Monday, July 12, 2010

Stossel, Lawyers and a Missed Opportunity

This past week, Fox Business’s, Stossel – a show featuring reporter/journalist John Stossel – ran a segment with the theme “The Trouble with Lawyers.”  While it did focus on lawyers, it specifically zeroed in on the plaintiff bar and tort reform.  While the show had the typical arguments for and against trial lawyers and unfortunately featured less than convincing guests, it also ignored the true problem with lawyers.  And the true problem has nothing to do with politics, ideology, or whether you are plaintiff or defense orientated.  The real trouble with lawyers is not the lawyers themselves but the process of our legal system.  In short – it is much too costly and too complicated for any person or organization to navigate on their own.  Further you know that a system has failed when the very threat of just getting caught up in the system- regardless of eventual outcome – is enough to change behaviors and squelch rights (“Bleak House” anyone?).
It is always funny to hear plaintiff lawyers and defense lawyers along with tort reformers argue back and forth.  It is obvious that all perspectives are valid and indeed we as a society need each of these stakeholders.  However, both sides of the bar abuse the process of our legal system to “game” one another and drive up costs, add delay, cause emotional harm, etc.  And it is not as though it takes a superstar lawyer to do this.  The process of litigation in particular is so easy to abuse that it has become the norm.  We as society have come to accept that it will cost us money to defend ourselves against baseless claims and/or pursue our legitimate rights and claims.  In essence we are optioning our rights.
While it is always instructive to have programming on lawyers and our legal system, Stossel could have had a deeper impact if he steered clear of attacking plaintiff lawyers and instead attacked the process that is abused by all lawyers.  The process is the main cost obviously and is where anyone serious about fixing our legal system should look.  Like it or not, lawyers are and will be necessary but that is not a bad thing.  Change the process of our legal system and you can change the behavior of the lawyers.  But do not expect lawyers to lead the charge despite the posturing, proclamations and blame on the other guy.  Those with a vested interest in the status quo typically do not have cause to change it but rather defend it and keep it.