Atlanta Journal-Constitution
[ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 7/23/02 ]

Trial lawyers knock 'Goliaths' down to size

Mary E. Alexander
Mary E. Alexander, a San Francisco consumer attorney, will take office Wednesday as president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America at the organization's national convention in Atlanta.


This is a time of testing for everyone in America. Terrorists have slaughtered thousands of Americans and threaten to do it again. While our sons and daughters in America's military uniforms are hunting down the enemies of civilization, the rest of us need to find ways to help.

Within hours of the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the smashing of a section of the Pentagon, the Trial Lawyers of America moved to provide free legal assistance to survivors and their families. Through our Trial Lawyers Care group, 2,500 of our attorneys are helping, at no charge, some 1,200 victim families, and more are seeking our help every day and more attorneys are volunteering. We worked with the government to craft the legislation for the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, and we called for a moratorium on lawsuits stemming from the Sept. 11 atrocities.

We said that if the nation was going to help the airlines and the property owners, we must first and foremost help the victims themselves -- and the Congress listened to us. Because they knew we were right.

Our calling is advocacy. Quiet and subtle, or loud and dramatic. Whatever is in the best interests of our client.

We come to fight -- and to win. We are David fighting Goliath. We are the thundering voice of the crushed and voiceless. No matter how powerless our client, nor how powerful the adversary. That is a very American notion and I love it!

The fact is, when we lawyers are attacked, it is really for our successes won against some of the most brutally corrupt special interests in our society. Those special interests use every engine of perception to paint us as evil.

But knowledgeable Americans have learned over the past 50 years how absolutely vital attorneys at law truly are to the functioning of our democracy. The cars you drive, the work places in which you toil, the houses and apartments in which you live are all significantly safer because of tough lawyers who exposed the truth in court and won lawsuits against some of the biggest, most powerful interests in the world.

Does anyone seriously believe corporations looking to the bottom line -- like all those we've been reading about lately -- would have made the necessary changes in their conduct if they hadn't been compelled to by the lawsuits and the painful judgments of the courts?

An estimated 6,000 deaths and millions of injuries are prevented each year because of the deterrent effect of product liability lawsuits. And those aren't ATLA's numbers. They come from the Consumer Federation of America.

When juries speak, corporate America listens: That's why defective cribs no longer strangle babies. Flammable pajamas are no longer burning children. Harmful medical devices have been redesigned. Car fuel systems have been made safer. Cancer-causing asbestos no longer poisons homes, schools and work places. Farm machinery has stopped lopping off workers' limbs thanks to safety guards and physicians are a whole lot more careful about what and where they cut and what they prescribe.

We are trial lawyers. At a time when we as lawyers are under attack as a group, it is important that the public is informed about the critical role we play in fighting for victims against special interests and protecting the nation from defective products and services through the civil justice system.