This Top Congressional Candidate Doesn't Want You To Know He Was a Personal Injury Lawyer

Derek Tran, who is running to unseat Michelle Steel, scrubbed his law firm's website before poll-testing his job title

California congressional candidate Derek Tran (derektranCA45/Twitter)
December 4, 2023

For years, California Democrat Derek Tran worked as a personal injury attorney at a firm he founded, advertising his services to those hurt in traffic accidents. Now, as a congressional candidate in a crucial swing district, Tran is attempting to distance himself from that work.

Tran in early October launched his campaign to unseat California Republican congresswoman Michelle Steel. By November, the website for his law firm—which touted Tran's focus on "personal injury" and involvement "in every aspect of every case"—disappeared from the internet, according to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.

Tran also sent a poll to prospective primary voters that listed "different backgrounds that candidates for Congress might have" and asked them which background would make them more likely to support a candidate, according to screenshots obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Included among the options were job titles such as "small businessowner," "civil rights attorney," "workers' attorney," and "consumer attorney." Tran appears to have landed on "consumer rights attorney," which is how the Democrat often describes himself on his campaign site and in his social media posts. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D., Calif.) also used that title to describe Tran when she endorsed him last month.

Tran's attempt to rebrand himself from a personal injury attorney to a "consumer rights attorney" suggests he is concerned his occupation could turn off voters in a swing Orange County district that Republicans flipped in 2020 and retained in 2022.

Personal injury attorneys are often derided as "ambulance chasers," a term the National Republican Congressional Committee used to describe Tran when the Democrat launched his campaign. The now-scrubbed website for Tran's law firm, The Tran Firm, prominently featured advertisements for personal injury "areas of practice," such as "car crash," "motorcycle accident," and "truck accident."

Voters won't find those terms, however, on Tran's campaign site. Instead, Tran's online bio says he turned down "high paying jobs in corporate law" and "chose to open up his small business in Orange County and fight for immigrants, workers, survivors of sexual harassment, and consumers." Tran made a similar pitch in an October social media post, in which he identified himself as a "consumer rights attorney."

"As a consumer rights attorney, I've spent my career taking on big corporations to fight for working men and women," Tran said in the post.

The Tran campaign did not return a request for comment. While it's unclear exactly when Tran sent the survey to prospective voters canvassing the popularity of his various job titles, the Democrat's campaign last week released a poll conducted from Nov. 13-19 that showed Tran with 11 percent support among primary voters. Tran's campaign in a press release touting the poll referred to Tran as a "workers rights attorney," meaning Tran may have found a title he prefers over "consumer rights attorney."

Should Tran advance from a crowded primary that includes five other Democrats, he would likely face Steel next year in a race both parties are likely to flood with cash. Steel joined Congress in 2021 after narrowly defeating former Democratic congressman Harley Rouda in California's 48th Congressional District. After redistricting pushed Steel to the nearby 45th district, the Republican defeated liberal challenger Jay Chen by 5 points.