In "The advocate," Curtis
Wilkie discusses John
Edwards's work as a trial
lawyer, and the political
overtones such work has,
particular in the South. Are
trial lawyers a progressive
force that helps the injured
and the dispossesed confront
the power of corporations
and other large institutions?
Or do they represent a false
populism that harms society?
Trial lawyers are criticized by conservatives for emotionally appealing to naive jurors in order to win huge monetary awards for their clients. I often wondered why corporate lawyers whose main goal is massaging the law to win excessive profits for their clients are not equally criticised. What about the high paid corporate lawyers work for companies who rape the environment through their policies? Then there are the attorneys who find "legal" ways for their clients to avoid taxes which those of us who are not so clever must then pay for. In short, if we have to malign the legal profession, we should point to the practicioners who do not have as much public visibility as do trial lawyers whose more dramatic, up front actions make the headlines.
Pauline, Williamsville, NY
I am glad someone is taking the time to think about this and hopefully educate people about what motivates far too many plaintiffs' lawyers: their pocketbook. They have no regard for the damage that they do to all of us in their quest to get their share of these claims. For many of them (and I suspect it's the vast majority), "doing justice" is about as far down on the ladder as it could be. The best indicator of this is that these lawyers "troll" for claims. They go to great lengths to find plaintiffs to bring cases, so that they can shake down business, government, etc. It does not seem to me that one concerned with justice goes out and finds people who don't even realize they've suffered injustice until someone tells them. Because many juries tend to act in a populist manner, as you suggest, there will always be a flow of money from those who have to those who don't. These lawyers simply exploit that for their own benefit. That is their right, I suppose, but it is appalling for them to blanket themselves with the glory of "doing justice" when they could not care less about their clients, who represent nothing more than a paycheck. I am sure there are good lawyers out there who are looking out for their clients and one cannot generalize about all plaintiff's lawyers. However, I will stand behind my generalizations about 100% in respect of the big plaintiffs' firms throughout the U.S. that dominate class actions. They are doing no one any good, and if people thought about it, they're actually doing harm. Please look at the Kryptonite bike lock cases as a good example - a company puts an apparently defective product on the market and now has offered to make good and I think to compensate people for lost bikes. However, if you listen to the lawyers who've filed the class actions, you'd think (a) the people at Kryptonite are Hitler's spawn and (b) that everyone who ever owned a Kryptonite lock has had their bike stolen. I have two Kryptonite locks and two bikes - still. Yet these folks want compensation beyond a new lock for everyone, so that they can put a few bucks in their pocket for a new plane, third vacation home, etc. Good luck with your story.
Speaking as a lawyer, attorneys like Edwards give us a bad name. His line of multi-million verdicts concerning birth injuries has contributed to the devastation of our health care system. Doctors should be encouraged to perform delicate surgeries, and not penalzied with large verdicts because of an accident that happens during surgery. Doctors, like most of us, are not perfect, but lawyers like Edwards have made people believe that they should be. That being said, the plaintiff trial lawyer serves a purpose and does keep corporations in check if they take the right cases for the right reasons.
The issue is not trial lawyers. It's Case Law. If we abandoned use of case law and moved to a fully statutory system, then the whole issue of precedents would be moot. The only good that using case law does is that it drives up the costs of research. Now the body of case law is becoming untenable. On the other hand, without someone to defend you in a trial, we the average citizen would be helpless.
Trial lawyers are the most powerful lobby in the modern Democratic party. In many ways, they epitomize its hypocrisy. Using the laughable mantra of "helping the downtrodden", they become filthy rich and powerful themselves. Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor; trial lawyers steal from all of us to enrich themselves.
Bob, Charlottesville Va
Trial lawyers are a group of parasites that live off the labor of others. We've all seen the kindly, symathetic, James Sokolov on television offering to see that our rights are upheld (for 33% of the take!) We all pay a tax for this sort of thing in that businesses are forced to raise their prices to cover insurance costs. This is especially true in the medical profession where some physicians have given up practicing, especially in rural areas, due to the cost of malpractice insurance. The democrats have repeatedly fought efforts to bring these lawyers and their lawsuits under control but The American Bar Association is one of the biggest contributors the the democratic party.
Although there are undoubtedly some unscrupulous trial lawyers out there, on the whole trial lawyers are a significant force for redress of grievances for the poor and middle class, particulary in the South as Mr. Wilkie's article amply demonstrates. As I see it, the problem is one of callousness, particularly in the areas of product liability and medical malpractice. In product liability cases, if a company or corporation calculates that the cost of recalling a product is more expensive than any lawsuits that may arise from its defective effects, then that company or corporation will leave the product on the market. To some extent, the company can't be blamed for such a cost benefit analysis, but at the same time, the people who are hurt by the product also can't be blamed for seeking redress for their injuries. In those instances -- and there are many -- tort lawyers serve the valuable function of levelling the playing field, and they are undoubtedly a progressive force for social justice. The case is much the same in medical malpractice, particularly in two respects. As medicine becomes more and more corporatized, and medical staffs -- particularly nurses and other immediate care personnel -- are cut and worked to the bone, mistakes are becoming more common. We're seeing an increase in wrong body parts operated on, poor charting, wrong perscriptions, etc...Corporate medical companies are largely responsible for these problems, and as such, they should bear the burden of injuries that result from their cost-cutting. Once again, trial lawyers serve a very valuable function -- levelling the playing field, holding distant corporate titans to account, and on the whole, improving the medical field. In a related way, trial lawyers improve the medical field by drumming out bad doctors who would otherwise be able to hide in their profession. While many doctors loudly proclaim that trial lawyers are singularly responsible for skyrocketing medical malpractice rates, they seldom blame themselves for the insular nature of the medical profession and its tendency to protect incompetant doctors through the "white wall of silence." When doctors and medical monitoring agencies become better at monitoring the profession and pulling the licenses of incapable physicians, then maybe trial lawyers will be less necessary. Until then, however, trial lawyers serve a vital function.
Lou, Miami, Florida
While corporate america have been the backbone of this nation and overall do more good than evil they still need to be kept in check. It has never been more evident than in the past few years that corporations have screwed their employees, their customers, their shareholders, their customers and the communities they reside in. Trial lawyers are one of the only things the corporation fears. Based on corporate americas history of 'hurting' anything in its site can you image how predatory, evil and out of control they would be without trial lawyers to keep them in check. Imagine you
Just in response to Paul's quip about case law. I would say that case law is of vital importance to the American judicial system. No two cases are the same and case law in necessary to provide distinctions for judicial guidance. Not all exigent circumstances cannot be accounted for in a civil (or codified) system of law. However, I do agree that case law has its pitfalls. I believe that too many judges out there make their own law and take the power of the legislature away from the people. Judges shold only interpret the law...not make it.
I'm a plaintiffs' lawyer, and I'm proud of what I do for a living. The Republicans and the industry groups hate us, but we perform a valuable service, often for very little money. People tend to focus on the big verdicts, but they fail to take into account the risk taken on by the plaintiffs' lawyers and the pervasiveness of defense verdicts. Everybody hates plaiintiffs' lawyers -- until they need one. John Edwards is indeed a hero and will make a great vice president, and one day, a great president.
Randall , Columbia, South Carolina