Magazine article The Masthead

Casting Aside Flak Jackets

Magazine article The Masthead

Casting Aside Flak Jackets

Article excerpt

Back in the 1980s, my friend Stephen Masterson was executive director of the Florida Trial Lawyers Association. At the time, the lawyers and the doctors were battling over medical malpractice legislation, and the lawyers weren't pleased with press coverage.

So, Steve proposed a plan to meet with reporters and editorial boards across the state to explain the group's position and to generally clarify some law/media misunderstandings.

The reaction?

"One lawyer got up and said, 'The press hates us, they will always hate us, and this is a waste of time and money.'

"It was a time of mutual dislike," Steve said. "For a lawyer to go to an editorial board then, you almost had to be wearing a flak jacket."

Nevertheless, Steve eventually persuaded enough of his colleagues to go along with his idea. And while there were a few hostile encounters with editorial writers, the experience was good. "Most were open and hungry for discussion," he said.

Steve later went on to found the Institute for Law & Society, based at Florida State University. The aim was to educate the public about the law, which included participating in law and media forums.

He returned to private practice in Tallahassee after it was clear that good intentions -- that is, the Society -- wouldn't pay the mortgage.

But Steve still believes that there's a general lack of understanding of our different roles.

For example, after one spicy editorial board meeting, Steve advised a colleague: "This is a discussion, not a trial. …

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