Indulge me with a little freedom of thought which lacks much practical value. I’ve been thinking about today’s television compared to my childhood of radio drama which got me to thinking about what we are supposed to be as plaintiff’s trial lawyers.
First, I think we are supposed to be women and men who are warrior’s for justice. That brings me to the lyrics by Jim Croce:
“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape you don’t spit into the wind you don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Jim”
But, I think that’s exactly what we are supposed to do as plaintiff’s trial lawyers. Contrary to conventional wisdom a plaintiff’s trial lawyer should be willing to do all of the things Jim Croce’s lyrics warn should be avoided. It’s our job and our professional calling to have courage to do what is right even if unpopular and frightening. We were not called to seek to be loved by everyone. Respected, we would hope and feared perhaps but not called upon to win popularity contests. We need to have the courage to risk displeasure from a judge, if we are justified in our actions. We certainly should not be afraid to invoke the displeasure of our defense opponent nor the displeasure of others if we are right in our conduct.
For us plaintiff lawyers Art Buchwald painted our role in humorous prose:
“It is an honorable calling that you have chosen. Some of you will soon be defending poor, helpless insurance companies who are constantly being sued by greedy, vicious widows and orphans trying to collect on their policies. Others will work tirelessly to protect frightened, beleaguered oil companies from being attacked by depraved consumer groups. [Commencement address, Tulane University School of Law]
Scripture has much to say about the role of the advocate. For example, from Isaiah 1 we read: “Learn to do right; seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
Probably the best known historical description of an advocate was by Henry Lord Broughman in 1838 regarding his politically dangerous role as the lawyer for Queen Caroline. A German princess, she had married English Prince George in a political, but unhappy marriage. George wanted to divorce her so adultery charges were contrived against her. Broughman agreed to defend this unpopular foreigner in a “kangaroo court setting” where the King controlled the outcome in his favor. Braughman said this in a speech later about being an advocate:
“An advocate by the sacred duty which he owes his client, knows, in the discharge of that office, but one person in the world, that client and none other. To save that client by all expedient means—to protect that client at all hazards and costs to all others, and among others to himself—is the highest and most unquestioned of his duties; and he must not regard the alarm—the suffering—the torment—the destruction—which he may bring upon any other. Nay, separating even the duties of a patriot from those of an advocate, and casting them, if need be, to the wind, he must go on reckless of the consequences, if his fate it should unhappily be to involve his country in confusion for his client’s protection.”
This idea is reflected, in a way, by those old radio serials. There was a radio and later a television show called Paladin. It featured a good guy gun fighter who lived in the Carleton Hotel in San Francisco in 1875 who was a gun for hire. His card read: “Paladin Gun for Hire. And, also on the radio and later television was the program Gunsmoke staring Marshall Matt Dillon who kept law and order in Dodge City. In the right ethical sense, that is our role. To be ready to standup for anyone in a just case irrespective of the popular feelings about it. We weren’t meant to be silk stocking lawyers only representing the rich and powerful. That’s not our calling. We are the town marshal charged with keeping the peace and seeing justice prevails.
It also occurred to me that we may not think of ourselves as Superwoman or Superman, but that’s actually what is expected of us as advocates.
When I was a child we didn’t have television. We had radio. There were many radio serials of adventure that were on the radio each week after school. Why, for ten cents and a box top from Kellogg’s Pep cereal you could get a Superman Crusader ring with a hidden decoder. And the announcer would say: “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! – the adventures of Superman!” Then there was Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. We also had The Lone Ranger and Tonto. The announcer would lead off with:
“Hi-Yo, Silver! A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo Silver’… The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early Western United States. Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again.”
It turns out that as fanciful as these radio characters were they were images of what we as plaintiff trial lawyers are expected to be: The defender of those in need, the weak and oppressed. The champion of justice. The one who rights the wrong. To do that we need to be authentic and real people. As the Sunday cartoon character of long ago, Popeye the sailor man, used to say “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam” And, while we are quoting fictional characters it was Tarzan who said “Teach me to speak the language of men.” We too need to be who we are and to learn to communicate in ways our juries can understand.
So, that’s my description of the role of a plaintiff’s lawyer. I admit there’s not much practical help here, but I had fun thinking about the adventures of imagination old time radio brought to children back when I was a child which is a very long time ago.