We admit it: We’re as crazy as the next guy.
Heck — given that we spend nights and weekends feeding this blog, there’s a pretty strong argument that we’re crazier than the next guy.
We fret about whether each and every one of the ten million documents has been reviewed and coded correctly, and we change commas into dashes — and back again — in footnote nine on page thirty of the brief.
We believe that our clients are more likely to win if we do our jobs right, and we devote an awful lot of energy to that cause.
And then the system kicks in.
Courts make utterly unpredictable procedural rulings that dramatically change the value of our cases. The MDL Panel, for example, may decide to consolidate a set of cases in a jurisdiction that previously had nothing to do with the litigation — like sending Breast Implants to Alabama or Albuterol to Wyoming — and all of a sudden an unanticipated body of local appellate law governs your federal issues, and your cases are either won or lost for reasons beyond your control. (See In re Korean Airlines, 829 F.2d 1171 (D.C. Cir. 1987).)
Or you tee up a legal issue in front of a judge, and you can’t predict the result, because the cases are breaking fifty/fifty in that area. The judge might grant summary judgment, or he might deny it. Or, as happened in Tucker v. SmithKline Beecham recently, he might grant the motion in September and reconsider the following July. Your lawyering skills presumably had nothing to do with it.
One judge grants a Daubert motion, holding that the evidence linking Accutane to inflammatory bowel disease is junk science, inadmissible in a court of law. But, a couple of weeks earlier, a New Jersey jury had awarded millions of dollars of damages based on that same evidence.
One judge holds that a claim accrued on the day the plaintiff was diagnosed with a disease, and another holds that the identical claim — on identical facts — didn’t accrue until the plaintiff “discovered” his claim based on press coverage or an article in the scientific literature. The statute of limitations bars the first claim; the second one goes forward.
You’re a hero or a goat, and you had nothing to do with it.
One judge holds that the warnings on your client’s product are adequate as a matter of law. Another holds that the question of adequacy is one of fact, to be decided by a jury.
One jury then finds in your client’s favor, but a second jury — looking at precisely the same warnings — finds the opposite.
We’re not complaining about this, really.
They’re our lives, after all, and we picked this profession, and it can be awfully exciting and challenging and, yes, fun.
But doesn’t it sometimes feel a tad random?
More to the point, our system sinks tens of millions of dollars into massive discovery to ensure that every last fact is known — presumably in pursuit of an accurate result. But those carefully honed inputs then yield results that are both unpredictable and flatly inconsistent with each other (which means that at least one was wrong).
If the system ultimately values cases wildly inconsistently, just why does society invest massive resources into trying to ensure accuracy? Aren’t there better things to do with our collective wealth?
But we digress.
We have to go back to scrutinizing the footnotes in all of the drug and device precedents, to pry out of them every last ounce of utility for our clients.
If we didn’t, then a brief might not be perfect, and we might be more likely to lose.