While pursuing litigation was born out of necessity, he quickly discovered he had a natural talent for the work.“I immediately found that not only do I like this, but I am really good at it,” he says.
What’s more, he encountered Gil Purcell, one of two senior partners of the firm who proved to be a no-nonsense mentor that shot straight from the hip and carried high expectations.
“Trial attorneys are both born and bred,” says Nevin. “You must have the innate skills and desire, but then you also need good training and mentorship, and I was fortunate to have both.”
Nevin responded well to Purcell’s mentoring style, which could be blunt and unforgiving. When Nevin left the courtroom after his first trial, he was jubilant and flush with victory – Purcell, who had been listening out in the hallway with his ear to a crack in the door, handed Nevin a 10-page list written in purple ink of all the things he’d done wrong in the trial.
“He was a great mentor,” says Nevin, who goes on to tell the story of when he was co-captain of the high school football team and went home one day to tell his father that the coach kept yelling at him every day. His father, a former college football player, told him: “You do not have to worry about when coach is yelling at you because it means that coach knows you can do it. You only need to worry if coach stops yelling at you.”
“I think my relationship early on with Gil was the same way,” says Nevin. “He was providing very aggressive constructive criticism because he knew I could do it. There are very few attorneys who can first-chair a complex trial well. There are many attorneys who try. Not many people who do it well. He clearly saw that I could do it and then instilled the knowledge and skills in me.”
Nevin is now a long-time partner at the firm and has tried more than 200 complex asbestos cases that include three bench verdicts and 25 jury verdicts. While he is not taking nearly as many cases to trial as he was 15 years ago (he estimates 99 percent settle), the number of asbestos-related cases has not abated.
“Everyone always thinks asbestos litigation is going to go away soon and they have thought that for 35 years and it hasn’t,” says Nevin. “That is because it takes decades after you were exposed before you develop an asbestos-related disease. Peak asbestos use in the United States was in about 1980. So, it won’t be until 60 or 70 years from then that we will see the disease levels go down.”
He calls asbestos “America’s dirty little secret.”
“Big asbestos-related companies knew in around 1910 that asbestos would kill people,” he says. “They used it anyway. It was such a good product. It worked well as intended, to make hardy, fire-proof, acid-proof resistant material – it just had this catastrophic byproduct that workers who inhaled the dust were going to die decades later from it. And the companies decided that they could live with that.”
Currently, Brayton Purcell LLP has a strong group of seasoned attorneys and a solid structure of mentoring programs to train new attorneys, according to Nevin, who describes a handful of traits he looks for when considering hiring a young trial attorney.
“They have to really want to be on the plaintiff’s side,” he says. “We always look for attorneys that want to be either in the courtroom or want to be the responsible attorney for a case and are capable of handling the responsibility. They need to have both the drive and confidence to hit the ground running.”
The firm adapted quickly to the remote environment necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Where some plaintiff attorneys opposed trying cases over Zoom, Brayton Purcell embraced the challenge.
“We were different. We decided let’s go. We can do this,” says Nevin.
The firm converted two conference rooms into Zoom studios and helped attorneys and staff design their home offices to be conducive to working from home. The firm’s trial attorneys have successfully conducted numerous jury and bench trials over Zoom.
“What we found, contrary to the concern that you might lose a personal connection, is no, you don’t,” says Nevin. “The amazing benefit of Zoom trials is jurors have a screen right in front of them. They can see you well. They can hear you well. They can actually see the exhibits. We have found that juries really like Zoom trials more than in-person trials, and they pay more attention.”
The pandemic didn’t just change how the firm conducts its trials, Nevin says. It fundamentally changed how the firm is managed. Ninety percent of its staff and attorneys now work from home, including Nevin.
“We found that if people just have the technology that they need, that if anything we have more face-to-face than we did before,” he says, adding that they’ve found the vast majority of employees are more productive working from home. “The pandemic has changed forever the practice of law for firms that are willing to embrace that.”
As co-manager of the firm, Nevin has spearheaded an effort over the last 1 and 1/2 years to increase firm-wide efficiency by bringing all aspects of the firm’s operations, communications, data, and documents under one case management system.
“It has taken a lot of effort because we are changing 35 years of a way of operating,” he says, characterizing the ambitious project as his second job. “I think this is the path that all law firms should follow.
He expects to go live with the new system early next year.
“After 20 years as an attorney, I am privileged, along with great colleagues, to continue to serve deserving clients,” concludes Nevin.