As litigation attorneys, we often are focused on getting the next file or working up our existing cases as they move forward to trial or mediation. We sometimes forget an important variable that controls how our clients will be served by the court system and how our cases will move through the system – legislative action.
Here in New Hampshire, like across the country, our legislature is hard at work on a variety of bills. An aggressive effort to skew the civil justice system by certain legislators that made their fortunes and careers as plaintiff’s lawyers has been underway. I suspect that other states are facing similar onslaughts, either by plaintiff legislators or legislators that are beholden to the AAJ for their election or re-election. Additionally, civil justice is under attack because economic times are forcing cutbacks in all branches of government including the judiciary.
As defense lawyers, we have an obligation to our profession and our clients to try to keep the playing field level. This week I have had the privilege of testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and House Finance Committee. Before the Judiciary Committee, I attempted to educate the members that a bill that could eliminate worker’s compensation liens in third party actions would have the end result of raising compensation premiums and harm small businesses. Before Finance, I spoke in support of the Chief Justice’s budget request and against consolidation of District Courts, our first tier courts, and elimination of judicial commissions and boards. In an earlier posting to this Blog, I described testifying before the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules on proposed changes to Federal Rules 26 and 56.
Most of our State and Local Defense Organizations have legislative tracking in place and some even have paid lobbyists on staff. Others rely on individual lawyer members to contact legislators and testify when needed. At DRI we are part of the Lawyers for Civil Justice, which allows DRI to join forces with our sister organizations the IADC and FDCC, and other like-minded law firms, corporations and organizations to lobby congress on matters of civil justice fairness, and to bring that expertise to the state level where appropriate. DRI, with the outstanding help of our Young Lawyers Committee, is tracking legislation in each state and you can find weekly reports in The Voice. Finally, through DRI’s support of the National Foundation of Judicial Excellence we are providing the best and most balanced education for our state appellate judges on cutting edge civil justice and litigation issues.
I encourage all defense lawyers to pay attention to what is happening in your legislatures and find opportunities to advance the cause of civil justice at your local level, outside the courtroom. Volunteer to speak with legislators or legislative staff who are drafting bills on civil justice issues or issues particular to your practice area. Provide copies of the DRI Whitepaper on Jury Service or the state of the judiciary to your courts and legislators and press. Personally, through your firms and through your SLDOs financially support the NFJE. And finally, remain engaged, because without the support of the entire defense community – lawyers, organizations, and clients – the playing field will not remain level and as a result not just our clients, but also society will suffer.
R. Matthew Cairns
Gallagher Callahan & Gartrell