One thing is certain – you have to have thick skin to be a trial lawyer in today’s climate. I can’t go anywhere without someone wanting to tell me their latest lawyer joke. While we are respected and liked by the people who know us best – our clients, colleagues, neighbors, and friends – no one would question that the general public largely vilifies us. When I first became a plaintiff’s trial lawyer after six years of doing corporate defense work, this was somewhat troublesome to me as all of us want to be liked. However, I now feel that the attacks we come under are part of a battle that I relish – a battle against well-funded corporate special interest groups which seek to misrepresent what trial lawyers stand for and do in an effort to destroy our justice system.
I am very proud to be a trial lawyer. When a client comes to see us, it does not matter who they are, who their family is, or what the color of their skin is. We believe that every person deserves the same protection under the law as that provided to a multi-national corporation. I am proud to defend our jury trial system against those who seek to destroy it. I am proud to support the concepts of accountability and equal protection under the law. It always amazes me to hear so-called conservatives wail against our legal system. I say “so called” as any true conservative recognizes that our legal system is the foundation on which our democracy is built. We cannot have a true democracy without having the right of trial by jury. Not only does our legal system protect individuals, it also protects responsible businesses (and most businesses belong in this category) that play by the rules. Business owners in countries such as Russia and China would love to have our legal system as they realize a basic truth – you cannot have true success in business without having set rules for everyone to play by. Unless the powerless poor have the same legal rights as the powerful rich, corruption and despair will run rampant. The special interests which attack trial lawyers are the same ones which pushed through amendments to our securities laws under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, which now shield accountants like those involved in the Enron and WorldCom scandals from any liability for their acts; and they are the same interests which have defeated every effort at enacting a patients’ rights bill which would hold HMOs responsible for their unfettered intrusion on the rights of qualified doctors to make medical decisions.
While I was proud to be a trial lawyer long before September 11, 2001, the way in which our profession has responded to the terrorist attacks of that day make me even more proud to be one. Our leadership organization, the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), and our members have taken several steps that reflect the good that dedicated trial lawyers can do. First, immediately after the attacks, ATLA’s president called for a moratorium on any civil lawsuits that might arise out of these acts of terrorism. I am proud that this moratorium has been largely respected even to this day.
Secondly, during the week after the attack, trial lawyers responded to e-mail from the ATLA president asking for donations for an emergency fund to be given to the families of firefighters and policemen killed on September 11. Lawyers from across the country donated $600,000.00 to this fund within one week. I am proud that Joye Law Firm lawyers were among those making contributions.
Third, while smoke was still billowing from the attacked sites in New York and in Washington, the airline industry was busy lobbying for a bailout by Congress. Eventually, Congress did grant protection to the industry limiting its monetary exposure for any claims to the amount of liability insurance coverage they had in effect. Given the magnitude of the damages from the attacks, I cannot argue with the reasonableness of this decision. However, in response to the airline industry’s self-serving actions, I am proud that ATLA’s lobbyists and trial lawyers lobbied Congress for a comprehensive relief fund for the families of the deceased victims. The federal fund, which was subsequently established, will cover the full economic losses of the family of every deceased victim and provide further recoveries for non-economic suffering.
Many of those who regularly attack us portrayed this as a self-serving lobbying effort, stating that lawyers were greedily looking forward to obtaining a portion of the fund by representing the families of victims. How wrong they were! Within a week of the fund’s formation, ATLA announced the formation of the “Trial Lawyers Care” program. This program was set up to provide free legal representation to the families of the attacked victims. The goal of the program is to make sure that all of the federal relief fund money goes to victims and their families, not to lawyers. To date, nearly 2,500 lawyers have volunteered to provide these free legal services. I am proud to be one of them.
Are the lawyers of the Joye Law Firm proud to be trial lawyers? You bet we are! At the end of every day, we know we have helped persons who would be powerless to fight moneyed interests without quality legal representation. Certainly, as with every profession, there are bad apples who fit the stereotype of the “greedy and dishonest” lawyer which multi-national corporations and the insurance conglomerates would have you believe that all of us are. In the end, I know that most trial lawyers are good people who truly enjoy working to promote the greater good that comes from holding careless manufacturers, corporate scam artists, and insurance conglomerates responsible. I sure do – and I am proud of it!