Trial Lawyer President Bob Edwards Sees Civil Jury Trials ‘Under Attack’

Bob Edwards graduated from Hendrix College in Conway with a degree in biology in 1991. He received his juris doctor degree from the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1998. Edwards worked at the Wilkes & McHugh law firm in Little Rock from 2003 to July 1, 2013, when he started his own firm. Bob Edwards was elected the president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association in May.

What do you hope to accomplish as president of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association?

I hope to further ATLA’s mission to educate Arkansans about the importance of the U.S. and Arkansas Constitutions, the Bill of Rights and, more specifically, the Seventh Amendment, which guarantees that each and every American has the right to a civil trial by jury. Unfortunately, the right to a trial by jury and several of our other rights and liberties guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights are under attack. For one reason or another, special-interest groups are intent on limiting our rights or taking them away outright, whether it is the right to free speech, the right to keep and bear arms or the right to a trial by jury. I hope to make Arkansans more aware of the threat to the jury trial and hopefully encourage them to become more involved in standing up for the rights secured by our Founding Fathers. These rights are all intertwined and if one is taken, the rest are sure to follow.

What does the market for lawyers look like in Arkansas?

People are always going to need attorneys, just like people are always going to need doctors.

Are the restrictions placed on attorneys who advertise too strict, not strict enough or just right?

Attorney advertising is regulated by the Arkansas Bar and more specifically, the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules are regulations that we place upon ourselves and agree to live and practice by as attorneys here in Arkansas. I believe these rules serve the people and our profession well, and I am not aware of any need for change at this time.

Do you think judges should be elected or appointed?

Personally, I have always been an advocate of electing judges. We the people have a direct say as to who will govern us. Giving up the right to vote is a difficult proposition for me to contemplate.

Now, I do understand why some are concerned with our present system of electing judges. It has nothing to do with the candidates, mind you. It is more about the recent trend of large amounts of money, much of it “dark money,” that is being spent on judicial elections in this state. It is called “dark money” because the groups that raise this money and spend it don’t have to report where the money comes from, thus the public is kept in the “dark” about who is trying to influence a race. This lack of transparency and accountability to the people is a real threat to our democracy.

The bottom line is that we need more transparency when it comes to these out-of-state groups, and we need more transparency regarding who is actually donating the money to these groups.

What concerns you about mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts?

I am generally opposed to any and all mandatory or “forced” arbitration clauses. Any clause that removes a person’s ability to exercise his rights under the Seventh Amendment goes against the intent of our Founding Fathers. That’s not to say that all arbitration is bad. Voluntary arbitration is a valuable tool for parties who agree to use it, but no one should be forced into giving away their constitutional rights.