Barracudas are on the trail again

Have you missed those advertisements portraying lawyers as barracudas, pond scum or worse? Well, they're back. Opponents of Proposition 211 already are on the air with one of the earliest television blitzes in history.

Their target is a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot which would make it easier to bring security fraud suits in California. The attackers include high technology firms, banks and accountants.

Proposition 211 backers are almost all plaintiffs' attorneys. Their effort is headed by class action litigation specialist William Lerach of San Diego, whose New York law firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, has contributed $2.5 million.

The battle over Proposition 211 is a replay of the campaigns for and against the so-called tort reform measures, Proposition 201 and 202, in the California primary last March.

At that time, trial lawyers on one side and business interests on the other spent $15 million on television campaigns that may have reached a new high (or low) in invective. As far as the TV viewing public could tell, the campaigns were a duel to the death between corporate wolves and legal barracudas.

Although both propositions were defeated, there were no real winners, unless you count the advertising agencies and television stations who profited enormously.

Early estimates are that twice as much money may be spent this fall -- half to pass and half to defeat Proposition 211. That means $15 million more will be funneled into a campaign calculated to destroy the image of the legal profession. You can be sure neither the advertisers nor the public will make any distinctions among different kinds of lawyers. The other half will be spent to attack the attackers.

How many speeches, how big a public relations effort, how many hours of pro bono work will it take for the legal profession to remove this latest albatross from around its neck?

And this time the pain is self-inflicted.