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June 5th, 2013

John Edwards to Open New Plaintiff’s Firm in Raleigh?

Former Senator and V.P candidate John Edwards is, it seems, returning to the law. As per CNN:

Former Sen. John Edwards is looking to open a new law firm this September, a source told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

The firm will be based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and will focus on plaintiff work, the source said. Before entering politics, Edwards was a nationally known attorney who specialized in representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice, personal injury and product liability lawsuits, earning millions.

On the one hand, he would return to a field he knows best. He was obviously comfortable earning his bread in the courtroom well.  The knee jerk reaction of many is likely to be that this is the job he should have.

But when someone writes “On the one hand” then you know another hand is about to throw the opposing view. And that will come from me.

If his job is to stick his name on the firm and make the rain and manage the firm, I see no problem. But if he wants to actually appear in front of a jury again, I think he brings too much baggage to do it well.

Trial lawyers, whether we like it or not, are perceived by many jurors as almost the same as a witness. Of course we aren’t and of course the judge tells jurors that “what the lawyers say isn’t evidence,” but what happens when the person standing in front of the jury doesn’t have credibility? We do, after all, have to make arguments that we hope to be persuasive, and human nature is to more readily accept arguments from people that we like.

On the criminal defense side, a lawyer can, perhaps, be a bit outspoken and a bit bombastic if s/he wants, the way William Kunstler was and his protege Ron Kuby is. But criminal defense lawyers don’t have the burden of proof and only need to convince one juror to save the client from the gray bar hotel. It gives them, in the eyes of some, a bit more elbow room to be a big personality.

Plaintiff lawyers in civil suits, however, have the burden of proof. We can’t afford quite as easily to have have a couple jurors dislike us. In New York, for example, we need five out of six jurors to persevere.

This is the reason many lawyers try so hard to ingratiate themselves to jurors during selection, trying to bond with them over similar ideas and likes. I think it looks horribly superficial and don’t do that, and keep things as straight and narrow as possible. I refuse to dumb things down. My one concession that I do make regarding the issue of being liked, is to wear boring suits so as not to offend.

Now we return to John Edwards. He brings with him tons of baggage. Many people don’t like him, for reasons that go beyond political differences. Like the kid he had with his mistress and lying to his dying wife. Or the circumstances that led to felony indictments over campaign contribution issues. It doesn’t matter that much that he was found not guilty of one and the jury hung on the others. People formed opinions.

There may be no shortage of people willing to say they can be fair that will look down their nose at anything he says. His credibility vanished years ago.

So as a rainmaker or law office manager, yeah, he can do that. But for the sake of the clients, he shouldn’t come near a jury.

(hat tip, Overlawyered)

3 thoughts on “John Edwards to Open New Plaintiff’s Firm in Raleigh?

  1. If he can’t try the cases he is like any of the others out there that advertise and promote themselves and never go near a courtroom. Seems like you have written about that type before.
    He was and probably still is a very good trial lawyer, with as you say, a lot of baggage. Seems if someone understands who he is and decided he is their guy , he can keep doing what he does best.

  2. In my humble opinion, the best plaintiff’s trial lawyer is wholly transparent: the jury walks into deliberations having just seen a compelling factual presentation that proved the plaintiff’s case. The identities of the parties and lawyers irrelevant.

    John Edwards walks into a courtroom not just opaque, but surrounded by a cloud of negativity. There he is, the former Senator, the guy who ran for VP, the guy with all that crazy stuff with his wife having cancer and he had a baby and there was something about a staffer saying it was their baby and wasn’t he indicted for something, I think that’s right, was he convicted?, and by that point the jury has lost focus, which is never, ever good for plaintiffs.