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Blame the Law, Not the Lawyers

ABC's John Stossel vents in a column published today on the "extravagant waste" that is our civil justice system.

While I often agree with Stossel, especially when it comes to the cost of litigation in America, his criticism of lawyers in this column seems misplaced.

Stossel describes a suit filed against him by one of the targets of a documentary. He decries the verbosity of his lawyers' interrogatories and bemoans the fact that the litigation took four years to go to trial.

While he ultimately prevailed, he asks why couldn't the judge just have told the parties to "shut up" because the case was a "big waste of time."

Stossel is absolutely right that our system is wasteful: the U.S. litigation system consumes every year approximately $300 billion, an amount that is more than the GDP of all but the thirty richest countries on the planet.

Where he loses focus, however, is when he suggests that this "extravagant waste" is the fault of lawyers themselves, being slow and expensive. If only that were so, lawyers everywhere would compete for clients on the basis of how quickly they resolved cases!

While some lawyers do abuse the system, the primary cause of waste and expense is the system itself. Lawyers use the law to accomplish the ends of their clients and get paid in the process. Today, the law is slow and cumbersome. If you want to make it faster and cheaper, talk to the legislatures (both Congress and the states). That is where the hard work of reform needs to get done.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.