Calif. trial lawyers converge on San Francisco

Chris Rizo Nov. 14, 2009, 2:24pm

Tom Scott

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-Hundreds of trial lawyers are gathered in San Francisco to hear about the newest and greatest ways to litigate cases and win high-dollar judgments.

The annual Consumer Attorneys of California convention has drawn some of the biggest names in the trial bar, including famed lawyers R. Rex Parris, Rick Friedman, Mark Lanier and William Shernoff -- the convention's headliners.

The four-day convention at one of City by the Bay's most swanky hotels, The Fairmont, runs through Sunday.

Attendees shelled out hundreds of dollars to hear talks such as: "Persuading 21st Century Jurors," "Trying Cases in Tough Economic Times," and "Gender Bias, Ethics and Substance Abuse."

Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, decried the conference as a way for members of the trial bar to find "new avenues of revenue and honing those skills."

He said there is one primary objective at trial lawyer conventions. That is learning how to get juries and judges to award plaintiffs the most amount of money so trial attorneys can collect more in legal fees.

"If anyone ever questions the trial lawyers' motives, all they have to do is look at the agendas for their conferences," Scott said. "The trial lawyers have a working group for literally every industry sector you can think of."

Marko Mlikotin, CALA's Northern California regional director, said efforts by trial lawyers to win bigger and bigger awards harms the economy.

"Historically, small businesses lead the nation out of tough economic times so it is concerning that personal injury attorneys are scheming on how to increase their earnings," he said. "More lawsuits will only lead to a slower economic recovery and more job loss."

California's legal climate ranked in the bottom 10 of states in a survey this year. The Golden State was ranked 44th in the annual survey by Harris Interactive of states' legal climates from the perspective of in-house corporate counsel around the nation.

Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University-Sacramento, said plaintiffs attorneys are not viewed by the public as the shysters they once perceived as.

"They are less hated than they used to be," O'Connor said of trial lawyers. "Politicians have replaced them."

Asked if the state's trial lawyers have gotten a bad rap from tort reformers, "probably not," she said.

"They get blamed for the high cost of regulation and enforcement but if we are wronged, we all try to find a trial lawyer who is a barracuda," she told Legal Newsline on Saturday.

At last year's Consumer Attorneys of California convention, the group's lifetime achievement award recipient, lawyer Gerry Spence, created a stir nationally by his comments that trial lawyers belong to the noblest profession in America.

"We have to redefine who we are: We are the most important people in America," Spence said at the time. "There is no other profession in America that fights for freedom, that fights for what America is about, that fights for justice for ordinary people."

He added: "I want to ask you which would be more important: If all of the doctors in the country somehow disappeared or all the trial lawyers in America somehow disappeared?" he asked. "We can live without medical care, but we cannot live without justice."

Spence is a partner in the Spence Law Firm of Jackson, Wyo.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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