Trial Lawyers: Why We Love to Hate Them

What is it that makes trial attorneys and personal injury lawyers the most despised group, except for career politicians and organized labor? Maybe it’s because of the practices they engage in and the morality of their actions.

Let’s sift through the evidence and see if we can find it in our hearts to pity the trial lawyers.

First, let’s look at how honest they are about what they do. Starting about 60 years ago, the legal system spawned contingency-fee lawyers who claimed to “help the underserved” by risking their money representing the little guy in court against the evil big guys who exploit them. While many years ago this social/moral compact had some merit, it has been bastardized by the trial lawyers.

What happened is that over the years, personal injury and plaintiff law firms got very good at figuring out how to accept only those cases that had potentiality humongous fee awards, or had unquestionable legal merit– in other words, low-risk, high-return cases, and the ones with low-hanging fruit. The remaining cases brought by the little guys were largely ignored.

Time passed. The plaintiff’s trial bar morphed from a group that was supposed to include high-risk, low-return cases in their work (in order to fulfill the moral covenant) into a group that turned their backs on cases that were potentially unprofitable to the attorneys. So, the moral compact became broken, with the result that there remains a legally underserved segment of society, living on the other side of town from the beachfront homes of the rich-beyond-belief plaintiff trial lawyers.

These same lawyers continue the pretense that their main mission is “justice for the injured”. As one example of P.R.-spin, they changed the name of their lobbying group from the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers to the Florida Justice Association. But a thorn is still a thorn by any other name.

Next, let’s look at the morality of their actions. Even though we can’t live without ‘em, trial lawyers are a drain on our economy, mostly because the “good” they do ends up as money in their own pockets. The legal fees that are spent defending frivolous lawsuits bleed our precious capital, which could be used to invest productively to fuel jobs and expand businesses.

Plaintiff trial lawyers are sometimes too willing to step beyond their professional morals. In my view, what some aggressive claimant attorneys do legally is far more damaging to this state than the good they do for the “little guy”. Often, these “officers of the court” are moreso businessmen colluding with plaintiffs to extort money from businesses. Legal extortion is still extortion.

Sometimes plaintiff attorneys seek to be bought off by pushing defense counsel to agree to boost their fees in return for settling class action cases. As one New York attorney said, “Lawyering (is an) occupation where borderline dishonesty is fairly lucrative.

And the truth is that the little guy pockets much less than he should because the attorneys take so much. So let’s not pity the lawyers who engage in “forum shopping”, “Boxcar discovery”, “churning the meter” and “cooling the client out”.

The business community and fair-minded Floridians need to fight such trial attorneys across the board– in the voting booth, in the courtroom, in the Florida legislature, and in the court of public opinion. As law school dean Robert McKay stated, “Justice is too important to be left to lawyers.”

John R. Smith

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company.
John R. Smith

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