In this episode…
International law presents a unique challenge to lawyers, where every country and jurisdiction is vastly different. Because of this, the use of expert witnesses is vital for understanding and effectively navigating a tricky case. So, how can you find and use the right experts for your practice?
When international lawyer Bill Shawn tackles a case, he looks for two different types of expert witnesses: testifying experts and consulting experts. As he says, some experts are specialists in clarifying complex systems and ideas, while others excel at communicating with juries and judges. Because of this, Bill takes time to find the right experts for each unique case.
William H. Shawn, the Co-Managing Partner of ShawnCoulson, is interviewed by Dan Rubin on this episode of Engaging Experts. Bill discusses his acclaimed career in international law, the mentors who have helped him along the way, and how he utilizes expert witnesses in his practice. Plus, he discusses his many business ventures and personal interests.
Note: Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Host: Dan Rubin, National Business Development Manager, Round Table Group
Introduction: Welcome to Engaging Experts, the podcast that goes behind the scenes with influential attorneys. Our guests will describe their practice and expertise. Then, we will go deep on various topics related to effectively using expert witnesses.
Dan Rubin: Hello, and welcome to another edition of Engaging Experts. This is Dan Rubin, the National Business Development Manager of Round Table Group and one of the hosts of this podcast series. We have another great guest for you today. Bill Shawn is the Co-Managing Partner of the international law firm of ShawnCoulson, LLP with offices in Washington, where Bill is based, Brussels, and London. Bill represents a broad variety of national and international governmental lobbying firms and trade association clients throughout the United States. Bill has successfully tried many jury and bench trials on behalf of those clients in IP, anti-trust, and other commercial cases as the first chair for nearly 40 years. Additionally, Bill is an Adjunct Professor of Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility at George Washington University Law School, of which he is also a member of the Board of Advisors, and a distinguished alumnus. As such, Bill is also a distinguished expert in legal fee disputes and a member of Round Table Group’s expert network, having represented lawyers in ethics matters before boards of professional responsibility for nearly two decades. Bill, I am looking forward to diving in, but before we do, here is a brief sponsorship message.
Announcer: This episode is brought to you by Round Table Group, the Expert on Experts®. We have been connecting attorneys with experts for over 25 years. Find out more at roundtablegroup.com.
Dan Rubin: Bill Shawn, welcome.
Bill Shawn: Thank you, Dan.
Dan Rubin: Great to have you here. Let’s start with how you got into the practice of law.
Tell us about that.
Bill Shawn: It was quite accidental. I was out one night at a fraternity party and somebody said they were giving law boards the next morning. So, I took the law boards, and it was a fluke but did amazingly well. As a result of that, I got a free ride to law school and decided that ought to be the direction in which I was going. At the time. I was dealing with the draft, Vietnam, and a lot of moving parts. I was one of the three finalists for the Nixon White House’s reelection campaign, The Committee to Re-Elect the President. Fortunately, I guess the hand of God was watching over me, because I did not get the job. They liked me, but they said they had an opportunity to have a California lawyer who had five years of experience to do the job. That lawyer was Donald Segretti, who ended up in federal prison, so that was a real close call. It was either the rice paddies or law school, so it worked out well.
Dan Rubin: We have something in common. My last LSAT scores were also a fluke but in the wrong direction. So, tell us how has your practice evolved over the years?
Bill Shawn: When I started at the government in what they called the Honors Program, it was a great idea. Their idea was that they should pay what the Wall Street law firms were paying at the time, which I thought was a great opportunity. I went to work for the government, but I quickly found the government is not going to solve many problems because a lot of people just were not too motivated and did not care. Although I had a two-year obligation, I left for private practice in ten months, and I went with a boutique firm that did energy, transportation, and regulatory work. For the first five years of my practice, I did a lot of work in the transportation field, including many litigation hearings, trials, and things of that nature. It was a real baptism by fire. I did not know it at the time, but I was replacing two associates when I joined the firm. I had a few years of 12,13 to14-hour days.
Dan Rubin: Double the work than you expected. Was there ever a time where you thought you would not be going into the practice of law or was it be something…?
Bill Shawn: No, once I was there, I found that I liked it and I had a modicum of talent to be able to do it and I found it enjoyable. When I first started [practicing law], I could not believe that people paid me to do this. It was a lot of fun and the idea of advising people and then dealing with intellectual challenges I thought was fantastic.
Dan Rubin: You are very self-deprecating. You have more than a modicum of aptitude for it. Along the way have you had any mentors that you would attribute some of your successes to?
Bill Shawn: There are two that I think of immediately. One was my father-in-law who has since passed. He was just one of the most wonderful people imaginable. A successful person. A former Mennonite in Pennsylvania with an eighth-grade education who went on to found one of the largest public companies in America. I never knew somebody who worked so hard. He just had an eighth-grade education but who understood people so well, was so kind, and perceptive. To this day I try to run meetings as he did. He would always seek out that person in the boardroom who was not saying anything, who had the best idea or the biggest question that should have been asked. I try to emulate that every day.
The other mentor was my high school football coach who was just a phenomenal human being. A wonderful person. When I say high school football, I played four years of high school football at little over 100 pounds. Anybody who could put up with a little guy like that for four years was saying something, but his character, honesty, and integrity are with me to this day. He, too, has unfortunately passed.
Dan Rubin: Bill, I mentioned at the outset that you are an expert in your own right in legal ethics, professional responsibility, and legal fee disputes. Tell us how you use experts in your practice.
Bill Shawn: I use them in two ways. I do not see a lot written about this, but we have testifying experts and consulting experts. I am a great believer in consulting experts. The benefits of a consulting expert are that their work, and their work product, are protected by attorney work product and client privilege. There are no disclosure requirements that otherwise exist under Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They are usually the people that we like to use who roll up their sleeves, dig in and do a terrific amount of, shall we say, homework and experts spadework. We are working on a major international financial case right now, and we just had a long Zoom with one of these consulting who has clarified this complex financial system but would not be a great testifying expert.
When we look at testifying experts, we look for people who are going to connect with the jury and hopefully also connect with the judge. When that connection occurs with a testifying expert, it is a thing of beauty and I have had instances where a testifying expert spent hours instructing the jury on the ultimate issues in the case. In one episode, even the judge was asking the expert questions. It was an IP case about trade dress–type issues so when we choose a testifying expert, we want somebody who has that kind of rapport, communication ability, and has a degree of humility to be able to connect with the jury. We have had good ones and we have had bad ones. We had one in a federal jury trial in California in a patent case who was a former head of the Patent Office and he was so busy with other things and highly uninvolved that he did not even know the name of my second chair who was taking him on direct examination. It was embarrassing, so suffice to say, we never used him again. The other thing that we find with testifying experts is that the reports are critical and many of them need a lot of help doing their expert reports, especially in a damages case. Once again, it is key to find that right person, that right personality, that right bearing that is going to play well with the jury. That is difficult on the outside of the case to figure out. How is that going to be? We do like to engage our experts as early as possible to be able to bring them along. That’s why having a consulting expert can be so helpful.
Dan Rubin: That distinction you make between testifying and consulting experts, Bill, is such an important one. It is a decision that our clients face daily when they come to us looking for either a testifying or consulting expert. Of course, it is not only our job to find them their ideal expert, but we also add the value of assisting them in making that decision as to whether they truly need or want a consulting or testifying expert. Thinking about your cases and clients throughout your career, where is that taking you?
Bill Shawn: It has taken me to some extent away from the law. It took me to open a car dealership with a friend of mine who also raced cars. We had Aston Martins and we had the opportunity to acquire and start a dealership. I jumped in and was a co-founder of a now successful multi-brand automobile dealership in the Washington area. That took me to some other spots including a bank board position on the fastest growing community bank in the United States, a position with a German industrial group, and a partnership in a private equity company that was based in London and I now run for them in the Americas. It has been quite successful as a result. [I’ve had a] couple of other smaller opportunities, [such as] real estate development and things of that nature. but it was my legal skill or my experience that allowed me to see and to understand how like successful an investment opportunity would be. One thing has led to another. Ultimately, it made me a better lawyer because whether it is in the litigation sphere or the transactional sphere, it has given me an appreciation of how clients look at lawyers. In many instances, we lawyers think we are a lot more important than we are, at least in the transactional sphere and the advising sphere. Obviously, for litigation we are important, and we are the ones who carry the water, but it is also important for a business owner to understand where litigation fits in the scheme of things. Businesses want to avoid litigation. Sometimes it is not possible but understanding what the business risks are and what the business objectives are is an entirely different perspective than you have as a lawyer. To some extent, all of this has been a humbling experience for me as a lawyer, to understand that we are one of many cogs in the wheel who have a role to play, but we are not the be all and the end all, as we lawyers are educated to believe in law school. All these things have given me a sense of humility. It has also given me a greater sense of perspective, maturity, and understanding of what the legal component is of anything I do in the business world. It now takes about half my time, which is wonderful, and it is a great evolution from having tried a lot of cases to now presiding over and owning several businesses.
Dan Rubin: With your legal practice and your business interests, do you have time to do anything fun outside of those?
Bill Shawn: For one thing, I am married to an amazing woman who is smart, intelligent, beautiful, and wonderful, and so we do have a lot of fun together. If there is one thing in life that is fun, it is time with her. I am also taking German lessons and guitar lessons, but languages are a particular thing for me because I grew up in Europe. My mother was European, and so I grew up speaking Italian and some French. I picked up Spanish and even Latin. I still enjoy learning languages and dealing with other cultures. It has helped me in business and my practice because I am aware of how non-native speaking abilities can color what somebody thinks and understands. We had a situation today, where we successfully closed an acquisition in my private equity company for an Austrian company here in the United States. Now we are having some discussions and it is going further. We were ready to have a Zoom with the principles of the company in Vienna and I pointed out to my colleagues that we ought to put everything down in an email before we speak because they often will need a little bit of time to review and digest before we fast-talking Americans get on the Zoom or a conference call. Sometimes non-native speakers are embarrassed to ask two or three times what you mean, what you said or what that word was. Thus, languages are an important part of my life, and picking up German, I think, is fun. I have two children who speak it now, and they are egging me on.
As I mentioned, I have just started guitar lessons, and, of course, I am a petrol head, a car guy, and I enjoy racing. A few people have an appreciation like that [which] becomes ultimately a business, which ours is. We just broke ground on our new showroom and facility outside Washington. That type of thing is still a great deal of fun to me.
Dan Rubin: That is great. In closing, can you tell our listeners, are there particular legal ethics issues based on your teaching at GW that you would consider to be especially noteworthy today?
Bill Shawn: Yes. What we are dealing with right now is election litigation, or, I should say, the after-effects of it. Whether you are for or against the election result, I think that we as lawyers have to be very proud of the role that our courts played in the election litigation saga, which is continuing. It was amazing to me to see some eighty lawsuits that were dismissed by various courts, by judges who were appointed by Republicans or Democrats, but uniformly held the line, required proof, and required substantiation for allegations. Of the three branches of the federal government, I think the judicial branch did the most outstanding job conceivable in ultimately helping to hold our country together and uphold our constitutional democracy.
Dan Rubin: I cannot think of a better place to end than that. Bill, it has been a true pleasure. Thank you so much for being our guest today, for being one of Round Table Group’s preeminent experts and most importantly, thank you for being a friend. Thanks again.
Bill Shawn: Thank you, Dan.
Go behind the scenes with influential attorneys as we go deep on various topics related to effectively using expert witnesses.
William H. Shawn, also known as Bill, is an internationally known lawyer with nearly 40 years of experience in his field. He is the Co-Managing Partner for ShawnCoulson, an international law firm with offices in Washington D.C., Brussels, and London. Bill earned his JD from The George Washington University Law School, where he now works as an adjunct professor of legal ethics and professional responsibility. Outside of his practice, he enjoys learning the guitar, racing his Aston Martin, and serving on a variety of boards and committees.