Tuesday, March 20, 2007

from legal blog watch

Legal Blog Watch

Lawyer Finds Success as Novelist

I admit it: I get a vicarious thrill every time I read about a lawyer who finds success as a novelist. There but for the grace of God -- or lack of talent -- go I. Here in Boston, we've had our fair share of lawyers-turned-novelists: George V. Higgins, Jeremiah Healy, Barry Reed, Michael Fredrickson, Margaret McLean and Sabin Willett, to name just a few. Now, there is another: William Landay.

As Boston Globe writer David Mehegan reports today in  his article, His Cases Have Become Mysterious: Lawyer-turned-novelist digs up dirt in old Boston, Landay, 43, went straight from his job as an assistant district attorney to a career as a novelist. His second book, The Strangler, has just been published. A take-off on the Boston Strangler murders in the early 1960s, it includes what the article calls "thinly disguised fictional versions of superlawyer F. Lee Bailey and Attorney General Edward W. Brooke."

Landay's first book, Mission Flats, won an award for best first crime novel. The Boston College Law School graduate says his work as a prosecutor supplied some of the raw material for his books and that he learned from George Higgins that trial transcripts are good studies in dialogue. For now, though, he is done with practicing law and is planning his next book. "I'm that lucky guy who is doing exactly what he wants to be doing." Call it a vicarious victory for every lawyer who aspires to authordom.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 20, 2007 at 02:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The 'Perfect Storm' of Labor Law

It is a great headline, says Michael Fox at the blog Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer. Not mine above but one that appeared recently in the Dallas Business Journal warning, Labor Lawyers See Gray Storm Gathering. The article reported that labor lawyers see a perfect storm brewing for age-discrimination claims, fueled by the clash of economic reality and legal reality. The components:

  • Baby boomers aged 42 to 60 make up the largest group in the workplace, with 77 million men and women in the United States.
  • As baby boomers climb the corporate ladder, they become more expensive to employ.
  • As employers look at ways to keep costs down, they'll look at reducing their biggest expense: people.

The story lacks much in the way of substance, says labor-lawyer Fox. But that, he concludes, "doesn't mean there is not a lot of truth to it." One thing for sure, he adds: "It is a great headline."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 20, 2007 at 02:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Help: Neutral Term for 'Tort Reform'

My previous post today mentioned Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, an organization seeking to bring "balance, fairness and common sense to our civil justice system." Of course, when it comes to the civil justice system, one person's idea of "balance, fairness and common sense" is certainly not another's. Groups such as I-LAW often refer to themselves as promoting "tort reform," and bloggers and journalists often run with this label. But "reform" is a word that suggests improvement for the better, so to call revision of the tort system "reform" is tacitly to endorse it.

In an interview last year, George Lakoff, a fellow of the liberal Rockridge Institute think tank, argued that use of the phrase "tort reform" is part of the way conservatives have "cleverly framed the public discussion." He said:

"[T]he very phrase 'tort reform' evokes a frame. In two words, it communicates that something is the matter with the tort system, which requires reform or correction. In this respect, the phrase is similar to another effective conservative phrase, 'tax relief.' Once the public accepts these phrases, they have bought into the idea that they need to be relieved from the affliction of taxes and that they need to fix the tort system. The debate then turns to the question of how and how much. At that point, progressives can’t win the debate; the best we can do is limit the losses."

So what should we label the debate over changes to our justice system? Lakoff's suggestion is to replace "tort reform" with "destruction of the civil justice system."  For its blog about civil justice, the Drum Major Institute uses a name that Ralph Nader helped popularize, Tort Deform. These names certainly succeed in reframing the debate, but they get us no closer to neutral than where we started.

Even the Wikipedia tort reform entry is tagged with a dispute over the neutrality of the title. So  for those of us who wish to refer to the debate in a neutral manner, what should we call it, if anything? Help us, readers, come us with a neutral phrase for the often-acrimonious discussion about civil justice in the United States.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 20, 2007 at 02:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Doctors Distrust Many Medical Experts

Are medical experts promoting junk science through their courtroom testimony? They are in Illinois, says a survey released yesterday by Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), a group advocating for a bill (HB 1896) that would set tougher standards in Illinois for admissibility of expert testimony. As reported yesterday in the Madison County Record, the survey of 176 Illinois doctors showed that almost two-thirds "had personally seen or heard statements by a medical expert witness in a courtroom that they believe to be inaccurate or based on questionable science."

Should we accept this survey at face value? Obviously, I-LAW has an agenda -- not just promoting this bill but "tort reform" in general. And, obviously, the survey's respondents, doctors, are not generally known for their appreciation of the tort system. On the other hand, the survey was conducted by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia, an independent academic research facility. So we can assume, at least, that it fairly well reflects the opinions of Illinois doctors.

Among the survey's other findings, as reported by The Record:

  • Almost all Illinois physicians believe there is a problem with medical experts who provide testimony on issues beyond their specialty (97%) and on cases with which they have little or no experience.
  • Illinois physicians are almost twice as likely to believe lawyers who argue a case place "a lot" of importance on a physician's willingness to adapt medical findings to support the lawyer's case (66%) compared to the physician's qualifications within a particular medical specialty.
  • Nearly all physicians surveyed (97%) believe it is unethical for medical experts to receive payment contingent upon the outcome of their testimony.

Among other things, the Illinois bill would prohibit an expert from receiving compensation contingent on the outcome of a case and would require that an expert "only offer expert testimony with respect to a particular field in which the expert is qualified."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on March 20, 2007 at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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