Tim Holton of Deal, Cooper & Holton on The Changes in the Industry
In our weekly blog, "Beyond the Bio," we ask MBQ Power Players to write a post of their choosing about their industry. This post is the sixth post from our March/April Power Player category of Personal Injury Lawyers. Last week, Rebecca Adelman shared her take on "Work-Life Being." The week before, William Bomar discussed tips of the system. Brett Hughes of Harris, Shelton, Hanover & Walsh discussed the value of preparation in litigation. Before that, Lang Wiseman of Wiseman Bray discussed the importance of law. Previously, Gary Smith of Apperson Crump on the importance of justice.
When I began practicing law almost 30 years ago, there were IBM typewriters, (yes, those relics with the white correcting tape), there were secretaries who took dictation (paralegals were unheard of), documents were typed in duplicate and triplicate using “carbon paper,” and lawyer advertising was almost exclusively by word of mouth.
Over the years things have changed drastically, and in most instances, for the better. The antique IBM Selectric has been replaced by laptops and iPads, the “steno pool” is gone, a good paralegal can outwork most lawyers, and no one even knows what carbon paper is.
Some changes, however, have not been so good.
When I first began practicing, there was a huge debate about whether or not one should “advertise” in the Yellow Pages, (it seems now the Yellow Pages are going the way of carbon paper and the steno pool). The lawyers with whom I was sharing space all agreed that the most we would “advertise” was a one or two line ad in the yellow pages under Attorneys. Even that was a stretch in the mind of many fellow lawyers.
Flash forward to today. The airwaves are bombarded by lawyer ads. Not all of them are bad; in fact, many tend to provide valuable information about product recalls, dangerous drugs, and other safety precautions.
In contrast there are also many ads which have taken the profession to an almost unthinkable low mark. Anyone watching the local news is bombarded with clownish lawyers working with talking dogs, wearing ill-fitting cowboy hats, and making claims of being “heavy hitters.”
These law firms are not in the business of trials or litigation, rather they have evolved into glorified “insurance claims mills” working for a quick settlement on the multitudes of cases that their advertising generates. Their aim is to work as many cases as possible, but justice is not a combo meal at a fast food restaurant. The unfortunate result of their approach is to neglect the time and effort necessary to ensure their clients are “made-whole.” Serious injuries change lives, change families, and they can leave a gaping hole in the hearts of those affected. Plaintiffs lawyers like me are asked to bring a remedy to the table, and for my clients it is no trivial matter.
While the insurance and healthcare industries have come under much needed scrutiny in recent years, the TV settlement “lawyers” have given these broken industries a scapegoat: “the problem is the greedy lawyers.” Instead of dealing with the deeper problems of a broken system, some folks have seized the opportunity to demonize not only these legal caricatures but the entire profession, and in the process they have made justice for an injured human being the enemy. Many states have imposed caps on the amount of damages an individual can recover, causing a deep injustice to persons who have suffered a life changing permanent injury.
I like to say that in a perfect world we wouldn’t need lawyers; people would ALWAYS fix the things that they had broken, doctors would ALWAYS treat their patients with an unwavering attention to detail, and car wrecks wouldn’t happen. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, human beings are not perfect, accidents do happen, and lives are forever changed as a result. When accidents happen, it is up to those of my profession to work for an outcome that is just for those who have been injured, and it is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, or to be mocked in a hokey advertisement.
Over the years as my practice has evolved from IBM Selectrics and carbon paper to iPads and cell phones, I have had the honor of representing truly deserving people who needed the help of a trial lawyer to right a wrong. Years of tough lessons and experience in the courtroom have benefitted my clients and their families. From defective product manufacturers, to negligent health care providers, to massive energy companies ruining the environment, a trial lawyer and the jury system can make a life changing difference for those who have been injured at the hands of another.
In the end, while much has changed over the years of my career, much has stayed the same.
Partner, Deal Cooper & Holton. J.D., University of Memphis. Concentration in medical and hospital negligence, product liability, and pharmaceutical litigation. Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Medical Malpractice Specialist. sustaining Member and Board Governers Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association. Member, American Inns of Court, American Association for Justice, Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Fourm, and AMerican Baord of Trial Advocates.