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A Love Letter to Plaintiffs’ Attorneys Everywhere

By: Chris Aguiar, Esq.

You know, in the modern information and technological age it is rather easy to forget that we are not in Kansas, anymore, i.e. the 1990s; anything you say or do on the internet can be accessed by the masses, can and will be used against you, and it will never go away. On the same token, it is important to understand the intended audience and perspective of the speaker and even perhaps get to know the person before you judge them based on what I, personally, would consider a (negligent, at worst) throw away phrase.

I was recently reminded that despite 17 years in this business, I still sometimes think of myself as the kid that spent his childhood playing basketball and video games (certainly no expert in anything other than perhaps the video game Tetris, the 1991-1998 Chicago Bulls, and Michael Jordan). Now, though, I’m actually a grown man and professional that speaks all over the U.S. about much more complex and important matters that impact my clients and their plan beneficiaries every single day.

During a recent podcast with an esteemed Phia colleague, I used a word to describe some of the tactics employed by the attorneys on the other side of the aisle. I consider the word to be rather innocuous and used in common parlance. Indeed, to the extent the word is offensive, I use it commonly to describe some of my own “spiels”; with all the talks, speeches, or conversations with my clients, the contents of which I discuss daily given the few, precise parts of ERISA in which I focus, I eventually developed a bit of a script, or “pitch”, if you will. I’ve since learned, thanks to a specific attorney in the industry who took the time to educate me on the etymology of the word via a linguistical analysis, that perhaps the origins of that word could be considered offensive to some.

Make no mistake, I was not unaware of the origin of the word. Though I don’t necessarily agree that it is offensive in today’s norms, I certainly intended no offense when I used the term that day. As in all professions, there are greats and not so greats. I work with many, hardworking, upstanding, plaintiffs’ attorneys with whom I share mutual respect, understanding for each other’s role in the process, and in some cases, even friendship; after all, we’re all just cogs in a machine, we have a job to do. Neither one of us made the law, it is just our job to help our clients enforce their rights in accordance with it. For that reason, I do take issue with those who find it appropriate to disrespect me and/or my colleagues, in a complete breach of decorum, ethics, and/or lack of professional standards. If I told you the stories of some of the names I’ve been called, ways I’ve been treated (or some of the gross, misogynistic, disgusting, sexually harassing things that have been said to female colleagues in my office) by some of these self-purported purveyors of a moral code, the law, or code of ethics to which we (as lawyers) are required to comply, (even in our day to day lives, regardless of whether we are acting in our capacity as lawyers at the time), you would likely have some difficulty picking your jaw up off of the ground. Would you believe that in law school not only was the idea of “vigorous advocacy” drilled into our heads, but also that we are ”supposed” to be revered as part of a noble profession or brother/sisterhood. Apparently, some of us aren’t as worthy of that nobility as others, even though what we are doing is completely legal; but as they say – “opinions, everyone has one”. Gee, I can’t imagine why our collective alleged “nobility” has taken a bit of a hit in the eyes of the public.

I pride myself and work very hard to build and foster good relationships, treat everyone with respect, and remember that we are just trying to do a job and help our respective clients get to an outcome that makes sense for them. While other roles are adversarial, and our approaches may also need to be, do we need to treat each other as adversaries?

So, to those in the industry I respect, I meant no ill will and I apologize. I’ll gladly treat all with respect, that is until they choose not to respond in kind; after all, “All’s Fair in Love and War”. I’d prefer to work with you to try to get everyone to an outcome with which they can be satisfied. Sadly, that is not always possible given the desires of the client; we don’t need to be unkind to each other, but if you want to play hard ball, I’m game!

Oh – and don’t forget to join us for our next Phia Podcast – who knows what I might say next!