Have the Recent Court Changes Affected the Quality of Texas Trial Lawyers?

Premise: Texas was one of the most talented groups of trial lawyers (plaintiffs and defense) in the country.

Over the last 20 years, there have been significant changes to the Texas tort laws. Most of those changes are viewed as anti-consumer or anti-plaintiff. The resulting effect on contingency fee lawyers has been generally described as a “reduction of business.” As a result, both “small” personal injury cases and “large” personal injury cases are being handled by fewer and fewer lawyers, and often many “small” cases cannot find a lawyer to represent them. I believe these changes will alter the legal landscape in our state – but not in the way you may think.

These reforms have caused a different result – less jury trials. Historically, young lawyers learned how to be great lawyers through the trial of many small cases. In these small cases, lawyers commonly made mistakes “from which they learned” and polished their skills as orators in the courtroom. The larger Texas law firms often hired law students who graduated at the top of their class and with this practical experience, were able to develop smart young trial lawyers who became skilled advocates in front of judges and juries. Today, however, with less jury trials, this training model for defense firms doesn’t work and those lawyers who become plaintiff’s lawyers, either through conversion from a defense firm or straight into the practicing of plaintiff’s law, also find it difficult to obtain the requisite experience to become seasoned advocates.

It is my belief with less advocates being developed on both sides of the docket, the State Bar of Texas and the citizens of Texas will suffer. Without a turnaround in our litigation practice – as a result of legislative changes, judicial holdings, and “tort reform” rhetoric – Texas will turn from a state with currently one of the largest collection of outstanding courtroom advocates into one where the exceptional advocate is difficult to locate.