Advertising: Bad for the Tort System

Well it is about time I came up with something a bit controversial.  I think advertising is bad for the tort system.  There is no doubt that advertising works very well for personal injury attorneys.  It is so succesful at getting clients in the door that the attorneys have to hire staff just to sort the wheat from the chaffe.  I even have a 3/4 inch space in a column in the phone book stating that I do personal injury work and have 28 years experience.  Although, I am told that that is a waste of money -- the serious people have full page color phone book ads and are on TV and radio.  And, they are absolutely right.  But I just can't go that extra mile.

While the advertising is great for individual lawyers it has the effect of poisoning the jury pool.  It plays right into the insurance industry's campaign to make trial lawyers look like ambulance chasers.  This summer or the year before at the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association summer convention, David Ball reportedly hit on this topic and told the crowd that in the public's eye "they had no credibility" due in large part to advertising.

So, we have become victims of our own success.  This percolated to the top of my brain today because of two articles that I read recently.  The first was an op-ed piece in the New York Times by a law professor.  The subject was ATLA's name change which the professor opined would not help.  In the article he stated:

The problem for the lawyers is that the genius of the tort system - its' capacity to marshall the entrepeneurial energies of the bar - is also it's greatest public relations liability.

I also ran across an article in the Providence Business News. (Isn't the internet wonderful - how else would someone in the Northwest read the Providence Business News).  The article was about the fact that the insurance industry is involved in litigation five times as much as other industries.  In explaining that this had nothing to do with the personal injury side of the business, the author stated:

Personal-injury lawsuits have been in decline for more than a decade, following the famous 1994 case in which a jury awarded millions of dollars to a McDonald’s customer who was seriously burned by hot coffee, Padwa said.

That and other highly publicized personal-injury awards resulted in a backlash, so that today, many people refrain from pursuing legitimate claims for fear they won’t get justice, he said.

So the next time we ask the public to come see us with their case because we are in "The Million Dollar Club" think of how many jurors will be poisoned.


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