Lyle’s Latest Message As GTLA President

Jul 16, 2021


WE ARE ALL FAMILIAR with Alfred Lord Tennyson’s quote, “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” But you may wonder what it has to do with the type of losses we suffer as trial lawyers. First, the poem, In Memoriam A.H.H., was actually about the sudden death of Tennyson’s best friend, Arthur Henry Hallman; it had nothing to do with romance. More importantly, it encapsulates so much about the underlying purpose of what we do. We represent people who have experienced horrible losses: the loss of a job, a limb, a spouse, a child. We cannot adequately represent them, and fully recover for their loss, without really understanding the true value of what was taken from them. We can never turn back the hands of time to prevent the loss from happening, but it is our job to tell their story in such a way that it forms the basis for recovery – from the loss and for that loss.

The quote also brings to mind the mantra that if you’ve never lost a case, you probably haven’t tried many. At our education programs, we hear from our colleagues about their great successes, and we learn from those. Who doesn’t love a good war story? But we learn just as much from our failures. I, like many of you, have experienced the heartbreak of hearing a jury issue a verdict that is not in my client’s favor. But whenever I’ve had an opportunity to try the case again, things turned out well. Looking back, we learned an awful lot about what not to do in the first go ‘round, and ultimately just chalked it up to a very expensive focus group.

Sometimes we lose before we ever get to the jury. Motions to dismiss, summary judgment rulings and Daubert orders can all take the wind out of sails before we even get started. I suffered one of the most disappointing losses of my career last year, when a trial court threw out our malpractice case after years of litigation, on the eve of trial. I literally felt the punch in the gut. But recently I was permitted to argue the case on appeal, and there is a chance that we will right that wrong. Regardless, I know that I will change the way I plead certain things, or question witnesses, or formulate arguments in similar cases going forward. I will learn from the experience, win or lose.

We have learned a lot about how to make the most of a difficult situation and in so doing have modified behaviors that will extend well beyond the pandemic.

Much of what we do at GTLA involves politics. We have a pretty good track record for supporting candidates who succeed in becoming part of the General Assembly. Of course, sometimes we pick the wrong horse. But always, we support the people who will support our clients. We work hard to advance legislation that protects our clients’ rights, and to defeat the tort reformers’ efforts. The stakes are very high, and the thought of losing can be daunting; but there is simply no option to let down our guard. Like in litigation, our success in borne out of relationships we forge and the credibility we have established over time.

Typically, the President’s message for this issue of Verdict is written in the midst of the legislative session, and the focus is often on the many challenges facing us under the Gold Dome. This year is no different; but I am struck by the difficulty in reporting on the here and now, not knowing how things will ultimately turn out. By the time this issue is published, the General Assembly will likely have adjourned sine die, and the battles will be behind us. I do not know whether we will emerge as “winners” or “losers” on any matters of importance to us. But I do know that GTLA’s incredible legislative team will have given everything we have to preserving the Constitutional right of access to the courts for Georgia citizens.

It has been my honor to serve as GTLA President. It is certainly a fascinating time to lead an organization, and I am grateful to each of the GTLA Officers, our Executive Committee members, our incredibly resilient staff, the incomparable legislative team, and every member who stepped up this year to help with our mission and support the cause of justice. I know we will all look back on the “COVID year(s)” in myriad ways, for all the challenges but also the many unique opportunities. Undoubtedly, we have learned a lot about how to make the most of a difficult situation and in so doing have modified behaviors that will extend well beyond the pandemic.

I will end where I started, with Tennyson’s famous verse. It took him 17 years to write the lengthy poem, which covers the span of three years following his friend’s death. Ultimately, it teaches us that life goes on, and we must “find in loss a gain to match.” I look forward to continuing to walk alongside you as we all pursue big wins in life, as well as in the courtroom. And I know that we will be there to lift each other up whenever we come up short.

Stay safe and stay well.GTLA Logo