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'Inherit the Wind,' or a windy new title?

Published January 16, 2007


The Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers recently changed its title to the "Florida Justice Association."

This is stupid.

For starters, it takes a perfectly descriptive and respectable name and converts it to mush.

"Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers" was a fine moniker. There was the distinguished first word. Anybody can have a mere "association" or "council". Having an "academy" added panache.

Next, the old name told you exactly what you had: trial lawyers. It was a matter of truth in advertising, or if you prefer, fair warning.

This new outfit, this "Florida Justice Association," has none of those virtues, which was perhaps the lawyers' precise intent.

It is a not-so-subtle attempt to steer the language. A group named for "justice" claims to be speaking for justice, which is another thing altogether.

And yet, the interests of the legal profession are not the same thing as justice. Sometimes they are closely related, but sometimes not.

What's next? Will the public-relations folks get together and form the "Florida Truth Association"? If they change their name too, will it make their statements any more true?

To me, the new name just sounds comic-book-y. "Florida Justice Association." Is Aquaman a member? How about Wonder Woman? Do they have a secret headquarters somewhere?

But here's the worst thing about this change.

It shows the lawyers have bought into their own bad public relations. Even they feel the need to get "trial lawyer" out of their name.

Clarence Darrow and Atticus Finch have abandoned the rhetorical field. The term "trial lawyer" is now only a sneering epithet used in attack politics.

This is half the lawyers' own fault, and half the fault of a deliberate campaign by corporate America.

The lawyers are half to blame because they turned America into a lawsuit fest.

The corporations are half to blame because they used that lawsuit culture to run a brilliant PR campaign that turned public opinion against lawyers and the law itself.

You remember the "hot coffee" case at McDonald's, right? It was only the most famous lawsuit of the 20th century. It is an icon of our culture now.

Well, here is something nobody knows: It was a perfectly reasonable verdict, once you hear the facts.

Heck, even today, you can Google "hot coffee" and "McDonald's" and get all those facts in the first page of search results (it's the Wall Street Journal article).

But nobody cares about facts. Instead, Florida and other states used the PR campaign to pass laws that just made it harder for Little Guys to sue Big Guys who hurt them.

Meanwhile, we complain about people having too many rights under the Constitution. Rights are out of fashion until, of course, we need them ourselves.

Last week, a big shot in the government even criticized American lawyers who dared to represent the people we have locked up in Guantanamo. Evidence, schmevidence.

In light of all that, this is not the time to run away from a once-honorable title in favor of some modern, PR-driven name that isn't going to fool anybody anyway. It just devalues the meaning of words that much further.

Atticus, come back.

[Last modified January 16, 2007, 05:48:40]

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