f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 19, 2004

Mommies, Meanies, Mud and Manure in Madison County

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 9:57 pm

   Two newspaper articles and two weblog posts have roused skepticalEsq from retirement (again) this week. According to the Alton (OH) Telegraph, a group called Victims and Families United held a pro-lawyer, pro-tort-suit rally on Tuesday, at the Madison County, Ohio, courthouse. (See Rally supports rights of plaintiffs, 02-17-04, Victims say suits justified, 2-18-04, by Sanford J. Schmidt) (with pointers from Evan Schaeffer, here and there)

  The Feb. 17 article quotes a VFU spokesman as saying: Their mission is to bring balance and fairness to the debate and protect access to the courts for victims and their families.” The Feb. 18 Telegraph article notes that one of the organizers, Judy Buckles, is the widow of an asbestos-related cancer victim, and states:

The speakers addressed about 60 people gathered in the foyer of the Madison County Administration Building in downtown Edwardsville. The crowd included victims and their families and people who work at some of the plaintiffs’ law firms.
Buckles said it is hard to pick up a newspaper or listen to television or radio these days without hearing criticism of the local courts. The publicity is generated by “tort reform” groups funded by big business, she said.

“They want to make it more difficult for families to find justice,” she said.

scales rich poor The ralliers are reacting to a spate of bad publicity about Madison County being the forum of choice for class action suits, and having more of them per capita than any county in the nation. ( See e.g., this and this and that from Overlawyered.com, and Evan’s response.) I strongly support continued access for bona fide tort victims, while bemoaning both damage awards and contingent fees that are unreasonably high. I also support two of the goals mentioned by Buckles (and I know Overlawyered’s Walter Olsen does, too):

  1. Pushing for reforms aimed at driving bad doctors out while keeping good doctors in practice.
  2. Weeding out bad lawyers and bar them from filing bad lawsuits.

I also think the “Sorry Works” program supported by VFU (in which hospitals that make mistakes would apologize for them and provide a settlement offer upfront) is worth a try, so long as the lawyer’s fee is significantly reduced when there is such a quick settlement.

But, I think you can understand why skepticalEsq might be a little, well, skeptical of the “grassroots” nature of the group. The group and rally might indeed be “grassroots” in the narrow sense of being at a local level, but it’s hard to believe that they came into existence spontaneously or sua sponte under the auspices of the victims and their families. More likely, the grass got fed some fertilzer. Note the newspaper account that the rather small crowd of about 60 “included victims and their families and people who work at some of the plaintiffs’ law firms.” (emphasis added) No break-down given.

  • The idea of a pro-lawyer rally reminds me of one of my favorite Wiley Miller Non Sequitur cartoons. In the panel, from 9-10-93, we see an enormous horde of lawyers marching behind a banner reading “Lawyer Appreciation Day Parade.” Sadly, there are no people at all lining the street to show their appreciation, and one of the parade leaders wants to send out subpoenas.
  • As for mud: If you want to be totally dispirited about the level of public discourse on the issue of tort reform and victims’ rights, please take a look at the reader opnions at the Telegraph website. No matter what one’s take on the issues, it would be difficult for reasonable persons to acknowledge having such allies.

Now, as for Evan [see hyperbole alert below]. At his entertaining (if occasionally propagandistic) notes from the [legal] underground weblog, he noted wryly “There are frequent demonstrations at the courthouse, but this is the first time I’ve heard about a group demonstrating in support of lawsuits.” But, at his Illinois Personal Injury Blog, p/i lawyer Evan gives the rally a lot more coverage, quoting at length from the 2/17 Telegraph article and, without the slightest note of irony, calls VFU a “new grassroots organization.” We here at e&hEsq are shocked and saddened that the author of a fine post earlier this month about misleading terminology dubbed “cynic incubators,” would utilize one of the prime examples of the c/i phenomenon to legitimize the p/i lawyers fan club. I hope he’ll give us some evidence (or at least rumors) about how VFU got started.

  • Hyperbole Alert (02-20-04): Due to my old-fogey reluctance to use emoticon’s in a posting, I apparently did not adequately signal that I’m merely poking fun at Evan (who is a very good fun-poker himself), and not questioning his integrity. Please see my late-night response (apology) to Evan’s extended Comment.

Here’s a good Rule of Thumb when reading this website: If David uses hyperbole such as “shocked and saddened”, you can be pretty darn sure that his cynic-tongue is in his cyber-cheek.

I need an emoticon-free way to signal “feeble attempt at humor and/or irony.” Or, perhaps, I need to swallow my elitist pride and use those silly emoticons. [If you, like I, need a primer on webmail emoticons and acronyms, click here.]

Lawyer Lincoln Was a Bargain

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:29 am

penny sm penny over

Our Feb. 12 post A Lincolnesque Law Practice? has been very warmly received, suggesting a craving for positive lawyer role models.  Today, a savvy visitor was kind enough to share the result he received when converting into today’s dollars the highest fee mentioned in the materials quoted in our posting — the $500 fee in the 1838 murder case of People v. Truett, becomes $9434 in 2003 dollars.

Using our own arithmetic wizardry, we estimate that Abe’s $5 fees for many client matters would have been about $95 now.  And, his annual income while riding the circuit, about $2500, would be about $47,000 now  Those numbers should humble a lot of modern lawyers, and hopefully make them reflect upon what the search for ever-higher income has done to the practice of law in America. 

afterwords: In a Comment here, Evan Schaeffer pointed out that Lawyer Lincoln once charged $5000 to a railroad client, in a case where the judgment saved the railroad half a million dollars a year in taxes.  Evan notes that the fee would be $104,166 in today’s dollars.  I had this reply: —

Lincoln asked first for $2000 and then for $5000, after being insulted by the client, which refused to pay the fee.  If he had asked for one-third of the client’s tax savings in one year (as many current trial lawyers might do), he would have asked for $166,667 dollars, or over $31 million in today’s dollars.  (Of course, many modern lawyers, who charge a contingent fee based on savings, would use more than one year’s result to calculate the fee.).

Thank you for helping me understand even better the difference between Lawyer Lincoln and many of today’s lawyers.

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