The Ethics of Erin Brockovich

One of the good movies that I have watched was “Erin Brockovich”. It is based on a true story and revolves around a woman named, Erin Brockovich. Erin, as a single mother with three kids was financially troubled but fortunately, she got a job at a law firm. The whole film was about uncovering PG&E’s unethical practices and its effect on the community. In the end, Erin successfully won the lawsuit and found justice for the victims.

Despite the victory, does this mean that “the end does not justify the means”? If I evaluate Erin’s professionalism on how she does work, I come to the conclusion that it’s basically unethical. Even though she has an attitude of moving forward and motivation to get the job done, it is not enough to say that she has good business practices. There are three major points that I noticed and I wanted to analyze.

film-review-erin-brockovich

First, her dress code is inappropriate in the work place. We all know that we dress according to our personality and style. Yet, in the business world, professionals should conform to the formal nature. Following the dress code is also a sign of respect to your co-workers, managers and the executives. Secondly would be extortion. Extortion is a practice of getting something through forced actions or threats. In the first portion of the movie, Erin threatened and forced Ed Masry to give her a job. She went into the office and disrespected some of the employees through foul words. It is an unethical practice since you need to follow the hiring process. After being hired in the firm, some employees did not answer her questions in the right manner because of the fact that Erin disrespected them in the first place.

Last but not the least would be her communication with people. She shouted, used foul words, curses which created a bad environment at work. Consequently, Ed Masry hired people to help them for the PG&E case. There, Erin was indirectly discriminated because the assistant attorney was more educated than her. Erin, in return, bullied the assistant attorney.  An additional minor event would be when she was looking for some documents and she used her body to attract the man that was keeping all the files.

Despite all of these wrongdoings, Erin makes it clear of the importance that empathy in interacting and maintaining the relationships with the clients is most important. We can see that in the scene where the assistant attorney accused Erin that she does not know the files by heart that is why they got all the documents for their own reference. However, the assistant attorney was wrong since Erin did everything by heart and talked to each family in Hinkley. Clients trust people who are more personal, who share sentimental experiences and show passionate commitment to their work.

Photo from g-pop.net
Photo from g-pop.net

The high powered attorneys (Thomas Girardi of Girardi & Keese in Los Angeles, and Walter Lack of Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack in Century City) has an impression of being overly educated which allows the people to think they can’t connect with them. Erin, however, has a strong connection to people as she relates all the cases to her life as a mother. I applaud Erin for what she has done to win the lawsuit even though it cost struggles to her personal life (e.g less time with kids and partner). Yet, it would be better if she would just follow the necessary business practices (e.g dress code etc) since it wouldn’t hurt to do it and it would also help her gain respect from her work mates.

At the end of the movie the lawsuit won $333 million against PG&E. Ed Masry, received approximately $133 million which leaves $200 million for all of the complainants. The law firm profited at 40% and according to my research, most contingency fees are between 33 to 40% but is usually 33.33% or one-third of the settlement (All Law). Thus, it is valid that Erin received money to such great extent from the settlement.

In spite of that, the movie did not go into details with regards to their percentage on minors. According to the California Code of Civil Procedure, the California Probate Code and Case Law, lawyers can only take 25% of the settlement money. (Salon)

This film is a representation of David and Goliath’s story. In my opinion there are certain ethical practices to give importance to when dealing with large financial settlement cases. First and foremost, the case involves money. The law firm should have committed to what they are saying and having a contract is a one way to implement this. To say that they agreed on 40%, the firm should abide by contract and only get 40% of the settlement. Also, people who are involved (victims) must understand each term of their negotiation. Transparency is extremely necessary since the fact that, the clients might file a lawsuit again if they did not understand or got the money that they did not expect to get at the end.

We saw in the movie that PG&E keep on offering a large sum of money but the firm stood tall and exerted effort diligently to get the money that the clients deserve.

I hope that you reader would love what you do, your work. If you don’t, go ahead and recheck yourself.

Are you making a difference or are you dragged by these multinational companies?

Sources

“Lawyers’ Fees in Your Personal Injury Case – AllLaw.com.” AllLaw.com. Web. 16  Feb.2015. <http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/personal-injury/lawyers-fees.html&gt;.

““Erin Brockovich”: The Real Story.” Saloncom RSS. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.    <http://www.salon.com/2000/04/14/sharp/&gt;.

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