Happy New Year, to clients, attorneys, and readers all!

RESPONSIBILITY IS A SOCIAL ISSUE: As I sit here reflecting on the lessons of the past and hopes for the future (a traditional New Year’s meal if there ever was one) I wanted to talk to you a bit about a concept near and dear to my heart — personal and social responsibility — the essential social contract that our system of civil responsibility is founded upon.

I am no paragon of virtue, but I recognize that I have a broader duty than to simply make money for my clients. I hope that my upcoming post on the ‘maligned medico’ makes it clear that I, like many of my brother and sister attorneys, see the other side of what I do (watch for that next week!). Of course there is more than one side to any story, or any case. And, of course, no case is perfect, which means, often, that there will always be defenses to any claim asserted by any party I sue.

HAVE WE LOST SIGHT OF ‘TRUTH’ IN OUR SYSTEM? — If there’s any theme that keeps surfacing in some of my major cases, though, it’s that of insurers, defendants and, sometimes, attorneys on the other side trying to seek any possible excuse for deflecting blame, instead of stepping up, assuming ownership of what they’ve done wrong, and trying, through the best means possible, to make things right. Over and over again, I’ve seen sued parties fail to produce, ‘lose’ or destroy evidence which would demonstrate their negligence or wrongdoing; pointed fingers in any other direction than their own; and, at times, negligent and liable parties even denying their own confessions of fault at some point after the accident.

At the same time, I must be as honest as I can and admit that I sometimes encounter this same kind of behavior from clients, especially the occasional ‘player’. As my article on ‘prior pain’ indicates, I preach to all of my clients that the truth will ‘set them free’, and that fibbing or distortion, in the face of dedicated and careful investigation, will always harm them. Unfortunately, that advice isn’t always followed. Invariably, my prediction of the dangers of a client discrediting themselves by distortion generally come true. I feel little comfort in knowing that when it happens, ‘I told them so.’

I tell attorneys on the other side of my cases that ‘we’re all pilgrims in search of the truth’, and despite the hokiness (or pompousness) of that claim, I truly believe it. I govern my behavior with other attorneys, defendants and insurers on that principal, with the knowledge that my clients, both in the short and longer terms, benefit from that policy and from my reputation, which I hope is a strong one.

THE SOCIAL PRESSURE TO ‘SPIN‘:  While it would be easy to blame this kind of ‘spin’ on defense attorneys or insurers (and believe me, I often do) I think that there’s another dynamic in play, that’s more social and socialized. Whether our political system, our media, or perhaps my profession have made this happen, I can’t say, but truth telling has become less a social imperative and more of a strategic weapon to be deployed (or withheld) at a party’s option.  Our system is designed to frustrate lies.  Sometimes, whether you’re on the inside (like myself) or on the outside, you have to ask; is it doing a good job?  Or has winning become so paramount in our society that we’ve made the truth forfeit to our chance of winning?

A HOPE IN THE COMING YEAR: From today’s public perspective on attorneys, this may sound ironic coming from a lawyer, but in the new year, I hope to see fewer insurers preaching ‘responsibility’ and more practicing it; fewer defendants ducking responsibility and more accepting it; and, overall, more seeking of the truth and less attempts at selective, self-advantaged distortion of it. Short term, some individual parties, whether claimants or tortfeasors, will be unfairly disadvantaged (although I highly doubt it!)   In the long term, though, I remain convinced that the wrongfully injured, and justice, will benefit most.