Just reward: Medical malpractice lawyer receives 'Champion' Award

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

Southfield attorney Norm Tucker, a much sought-after speaker on medical malpractice issues impacting the legal and health care professions, is a walking book of quotations, a curator of meaningful sayings and clever phrases that he dispenses with ease during his frequent speaking engagements.

One day last week, he delivered three presentations on proposed revisions to Michigan's medical malpractice laws, changes that in effect would shield "doctors and health care providers from all negligence claims." The talks have been part of concerted efforts to help derail the proposed legislation and to recommend alternative reforms to address litigation issues.

Yet, it was during a recent speech at the annual meeting of the Michigan Association for Justice, that Tucker made perhaps his most poignant point. Said Tucker, upon his acceptance of the Champion of Justice Award from the MAJ: "One of my favorite adages for life and the law is, 'What you do screams so loudly, I cannot hear what you say.'"

Tucker, a past president of the MAJ, has been a consistent and effective voice for the rights of litigants since becoming involved with the former Michigan Trial Lawyers Association (MTLA) more than 40 years ago. His work, and his commitment to just causes, speaks for itself, according to attorney Jules Olsman, president of Olsman, Mueller, Wallace & MacKenzie.

"He began his career with Kitch where he worked for Judge Richard Suhrheinrich," Olsman said of Tucker, an attorney who specializes in birth trauma cases for Sommers Schwartz. "He drew the attention of Stanley Schwartz, who hired him. From that point, he helped develop medical malpractice law both substantively and technically.

"He has great organizational skills and a work ethic second to none," Olsman said, noting that Tucker is regularly asked to "present before medical groups such as ACOG (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) and various hospital systems" around the country. "He also promotes dialogue with people opposed to the civil justice system. His well known expression is that, 'It is harder for people to dislike you when they know you.'"

Those who know Tucker, a University of Michigan graduate who earned his law degree from the University of Detroit, appreciate the depth of his intellect and the breadth of his candor, qualities that rose to the surface during his acceptance speech at the May 4 awards ceremony in Dearborn. Tucker even poked a bit of fun at himself, just moments after Olsman finished lauding him at the annual awards dinner.

"After that," Tucker said of the praise that Olsman just heaped on him, "a smarter person would say 'thank you,' sit down and shut up, but I have a problem walking past an open microphone."

For that, those in the audience at the MAJ event can say a special thank you.

"When I started practicing in 1971 as a defense attorney, plaintiff's attorneys were not high on everyone's list of the most respected for most reputable members of the profession," said Tucker, who was an All-State football player during his high school days in Tecumseh. "Pejorative names were commonly used to describe plaintiff's attorneys. It may not have been about the facts or the reality--but it was the perception. Many viewed personal injury lawyers as a small rogue clan more interested in making money off injured people, often taking 50 percent of the recovery, and often suspected of generating clients by questionable methods.

"In my opinion, primarily due to the efforts of this organization (the former MTLA) that perception was turned on its head," Tucker said in his speech. "I still remember going to Lansing in the early '80s with Dave Getto to meet with our mutual state senator, John Kelly, to discuss the first round of serious tort reform. He knew little about MTLA and his distrust was palpable. When he left the Senate in 1994, his attitude had done a 180-degree turn and he even joined a firm that handled personal injury claims. During that decade I saw the same change in attitude in lawyers, judges, legislators, and even in the general public."

Tucker credited the MAJ for playing a "major role in making every member a better lawyer," noting that members have become visible and active in the state and local bar associations, while also teaching at law schools and lecturing at continuing legal education programs.

"Through MAJ, we play a visible role in the community," he said, adding that "our opinions are respected and solicited by the media" and "we have become a recognized force and resource in the appellate courts." Through its political involvement, the MAJ has helped "put and keep judges on every court across the state, including the Supreme Court." The organization has even formed coalitions with more than a dozen medical groups and legislators ask for "our input on bills to improve the medical liability system," according to Tucker.

"Through a lot of hard word, MAJ and its members have earned an exceptional reputation," Tucker said. "But as Franklin said about reputations, 'It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.'"

The words hold particular meaning in today's legal market, Tucker cautioned.

"We cannot practice our profession without business, and with tort reform, the supply side is shrinking," Tucker told the MAJ audience. "My concern is that in our haste to get the business, we will all lose the reputations and credibility we've worked so long and hard to build."

He pointed to recent reports of "online ambulance chasing" and national news stories "about Cappers, a nice name for runners, targeting Detroit."

"Some say this is not my problem," Tucker said. "I don't do these things. What others do does not affect me. I would respectively suggest that you are wrong. Our reputations and credibility will only be as strong as our weakest link.

"I will not dwell on the solutions; we all know it," Tucker indicated. "To paraphrase Edmund Burke, 'All that is necessary for bad things to happen is for good lawyers to do nothing.'"

Published: Mon, Jun 18, 2012

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