Everyone likes to call John Edwards a "trial lawyer," but the term really isn't very descriptive. What people mean is that Edwards represented plaintiffs at trial. Here at the Legal Underground, I call that kind of lawyer a "plaintiffs' lawyer." A plaintiffs' lawyer can be a trial lawyer, but so can a lawyer who represents the defendant at a trial. I call this other kind of lawyer a "civil defense lawyer."
I've touched on this terminology problem before in "The Legal Underground's Tort Reform Glossary." However, my complaints are not likely to change any minds. Although the terminology employed by the mainstream press is confusing, plaintiffs' lawyers themselves caused some of the confusion by naming one of their groups (of which I'm a member) the "Association of Trial Lawyers of America" (ATLA).
So at least until the election is over, Republicans will be using the term "trial lawyer" as a slur. What's the meaning of the slur? The answer can be found in an Associated Press article titled "Business groups trying to taint Edwards with 'trial lawyer' label," which explains that "trial lawyers" are part of a "controversial fringe of the legal profession that conducts raids on companies that not infrequently lead to larger financial gains for themselves than their individual clients."
It doesn't matter that no such "fringe of the legal profession" actually exists--some are going to act like it does, and are going to associate John Edwards with that group. For example, Professor Bainbridge has taken to referring to John Edwards as "John Trial Lawyer Edwards." Or consider what a commenter on another blog said about Edwards, hitting all the key Republican themes in a single sentence: "Senator Handsome has made millions upon millions, not by the honest delivery of goods and services in the marketplace, but by manipulating the emotions of juries so that they apply 'remedies' to 'injustices' that are far out of proportion to any actual harm that is caused."
In a slightly less coherent passage, a commenter on this weblog asked, "Is it true that John Edwards sued Doctors over the issue of Cerebral Palsey being the fault of Doctors?????? It truly is a genetic problem just like Down Syndrome and Autism. Truth is truth and getting rich on lies is disgusting. But God is our judge."