A Renewed Commitment to the Cause of Justice - Articles

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Posted by: Cynthia Wyrick on Jan 1, 2014

Journal Issue Date: Jan 2014

Journal Name: January 2014 - Vol. 50, No. 1

Happy New Year to you and your family from your TBA family! I always look forward to the New Year as a time for renewal. Let’s face it, the practice of law can be difficult and discouraging at times. The issues that challenge us are many, including everything from the inability to obtain justice for our clients at times; to the difficulty of bearing witness as so many of our neighbors are without the financial means to meaningfully participate in the legal system that we all hold dear; to the fact that we are facing unprecedented attacks on our justice system and the legal profession.

I wish that I could report that with the dawning of the new year, these challenges have all resolved, but I cannot; however, as the calendar turns to 2014, I am more convinced than ever that when we combine the collective resources of our members, we can address the challenges that we face in a positive and meaningful way.

So what can we do to be the agents for change that the public and profession so desperately need us to be? It just so happens that this month’s edition of the Tennessee Bar Journal can answer some of those questions for you, especially with regard to the issue of access to justice. The cover story provides an excellent roadmap as to how you can quickly and easily become engaged in the fight for access to justice for all. In fact, you will find that you can even provide much-needed assistance to those with legal needs while sitting at your home computer in your pajamas!
Of course as we consider how we can provide meaningful access to the justice system for all, we must also consider what we can do to preserve and improve the justice system. To that end, your association has already been hard at work preparing for the 2014 session of the Tennessee General Assembly by setting our legislative agenda. As I hope you are aware, the Tennessee Bar Association employs lobbyists who spend time year ’round working to craft and lobby for the passage of legislation of importance to the justice system, legal profession and the public at large. Likewise, they also spend time working to insure that proposed legislation that would be harmful to the justice system, legal profession or public is not enacted. While our team of lobbyists has not been able to win every battle, it is fair to say that they have played far “above their heads.”

Prior to each new session of the General Assembly, our lobbyists meet with our Governmental Affairs Committee and association leadership to consider requests made by our sections and committees for the association's support in obtaining the passage of legislation of importance to their respective groups. Our lobbyists also work to prepare for legislation that is expected to be introduced. At the fall meetings of your Board of Governors and House of Delegates, our lobbyists presented information about these important topics in order to allow association leadership to set the legislative agenda for the year.

Both the Board of Governors and the House of Delegates agreed that the agenda should include attempting to obtain the passage of a statute of repose for legal malpractice claims. I am personally in favor of this effort as well. Those of you who know me may be surprised by that fact, as I proudly carry the title of plaintiff's lawyer, and am generally opposed to legislation that limits the rights of the citizens of our state. In fact, one of my fellow trial lawyers for whom I have great admiration and respect, John Day, has a column in this edition of the Journal, which sets forth some reasons that he believes statues of repose are a bad idea. So why do I believe that this is an appropriate course for our association?

Currently, given that there is no statute of repose applicable to legal malpractice claims, lawyers and their families, as well as those law firms by whom they have been employed, have virtually limitless exposure to malpractice claims. At present, a lawyer can be sued for malpractice decades after work was performed. In that instance, the lawyer may have destroyed the file, and if the case was not of significant time duration, the lawyer may not even have an independent recollection of the matter. In those situations, it is virtually impossible to mount a reasonable defense. This raises a question of fundamental fairness. There also should come some point in each lawyer’s career that they should be able to retire from the practice without continuing to worry about whether they might be sued for work they performed many years before. It is important to note that a statute of repose would not apply if a lawyer intentionally covered up acts constituting malpractice, as those would be exempted from the statute of repose.

While we are focusing on legislative matters, I also want to take the opportunity to share some very exciting news with you about a campaign that is now underway which will help us achieve our legislative advocacy goals. As you know, one of my focuses for our association this year is building relationships with our legislators, and encouraging more lawyers to seek public office on the local, state and national levels. As we can all agree, our legal system and our profession as a whole need more friends in the legislative branch of our government at all levels. While building relationships and encouraging our fellow lawyers to seek public office are both critically important steps for us to take, it is equally important that we position ourselves to financially assist those who are friends of our profession or who would be if elected to office. While many of our members have given to our association’s political action committee, LAWPAC, far more have not participated. For that reason, your TBA leadership determined that a campaign to raise money for LAWPAC was essential. In order to demonstrate just how critically important we believe this campaign to be, your association officers chose to lead the way in the campaign by each making contributions, at a level equal to or greater than what we are asking of our members. You will soon receive materials that explain in more detail the purpose of LAWPAC and the goals for the campaign. When you do, I hope that you will join us in financially supporting this very worthy cause.

As we celebrate the New Year, I hope that you share my sense of optimism about the positive change we can achieve on behalf of our justice system and those who are without the financial means to access it. Now, more than ever, “Together We Make a Difference!”

Cindy Wyrick TBA President CINDY?WYRICK practices law with Ogle, Gass & Richardson PC in Sevierville.