A Full Service Firm: Contracts, Brokerages, LLCs, and More
In this episode, we talked with Mike Thomas to discuss Pennington, P.A. and the ways the firm is able to help transportation companies.
John Davis: You know, one of the other things that I really like about your firm is not only does it offer the option to insurance defense work, your firm offers and works with trucking companies on contractual type stuff and just business, you know. So it would be your firm directly working with a trucking operation. And, you know, I get asked a lot about setting up a brokerage. So, you know, from the insurance company side, if it’s going to be Pennington Trucking Company, it’s going to … and they want to start a brokerage, then that should be a separate LLC.
Mike Thomas: Right.
John Davis: And your firm can help somebody set up an LLC.
Mike Thomas: Oh, sure.
John Davis: And, you know, then they need to have contracts with the truckers they use. So then your firm can help them have best practice contract.
Mike Thomas: Do that all the time.
John Davis: One of my other clients, which is PTS Insurance, they can issue the bond to make that happen. And, you know, I think of things with like, trucking companies like Passenger Program, you know, they want to take their wife or their child or you know, another family member in the truck with them. Well, some insurance companies allowed that, but it has to be a structured type of things where a contract is involved and a hold harmless agreement is involved, and your firm has the capability of making those things worth trucking.
Mike Thomas: Absolutely. We do that all the time, not just for trucking folks, but any business entity. We do a lot of contracts and LLCs and corporations, and advice and regulatory things and applications for licensures, and we have an administrative branch in the firm as well. Whether there’s bid protests …
John Davis: Oh, I didn’t even think about that. But with your added knowledge of trucking, though, that’s a definite benefit that separates you from some other just regular …
Mike Thomas: Right. From stem to stern, that stuff that we do … And look, I don’t do licensing and regulatory and contracts and LLCs, but two doors down from me, or three doors down, Breck Brannen does that kind of thing.
John Davis: Right. You have lawyers in your firm that can do that.
Mike Thomas: That’s right. Our lawyers … Yeah.
John Davis: And then, you know, you have lawyers in your firm that can handle work comp issues or employment practices issues or help with a, you know, “I would like to … I need help setting up an employment practices best practice.”
Mike Thomas: Yeah. And I assume most folks know what insurance defense is, but that’s primarily personal injury insurance defense. But we also do, as you said, workers comp. We do employment discrimination defense. What you’re talking about is employee handbooks. We draft employee handbooks all the time for different entities, corporations, groups, so that they can have some guidelines with respect to employment. And the big area, hot area, of the law now, and I do a little bit of it, is a employment discrimination defense work. There’s a lot of cases now, you see ’em in the newspaper, in the news all the time about a hostile work environment or discrimination based on race or sex or national origin. You see those all the time. That’s kind of the new hot area of the law. And, gosh, we’ve got several lawyers, including myself that that do that.
Mike Thomas: But, yeah, the short of it is, from a transportation company standpoint, I use the phrase from “stem to stern”. You know, from wheels to, you know, top, from front the back, whether it’s creating a company, contracts related to that company, getting that company … everything licensed, regulatory, other entities …
John Davis: And then there’s the contract between the trucking company and owner/operators. So that’s another one that I get asked a lot. Do I have the right contract? Well, you need to have a lawyer look at it then and someone who’s familiar with that to make sure that you’re covered and …
Mike Thomas: Yeah. And then we haven’t even talked about, you know, collections, you know … Look … and we can spend all day about that. But, yeah, I mean anything related to transportation, industry, we are a big enough firm that we handle all those type things including what I do, which is primarily the personal injury defense work and some of the employment.
John Davis: And your firm has an office in Tallahassee, Clearwater, or Tampa, and Miami.
Mike Thomas: That’s right.
John Davis: Okay. So you’re covering the entire state.
Mike Thomas: We are covering the entire state. And here’s the other side of that. We’re not a 250/300 lawyer law firm. We don’t believe you get personal service that way.
John Davis: That’s a good point.
Mike Thomas: We’re Tallahassee, Tampa and Miami. We’re not too big to where you’re going to have 15 lawyers on your case. That’s not us. You’re going to know the lawyers involved in your case. And it’s typically a partner and an associate and a paralegal. So the difference is, you know, because we’re small to medium sized, you don’t have to worry about 15 lawyers working on your case and being charged an exorbitant rate. So we’ve got, you know, the state covered north, central and south Florida, but we’re not too big such that you’re not going to get personalized service.
John Davis: Okay. One of the things with your firm that I really … Because of the trucking knowledge and they trucking defense and the contracts that, you know, even the evidence stuff we were talking the day, you know, not all defense firms are alike. And, you know, I’m talking to my insurance companies now, and, you know, we have our lawyers scattered all over the 48 states, and, you know, Alaska and Hawaii. And, you know, the defense lawyers in this state may be doing one thing and the defense lawyers in our state, maybe they’re doing something totally different. And one of things that, you know, I’m interested about your firm capabilities is if there’s a insurance company out there that’s looking sort of a one stop shop that says, “Hey, can you help us vet our defense firms?” And, “Hey, we had a fatality accident in another state.” You know, we have a one call, “Okay. I’m looking at our panel. I’m getting that lawyer and that firm involved right now as we’re talking and we’re getting a accident reconstructionist involved right now,” instead of the insurance company and the claim office trying to figure it out. Or they forget. “Oh, well, it was a fatality accident. What do we do?” versus having one playbook that says, “Oh, well we just need to call Pennington and they’re going to handle it from there.” And I think your firm has that capability, doesn’t it?
Mike Thomas: We do. And what you’re describing is what I would call a general counsel type role where you may not do the actual work but you administrate and oversee and make sure the correct work is getting done. And based upon our experience, we can do that. And a lot of times, unfortunately, they ask me to get involved retrospectively. “Hey, take a look at this. What this handled correctly? Did the lawyer do the right thing? Did the claims people do the right thing? Did the company do the right thing?”
John Davis: I didn’t even think about that.
Mike Thomas: And they come to me, sadly, when it’s too late and I can say, “Well, you know, I don’t want to throw stones, necessarily, at another lawyer, but let me just give you my objective opinion on what I see how this might have been handled differently, how, if it was handled differently, maybe you could have gotten a different result here.”
Mike Thomas: So I do that. Unfortunately, folks need to come to me on the front end and say, “Hey, there’s this issue, this problem. Help us get it to a place where we can adequately defend it. What do we do?” And that’s what I do all day, you know, every day.
John Davis: Well, and that’s sort of what I was thinking for the insurance carriers is have that playbook, you know, “What is our claim culture?” You know, “How aggressive are we going to be with the case?” And, you know, “How to preserve that evidence, and if we have a bad accident, these are the procedures.”
Mike Thomas: Right.
John Davis: “We’re thinking about hiring a new defense firm. These are the characteristics we are looking for.” And we have a go to person that says, “Okay, I understand this insurance company. I understand their culture, I understand what they’re trying to accomplish. Let me talk to you for a little bit and let’s sort of vet you on, ‘Oh, you have the experience,”, or, “You understand that this is the types of things that we’re looking at.” Or you can go to the insurance company and go, “I just don’t think this is the right fit for you.” And maybe we look at somebody else.
Mike Thomas: Yeah, I mean, we certainly, I certainly, have that experience dealing with other lawyers and dealing with catastrophic injuries and what some folks might describe it as non-catastrophic injuries. Everything from a soft tissue, nonsurgical case, to either a death case or a quad case. There’s some very, very, as you know, catastrophic injuries that occur out there, whether it’s a severe burn case or a paraplegia, quadriplegia, brain injury, traumatic brain injury. There’s a lot of really bad type of injuries out there and you’re going to want, folks are going to want, companies are going to want, someone who’s sensitive and experienced in dealing with those, because it can make the difference between a hundred thousand dollar claim and a million dollar claim if it’s not worked up correctly. And not only not worked up correctly, but … you used the word “vetting”. Even though somebody might be very, very comfortable with claims and depositions and working up a case, I would want to know trial experience. And that’s important. I mean, there’s a lot of very, very good lawyers out there who’ve never tried any cases. And what are you going to do if that case actually goes to trial?
John Davis: Right. And a tractor trailer versus a car case is not the same as two cars hitting each other either.
Mike Thomas: No, sir.
John Davis: So it’s, “Do you have that experience?” And, “Do you have,” like you said, “the trial experience?”
Mike Thomas: Right. And you don’t want to cut your teeth on a multimillion dollar quad case in heavy truck versus light car. You don’t want a lawyer to have that be his first case because bad things could happen. So, yes, you know, and not to necessarily toot our own horns, but in our Tallahassee office specifically, we’ve got three board certified civil trial lawyers, and that just means we’ve got three lawyers and I’m one of them, that tries a bunch of cases and tries a bunch of cases with success. So that’s the kind of folks that, if I were in that position, I’d be asking that question. Because at the end of the day, cases go to trial and you want somebody who is not afraid to go to trial.