Monday, January 31, 2011

Don't Let Legislatures and The Judiciary Strip Us of Our Constitutional Rights!

I am sick about hearing about tort "reform." even President Obama talks about the need for medical malpractice reform. What will really happen if lawsuits just went away? Will society be better off? Are lawyers and their greedy clients the problem?

Would there be seat belts in cars if no one had sued because a loved one was killed while ejected from a car and needlessly killed? Would some demented bosses be allowed to fondle and require their secretaries to give them sex if courageous women had not brought sexual harassment lawsuits? Would it just be considered "bad form" or rude if some white employees hang nooses from the ceiling in the break room to intimidate African Americans if fed up and outraged people of color had not had the courage to insist on their rights to be free from discrimination in court? I could recite hundreds, if not thousands of examples of positive social change as a result of lawsuits.

Should we let large corporations and insurance companies run roughshod over our legislatures, shower politicians with money and incentives so that they, the unliving "people" (or so the Supreme Court claims) can make their shareholders richer and more powerful while those with no money get poorer and poorer.

Is this country really just about money and power because we have a "capitalistic" society? I thought the Bill of Rights was supposed to mean something. Everyday, our judiciary and our Congress whittle away the Seventh Amendment rights of Americans, and no one even notices. The Seventh Amendment entitles Americans to jury trials. It is one of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights, seemingly as important as our First Amendment right to free speech and the constantly debated Second Amendment right to bear arms. But, no one talks about the Seventh Amendment. And while no one is paying attention, we are losing our Seventh Amendment rights through concealed arbitration agreements, judges granting summary judgment or remittitur, legislatures placing caps on damages. Big business does not trust American citizens to look out for their interest. Big business thinks people, if given the power as jurors will most likely to the right and fair thing. And big business does not want a fair, even playing field.

Those of you reading this, I implore you to contact your legislators, whether state or federal and find out their views on so called "tort reform"' which is a misnomer. What these people, under the influence of big business advocate is injustice and unfairness. We have a right to have disputes tried by a jury of our peers for a reason. The jury system is the most fair and just. Make sure you let your representatives know that it's not away for them to take away your rights, no matter how much money big business pays them in campaign contributions. It's time for us to step up and insist on our rights. They can't just tear our right to a jury from us, while no one is paying attention. You must do something.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How To Be A Great Lawyer, Especially a Great Anti-Discrimination Lawyer

People start law school for many reasons. I am going to address the species of lawyer called trial lawyer, specifically plaintiffs' trial lawyers, especially those of us who are paid usually by contingent fees. I will break down the different motivators that produce trial lawyers and how some of those end up representing others in discrimination and civil rights cases.

I believe there are many, many reasons people go to law school and what their satisfaction as a lawyer will be:

1. Daddy or mommy was a lawyer - if that's the only reason, not great prospects for long range career satisfaction.

2. Afraid to leave school - prognosis for satisfaction is same as 1 above.

3. Lawyers are rich (which is usually not true) - money can't make you happy forever.

4. Ego and prestige - trIal lawyers oftentimes are more egotistical. This may be enough to make some lawyers happy. It's a rather shallow existence, though.

5. Intellectual and creative stimulation - this might be enough for some.

6. The possibility of helping someone find his or her own power. This is the basis of satisfaction as a trial lawyer.

7. Realizing the potential, through trials and representing clients, of changing stereotypes and improving society. This is the most rewarding aspect of being a trial lawyer and can sustain the lawyer for many, many years.

So, what are the characteristics of a successful civil rights' plaintiff's lawyer (and by "success" I don't mean money)

A. The lawyer must know him or her self, be able to know what motivates him or her.

B. Empathy is a must. I won't explain all of the reasons here. Read the 3 Sisters book, Trial in Action or attend one of their seminars to improve your empathy and self-knowledge.

C. Learn to love your client, learn who he or she is. Know his or her wants and dreams.

D. Prepare for everything, but be spontaneous - spontaneity is only possible with preparation.

E. Empathize with jurors and even opposing parties.

F. Try your case from your heart. Sure you need to know the rules, but sincerity is what you
need to win.

G. Don't give up. Go to Plan B, appeal, keep at it, keep fighting.

If you follow this recipe, you can change the world, one case at a time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The 3 Sisters - Trial in Action

I am so excited to be invited on the faculty of the next 3 Sisters trial seminar, Trial in Action, in New Orleans from February 17 - 20, 2011. If you don't know who the 3 Sisters are, they are three brilliant, talented and caring lawyers, whose practices span most facets of law, criminal, civil, family and even trial consulting. These inspirational women, Joane Garcia-Colson, Fredilyn Sison, and Mary Peckham, have devised an effective and inspiration seminar series to make lawyers more effective, fulfilled and powerful, not only in the practice of law, but also in life, by using the principles of psychodrama and story-telling. Not only have they devised this remarkable seminar series, they are the recent authors of a book by the same name as the seminar, Trial in Action, which is a hit.

I am so fortunate to know and be friends with these amazing lawyers from different backgrounds and walks of life. Mary has a successful firm in Denver, Fredi is a federal public defender and Joane is a trial lawyer and consultant. These women are so inspirational and their talent seems limitless. Knowing them has not only made me a better lawyer, but also a better person.

If you want to improve your trial skills, check them out. I can guarantee you, you will find so much more.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Importance of Whistleblowers

Watch 60 Minutes on CBS on January 2, 2011. It shows the pharmaceutical company Glaxo paying a $750,000,000 criminal fine for mixing mis-labeled drugs that could kill people. The Glaxo manager who blew the whistle was fired. Can we as a nation afford to endanger our citizens by protecting these companies? Please watch this episode and consider the consequences, Missouri Legislature, before you give a pass to corporations engaged in unlawful and dangerous conduct. Do we really want to put people at risk? I desperately hope not.