I spent most of last week at a convention hosted by an organization known as AAJ…otherwise known as the American Association for Justice. That’s a pretty broad name for a trial lawyers’ association, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure all Americans consider themselves “for” justice. So what’s this association really about?
Access. It’s about access. We can always pursue justice, and there is certainly no better goal, especially as a lawyer. But we can’t always guarantee it. What we can guarantee are systems, logistics, safeguards, rules and courts, that work a certain way…for everyone. For the little guy. For big corporations. For criminals. For children. We have to make sure that every last person has access to our courts. Our courts serve as the model for emerging democracies. And there is a reason for that. Our courts give you a chance to get in the ring with the powerful, and make them answer for what they’ve done. The ring is square, and the ring is fair.
What many don’t understand is that there are powerful people in the right places infringing on our access. With forced arbitration, short statutes of limitation, caps on damages. It’s so rarely discussed and, in fact, talking about civil suits can often open you up to vilification. The messaging is owned by one side. I, somehow, am a greedy trial lawyer. The victims, somehow, are faking it and forcing everyone else’s insurance premiums higher. Victim blaming isn’t just reserved for sexual assault, it happens every day in my practice.
There is a massive silent war going on in America over access to justice. Yet another one of the highly-politicized issues that many of us thought had already been fought over and put to bed. Courts are the greatest equalizing force in the modern world. American courts especially. And that is why powerful corporations are scared of them. Because as much power as a corporation can have, they will never have more power than a jury. Unless they make it impossible for you to ever get in front of a jury. And that is exactly what they are doing, in thousands of little ways all across the country. Death by a thousand cuts.
Do you think I’m being dramatic? You won’t if, God forbid, something bad happens to a loved one. Which is why I have many first-time conversations that go something along the lines of: “My husband was injured, he’s unable to work, we have 3 kids, and the person/corporation won’t help us. I know there are so many frivolous lawsuits, and I promise I’m not litigious, but my husband did nothing wrong and this case is different. They should take responsibility for what they did.” Yes, your case is different. They all are. You’re not lying, you’re not litigious, your loved one really is hurt and someone else really is responsible for it. At that point, you’ll realize how hard it is to get in front of a jury. But I couldn’t be more proud to help people get there.
I, like so many other lawyers, recently read that, in terms of career choice, we occupy the most reviled place in our society. We lawyers need some much better public relations professionals. When you’re in trouble, the first person you call is your lawyer. If you end up hurt through no fault of your own, the person you need most will be your lawyer. We’re trying hard to keep the doors to the courthouses open. So, can we give the lawyers a little bit of love, please?