I’m pretty fascinated by the negative stereotype of lawyers that dominates television, films, and everyday conversation. In June I wrote about a misleading Washington Times editorial which said that lawyers were “jumping over themselves to cash in” on BP lawsuits, and claimed, without providing facts, that attorneys would overcharge their clients.
This week, the New York Times joined team lawyer basher, penning an editorial on the importance of oil spill victims getting a fair day in trial. But the editorial predicts, “we probably cannot expect the lawyers to act responsibly. We do expect better of the politicians.”
As Eric Turkewtiz writes at the New York Personal Injury Law Blog, “no one ever lost a nickel by bashing lawyers, because when we defend ourselves we sound like, well, lawyers.” Turkewitz points out that the Times’ suggestion here is that since Kenneth Feinberg, the respected government bureaucrat responsible for disbursing funds to 9/11 victims, is in charge, victims don’t need lawyers to help them navigate the government’s $20 billion escrow account.
He then explains why this is such a bad idea:
Does the Times seems to suggest that Feinberg will simply pay claims without the expert analysis that’s needed in the evaluations? Will the claims simply leap off the table and magically prove themselves to Feinberg without effort?
In one sense, this is like a trial on damages only, with liability already established. But you still must prove those damages to the finder of fact. Perhaps many of the claims are simple. Most assuredly, many are not. Only a fool would walk into the forum unarmed.
I’m also intrigued by the editorial’s claim that politicians can be better trusted to ensure that victims get a fair day in court, despite the fact that half of Congress has been reluctant to blame the British oil giant and has pushed against raising the liability limit for corporate wrongdoing.
Lawyer bashing aside, the most important thing here is that the victims of the spill are compensated fairly for their economic and physical injuries. And one thing the Times got right is that Feinberg is the best person to help make that happen.
Photo credit: USCGD8