News stories about lawyers filing a “$10 million lawsuit”

On a local news broadcast tonight, I heard a story about someone filing a “ten million dollar lawsuit.” Four points:

  • Good lawyers litigate their cases in the courts, not in the media.
  • Anyone can name a big number in a lawsuit. That is NOT the same as recovering that amount for a client. Generally when I see a news story about a Georgia lawyer filing suit for millions and millions, I am confident that the lawyer is not one to whom I would refer a family member or friend.
  • The American Association  for Justice (formerly Association of Trial Lawyers of America) Code of Conduct states: “No AAJ member shall personally, or through an associate attorney, file a complaint with a specific ad damnum amount unless required by local rules of court. If such amount is stated, it shall be based upon good faith evaluation of facts which the member can demonstrate.” (There is no such requirement in Georgia law except to say a medical malpractice claim is for more than $10,000.)
  • Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6(a) on Trial Publicity states:  ” A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a person would reasonably believe to be disseminated by means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.”

Would you really want to be represented by a lawyer who cares so little about professionalism and ethics as to blatantly violate these standards of conduct to get a cheap headline?

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Ken Shigley is an Atlanta trial attorney who currently serves as president of the 42,000 member State Bar of Georgia.

 

  • buddy

    Ken,

    I think you’ve got the right idea, but I would note that it’s possible for the media to report “someone filed a 10 million dollar lawsuit” without (a) the plaintiffs’ lawyer actively seeking out the media and (b) the complaint naming a specific dollar amount for damages. I wouldn’t hire a lawyer simply because a lawsuit was featured on the news, but I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the lawyer’s competence or professionalism either. Just as with most anything else, I think you’ve got to look past the headline.

    Thanks for posting – your blog is highlighted in my Google Reader account, and I enjoy reading your updates.

    Buddy Morrison
    Butler, Wooten & Fryhofer, LLP

    • http://atlantainjurylawblog.com/about/ Ken Shigley

      You may be right. However, my experience with reporters is that they generally won’t pick up on the filing of a new lawsuit or hang a price tag on it unless there is an effort to generate publicity. I would be very surprised if local newspapers would publish a story that a $10 million lawsuit was filed unless it is spoon fed in that (a) the ad damnum spells out a demand for $10,000,000, and (b) the law firm for the plaintiff sends a copy to the reporter with a press release.