July 7, 2004

Edwards ... and those terrible trial lawyers.

Yesterday, I set my all-time record for least posting: a single line. I wonder why the big announcement of Kerry's VP pick did not inspire me to write? Edwards was a choice I expected and approve of. We talked about it a lot in my house as we watched a different news channels last night. Most of my comments were about what a great speaker Edwards is compared to everyone else we've been hearing: Kerry, Bush, and Cheney. Both Kerry and Bush require some patience to listen to. The return of Edwards was quite a relief, a bit like the recent reexperiencing of the speaking skills of Reagan and Clinton. People on TV keep commenting on how good Edwards looks. More important is how well he speaks. Heard in my house: "He's the Great Communicator."

The other subject relating to Edwards that keeps coming up is the fact that that he was a--gasp!--trial lawyer. Are the news media getting enough play out of this? Attempts to stir up general anxiety about that fact alone are getting old already. Anyone who wants to raise this as a problem had best do it behind Edwards' back, because if he's around to respond, he will respond brilliantly. An attempt to drag Edwards (and Kerry) down by slurring lawyers is likely to end up improving the image of the whole legal profession. And after the events at Abu Ghraib and the Supreme Court's push-back against the most extreme assertions of unchecked power by the Bush administration, a return to law seems like a good theme.

UPDATE: A lawyer responds:
I disagree with your contention that Edward's profession is not a liability. Its significant that you call him a trial lawyer. Actually, he's a personal injury lawyer. The difference [is] the difference between pro-choice and anti-life, rain forest v. jungle, homeless v. vagrant, and many other formulations. A trial lawyer doesn't sound so bad - after all, Perry Mason was a trial lawyer! A Plaintiffs Personal Injury lawyer, as Dave Barry can tell you, is a shark.

Count on the GOP, if they're smart, to use his proper title. Count on them to solicit a lot of Doctors to oppose Edwards. Count on them to tell the truth, that we've never heard of a PI lawyer who didn't claim to " fight for little girls who were horribly mistreated." ( It's always a little girl.) Count on them to tell the Republic what percentage of consumer items goes towards lawsuit insurance. It won't be that hard.
Is "trial lawyer" a euphemism that the other side will gain ground by declining to use? I don't think there is a "proper title" here or that ordinary people are going to become excited if they are told that he calls himself a "trial lawyer" but really he's a personal injury lawyer. It's just not that alarming. It even sounds nice--personal. Now, "shark" is alarming, but it's hardly a "proper title." My point is that even if being a personal injury lawyer is something of a negative for some people, the issue is easily overplayed, beyond its significance to ordinary voters, and Edwards has a comeback that is so appealing and powerful that those who try to make headway are giving him an opportunity to display his skills and to make lawyers seem noble. Last night, C-Span re-ran a 2001 interview in which Edwards was asked about being a trial lawyer and his response was so perfect, so measured and balanced as he justified the role of the personal injury lawyer in particular cases with respect to truly culpable defendants. He is extremely well-prepared to respond to the kinds of arguments you cite. I'm not saying these arguments shouldn't be raised in some well-thought-out and substantial form, but the bare fact that he's a trial lawyer/personal injury lawyer is not good enough.

By the way, where did this idea that "rain forest" is a euphemism for "jungle" come from? I've heard that before, but it is just wrong. A rain forest is not a jungle.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Prof. Bainbridge is surely right that there are plenty of people whose support for Bush will be reinforced now that there's a trial lawyer on the Democratic ticket. And maybe some voters who could tip one way or the other could be influenced to tip away from Kerry because of some issues that have to do with trial lawyers. But I don't think the swing voters are going to be tipped by the mere label "trial lawyer," which is already overplayed. Something more substantive is needed, but Edwards is very good at dealing with these issues in a balanced way that would probably not strike moderates as anti-business.

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