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BIG CAREER BUILT ON SMALL CASES

How Eric Traut Became A Leading Attorney In Expedited and Traditional Jury Trials

"I PLAN TO KEEP SPEAKING, AND I'M HAPPY WITH MY PRACTICE. I INTEND TO KEEP TRYING CASES FOR A LONG TIME"

Eric Traut sheepishly admits that his initial career plans did not involve becoming an AV-Preeminent Rated attorney.
Never did he imagine that he’d be named the youngest attorney to ever receive the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association’s Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. Instead, says Traut, “I was going to be a DJ. I wanted to be Rick Dees,” he chuckles. However, while attending California State University, Fullerton, and watching his brother, Jim Traut, at work as an established Orange County trial attorney, Eric found himself switching gears entirely.
“My brother is 18 years older than me and he was a successful trial attorney,” Eric explains of his now partner in the Traut Firm. “I watched him in trial one day and remember thinking, ‘Wow! To have someone trusting you that much had to be so difficult, but so rewarding,’” he says. He quickly changed his focus in school, and decided he would one day work for the DA’s office, or perhaps as a public defender. Yet, after being admitted to the Bar in 1990, his brother offered him an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

Laying The Foundation
When he was getting started, “Jim had a bunch of smaller, harder-to-win cases, and needed help. He let me know that if I took them, I could be the one to try them. We had very little chance, but I knew it would be a great opportunity to get trial experience,” Traut says. “I tried 10 cases within my first three years. I lost a lot of them. But I learned how to present evidence in the right way. I learned which witnesses you call, and those you don’t. I learned how to talk to the jury. I learned how not to rely on notes,” he says. “I honestly believe that for new attorneys, it’s important to go to trial with your cases, because it is the only way to gain experience.”

Not only did Traut learn how to be a trial attorney in his early years, he learned why he loved being a trial attorney. He learned that his ability to positively impact the lives of others was far more rewarding than he even suspected it might be.  “Every year there are a handful of cases that we handle that change lives. When someone is seriously hurt, and we can set him or her up with a life care plan, it feels good. When it’s a make-or-break case, such as in a wrongful death case, and we can help a family to survive without the breadwinner, or when we can set up an annuity for a child who has been paralyzed in an accident, so that she has money to live on, it is unbelievably rewarding,” he says.

Solidifying Status as Trial Specialist
As the result of his hard work, dedication and acute trial skills, Traut earned a reputation with insurance carriers as someone who isn’t afraid to take a case to trial, a trait he continues to be known for in the significant cases he handles today. “If there is a case that has a settlement offer below the value of our request, opposing counsel knows I will likely take them to trial,” he says, “because my clients deserve the best.”

More than just going to trial, Traut will take the cases and win, which is exactly what he has done for the last 25 years. In doing so, the legal community at large began to notice. Traut became the youngest member ever admitted to the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). Four years later, he would serve as President of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association, and by 2010 would serve as the President of the Orange County Chapter of ABOTA. His peers also selected him for inclusion to the list of Super Lawyers, the Top 50 Orange County and the Top 100 Southern California Lists.
With his star on the rise, Traut began writing more articles and accepting more and more speaking engagements, instructing fellow attorneys on how to try small cases sensibly. “I had learned how to hone in on evidence that is needed, and learned not to belabor things that are irrelevant,” he says.
Not surprisingly, that’s led to a practice based almost entirely on word-of-mouth referrals, primarily from fellow attorneys. “Roughly 180 attorneys have referred cases to me. The majority of them practice in other areas, such as criminal defense, or estates, so they send their injured parties to me,” he says.

Emerging as Expert in Expedited Trials 
In addition to recognition from fellow attorneys, others in the legal community began coming to Traut for his expertise in handling cases economically and expeditiously. By way of example, Traut has co-authored multiple articles on the topic of the Expedited Jury Trial system for ABOTA with Orange County Judge Steven Perk. He also became an early adopter of the Expedited Jury Trial system, which became available in California in 2011.

“The Expedited Jury Trial system hasn’t yet taken off to a great extent, but I believe that it will,” he says. Traut is certainly doing his part to personally promote the usefulness of these trials. On January 30, 2015, he will conduct the first public Expedited Jury Trial using one of his own cases for an ABOTA seminar. The live trial will be held in the Orange County Superior Court Dept. 1, and Traut is expecting a full house.

With 97 jury trials under his belt, Traut has a multitude of experiences to rely on in his practice and for his upcoming seminar, and as such, his more immediate focus is on how he can continue to give back to the legal community that has supported him on his journey. “I plan to keep speaking, and I’m happy with my practice. I plan to keep trying cases for a long time,” he says.
In the meantime, he’s relishing his role as the current President of the Orange County Bar Foundation, for the opportunity it affords him to give back. “I’m really passionate about the work that the Orange County Bar Foundation is doing for the community. We work with inner city kids to introduce them to the judicial system, get them interested in the law, and stay out of trouble. We help get them jobs in law firms, and I know that we’re really helping these kids, who might have never otherwise had a chance. My involvement in this organization is incredibly rewarding.”

Contact:
Eric Traut

Traut Firm 5 Hutton Centre Dr Suite 700 Santa Ana, CA 92707 714-835-7000
www.trautfirm.com
eric@trautfirm.com

Karen Gorden

Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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About the Author: Karen Gorden is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal.

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