We are all acutely aware of challenges in our law practices. These range from the length of time to get a trial date, to efforts by big business to undermine the fundamental right to have a jury trial. Often, it is easy to focus on the negative aspects of our profession because we deal with these challenges on a daily basis. Many articles in the Coffee House for over 30 years have focused on tort reform legislation and other barriers to justice that impact our practices and our clients, not only in Wyoming but throughout the country. Trial lawyers associations nationwide as well at the American Association for Justice are focusing on grassroots efforts to educate folks about the importance of our jury trial system. It is easy to be concerned about how our justice system can be better. Sometimes, however, it is helpful to consider the many successes we have had.
On a national level, our air is cleaner, our water quality is better, and our health care system continues to improve. This has happened as a result of trial lawyers holding industries accountable for the dangers they create. In Wyoming, year after year, you the trial lawyers, march off to court and ask juries of Wyoming people to hold insurance companies and big corporations responsible for their wrongdoing. Since its inception, WTLA has been here to help you. Year after year, WTLA maintains access and dialogue with our lawmakers and year after year we assist with the creation of laws that help Wyoming citizens. The key to keeping this momentum is involvement. The more WTLA members are involved in activities that advance our mission of protecting every citizen’s right to trial by jury and access to the courts, the greater success we will achieve.
So, we can consider some ways to continue our successful achievements and perhaps improve the image of trial lawyers among the public. Rather than allow insurance companies and big corporations to negatively define our role in our communities, we can show the public who we are and what we do for them.
Run for Office
Trial lawyers are uniquely knowledgeable about the law and matters that affect our clients and neighbors. The best way for us to be involved with the law making process and assure that our clients rights are protected is for us to be lawmakers. Other legislators respect the knowledge of lawyers who are their colleagues. The efforts of insurance companies and big corporations directed at restricting public access to courts and the protections of the civil and criminal justice systems come from interest groups who target legislators who haven’t heard fair and balanced facts about tort reform. These interest groups promise illusory things such as reduced insurance rates and reduced medical care costs. Our members know well that these promises were made in other states where efforts at tort reform were successful. Folks in these states bargained away their rights, but decreased insurance rates and decreased health care costs never came to pass. Legislative session after legislative session we face the same efforts at misdirection directed toward our legislators by big business. Trial lawyers in the legislature have and will continue to shed light on the unscrupulous promises made by industry.
Get Involved in WTLA Activities
WTLA leadership is looking for new ways to be involved in our communities. For these efforts to be successful, we need member participation. Over the holidays, we participated in Toys for Tots. It is a good worthwhile cause and afforded an opportunity for our members to contribute to our communities. Recently, we committed to participate in a campaign to end distracted driving. Marcia Shanor, our Executive Director, participated in a ceremony during which Governor Mead declared May to be Youth Traffic Safety Month. Also in May, Marcia and I participated in a presentation to high school students in Laramie County highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, particularly for younger drivers. This is a wonderful way to assist our communities by setting an example through education that distracted driving is so incredibly dangerous and we are an integral part of an effort to end distracted driving.
While the campaign to end distracted driving is a new collaborative effort, there are many other things WTLA does that advance our mission. The yearly convention, which many of you attend, offers the best CLE in Wyoming. In addition to the convention, we also offer CLE programs on a number of topics. Each year, we offer 15 to 20 1 hour seminars. In order to keep these CLE topical, we need members to teach them and suggest new areas of interest. We would also like to see our members continue participation with the I’ll Do One Wyoming Pro Bono Program. This is an excellent way to reach out to the community and help clients who otherwise cannot afford legal representation.
Get Involved in Other Legal Organizations to Help Advance our Mission
Similar to WTLA, AAJ – the American Association for Justice -- works on a national level to protect the rights of people to obtain access to the civil justice system. In addition to having educational opportunities for trial lawyers, AAJ is also working to develop events that involve community outreach such as AAJ’s Take Justice Back education campaign. Takejusticeback.com explains AAJ’s grassroots campaign to expose corporate efforts to attack the civil justice system in order to increase profit and avoid accountability for polluting the environment and injuring people. AAJ is also involved with the End Distracted Driving education campaign. Even though many of us spend considerable time and financial resources working with WTLA, it is important that we not ignore the Wyoming State Bar and its formidable influence over our practice. WTLA members as licensed attorneys in the State of Wyoming are, of course, obligated to be members of the Bar. Many trial lawyers who attend our annual conventions and CLE – myself included – find that we obtain enough CLE to satisfy our continuing education requirements and we don’t attend the State Bar annual convention. Beyond merely satisfying CLE requirements, our involvement in the State Bar is very important to our practices and our clients access to the justice system. Members of the State Bar committees, which govern our practice, assemble at the State Bar meeting. These committees include The Equal Justice Wyoming committee and the Judicial Nominating Commission, among many others. If trial lawyers want a role in how our practice is governed, we must increase our involvement with the State Bar.
In closing, while our busy practices and lives demand much of our time and attention, our increased participation and involvement with WTLA will make our practices more rewarding and effective.
Scott J. Olheiser