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Jury Bias: Battling the Misperceptions of Tort Reform

October 18, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

Steven Gursten on what injury lawyers must do in voir dire and trial at Michigan Association for Justice Voir Dire Seminar

jury bias

Today, I’ll be speaking at the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ, formerly the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association)  Voir Dire legal seminar.  Voir Dire is French for “to speak the truth.”

The Voir Dire process is at the very heart of our jury system, and the right to a fair trial.  Potential jurors are questioned today by  the trial judge and usually the lawyers from both parties to determine their suitability for jury service.

But what does a plaintiff lawyer do when the panel has been poisoned?  Insurance companies and others have spent tens of millions on a propaganda campaign to influence juries.

My topic will be “Jury Bias and the Misperceptions of Tort Deform.”   My contention is that it’s up to plaintiff personal injury lawyers to help jurors understand the truth behind tort “reform.” I  will address  the legal image of plaintiff personal injury lawyers and the importance of dealing with the misperceptions of lawyers as early as possible in voir dire.

To start, it’s really the little things. It’s important for all  attorneys to make sure they don’t fall into the stereotype people have of us. It’s how we dress. It’s how we act. It’s the cars we drive and how we treat people.

Why do so many people have a negative impression of lawyers and the legal profession?  A lot of the damage is self-inflicted.  For myself and the other lawyers at my firm, we’ve found the easiest way to cut through the stereotypes are to just act like human beings.

We make it our first priority to listen, not talk.  We always return calls.  We try to be sensitive to our clients’ needs and unique situations, and to consider problems from where they’re coming from. We try to  never rush or speak over their heads. We make sure to always be kind, compassionate and make them feel like they’re our No. 1 priority — because they are.   It means helping people because it is the right thing to do, not just as a vehicle to make money.

When battling the misperceptions of personal injury lawyers through tort reform propaganda, it is important to highlight how many  attorneys  give back to the community through many worthwhile charitable efforts.  For the lawyers in my own law firm, this includes  picking up trash on the highway as part of Michigan’s Adopt-A-Highway program,  packing up food at local food banks, and  giving scholarships to our next generation of bright legal students.

I also believe – and this is where I’ve had my own share of run-ins with others in my profession – that one of the most important  things lawyers can do to halt the nasty perceptions of personal injury attorneys today do a better job of policing our own.

I’ve written and spoken out about the current ugly epidemic of ambulance-chasing lawyers, solicitations and mail packages being sent to auto accident victims that is going on now in Michigan. Although this  may stop soon, given that the bills prohibit these ambulance chasing lawyers from contacting crash victims within the first 30 days of an accident just passed last week with overwhelming support in the House, there is still much more we can do to clean up our own profession.

This  includes the current PIP fraud problem by a few  injury lawyers today, which hurts us all and the  reputation of the entire legal profession.

The Michigan Association for Justice is an association of consumer protection and plaintiff injury attorneys who fight for injury victims and consumer rights throughout the state.

The Voir Dire Seminar will be at The Westin in Southfield, Michigan from 8:00am to 4:00pm.

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One Reply to “Jury Bias: Battling the Misperceptions of Tort Reform”

  1. As a personal injury attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, the issues noted in your article plague us all. It is unfortunate that a few bad apples taint the entire cart. It is exhausting fighting an uphill battle all the time with public perception. Although we deal with our clients as you stated above, even our clients start with a bad perception of attorneys that we are constantly overcoming.

    At the end of the day, I know I’ve done what is right for my client and have fought relentlessly for him/her. Without me most of my clients would not know where to start or what to do. They would have been taken advantage of by the insurance industry for the insurance company’s own greed and profits. I sleep well at night knowing I’ve helped someone work through the process, whether it is a great result or not. It is not about the money, it is about making sure our clients have a voice.

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