, arbitration, whatever tools we can until this is over. Trial, of course, is and the courtroom is where we're most comfortable, and some cases will still need to go there. But in the meantime, we're finding ways to resolve cases in a very efficient manner for the clients that we do have.
Gerard: I will tell you, this is a big moment for you if you're out there. If you've been injured, if you've been damaged, you know that you need compensation, you don't know who to trust, the lawyers who appear on the show are screened by me. I get to know them personally. I don't just throw them on the show. I take it very seriously. I believe that lawyers must be client-centric in their service, and that if you don't do that, we're all taking oath to be zealous advocates for our clients, that you shouldn't be practicing law.
If you’re in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area, you've got to call Greg. I don't think you're ever going to call me up and say that I referred you to the wrong guy. I think you're going to thank me.
In Los Angeles—and I'm going to have him on as a guest—it's a mass disaster, it's Tom Girardi's firm, Girardi and Keese. If it's personal injury there, it’s McNicholas & McNicholas. What these lawyers share in common is that they have a fierce appetite for winning—and I've seen that in Greg's background in diving—they don't want to lose and they don't lose very often at all. It's important you be honest with them when you come in about your case because that helps them win the case.
Greg, I got to thank you for being on the show. We're going to launch this podcast. Everybody should dial in and know now who to call especially if you're in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania area and you suffered an injury and you not only want to capture the best amount of money that you can, but you want to be with nice people who will walk you through a very difficult experience and make it comfortable for you. Greg, delighted to have you on, man.
Greg: It was my privilege. Thank you so much. Hopefully, we’ll do it again. Thank you.