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"President's Page"

MTLA Magazine
January 2004

Article Author: Peter W. Riley

Early last summer, my partner, Jim Schwebel, dropped into my office to discuss a case he had to try in September. Since it was a medical malpractice case, he asked if I would be willing to try the case with him, and I agreed. Over the years I have had the privilege of acting as co-counsel with a number of superb trial lawyers and have always found them rewarding experiences.

Jim told me he felt that this case merited the application of a principle called "concentration of force". He explained that this principle, which had its origin in military strategy, has as its bedrock the use of significant force in a concentrated manner to overcome opposition. He proposed that we focus our efforts on the case, one of us on liability and one on damages, to seek a successful result for our client.

The resulting discovery and trial were hard fought. However, the stress level that Jim and I experienced was far less than if either one of us had been trying the case alone, and at the same time, we were able to each contribute different ideas and concepts to the trial strategy.

Other members of this organization have demonstrated the effectiveness of this concept. Cases like the Holidazzle trial, the tobacco trial, John Sheehy’s recent successes, and many others demonstrate that when talented lawyers partner together to prepare and try cases, there is a synergy that produces excellent results for the plaintiff.

The concept of concentration of force also applies very well to what we do here at MTLA on many levels.

I often think of this organization as a 1,200 member law firm, and nothing shows this better than the daily activity on the various List Serves to which our members belong. No day goes by without a member seeking information on a case, a legal issue, or another matter, and they are able to instantly communicate with hundreds of other MTLA members, and almost invariably get a quick, on-point answer. (Current statistics suggest that approximately 42.96% of these answers come from Wil Fluegel. We are seriously considering adding Wil as a "membership benefit" in our next marketing materials.)

The expressions of appreciation that members regularly make about the help given by other members on the List Serve undoubtedly makes that benefit alone worth the cost of membership.

Other resources like our brief bank and deposition bank allow all of us to contribute our knowledge and abilities to help each other. In talking with other TLA Presidents throughout the country, I know that Minnesota is highly regarded for the extent to which our members volunteer to help each other.

Another important aspect of our concentration of force is the extent to which we work together in fund raising activities such as Trial PAC. Here, however, the "concentration of force" is not as effective as it could be. All of us know how important having pro-consumer legislators and executive branch members is to the rights of our clients. Given that every one of our clients benefit from our legislative activities, I am at a loss to understand why only one of every 12 of our members supports our PAC.

The MTLA Political Action Committee supports legislators who are pro-consumer. While 8% of us provide that support, 100% of our members benefit. We have pointed out in the past that if all of MTLA’s members contributed just $15.00 per month to our Political Action Committee, we could have a fund of over $180,000.00 per year to support pro-consumer legislative candidates and legislation. We make do with a third of that amount with most of the heavy lifting done by a few members.

If you haven’t already been contacted by a member of the PAC committee or our Board of Governors to participate in PAC, you will be shortly, and I hope that you will allow us to greatly increase the amount of force we can concentrate in this area with your financial help.

Another area where MTLA effectively concentrates force is in the interface between our very talented staff and our wonderful volunteer lawyers. If there is one thing that stands out for me in my presidential year, it is the extent to which our organization benefits from the thousands of hours of hard volunteer work done by the members who lead this organization. I am not referring here to your five officers who certainly dedicate themselves to this organization; rather, I am talking about the many other volunteer leaders. Kristi
Paulson is working with our sister organization, the Minnesota Consumer Alliance, to effectively communicate a pro-consumer message and to warn of the dangers of anti-consumer legislation. As always, special interest groups seeking to limit the rights of consumers will be active at the legislature this year, and the Minnesota Consumer Alliance has proven to be an effective voice in getting out the truth about tort deform.

Jim Carey and Kate Flom are leading our PAC fundraising. As I noted above, this is important work and as a former PAC chair, I know how frustrating fundraising for our Political Action Committee can be. I also know, however, how vitally important this work is and I am immensely impressed with Jim and Kate’s dedication to this task along with the other members of their committee.

On the legislative front, Mike Bryant has been a wonderful leader working with Joel Carlson, Dick Martin, and Tim Adams directly with the legislators who make decisions on pro-consumer legislation, as well as legislation that is harmful to the interests of consumers. In addition, we concentrate our force by working with other organizations who share our interest. The Coalition of Partners consists of Labor and Education groups, and we are working with them to locate good legislative candidates and give them support in upcoming races.

We are also developing grassroots’ contacts between members and their local media outlets to try to assure that the truth is known about our civil justice system.

Finally, Dan O’Fallon has taken over the Leadership Task Force and, in concert with many other leaders of this organization, is working to build coalitions and to seek ways to effectively communicate our messages to those who decide the issues both at the legislature and elsewhere.

As my year as President nears its halfway point, I hope that each of you reading this will ask what you can do to further the interests of MTLA and, by extension, your clients. The challenges we face never become easier, or fewer in number, and they require that we redouble our efforts to support this great organization.

If any of you are looking for ways to participate in MTLA, we have many committees that could use your help and service. You can call me directly at (612) 344-0425, or call the MTLA office at (612) 375-1707. The important thing, however, is that you call, become involved, and help us concentrate the force of great lawyers towards the end of justice for all consumers.