In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and Trial Lawyer Profession

Cross posted from

The Iowa caucus is tonight, and the candidates aren't holding any punches. Poll results show Obama, Clinton, and Edwards fighting neck and neck to win Iowans and inspire them to get out the vote. I also read that the candidates are expected to spend $200 per voter to affect its outcome.  

In this environment, aggresive tactics and hard-hitting critiques of their opponents are to be expected. As a matter of fact, when the candidates aren't putting up their best fight, they face criticism for being too nice or diplomatic.

But it would be nice if these political jabs were based on something other than pure personal attacks that do nothing but play into the conservative agenda. Like Obama's quick jab at the trial lawyer profession, interpreted as a challenge against successful former trial lawyer and competitor John Edwards. According to WaPo, in a recent speech Obama emphasized to voters that he's "a normal person" who was squarely middle class until winning his Senate position. He reflected on how he could have taken lucrative career opportunities but that his dedication to public service prevented him from doing so. "That's why I didn't become a trial lawyer," he adds.

To my pleasant surprise, this comment has generated a good little bit of 'net-based broo haha among the left. For instance, Kos at DailyKos and TPM Cafe ask whether Obama's criticism is really meant to suggest that because Edwards was a trial lawyer he is less commited to public service. TPM Cafe includes a link, courtesy of the Edwards campaign, to a video statement by Sandy Lakey, Edwards' former client whose daughter was seriously injured by a faulty drain cover. (See here) They say this is the best response to Obama's challenge.

Obama's remarks not only assault a profession that is driven by representing "normal people"-who he claims to be and represent-in legal battles against Goliath-like opponents like big businesses; they also just don't make sense politically. For someone whose appeal is largely based on his fresh perspective and willingness to advocate for the average person, his attack of Edwards looks suspiciously stale and similar to those made in the last election.

Atrios succinctly critiques this move by Obama as something that looks like pandering to the conservative right. Alas, Obama's not alone among the candidates in his willingness to vilify trial lawyers. In fact, actually a while back I wrote about remarks made by Edwards which, ironically, appeared to advance the tort "reform" agenda more than hilight the importance of our civil justice system.

In this sense one could say that the attack on civil justice is a bi-partisan effort among the candidates. It's not just the trial lawyer remark, it's the willingness to accept what the right has said about the civil justice system, and to operate from that framework. Obama's quick willingness to suggest that the profession is antithetical to public service is just symptomatic of that problem.

By the way, a cursory little search for pro-civil justice statements among the candidates yielded very little meat. (Anyone got anything on this? Please feel free to share links in the comments section) It's like this isn't an important issue for them unless they're using it to attack one another or to jump on the tort "reform" bandwagon. Oh, how I'd love it if we could get the candidates talking about how we can improve the civil justice system for real people, so that they can use it more effectively to protect and advocate for themselves. (Stay tuned on this... more to come soon.)

Tags: civil justice, Edwards, Iowa caucus, obama, presidential election, (all tags)



Trial lawyers

I have tons of trial lawyer friends. I bust their balls all the time about selling out for big money! I think this is a biiittttttttt over done.

Then again, Obama probably stepped in it when he mentioned trial lawyers as a bad career path. Nobody's perfect. Then again (again), the reaction has been a bit over the top from folks defending our most honored profession (lawyer) this side of prostitute..

by mcdave 2008-01-03 05:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Trial lawyers

Haha. There are sharks in every profession. Thing is, one could appply Obama's statement to politicians just as easily. Progressives have to be very careful about playing the cards dealt by conservatives to take jabs at one another. Often it turns out to be shooting oneself in the foot.

by TortDeform com 2008-01-03 05:36AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and T

Last weeks news...
attacked..defended...certainly observed

but it remains a point of information many tucked away.

by nogo war 2008-01-03 06:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Jabs Edwards and T

I did not mean last week I meant last year...

original article appeared here /2007/12/30/obamas_middle_class_appeal_1 .html

The DFH blogs certainly DID take exception

by nogo war 2008-01-03 06:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Obama Jabs Edwards and T

Yes, but with the Iowa stuff going on today and all the political wrangling, it's still relevant.

In defense of all the candidates, they've been saying some zany things lately, that they say could be attributed to sleep deprivation.

Anyway, eating up right wing ideology without at least sniffing it to see if it's poisonous first, is a bad idea. This was just a case in point.

by TortDeform com 2008-01-03 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus,

Barack and Michelle just paid off their college loans two years ago. I think most Presidents of the Harvard Law Review pick a career track that gets their loans paid off faster (if they even had a loan).

by Piuma 2008-01-03 06:30AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus,

The standard joke in law school is that the A students become professors, the B students become judges, and the C students make all the money.

by Steve M 2008-01-03 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus,

Are you calling Edwards a C student?

by Piuma 2008-01-03 10:07AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus,

Well, I have no idea, but there is a little bit of truth to the joke :)

by Steve M 2008-01-03 11:34AM | 0 recs
I do not like Obama's comment

however acting as if all trial lawyers or even Edwards is sort of noble sainted person only in business to defend people against evil corporations is just ridiculous.  

by MollieBradford 2008-01-03 08:18AM | 0 recs
Re: I do not like Obama's comment

In every profession there are sharks. Obviously it would be ridiculous to act like all trial lawyers are saints, just as it would be ridiculous to say that all politicians are saints, or are public-service minded.

But many people DO go into the trial lawyer profession to actually help people get their day in court. They could go elsewhere to make easier, bigger bucks, but they do this instead. And while Edwards made lots of money in this career, many, many of his colleagues do not.

So saying "that's why I didn't become a trial lawyer" plays into the right-wing, tort "reform" trick of portraying the profession as evil. Big biz doens't like trial lawyers because they cost them money and because many trial lawyers are also progressives, or lean left of center.

by TortDeform com 2008-01-03 08:36AM | 0 recs
I have a family full of lawyers

I can promise you that I understand that a few trial lawyers are noble and altruistic.  but most of them get in to it to make a SHITLOAD of money and most of them are just average human beings.

They don't just sue big "evil" corporations.  They sue small businesses, individuals etc.. they also suck doctors in to law suits who had nothing to do with patients except some consultation that had nothing to do with the damage the patient is suing for.  They cause said doctors to lawyer up and cost us all money.

the real saints are working pro-bono defending the rights of the poor who can't afford representation.  That certainly doesn't include Edwards and the hero worship of him as if he were some sort of superman defender of the innocent is just a very weird part of the Edwards supporters online schtick.

by MollieBradford 2008-01-03 01:01PM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and T

All this talk of defending "trial lawyers" actually buys into the right-wing frame of the issue. A trial lawyer is just a lawyer who specializes in the courtroom. For every plaintiff-side trial lawyer there are probably two or three defendant-side trial lawyers, who specializes in winning trials in defense of major corporations. In corporate law firms, they're typically called "litigators," but the meaning is the same.

There is nothing inherently progressive or conservative about "trial lawyers". That'd be as ridiculous as saying that "politicians" are inherently progressive or conservative.

But one thing that we do know about trial lawyers, whether they be plaintiff-side or defense, is that the good ones make tons of money. Therein lies the validity of Obama's statement. He clearly could've made much more money as a "trial lawyer", whether plaintiff or defense, than he did as a civil rights lawyer and his Harvard pedigree meant that either was open to him.

by dmc2 2008-01-03 09:49AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and T

Well, "trial lawyer" is just another word for what we'd call a "plaintiffs' lawyer" in the biz.  I guess the latter term is a little more precise, but there's not necessarily a right-wing frame involved.  After all, the plaintiffs' lawyers organization used to be called the American Trial Lawyers Association.

For the most part, corporations are represented by defense lawyers at large white-shoe firms who don't necessarily specialize in trial work.  These are the people who settle 99% of their cases.  Now, in terms of a slip-and-fall at the local grocery store, the store probably has a liability insurance policy and some local guy looking for work will get hired to handle the defense.

Anyway, the lucrative career Obama passed up probably looks a lot more like what the big-firm defense lawyers do than what John Edwards does.  Trial lawyers typically come from the state schools (like Edwards) and they aren't necessarily the law review types.  Folks from the Harvard Law Review, for the most part, go on to be Supreme Court clerks and/or associates at white-shoe megafirms.

by Steve M 2008-01-03 11:39AM | 0 recs
Re: In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and T

That's generally true, but there are plaintiff-side firms that have a lot cachet also. But you're right, going into the type of practice that Edwards did is not what a Harvard Law Review editor would typically do, even if it was about the money. The point is that Obama took the path "less lucrative" whatever that was.

by dmc2 2008-01-03 09:39PM | 0 recs
or maybe

he was just not good enough on his feet to make it in the court room.  There is no proof that Obama's choice was based on altruism either.

by MollieBradford 2008-01-03 01:38PM | 0 recs
Re: or maybe

Yeah, his oratorical skills are really lacking...

by dmc2 2008-01-03 09:40PM | 0 recs


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