Award Acceptance Speech
December 4, 2015
I am truly honored to be the recipient of this year’s Robert L. Habush Trial lawyer of the year award. Recognition by this fine organization is flattering enough. Recognition by receipt of an award named after Bob Habush, whom I so admire, is truly humbling.
I have had the opportunity to work-up and, at times, try some amazing cases for some amazing clients. But the one thing that I have learned over 27 years is that being a trial lawyer is not just about trying a case and getting a big verdict. There are those who believe that a better day dawns when the right to trial by jury is no more. Their goal is to eliminate the ability of the average person to stand on a level playing field with the powerful in our civil courts. They have taken this battle outside the courtroom, to the court of public opinion and to the halls of the capital. Just today, I read a letter from the Center of Public Justice indicating that in 2016 the US Chamber of Commerce plans to spend $200 million in its attack on our civil justice system.
So the message I deliver today is not that “we need to get out there and try as many cases as we can.” We all know that. My message is, if you want to truly be a “trial lawyer” you need to take the fight for your client’s rights beyond the courtroom.
First, we need to win the hearts and minds of the public and we do that by placing our integrity as profession first and foremost, before profit or personal gain. The integrity of our profession as trial lawyers has been built over time, and it has been built from the history of our words and our actions. Maintaining our integrity as a profession must be foremost in our interactions with the public or we are destined to loose the battle in the court of public opinion.
Lawyer marketing and advertising is a way of life. But we have to learn to market and advertise in a manner respectful of the plight of the clients whom we represent and in a manner befitting the seriousness of what we do for those clients. Otherwise we sacrifice our integrity as a profession and are doomed to fail in this fight.
We must also win the political battle for the survival of our civil justice system. The best way to do that is to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the organization that brings us together here tonight. I have been in the halls, offices and hearing rooms of the capital. I can tell you without equivocation that this organization is the only voice speaking out consistently in defense of the right to trial by jury in this state. Our clients do not have a trade association or union to speak on their behalf, we are their voice. It is not just imperative that we support with our time and talent WAJ, it is our obligation to do so.
We are privileged beyond measure to earn a living working in a noble profession that has such an impact on the lives of others. It is our obligation to ensure the system thrives in the future, not just for the trial lawyers who will follow us, but, more importantly for the clients yet to come, who will need that level playing field, because that client might very well be your son, your daughter or your grandchild.
Nothing frustrates me more than hearing from other lawyers that they’ve “paid their dues” and that it is “time for others to step up and assume responsibility” for fighting this fight. The debt we owe for the privilege of doing what we do is a debt we cannot possibly repay. It is an obligation that persists until we draw our last breath. And no one understands this more than the man for whom this award is named.
Bob Habush planted the seeds of this organization decades ago. When the political fires began to burn, he was the one who created the political arm of this organization. In keeping with Bob’s personality, he named it our “war council” and was chair of the council, fighting the war in the capital for over a decade. To his chagrin, we softened its title in later years to the “Legislative Task Force” and few have had the privilege to follow Bob as its chair. I have been one of the lucky few and I consider a true privilege. Most impressive, however, is the fact that, despite decades of success, Bob is still fully committed to the cause of this organization. If we need financial support, Bob is first on the list. If we need advice on the political front, Bob is the “go to” guy. Understand, Bob Habush does not need WAJ to bolster his reputation. He has success in the courtroom beyond that of anyone I know. Bob needs WAJ to feed the fire that burns inside him to fight the fight for civil justice on every front, including outside the courthouse doors. It is a fire that will burn until his last breath.
And that is why I take such pride in receipt of this award and why my message to each member out there tonight is to step up and stoke this fire. Try your cases……Yes! But, also, take this fight beyond the courthouse. Give your time and your resources to WAJ in recognition of how great it is to be a trial lawyer.