TorteDeForm

Kia Franklin

The Greedy Trial Lawyers are Distracting Us

Let's face it--for many people, when we think lawsuits, we think lawyers, and when we think lawyers, we think greed. This almost-intuitive mental link between lawsuits and greed or unsavory interests is very convenient for those interested in reducing access to the court system. Under this paradigm, any tort "reforms" that would limit a person's right to go to court or ability to obtain adequate redress, can be discussed as a "reform" aimed at reducing frivolous lawsuits, regardless of the extent to which these policies hurt people with legitimate claims and protect harmful but powerful entities from the rule of law.

So let's think about how the "lawyers=bad" rhetoric is being used to distract us from the strengths and benefits of our legal system, such that any talk of tort "reforms" is focused on reducing lawsuits (how lawyers make a living) rather than making the legal system work more effectively for regular people. By capitalizing on the "greedy trial lawyer" caricature, tort "reform" messaging draws our attention away from the immense social benefits of the civil justice system and gets us thinking about how to stop the lawyers rather than help people with important legal interests who are nonetheless being shut out of the courts, and therefore denied access to justice.

The discussion about how to improve our legal system is neither about greedy lawyers nor evil corporations. Instead, it's about people and their ability to pursue justice through the civil court system. Any reforms of our legal system should be tailored to making justice more attainable for ordinary people.

Do you think the media's fascination with scandals, and thus its coverage of lawyers gone wrong, especially with respect to class actions, contributes to the public's distrust of lawyers?

Given that that distrust is only surpassed by the public's distrust of corporations, I wonder if that even matters.

Instead of focusing on those "greedy trial lawyers" (just a few bad apples whose reputation is, with the help of the corporate lobby's antagonism, spoiling the bunch) or those "evil corporations" (often a reactionary response to tort "reform" hyperbole) we should focus on how to prevent unecessary injuries and allow the injured to find justice in the courts.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 11:02 AM, May 21, 2008 in Civil Justice
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Comments

You're absolutely right, Kia. It seems like all you have to do to get people to vote against their interests is to point out that the measure in question will help trial lawyers.

Maybe progressives should try and argue for a repeal of the Bush tax cuts because some of the beneficiaries are trial lawyers.

Posted by: Justinian Lane | May 21, 2008 4:02 PM

Kia: You are a very rare lawyer who supports ending the obstacles to legal malpractice claims by adverse third parties. No lawyer supports ending the immunity of judges for their wrongful, lawless substantive decision, rather than some collateral corruption in lawyer gotcha.

Until the self-dealing double standard ends, your pleas are hypocritical, self-dealing, left wing ideologue, rent seeking, a form of bad faith, theft at the point of a gun by government (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Criminal Cult Enterprise that is the lawyer profession today). If torts are so good, why is the land pirate depriving itself of their tremendous benefits?

This double dealing is so bad, it fully justifies, morally and intellectual, the bringing of self-help to the hierarchy of the profession. I await a courageous Executive who will remove them, by force, and replace them even with alcohol besotted bums off the street, for an immediate upgrade in logic and clarity of judicial decision making.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 21, 2008 8:49 PM

Kia:

When you said "Any reforms of our legal system should be tailored to making justice more attainable for ordinary people." I agree with you 100%, we need to reform our legal system! Thank you for coming around to our side.

Posted by: throckmorton | May 21, 2008 10:57 PM

No, throckmorton, thank YOU for coming around. Now that we agree that any reforms should be focused on making the system more effective for regular people, we can tackle those tortdeforms that take away regular people's access to the courts. We can get to work advocating for Civil Gideon, so that a person who gets entangled in a nasty child custody proceeding doesn't lose his/her child simply because he/she can't afford a lawyer. We can get rid of the use of federal agency preemption to absolve corporations for their faulty/defective/dangerous under-regulated products that don't comply with state law. Great! Let's get to work.

Posted by: Kia | May 22, 2008 9:52 AM

Kia: I am glad you agree so we can get busy. The first thing to do is to is to be sure there is justice, and to be able to hold people and lawyers accountable, just as you want to hold corporations accountable. I suggest loser pays.

As to Civil Gideon, I suggest that the legal profession does what the medical profession does. Any patient that goes to the Emergency Room must have their medical problem addressed and follow up care arranged regardless of their ability to pay. This is EMTALA. If the care they recieve varies from the standard of care as determined by any hired witness, the physican or medical treatment facility can be sued. Why is there not the same arrangement for the legal profession? This way no one loses their child in a legal custody matter because they could not afford a lawyer.

Posted by: thorckmorton | May 22, 2008 2:43 PM

The public's and the media's adoption of the image of trial lawyers as greedy and self-serving is not accidental. To a great degree, it has been driven by a decades-long campaign backed by corporations (e.g., tobacco, asbestos, chemical, and insurance companies) that are likely to be sued by injured plaintiffs and by conservatives who seek to defund trial lawyers, who disproportionately tend to support progressive candidates. To learn about this strategic campaign and its methods, read Dave Johnson's Commonweal Institute report "The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Tort Law" and other articles at http://www.commonwealinstitute.org/IssuesLegal.htm.

Posted by: Katherine Forrest | May 24, 2008 7:59 PM

"[T]he image of trial lawyers as greedy and self-serving...has been driven by a decades-long campaign backed by corporations...and by conservatives who seek to defund trial lawyers..."

Ms. Forrest:

Obviously, not all trial lawyers extort the legal system. But many do. These lawyers, often referred to as the "greedy trial lawyers," reinforce their own negative image. One only needs open the back of any phone book and realize that this image is hardly a conspiracy by "conservatives." The image is also simply word-of-mouth among the non "greedys" like us who truly recognize the intricate ways certain trial lawyers extort businesses through threats of litigation and run-away juries.

Thus, to simply write-off the negative image of these lawyers as an ideological gimmick is breathtakingly myopic.

Posted by: Lawyer | May 25, 2008 2:09 PM

Actually, Lawyer, as soon as you start using "trial lawyer" as a substitute for "plaintiff-side civil litigation attorney", it's breathtakingly clear what myopic vision you're trying to impose on the debate. (I mean, really; why insult the perfectly competent lawyers on the other side? Is the defense attorney opposing me at trial not a "trial attorney" because he represents a corporation? What is he, then--a moonlighting document reviewer?)

Posted by: mythago | May 30, 2008 9:56 PM