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First Things First

“I love what I do. I walk into work excited to be here.”

Eric Traut’s Trail Blazing Accomplishments Have Put Him in a League of His Own

Eric Traut, Partner at the Traut Firm in Santa Ana, boasts a CV unlike any other trial attorney in Southern California. As the youngest lawyer ever admitted to the American Board of Trial Advocates, Traut, who was admitted at the age of 33, was also the youngest lawyer to ever win the prestigious Trial Lawyer of the Year award in the history of the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association. But those achievements are far from the only ‘firsts’ to Traut’s credit.
In the months since Traut was first featured in Attorney Journal, he’s added even more trailblazing accomplishments to his portfolio of groundbreaking feats in the legal community. In 2016 alone, at just 50 years old with 26 years of practice under his belt, Traut was elevated to ABOTA Diplomate, after successfully trying more than 100 civil jury trials to verdict. By comparison, the overwhelming majority of trial attorneys who have achieved Diplomate status have been practicing a minimum of 40 years, and are on average more than 70 years old.
Moreover, Traut broke new ground in litigation over the last year, when he became the first lawyer to ever lead a case to binding arbitration against the Pechanga Casino, securing a record arbitration award of $2.88M for his client who suffered severe injuries after a slip and fall injury. This also marked the largest victory in the state of California’s history against the Pechanga Indian Reservation under the Pechanga Tort Liability Act. Incidentally, the resort’s only settlement offer in this case was just $60,000.
Furthermore, Traut, a longtime advocate for the use of Expedited Jury Trials, held the first public Expedited Jury Trial in 2015, which attracted not only lawyers and law students, but claims representatives from insurance companies, eager to learn more about the process before AB555 mandated that all limited civil cases be handled as expedited jury trials effective July 1, 2016.
All of these breakthroughs in Traut’s career naturally beg the question: What is Traut’s secret? What drives him to be the first or the youngest to set new benchmarks? To hear him tell it, there is no nebulous secret to his success. He works hard not to set records, but because his work is rewarding.

Fueled by Passion

“I love what I do. I walk into work excited to be here. I love the practice of law, but I’m always looking for the most efficient ways to get results. I want results without wasting time, money or stress. My goal is to work efficiently for my clients, and for the courts without compromising the quality of work that I do,” he says simply.
To that end, he says that he recognized the benefits of Expedited Jury Trials more than a decade ago, after receiving countless exit surveys from jurors, which were given to him by a now retired judge. “The resounding theme in all of those surveys was: Why are the same questions asked over and over again? Why does it take two hours for a closing argument? Juries almost unanimously complained that trials just take too long,” Traut says.
As such, and because Traut built his career early on with smaller cases, he immediately saw that smaller cases were perfectly suited to be tried as Expedited Jury Trials, and he began utilizing them 25 years ago. “There is too much churning of paper in these cases, which is just unnecessary,” Traut says. “These unnecessarily long cases have been tying up the courtrooms. By using EJTs, we protect the 7th Amendment and ensure that all people have open access to the courts, through keeping them open and available to everyone. Shorter trials also make the lives of judges easier, who are now more than ever overworked and frustrated. I’m proud that I’ve been an advocate for these types of trials for years.” Incidentally, Traut has already lined up his next public Expedited Jury Trial, which will likely occur in early 2017.
As far as breaking new ground in the Pechanga case goes, Traut says his drive to succeed where others had yet to do so was the result of the compassion he felt for his client, despite the fact that fellow attorneys advised him not to take the case. “The defense was claiming that the whole thing was a hoax, and that my client was faking injuries so as not to have to return to work. She had been a school teacher for years, and loved her job. The injury left her unable to read without vomiting and becoming dizzy. She also suffered from eye fatigue. We brought in her principal among others who testified that she was a ‘gold-standard’ teacher, and there was no way she was faking her injuries,” Traut says.
The case and ensuing $2.88M award made headlines in large part because the accident occurred on Indian land, where tribal agreements with the state required that it be handled through arbitration. As part of this agreement, Traut says, the case had to be arbitrated through JAMs, and it had to take place in Riverside. The victory for his client wound up being not only the first time a case of this type went all the way through arbitration, but it was also the largest verdict in history against the resort.
That’s not the only headline-grabbing case Traut has been involved in this past year. He is also representing a client who found a finger in her food while dining at an Applebee’s, in a case which made not only the newspapers, but was featured on Saturday Night Live. Traut has also taken on other unusual cases of late, including representing four women who were victimized by film producer and director Kevin Roy, who used hidden cameras to spy on and film women without their knowledge.
“I love having a wide variety of cases to work. I love the challenge of it. Every case is different, and it is a rush to me to persuade jurors to find for my clients. Whether a case is a small, limited civil matter, or a multi-million-dollar case, I will try it,” he says.

Forging A New Path Into the Future

As far as the future is concerned, Traut intends to continue doing what he’s been doing for the better part of the last three decades. “I want to continue to lecture, and to teach wherever possible. I especially hope to continue to educate others about the need for professionalism and civility in the practice of law. It’s unfortunate that these principles aren’t taught in school, but it is possible to have adversaries in the courtroom without being adversarial, so that’s a big emphasis with ABOTA and something I’m also eager to teach or reinforce to others,” he says.
Finally, Traut adds of the future, “My plan is to continue to give back through my work with the Orange County Bar Foundation, and to do my part to ensure that everyone has equal access to the courts. I will continue to try to help people. It is incredibly rewarding, it makes me grateful that I am able to do what I do, and it reminds me that I have been blessed in life, and as the result I have a responsibility to do what I can to help others.”

Eric Traut
Traut Firm
Griffin Towers, Suite 700
5 Hutton Centre Dr.
Santa Ana, CA 92707
P: (714) 835-7000

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Jennifer Hadley is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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