Trial lawyer fund raising, the slippery slope

It is almost Labor Day and for those of us who live in parts of the country where our children have already gone back to school or started fall sports and activities we are visited by the annual scourge of our kids being forced into fund raising for PTO, Football, Cheer, Marching Band, Soccer, etc. You can't approach a grocery store or answer your door on the weekend with out some nervous teenager asking you to support their sport, school or activity. While I think it's good for every kid to have to learn the joys of face to face selling so that they can grow up to choose another line of work, the constant strong arm tactics to raise money by needy organizations reaches a point where you simply stop buying from anyone. I believe they call it donor fatigue.

I was also reminded by a business associate that this is the election cycle for state and federal races, with the added bonus that this is a presidential election year. With this cycle comes the inevitable pleas for money from candidates, but increasingly from other organizations that act as proxy fund raising organizations for national parties. With someone with a foot in both the legal and financial world, I get the "offers to help" from both sides of the political spectrum, with the added emphasis being that to fail in my funding options would be an indication by certain organizations as a lack of faith in their message or mission.

Much as I am worn out from the barrage of teenagers begging for money and for me to buy items I don't really want, I am equally tired and increasingly disgusted by the sum's of money being requested by trial lawyer organizations from legal marketing firms, financial services companies and structured settlement firms. I recently viewed a letter from a President of a State trial lawyer organization to the membership, applauding a financial service firm that has contributed close to $250,000 over a two year period to this state trial lawyers group. Let me be very clear, I'm not saying the trial lawyers don't need the money to fight the deep pockets and huge funding advantage of the tort reform forces, or that this firm that made the contributions did any thing wrong by being so generous. Obviously the advocates of public justice desperately need this money to fight the battle on both the state and federal level. With out these funds they are at a huge disadvantage ,as the forces of tort reform have a "bleed the lawyers white" strategy to exhaust their financial resources and to win the battle. I get it, the trial lawyers absolutely need these funds.

However, in the battle to raise money from any and all sources, I can't help but think that these state and national organizations are losing a part of their soul by taking money from just about anyone who offers it to them. Once the trial lawyers discovered that the factoring, structured settlement, legal finance and lien resolution professions were willing to line up and throw money at state and federal groups, all in return for some implied endorsement of their services, the race to the bottom of the slippery slope began. We now are treated to the spectacle of settlement companies that historically went to great lengths to disenfranchise plaintiffs in the settlement process hosting AAJ events, factoring firms that actively market to blow up sound and sensible financial programs for plaintiffs given "preferred vendor" status, legal finance firms battling to be the lender of choice and lien settlement firms locked in a battle to the death to see who can raise the most money to achieve coveted "preferred vendor" status.

While many of these firms are fine companies and provide excellent service, the buying of an endorsement for cash is unseemly for all parties involved.

My suggestion is as follows:

Get rid of preferred vendor status that is solely based on who pays the state association the most amount of money. I know organizations will state that there are other factors that go into this decision, but lets not pretend for a moment the most important consideration isn't who writes the biggest check. In fact, get rid of preferred vendor status all together. People see it for what it is, a pay off or purchase of an endorsement and all it does is alienate all of the other vendors who were out bid. If the trial lawyer groups plan is to upset and alienate a large group of their natural supporters, they are doing a great job of it under the current system. 

Unfortunately I don't see an end to this cycle, I only see it getting worse, with the donor fatigue and strong arm tactics that use to be part of the defense industry now in full bloom in the plaintiff market. We are going to see some serious mistakes made as a result of the inherent flaws in this process, but I'm afraid its going to take some financial organization with "preferred vendor" status going belly up or making a mess of some big cases to put an end to this insane practice of firms buying their credibility instead of earning it through the quality of their work.