Real People, Real Tragedies, and Real Consequences

2015-06-16 Jeb Butler receiving YLD litigator award

Last month, the Georgia Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division did me the great honor of giving me the “Young Litigator of the Year” award, primarily because of my role in the Walden v. Chrysler verdict.  They asked me to write a little bit about the case and kind of work that our law firm, Butler Tobin LLC, does.

The Walden case reminded me that litigation is for real.  What I mean is that litigation is about real tragedies, involves real people, and causes real consequences.  We lawyers can forget that.  Too often lawyers play ‘games’ by misconstruing the law to a trial judge, trying to trick witnesses, or wordsmithing discovery responses—or they allow their adversaries to get away with such tactics, apparently believing that those are the ‘rules of the game.’  Litigation is not a game.  If we treat litigation as a game, or we allow our adversaries to get away with treating it as a game, we abdicate our responsibility to the public.  The legal system cannot devolve into a needlessly complex apparatus that helps lawyers make money off disputes.  It is, and should remain, a system that serves and protects the people.

We saw that in Walden.  We saw plenty of would-be gamesmanship by Chrysler’s lawyers (primarily from those outside Georgia) and had plenty of fighting about it.  After a three-year slugfest, we saw results.  Now the national media has alerted people to the dangers of these rear-tank Jeeps, the federal government considered (albeit temporarily) reopening its investigation into the Jeeps, and Chrysler has been summoned before Congress to answer for at least some of its sins.  Those are real consequences.  Before Walden, Chrysler had settled every single rear-tank Jeep case filed against it—somewhere between 50 and 100 cases.  Our clients forced them to trial.  If Chrysler thought this was a game, its misconception has been corrected.

If that sounds insightful, I’m not the one who deserves the credit.  The words are mine but the attitude—which he has exemplified for thirty-something years in this profession, and which I’ve had the opportunity to observe closely—is that of Jim Butler, my father and lead counsel in Walden v. Chrysler.

That’s the attitude we keep alive at my firm, Butler Tobin LLC.  We handle wrongful death and personal injury cases.  Most of our injury cases are ‘worth’ far, far less than $150 million, but we don’t take cases that we don’t believe in.  Our primary practice areas are trucking, car wrecks, and negligent security cases—and one thing we won’t stand for in any of them is gamesmanship.

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