Attorney at Law Magazine First Coast Publisher Thomas Brady sat down with Fraz Ahmed of Coker Law to discuss his career in the latest Litigation Spotlight feature interview.
AALM: What drew you into litigation?
Ahmed: I became involved in the mock trial program in my second year of law school and knew at that time I wanted to be a trial attorney. Judge John Guy was my first mock trial coach, which probably has something to do with my passion of always wanting to be in the courtroom. In my first mock trial competition, which took place in 2005, I played the role of an assistant state attorney and I remember the fact pattern to this day. The first line of my opening statement, “I’m going to make you pay for getting me into this mess.”
AALM: What drew you to your current firm? How would you describe the culture there? How would you describe your role within the firm?
Ahmed: It is such a privilege to work at a firm with the reputation, level of professionalism, and integrity as Coker Law. What really drew me to the firm are the people. We have 16 attorneys, but we are one unit. We all help each other. It is a firm that has the resources and the power to try any case we believe should to be tried. Another important factor was when I spoke with Howard about joining the firm, he told me about his vision for the future. He didn’t talk about the history of the firm; he focused on the future and continuing to build the preeminent personal injury trial firm in the state.
AALM: Of the cases you’ve worked on, what has stood out most in your mind?
Ahmed: A recent traumatic brain injury trial posed some challenges due to the nature of the brain injury and the negative radiographic findings we had to overcome. Our client suffered what is referred to as a permanent “mild” traumatic brain injury. It is really a misnomer because the term “mild” does not correlate to the degree of impact the brain injury can have on a person’s daily life. A “mild” traumatic brain injury can have significant consequences on a person’s life. In that case, our client only followed up with the neurologist a handful of times, and the reading radiologist did not observe evidence of traumatic brain injury on the MRI. However, MRIs are not sensitive enough to detect the thousands of brain cells that are killed, sometimes referred to as cell suicide, when someone suffers a traumatic brain injury. Although the science has come a long way in the past decade regarding the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, there is still a lot of research and development that needs to be done in diagnosing brain injuries from a radiographic standpoint. Fortunately, we were able to overcome the obstacles and obtain a multimillion-dollar verdict on behalf of our client.
AALM: What has being in courtroom taught you most about being a good litigator?
Ahmed: Listen. Listen to the judge. Listen to the jury. Listen to the witness. Listen to the opposing attorneys. We need to stop focusing so much on what our next question or next point is going to be and simply listen. So often we are focused on what we want to say that we miss great opportunities when a witness or opposing attorney says something that can change the dynamic of the case if it is properly developed.
AALM: Did you have a change in career paths? What led to that change?
Ahmed: I started my career at a large, statewide insurance defense firm, which had a Jacksonville office and worked there for close to seven years. It did provide the first stepping stones to get me to where I am today. It helped me learn the medicine. It helped me get into a courtroom. It helped me understand how the insurance industry handles and evaluates claims. I knew I wanted to be an advocate for victims, but I also knew I had to gain more experience before switching sides. My last trial with the insurance defense firm was against my former law partner. When the jury went out to deliberate, he asked to speak with me. I thought he wanted to discuss settlement, instead he asked if I wanted to work with him. That’s when I knew it was time to make the change.
AALM: What trait do you believe most separates an average litigator from an exceptional one?
Ahmed: There are so many traits from knowing the facts better than the other side, knowing the counter arguments, knowing the counter to the counter arguments, and knowing how to tell your client’s story to the jury. However, one of the most important traits is what I call the “Sully” factor. As we can all remember, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his co-captain, were able to successfully land an airplane in the Hudson River after a flock of birds struck and disabled both engines. They had seconds to think and act. Instead of trying to reach nearby airports with no engine power, which likely would have resulted in catastrophe, they saved all aboard by knowing the best option and being decisive. There are times where something unexpected happens in our cases, especially in trial, and the case feels like it is taking a nose-dive. The difference between an average and exceptional litigator is being able to quickly adapt, not trying to land the case on a runway the facts can no longer lead you to, and still have a great outcome.
AALM: Tell us about your ambitions for the future of your career?
Ahmed: This is my forever home. I love coming to work every day. I love the people I work with. My paralegal and legal assistant are amazing and go above and beyond and always have my back. I am so blessed to be able to work with some of my good friends from law school and of course, my beautiful wife.
AALM: Personally, what are you most proud to have accomplished thus far? And, professionally?
Ahmed: It is wonderful to work at a firm with a true family atmosphere. Not only is everyone at the firm like family, the firm values family with the highest regard. Lindsay and I love working together, and, after almost a year, I am happy to report that we are both still alive. Being on separate floors may have something to do with it. I’m talking about at work – not at home – although she may wish for that sometimes, as well.
I am most proud of Lindsay and I being able to practice at the same firm, enjoying what we do, while raising our two daughters, Salem and Silas. It is truly a blessing to see them grow and learn every day. It really makes me appreciate how we serve as role models to others around us, especially our children. They do what we do. The other day, I was doing some work around the house and dropped a few things. Without hesitation, Salem, our 3-year old daughter, says, “It’s OK daddy. It was an accident.” We can learn as much from our children as they can learn from us.
Professionally, I’m most proud of being part of a team of trial attorneys that knows how to achieve the best results for our clients while maintaining the highest levels of professionalism. I am incredibly blessed.