What We Do Is More Important Than Who We Are

Focus on the Future

This article was originally published in the Minnesota Trial Lawyer magazine Volume 31, No. 4 (Fall 2006).  It is reprinted with the permission of the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association.

What we do is more important than who we are. I am a “Trial Lawyer” and I am proud of it. Trial Lawyers have made our country safer for all people by requiring safer products and work environments. Trial Lawyers have restored dignity and security to those who have had their health and families taken from them by wrongdoers who have otherwise refused to be held accountable. We have been very successful in advancing our most fundamental mission to promote justice for those who have suffered and to the public as a whole.

However, our pride and career satisfaction flows not from our title, but rather from what we do to promote justice for those in need. This is because we must always put our clients’ best interests in front of our own. If we are to do this, we must ask: How does “who we are” impact “what we do”? Our credibility is absolutely essential to advance justice for all. This is true whether we are talking to jurors, the voting public, or legislators. What credibility does the title “Trial Lawyer” carry with it? It is undeniable that decades of false propaganda by large profit-driven corporations has overwhelmingly convinced the public (including voters and the jury pool) of the falsehood that “Trial Lawyers” are greedy and file frivolous lawsuits. The powerful and wealthy tortfeasors even cite our chosen name, “Trial Lawyers’ Association” for “proof’ that we deem ourselves more important than what we do. (Compare, “Education Minnesota” and the “Minnesota Medical Association.”) Sadly, studies clearly and unequivocally show that the public believes that the messages delivered by “Trial Lawyers” carry much less credibility than the very same messages delivered by people with a different title. This calls into question whether those we serve are best served by our title.

Well before ATLA (soon to be known as: “The American Association for Justice”) pursued its own name change, MTLA formed a committee to study whether a name change would be appropriate to better reflect our priorities. We studied the available information and concluded that there was merit to carefully consider a name change. However, we concluded that the cost of performing adequate studies was prohibitive. Then, at great expense, ATLA and other states carefully and extensively studied this very same issue. Those results are now available to us and it is time for us to finish the business we started years ago. Therefore I have asked Past President Wil Fluegel to chair a committee to conduct member sessions around the state to make recommendations to our membership as to what is best for those we serve.

We should not change our name because ATLA changed its name. We should not keep our present name because of our pride of who we are. We should make our own decision based on what we believe is more important; who we are, or what we do. This is an issue that inherently invites some divisiveness. However, I do believe that with careful and considerate thought and deliberations, we will ultimately do what is best for those we serve and consistent with MTLA’s mission, as long stated in our own MTLA logo, that we are committed to “Representing Justice.”

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