Most of you have probably read the hatchet job on all of us that was in the NY Times op-ed on October, 24, 2006 called First Rename All of the Lawyers. If you haven’t it’s a must read for all of us. To represent our clients well we must be aware of the crap that potential jurors are being exposed to in the media. It is equally important for us to respond to these types of attacks quickly and proportionately so that the minds of those potential jurors are not already made up before they hear our case. We count on our leaders (ATLA) to fight this public relations fight for us.
This recent op-ed was written by a professor at Columbia named John Fabien Witt who it appears has published somewhat prolifically on the subject of how the tort system has screwed up our country. I’m sure he is a surrogate of the insurance industry or the pharmaceutical industry or the Chamber of Commerce or one of the other advocacy groups or think tanks that want to send our clients home without remedies and protect corporate profits. The premise of the op-ed is that we(ATLA) have changed our name through the 50 or so years that we have been around but our goal has always been the same. To rip off corporations and take advantage of our own clients so that we can make as much money as we can for ourselves. It calls us every name in the book, including ambulance chasers. There was nothing new to this attack, but the fact that it was the top op-ed in the allegedly liberal minded NY Times stung a little.
I figured ATLA national(or AAJ) would be right on top of this with their rapid response people. I expected to see an op-ed in the week that followed from Jon Haber, the new CEO of ATLA, or some prominent law scholar discussing our role in making America safer. For those of you who were at this summer’s national convention when the name was changed, ATLA was showing a beautifully produced video commercial which articulated our message perfectly: Trial Lawyers have made America safer, we intend to fight for the rights of our clients, and that we are proud to be trial lawyers who choose people over profits. What we got in response to this law professor’s attack was a letter to the editor from John Haber that was nondescript. It was in Sunday’s paper but I’m sure it did not have the impact that the op-ed had. I read the Times everyday. Maybe others read it differently but I always read the op-eds and the editorials and barely ever read the letters to the editor unless something really catches my eye. The only reason I caught this one was because every day after this op-ed I was looking out for our response. It was disappointing.
My point is that we know that we are losing in the public relations wars. Our adversary’s have resources to outspend us 100 or 1000 to 1, but you mean to tell me that we don’t have the juice to get on the op-ed page of the liberal New York Times. I can’t believe that. If we can’t maybe we should focus our resources toward getting those relationships to get our message out when we need it. Its more likely that our leaders saw it as another of many attacks, no big deal and responded that way. Maybe I’m overreacting because it was in my newspaper.
I think we could do better. Our clients are the ones that will suffer. I have ranted enough.