Arkansas Trial Lawyers President George Wise on Technology, Tyranny and Tort Reform

Arkansas Trial Lawyers President George Wise on Technology, Tyranny and Tort Reform
George Wise

George Wise is the 51st president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, which was incorporated in 1963.

Wise, who was born in Batesville and grew up in Forrest City, attended the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in Arkansas in 1978 and is a lawyer with the Brad Hendricks Law Firm, where he focuses his practice on medical negligence cases. Wise’s work with ATLA includes serving as a state delegate with the American Association for Justice, chairperson of the Publications Committee and member of the Legislation Committee and the Amicus Curiae Committee. Wise is also a member of the Arkansas Bar Association.

The lay public may not be aware of the differences between the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association and the Arkansas Bar Association. What sets ATLA apart?

ATLA tries to work with the ABA to protect the civil justice system. What sets ATLA apart from the Arkansas Bar is our mission. ATLA is the state’s largest and most active voluntary statewide legal organization representing, educating and developing Arkansas’ trial bar. Our members are attorneys dedicated to protecting the health and safety of Arkansas families, to enhancing consumer protections and to preserving every citizen’s right to trial by jury and access to the courts.

How is technology affecting the way trial lawyers practice law?

Technology has quickened the pace of practicing law and made it easier. Legal research is done from one’s computer, tablet or smartphone rather than at the library. Electronic filing of court documents gives the public easier access to records. In my practice handling medical negligence cases, one of the hazards of technology is that our clients often do their own medical research and want to play doctor in analyzing the case. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association reviewed Wikipedia medical articles and found that nine out of 10 contained errors, but it can be difficult to convince a client that what he reads on the Internet may not be accurate.

Should judges and justices be appointed rather than elected?

This is a difficult question. I personally still favor the election of judges. Election of the officials who run our three branches of government is one of the few ways regular people get to participate in our democracy. Taking the election of judges out of the hands of the people lessens the control our citizens have over those who govern them. On the other hand, the influence of dark money special interests on judicial races provides a compelling argument for the appointment of judges. If we are to switch to appointment of judges, the system of appointment will need to be one where politics are removed as much as possible from the system.

What’s the biggest misconception about trial lawyers?

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” This quote is from “Henry VI,” Part II, Act IV, Scene II, in which Dick the Butcher and Jack Cade are plotting to overthrow the government. Shakespeare was actually paying tribute to lawyers as the primary defenders against tyrants. We have modern-day Dick the Butchers and Jack Cades. They are the groups who want to take away or limit the right to a civil jury trial. This corporate-immunity crowd seeks to evade responsibility for wrongfully hurting regular people by what they call tort reform. This movement is built around myths and misconceptions about our civil justice system. There is no frivolous lawsuit crisis. There is no medical malpractice crisis driving doctors out of Arkansas and driving up the costs of medical care. There is no explosion of big judgments by runaway juries. Arkansans need to understand that trial lawyers protect their constitutional right to a jury trial. Trial lawyers are Arkansans’ first line of defense against tyrants.