orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

Editorials

May 22, 2013

Life lessons from a trial lawyer

ORANGE — “I need a hero. I'm holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night.

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight”

— Jim Steinman

One of the great moments of my life was sitting next to legendary Louisville, Ky.,  attorney Frank Haddad at a luncheon when he learned he had received the first Peter Perlman Outstanding Trial Lawyer award from the Kentucky Academy of Trial Lawyers.

As they started his bio, the surprised Frank started crying like a baby. A sudden heart attack took him less than a year later. Winning the Perlman award was the crowning achievement of his career.

It may seem ironic that the award was named for another living, and practicing, trial attorney, but everyone understood why.

Richard Hay of Somerset, Ky., who has received the Perlman award, said starting with law school, where Perlman was one of his instructors, “Pete has always been the attorney that all Kentucky trial lawyers look up to.”

Perlman is an influential, national figure in the universe of trial attorneys. He is a member of the Inner Circle of Advocates, which means he is considered one of the top 100 trial lawyers in the United States.

He is the only Kentuckian ever to be president of the American Trial Lawyers Association and has been president of the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice and the Civil Justice Foundation.

His website notes that, “In nearly 50 years of practicing law, Perlman has won more than 50 multimillion verdicts and settlements. It also notes that “He is recognized worldwide as a specialist in product liability and crash-worthiness litigation.”

I personally know the power of Perlman. Thirty years ago, he was the first major attorney to refer a structured settlement client to me. (Frank Haddad was the second.)

From California to Washington, D.C., and every stop in between, big-time trial attorneys would tell me, "If you are good enough for Peter Perlman, you are good enough for me."

They understood that Pete demands a level of excellence from everyone around him. The same pursuit of perfection that he demands in himself.

When you look at the list of cherished professions, trial lawyers are far down the list. Nurses and firefighters hit the top, and trial lawyers check in somewhere around lobbyists and used car salespeople.

It’s easy to see why trial lawyers can be unpopular. Like journalists, the nature of their business is to champion a cause. If you are on the other side of that cause, it’s easy to demonize the attorney fighting against you.

I’ve sued and been sued. It’s not fun on either end.

Without trial lawyers, average Americans would not have an advocate when a drunk driver rams into their car or someone sells a product that kills or maims people.

Perlman is a champion for the underdog. Every aspect of his being is devoted to bringing honor to the legal profession that he loves.

There are several life lessons to be learned from watching Peter Perlman.

-- He's not a headline grabber.    

-- He befriends his clients and stays in touch, years after cases are resolved.

-- He communicates at a level that juries and average people understand.

-- He gives back to his community.

-- He gives back to his profession.

When trial lawyers are looking for a hero, it’s easy to see why Peter Perlman is the one they pick.

Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at don@mcnay.com.

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