Saturday, April 18, 2009

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

Have you ever heard a positive lawyer joke? Me neither. And I've heard a lot of them. For reasons that will forever baffle me, people find it even funnier to tell lawyer jokes to lawyers, because we clearly appreciate lame attempts at humor and surely we haven't heard them all.

Trust me, we have.

Lawyers, if conventional wisdom can be believed, are responsible for everything from greed and a growing sense of undue entitlement to outright fraud and generalized moral corruption of our society: the lack of ethics attorneys display is morally bankrupting our nation.

Lawyers, after all, are responsible for those ridiculous lawsuit that you hear about in the news. You know, like that old woman who struck a gold mine by suing McDonald's after she spilled her own coffee on herself. Well, it makes for juicy copy anyway.

We've all heard a lot about "Tort Reform" and how badly we need it. In fact, it passed in Texas some time ago when it was all the rage. We in Texas and in other states have been told countless times that "Greedy Trial Lawyers" are the only ones who benefit and do so to the tune of bajillions of dollars. Obviously, they and their torts need to be limited. Do you even know what a tort is? Do you think the average voter does? I would hazard to say no, not only do they not know a precise definition, but that they don't know a tort from a contract or almost any other cause of action. But I digress....

Considering that truly meritless tort cases (and any other meritless case) will be dismissed by the judge on their facts after a simple motion by the opposing attorney, is there really a need to reform the tort? If your answer is yes, why so? Because you've been told? Who told you - those ads on TV that someone ambiguous funded? Your doctor who handed you a pamphlet and urged you to vote for tort reform so his malpractice insurance would be lowered so that he wouldn't be driven out of business or out of state by the Greedy Trial Lawyers?

Tort Reform isn't solely concerned with medical malpractice, but it's probably the portion that hit most voters close to home. Say someone is harmed by a doctor. Let's call it negligence. Who benefits from that? The family might benefit financially, but of course we don't want the grieving spouse to make too much money out of their tragedy, do we? Who else? The Greedy Trial Lawyer who took a big risk on this case by taking it on a contingency basis and ate all the costs to bring it to trial? Of course he/she profits - that's their job! Cases like this can easily take $100,000.00 to bring to trial - should the attorney who took on that risk not benefit?

On the flip side, who profits from Tort Reform? The doctors who were being allegedly driven out of business by the legal profession? Only marginally, as it turns out. Could it be the insurance companies?


Insurance companies have profited astronomically since the vote to implement Tort Reform in Texas. If you are planing on having a difficult birth or complicated surgery, this might not be the state to do it in - if your health care providers drop the ball, your financial recover is severely limited, regardless of the damage done. And the insurance companies couldn't be happier.

In fact, "ten years after so-called “tort reform” legislation, insurance companies that offer property, liability and casualty coverage are reporting record profits for 2005. "

And in addition to that, because of the work and high expense involved in this type of case, you will find many fewer attorneys financially able to take on any cases in which recovery is not all but certain. So if your case is not a slam dunk, good luck getting anyone to accept it at all.

This entry explains the result of Texas voters' actions as it applies to patients. I urge you to read it if you have recently been, ever plan to be, or are kin or friends with any health care patients in Texas or your state is considering similar legislation.

So what voters did by choosing this law to bring down the Greedy Trial Lawyers is the proverbial nose biting to spite their face. Sadly, they screwed themselves - the joke is on them.

On all of us, actually.

The title of this entry is a quote from William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2. It's often used to illustrate the point that even centuries ago, lawyers were (rightly) regarded as fully dispensable bottom dwellers of society. The irony is this: while clearly intended as a lawyer joke even then, this line of comic relief is expressed by the play's villains who think it would be fabulous to rid society of the greedy lawyers. Of course they think that - they are the villains! Lawyers, regardless of what you think of them, are part of the system to help keep the bad guys in check, despite what the insurance company propaganda wants you to think.

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