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What should I look for in an attorney? An Interview with Bud Watson, Trial Lawyer & Former Judge

In Alabama and other states, attorneys are required to run a disclaimer if they advertise saying that they don’t claim to be better than other attorneys:

But, most people do look for good reputation and good track records when they need a lawyer. They look for experience and a history of successful cases.

At Hornsby, Watson, Hornsby & Heyward in Huntsville, Bud Watson is the most senior partner in a law firm with a track record of success in personal injury as well as business cases. 

Regarding things that should be important to people searching for help, Watson says it’s more than bare experience — It’s the types of experiences attorneys have had.  Regarding his partners at Hornsby, Watson, Hornsby & Heyward, Watson says it’s the natural gifts they bring to cases that makes him proud.

Watson spent time on the bench as a circuit judge. He tried over 560 jury trials. Those cases gave Watson unique insight that he says helps him today.

“I had a very good seat for watching lawyers do what they do. Some lawyers bore you blue. Others entertain you. Watching all that, you get a real sense of what is effective not only with juries but also what is effective with judges.”

From those trials, Watson says he learned what irritates judges and what irritates jurors.

“Jurors are savvy. Judges are too.” Watson says. Both want to hear genuineness. They also both like to hear a story told well. In most cases, he says, it’s best to let the client tell the story. 

In case preparation, personal injury lawyers and the clients they represent need to present a compelling story. They need to get that story out not only to be able to convince jurors but also to move the thinking of the insurance company and its claims people who don’t want to be convinced. Watson says he learned over the years that lawyers should regard themselves as facilitators for letting a client tell their own story.  If we just listen and are patient, the client will tell the story in a way that speaks to people like themselves.

Watson recalls a client whose husband was catastrophically injured — so injured that she had to help him use the bathroom. When asked on the stand how she and her husband handled that the wife’s moving answer was: “We’re very private about that so he would look away, and I would look away, and we would both pretend we weren’t there.”   Watson obtained a record verdict in that case.

The wife’s genuineness and their efforts to preserve their personal dignity spoke to the jurors’ hearts, Watson says.  “They were her words not mine.”

Another injured party was astonished that the at-fault party never apologized. 

“The guy didn’t even say he was sorry,” the client told Watson.  I wasn’t persuaded that not apologizing was that important.  “But I let the client tell the jury that the defendant didn’t even say he was sorry. When the jury talked about their decision, it was based in great part on the person’s not saying he was sorry.”

In both of those cases, the clients had personal stories.  We let them tell “their” stories.  Making a story personal is a winning strategy for attorneys. 

Watson says his partner Ralph Hornsby Jr. has an amazing capacity to appeal in a personal way to jurors.

“He is so perfectly engaging in his delivery,” Watson says. 

Hornsby, whose father Ralph Hornsby Sr. was a founding partner of the law firm, with Bud Watson, joined the firm as a runner 25 years ago while he was still in high school.  After law school Ralph, Sr. wanted to bring his son into the firm. Watson agreed with the stipulation that Hornsby Sr. would leave his son’s work assignments and compensation to the other partners.

“So Ralph became mine,” Watson says. “He obviously was brilliant. He was cool.  He was self-possessed.  I don’t think there have been but three trials that he and I have not teamed together. “I’ve really been blessed by that. He’s an excellent attorney.  I’m really proud to be his partner.”

Ralph Hornsby Sr. retired a few years ago. Barnes Heyward rounds out the current team of lawyers alongside Watson and Hornsby Jr.  Watson expresses similar gratitude and admiration for the abilities Heyward brings to the table at Hornsby, Watson, Hornsby & Heyward.

For 20 years Watson, taught trial skills to senior law students at Louisiana State University, he compares Heyward to the best and the brightest in those classes.

“There were always two or three stand-outs,” Watson says of the students in his classes. “You knew they would wind up trial lawyers. Barnes is that kind of guy. He has that kind of presence.”

It’s that kind of presence and the collective experiences and gifts of each attorney in a firm that should be considered by people who have been hurt, people who have been wronged and are looking for help.


Our personal injury attorneys in Huntsville, AL are proud of the accomplishments and results we have obtained over more than a century of combined experience. We remain committed to our roots as a client-focused personal injury law firm, however, and every client — beginning when they meet with us for the first time in a private, no-cost and no-obligation consultation.

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