James E. Payne was profiled by Law360 for its “Plaintiffs Bar Perspective” series featuring prominent plaintiff’s attorneys. The full article can be found on Law360.com (subscription may be required.)
Law360, New York (April 5, 2017, 1:55 PM EDT)
James E. Payne is an equity partner at Provost Umphrey Law Firm LLP and a member of the management committee in Beaumont, Texas. Payne was certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1999. The National Board of Trial Advocacy certified him in 2001 as a Certified Civil Trial Advocate and in 2012 as a Pretrial Practice Advocate.
Payne has been selected for the Texas Super Lawyers list by Thomson Reuters every year since 2003. He is a certified member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Additionally, Payne has been selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© every year from 2006 to 2016.
Payne is active in several social and civic organizations. He is a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, for which he served as 2014 Grand Sire/National President. Payne is highly sought after as a motivational speaker by many organizations, schools and churches. Payne authored a book, "I am Healed, But I am Still Sick?"
Q: What's the most rewarding aspect of working as a plaintiffs attorney?
A: I enjoy advocating for those who do not have the knowledge or ability to speak for themselves, especially in circumstances where the injured person has the ability to seek financial assistance to compensate for their loss. Many people who experience a life-changing injury are devastated and have no idea where to turn for help. That is where I believe I can make a difference, and I am thankful that I have been given the knowledge and desire to guide them through the process of recovery.
Q: What skill do you feel is most important for achieving success as a plaintiffs attorney?
A: A successful plaintiffs attorney must have a passion for people. Plaintiffs attorneys must remember that every file that is in your file cabinet is the most important file to the client.
Q: When it comes to trial strategy, what’s the biggest difference between representing a plaintiff and representing a defendant?
A: While the judge instructs the jury to not let bias or sympathy play any part in their decision-making process, the plaintiff's lawyer must make sure that when jurors are deliberating, they can see and experience the circumstances surrounding the events. The defendant's attorney has to argue a defense without appearing insensitive to the human injuries sustained.
Q: What advice would you offer to young lawyers interested in practicing as a plaintiffs attorney?
A: Young lawyers should spend significant time with the client educating them on the status of the case and creating reasonable expectations of outcomes and risks. While we all have a desire to zealously represent our clients, we must also respect the profession of the law. There is no reason to mislead the court or disrespect opposing counsel.
Q: What's one trend currently impacting your practice?
A: The most challenging trend facing our practice is the removal of the jury system. Due to the shift in the appeals court process, it appears there is little appreciation of the decisions made by jurors. When the trial courts apply the law as stated and the jury decides the facts as they see it, it appears that the many appellate judges do not believe that system is appropriate and require a second trial of the case through an appeal process. Such an analysis destroys the fundamental constitutional protection of a right to a jury trial.