Earlier this morning, author and attorney, Phillip K. Howard spoke at a breakfast for the Committee for Economic Development (http://www.ced.org/) in Washington DC. Mr. Howard was there to discuss his upcoming book “Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law.” In his remarks, Mr. Howard touched upon many of the key challenges and issues facing the current system of law and how it is administered and practiced.
Though his focus is rather broad examining everything from how teachers are forced to interact (or not) with students to how the health care industry operates with such inefficiencies and a sense of schizophrenia – the main premise of his book is that the American legal system is so pervasive (and in a sense perverse) that ordinary people make daily decisions not based upon good judgment but rather out of fear or with the encumbrances of some aspect of the law. For example, Mr. Howard presented the example of how children’s playgrounds are no longer as fun and adventurous as they were a couple decades ago when seesaws and carousels were the norm. Now, due to litigation, regulations, and special interests all these ‘fun’ instruments for children have been removed. A child who once would have ran to the playground and run in circles around and on the carousel now has no such diversion or toy. Or he pointed out the idocy of such safety instructions on baby strollers . . . “DO NOT attempt to fold stroller for storage while child is sitting in it.”
Further, Mr. Howard stated that recent research indicates that only 16% of Americans feel that if they were to be brought into a lawsuit with no grounds and while they were completely innocent that they would be confident that the outcome would be justice. Only 16%. The remaining population has a sense that though they may indeed be innocent, if one were to be named in a lawsuit, no matter how arbitrary and trumped up the allegations that they may indeed be found liable to some degree.
So while Mr. Howard certainly has demonstrated keen interest in reforming, transforming, changing, etc. the American Legal system it is difficult to learn from him his plan for implementation or execution. One should admire him for all his work and interests in this arena but even Mr. Howard recognized that we are but at the very beginning of any change and that it will take immense time and resources to force it. He even went so far as to say that the Bar itself is conflicted in this arena and that we most likely should not expect lawyers themselves to prompt the change he suggest we need.
For more on Mr. Howard you can see his profile at his firm Covington & Burling here http://www.cov.com/phoward/. Also he is the Founder and Chair of Common Good http://commongood.org/learn-people-founder.html a not-for-profit non-partisan legal reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America.