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2002 Worthington Essay Prize

Worthington Essay Contest Prize Winners, 2002:


Write an essay of 2000 words (about 8 pages) in which you develop an argument in response to the following problem. Refer to the documents linked below, which should provide sufficient information for your argument. The criteria for judgment are clarity and depth in the development of an argument. This is not a research paper.

A lawyer describes "a real world problem that is vexing lawyers." The "asbestos debtors" he mentions are those defendants who have been found by the courts to be liable for personal injuries caused by the improper use of asbestos, and who have consequently gone into bankruptcy. He writes:

A debate currently rages among personal injury lawyers about how to divide up the assets of asbestos debtors who have sought reorganization under the bankruptcy code. Part of the problem, say the debtors, is that junk lawsuits were filed which wasted money that should have gone to the really sick cancer patients. These junk lawsuits were stimulated by law firms that contracted with medical screening companies to travel the country in search of persons who may have been exposed to asbestos in an effort to find some medical basis for creating a legal claim. Recently, my colleague sent out a letter that outlined the problem and seemed to be heading toward the conclusion that the "mass filer" law firms killed the golden goose and should rot in hell. But instead he wrote: "Let there be no mistake. These are not moral issues nor questions of right and wrong."

Read the letter from Shep Hoffman dated January 7, 2002, in the context of the letter from MARF to a bankruptcy judge, dated January 16, 2002, both linked below in PDF format. Address the question of whether the issue proposed was, in fact, a moral issue or whether it was, as Hoffman claimed, merely a pragmatic issue. To what extent should lawyers consider whether it is morally right or wrong for law firms to contract with medical screening companies to search out possible plaintiffs in asbestos personal injuries cases? To what extent are lawyers responsible for finding an equitable way of distributing the limited funds available to the victims?

PDF file of Hoffman and MARF letters

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