This is the common term for the plaintiffs' lawyers who will do anything (and I mean anything) to get some poor bastard or bastardess in front of a jury. The term comes from the unscrupulous behavior of these lawyers after an auto accident, train wreck, plane crash -- you name it. If someone's been hurt, it was someone else's fault, and, by God, they'll have to pay for it!

I don't know about where you live, but I had a car wreck where a stupid woman hit me from behind. It did quite a bit of damage and there were possible injuries. The next week, I got letters in the mail from over a dozen law firms. They had just happened to "hear about" my wreck and wondered if I might be injured?

These lowlife bastards have made an art form out of picking the stupidest jury imaginable, then playing them like a fiddle. They typically take up to half of the settlement to line their own pockets. You see their smiling faces on the back cover of phone books all across America. They are devils, and they are also the largest single contributors to the reelection efforts of Democrats in America.

It's the concept of punitive damages that has made them filthy rich, and that same concept threatens the integrity of the entire judicial system in America. I fail to understand how a country such as Great Britain, which tends to be far more left-leaning than the US, has had the good sense to keep punitive damages out of their court systems while we can't understand the damage they do to us all. By that, I mean when McDonald's is forced to pay some stupid bitch several million dollars because she spilled coffee on herself, who do you think really pays that? You and I do.

Jackie on Seinfeld was one of the most accurate sitcom portrayals of an ambulance chaser. "Who told you to put salve on that? Did I say anything 'bout salve? Where'd you get that salve, anyway?"

Ambulance chasers seem like the most hideous people. They called a friend repeatedly when she'd been involved in a minor auto accident. They talk people into lawsuits that make no sense at all. The final straw for me came when a co-worker lost his infant son to SIDS. Lawyers called every hour offering to sue anybody, most especially the babysitter.

So I asked my stepfather about this, with some digust. He was a very successful attorney. He didn't need to chase ambulances, and never had, starting out with Legal aid then working as a city prosecutor. That way he maintained a steady income as gained experience and built his practice. He dropped to part time as his practice grew, and eventually going into business for himself.

He said, "When I was admitted to the bar in 1968 the population of Ohio was over 9 million, and there were 10,000 lawyers. Today the population of Ohio is 8 million, and there are 30,000 lawyers. Do you really think there is so much more legal work?"

He continued to say "What happens is that most people finish law school with many thousands of student loan debts. The very top people, the Harvard Law School graduates will get snapped up by the big, established law firms, and they'll start out okay. But for everybody else, they're in the hole up to their ass. To make any money at all, they have to open an office, which costs money, hire a secretary, whom they have to pay. They need to generate income right away or go bankrupt. Bankruptcy can get you disbarred. But they have no reputation and no referrals. What would you do in their circumstance?"

He had a point. "So the solution is admit fewer people to the bar."

He laughed. "Not so fast. How would you do that? The bar exam is hard enough. Tightening the exam would be fairer, except to people who aren't good at taking tests. You could close law schools, but then almost everyone who will get into law school will come from a prestige school. They admit kids from other prestige schools. That would assure that almost all lawyers were rich kids. My dad was working class, and I had to put myself through school. Couldn't afford Harvard."

"So there's really no good solution is there," I admitted. "So what should I tell my friends to say when they get called by an ambulance chaser?"

"Tell the jerk to fuck off."

While everything in Transitional Man's writeup is true, so much more can be said.

Caveat: the following is written from a US-centric viewpoint. I'm not sure if Britain or Australia have "ambulance chasers". It's my understanding that New Zealand does not have such beasts, because they nationalized their tort system, replacing the ambulance chaser with a government paper-pusher on salary. I'd be interested to hear from Kiwis whether this constitutes any improvement.

The good old days for lawyers weren't all that good for the middle class, who couldn't afford lawyers. Oh sure, graduates of law schools could more easily find jobs and keep them, with nice, reputable firms, and were not forced out on the street with a "will-litigate-for-food" sign. But firms carried around complete idiots and imbeciles as partners: one thinks of the stereotypical "rainmaker" who has no legal skills whatsoever, neither a scholar who can write briefs nor an actor who can sway a jury, but who made an excellent golf partner and could drink like a fish. These guys would be sent out to the country club to play golf and schmooze clients. This type of practice assured, however, that only big corporations or the most wealthy individuals could afford lawyers.

Those were the days. Today, as Transitional Man notes, there are enormous competitive pressures. The number of lawyers in the United States has sky-rocketed since Baby Boomers, including women, started graduating from law schools in great hordes. The legal profession, for some reason, attracts the second-rate. Beauty-pageant contestants don't go to MIT or Cal Tech: they go to law school.

However, in addition to the sheer increase in numbers, there has also been a trend toward "commodification" of legal services. You see this mostly in car-crash cases, hence the term "ambulance-chaser". Insurance companies have never been able or willing to adjust motor vehicle accident cases promptly or fairly. On the other hand, old-style law firms, which could force the insurance companies to pay up through litigation, were not staffed or equipped or structured to deal with the flood of small tort cases that came with Post-WWII prosperity and our suburban two-cars-in-every-garage lifestyle. Even taking the traditional one-third of the recovery as a fee, they manage the cases so inefficiently --after all, they have to pay Joe Partnerson to drink all day and schmooze with the widget-factory guys-- that they lose money on simple tort cases.

Try calling up your fancy-ass big law firm with the names of dozens of lawyers on the letterhead, and get them interested in your car crash case. They're not very nice, are they?

Enter the "ambulance-chaser". He (they usually are male, for some reason) doesn't have to be the smartest guy, or the slickest mouthpiece, but he has to be an energetic entrepreneur, and an efficient manager. The secret to success is high volume, low cost. He's the Crazy Eddy of law.

Rather than surrounding himself with other high-priced lawyers, who charge a lot to produce little, you hire a lot of secretaries, paralegals, and investigators, and you train them hard to fit into your little niche. And if they happen to be cute females, so much the better. Think Erin Brockovich. If you do it right, you have a specialized, highly-skilled, well-oiled, low cost workforce that is much more pleasant to deal with than a room full of lawyers. In fact, your lower- to middle-income clientele would much rather talk to your staff than that snooty bitch receptionist at Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe.

Now for the real challenge. The ambulance-chaser has his big, hungry legal machine ready to chew up those little car crash cases and spit out one-third contingency fees. He's got to feed the beast. That's where marketing comes in, including good old fashioned ambulance-chasing: getting names, addresses and phone numbers of injured people, and contacting them as quickly as you can (or in most states, as quickly as the law allows: in New Mexico, for example, it's illegal to solicit legal services for 24 hours after an accident or while the crash victim is still in the hospital.)

Marketing is everywhere now. Even I get "chased". I'm an appellate lawyer who also does a fair amount of consulting for those car-crash guys (they tend to be good businessmen but not very good brief writers). When I lose a case in the United States Court of Appeals, it's public record, and the buzzards start circling. The next step is appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The Supremes are really picky: you can't just print out a petition for writ of certiorari on your laser printer. Oh no. You have to get the damn thing offset printed in a little booklet. (If you look at the .pdf files of recent Supreme Court Slip Opinions at www.supremecourtus.gov you can see the size of the pamphlet: they don't print 'em that way because they like big margins and lots of white space.) So every time I lose an appeal, all the booklet printers are in the mail, on the fax, literally at my doorstep.

This is capitalism, this is a free market: I need them, they need me. IMX: I'd rather deal with solicitations than a government bureaucracy.

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