July 14, 2004

John Edwards' legal career.

The NYT has a good piece today about John Edwards' legal career:
"He would pick the cases that had the largest verdict potential," said Dewey W. Wells, a former state court judge who litigated against Mr. Edwards as a defense lawyer. "He had a good eye for those cases. He said he was the champion of the little guy, and it's true that many of the people who are injured are poor and downtrodden. He can say he was championing their interest, but it was only by coincidence. He was picking the cases with the biggest payoffs."

Another former adversary, James P. Cooney III, who defended a dozen medical malpractice cases brought by Mr. Edwards, agreed that "he was very selective about his cases."

"He only took the best cases, and by that I don't mean the ones with the highest damages,'' Mr. Cooney said. "I mean the ones where somebody had done something really bad." ...

But Mr. Edwards handled no notable pro bono cases, the typical vehicle for lawyers who want to have a larger impact.Mr. Edwards elevated the selection of clients to a science, rejecting scores for every one he accepted. He looked for grave harm, clear culpability - and plaintiffs, often poor ones, whose stories would appeal to a jury.

Of course, former adversaries have reason to slant their portrayal of matters. (They'd like to say that they only lost their cases because Edwards had selected cases that were sure winners.) But this is the portrayal of plaintiffs' medical malpractice lawyers that most disturbs me. There are many people who are grievously injured by bad medical practices who are unable to get legal representation because it would be too difficult to prove liability. The best lawyers, like Edwards, are able to be the most selective. If these lawyers choose to exercise that power, as Edwards is said to have done, then the people whose cases most demand sophisticated legal skills are least likely to obtain the best lawyer.

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