By GARY McELROY
Staff Reporter - Mobile Register
Many attorneys in the Mobile Bar Association freely admit that going up against the Cunningham Bounds plaintiffs' firm in a court of law is a specter few relish.
One man who does appreciate legal encounters with the firm -- and by all accounts, including their own, is considered their equal -- is Mobile attorney Norman Waldrop, of Armbrecht, Jackson, DeMouy, Crowe, Holmes & Reeves.
Waldrop, a member of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission who has practiced law for 30 years, specializes in defending medical malpractice suits.
Cunningham, Bounds, Yance, Crowder & Brown, along with other plaintiff-based litigation, specializes in prosecuting medical malpractice cases.
"He is to the defense bar what we are to the plaintiffs' bar," said Cunningham Bounds partner John Crowder.
Tracked down in Tempe, Ariz., where he was attending a conference, Waldrop said he has gone up against nearly every partner in the firm at one time or another, involving perhaps as many as 40 cases over three decades.
He's won some of them and lost some, Waldrop said, but he's never come away from those battles without respect for the firm's prowess and the manner in which the lawyers conduct themselves and their business.
"I give them the highest praise," Waldrop said. "They are either right at being the best plaintiff lawyers in the nation or certainly equal to it."
Waldrop said any great plaintiff firm -- a rarity in itself -- will have one, perhaps two top lawyers. At Cunningham Bounds, on the other hand, "they have four or five really top trial lawyers. On a football team, it's what's known as depth," Waldrop said.
Asked to analyze the firm's approach to their practice and why they have been so successful, Waldrop said:
"They are financially powerful," able to take on cases other law groups would shy away from. Plaintiffs' attorneys get paid on a contingency basis, with no guarantee of victory. If their efforts for a client fail, even after months of work and outlays of their own funds, they get nothing. A firm must have the financial depth to absorb those kinds of losses, Waldrop said, and Cunningham Bounds can.
"They prepare their cases extremely well," forcing opposing attorneys to try to do the same.
"We prepare, they prepare," he said. "I like having them on the other side. You get ready to really have a fight, and that's what you live for."
"In the courtroom, they have a very good presence, make a very good appearance before the jury and the judge."
Firm attorneys command attention, he said, but not in the wrong way. "You don't want arrogance, but you want to present yourself as being competent, successful and professional," he said.
The firm has been consistently successful in medical malpractice cases and those involving product liability.
"In product liability, you have to learn engineering and manufacturing," he said. "In medical malpractice, you have to learn the medicine. You have to have a very detailed knowledge, otherwise, you get out-lawyered.
"Juries want to learn the medicine," he said. "You have to prepare to teach them. You have to master those subjects." He said the prospect of a Cunningham Bounds attorney showing up in court without intimately knowing his subject "is never going to happen."
Despite the firm's national reputation, opponents often underestimate them.
"They particularly do well against defense lawyers from out of town, or out of state," Waldrop said. "They love to try those cases, they run right over them."
Out-of-town firms come to Mobile and "don't have any idea that they are about to play Florida State," Waldrop said, continuing his football analogy. "They haven't looked at the game films. They don't realize how good they are."