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Rainmaker Q&A: Podhurst Orseck’s Peter Prieto

Peter Prieto is a partner at Podhurst Orseck PA in Miami. For more than 25 years, Prieto has focused his practice on complex commercial litigation, including class actions and white collar criminal defense. He has represented clients — both individual and corporate — in a wide array of civil litigation, including business and employment disputes, health care, antitrust, products liability, anti-corruption law and class action litigation. Prieto has also represented clients in criminal investigations and prosecutions involving public corruption, business, banking and health care fraud, aviation, environmental violations, antitrust and money laundering.

Some of Prieto’s most significant engagements in his civil litigation practice have involved (1) successfully representing — at trial and at summary judgment — former executives of a pharmaceutical company who brought claims for securities fraud after the company’s merger; (2) successfully representing and obtaining settlements in excess of over $1 billion on behalf of classes of millions of bank customers who were wrongly charged overdraft fees; (3) obtaining dismissal of claims of malicious prosecution and abuse of process on behalf of a national law firm; and (4) successfully obtaining summary judgment on behalf of an international athletic and footwear company against claims that the company had stolen the “idea” of using a famous singer as its spokesperson.

Prieto also has significant experience in multidistrict litigation proceedings. He currently serves as plaintiffs’ chair lead counsel overseeing both class actions and personal injury actions in In Re: Takata Airbags Product Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2599, which is considered the largest product defect case in United States history. He also serves as the only Florida lawyer on the plaintiffs’ executive committee in In Re: General Motors LLC Ignition Switch Litigation MDL No. 2543. Through the firm, he currently serves on the plaintiffs’ executive committee in In Re: Checking Account Overdraft Litigation, MDL No. 2036. He is also chair of the experts committee in In Re: Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litigation, MDL No. 2406.

Q: What skill was most important for you in becoming a rainmaker?

A: There’s no secret sauce to generating business or being a rainmaker. As with most things, it’s all about the fundamentals. Hard work is a key skill because without it you can’t know or understand your client, and you can’t understand fully the legal issues your client is facing.

And I would say that being honest and forthright is another key skill. Sometimes you have to give your client advice that it may not want to hear. But you need to give that advice anyway because it’s in their best interest. One of the best compliments I was ever paid by a client is when I learned that a client had described me “as a straight shooter with plain speaking good judgment.” We need more plain speaking in our profession, especially when advising clients.

Q: How do you prepare a pitch for a potential new client?

A: The best way to prepare for a pitch for a potential client is to do your homework. Knowing your potential client, as well as their business, before you make a pitch, is crucial. And offering solutions, short and long term, to their legal problems, during the pitch based on the homework and preparation that you’ve already done is equally important. Potential clients are always impressed when they realize that you’ve done a great deal of work before you make the pitch, and that you know their business and operations.

Q: Share an example of a time when landing a client was especially difficult, and how you handled it.

A: Hospitality, courtesy and good food sometimes makes a difference! I recently was interviewed for a significant case, and I knew that I was competing with some other very talented lawyers. So before the in-house lawyer, and my eventual co-counsel, came into town to interview me and the other lawyers, I sent them an email recommending some of the best restaurants in town. They jokingly said that I had certainly started on the right foot by appealing to their appetite. Though I doubt my gesture was the key to me and my firm eventually being retained, my attempt at being hospitable certainly didn’t hurt.

Q: What should aspiring rainmakers focus on when beginning their law careers?

A: A young lawyer who wants to be a rainmaker should first focus on his craft. In other words, be the best lawyer you can be. Business generators are usually — but not always — good lawyers. Being a good lawyer and learning your craft will give you the foundation you need to generate business. And while you’re becoming a good lawyer, you should also establish relationships with your existing clients, as well as with other lawyers, because those relationships will also help you become a rainmaker. But to me, and there are some lawyers who disagree, being a good lawyer is the key to generating business.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of remaining a rainmaker?

A: To me, the most challenging aspect of being of being a rainmaker is ensuring that those who work with me on a case provide the client with the highest quality product and advice. You can be a great lawyer, but if those who work with you are not up to snuff or don’t care about the work or the clients as much as you do, you are in jeopardy of losing your client because in today’s legal environment most lawyers work as a team — whether it’s a team within your own firm, or a team of lawyers from other firms. Successful rainmakers always have hardworking and talented lawyers and support staff helping them. I’ve been lucky because I’ve always had great colleagues and support. No lawyer — like no person — is an island.

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