THE CASE FOR REFORMING AMERICA'S LEGAL SYSTEM
Your story "Guilty!" (Cover Story, Apr. 13), on alternative methods of resolving legal disputes, was important, timely, and, for the most part, accurate.
While alternative dispute resolution should always be considered before resorting to the courts, product-liability issues shouldn't be given short shrift. Litigation and potential punitive damages force manufacturers of dangerous products to make them safer or take them off the market. You report that "a striking 83% of executives polled say the fear of lawsuits has more impact on decision-making within their company than it did 10 years ago." This is good news.
Secondly, even the great Scott Turow should think again before suggesting that discovery should be "cut out" from U.S. lawsuits. Discovery is a means of getting facts on the table and avoiding "trial by ambush." Discovery often leads to pretrial settlement. So, while discovery should perhaps be limited, it should not be wholly discarded.
Paul J. Geller
Guilty are American business that use legal resources to turn a fast buck without doing "good for society." There is a utilization, not supply, problem of lawyers.
Your article hits the problem but misses the solution.
By the time a legal problem has become a dispute, it is already too expensive. The answer lies not in cost-cutting by house counsel, or even well-intentioned alternative dispute resolution. There are better solutions than those comparable to the proverbial "locking the barn door after the horse has escaped." Preventive law, which anticipates the problems by such techniques as legal audits and compliance programs, is now the method of choice.
Leon M. Cooper
Cooper & Dempsey
The most remarkable of the few unslanted statements I gleaned from your article on lawyers are those regarding nonlawyer legal experts practicing in Japan in the areas of corporate, tax, and general law. In my 10-lawyer firm, only three attorneys are litigators (who, incidentally, do not waste their or the courts' time or our clients' money on frivolous suits). The rest of us spend our time advising corporate clients, giving tax advice, drafting legal instruments, and giving legal advice on such matters as wills and estates, real estate transactions, and the like. When you compare apples with apples, Japan sounds a hell of a lot like the U.S.
Douglas O. Thigpen
McGuire, Wood & Bissette P.A.
We would be better served by single or odd-numbered judicial panels hearing civil suits than the cumbersome and questionable value of jury participation.
Warren A. Furst
Barrington Hills, Ill.
In the 37 years we have been in business, I remember only one instance where we had to sue another company, and that was settled before it went to court. However, we constantly have to ward off attacks by the various governmental agencies on equal employment and tax issues. They seem to have the attitude that they can attack at will and make it so expensive to fight that you will settle even though you know you're in the right. There are times when it works. As much as it goes against the grain, I will, at times, pay a $15,000 tax adjustment when I know I'm right, to save the $30,000 it would cost to fight it.
This is exacerbated by the complexities of the various tax laws that require legal interpretation and protection.
The list of them would go on for pages. We could eliminate more than half the lawyers in the country if our legislators would simplify and then stop tinkering with the tax laws.
The story misses the point on mediation when it calls for proceedings to be opened to the public and the press. When parties to a dispute voluntarily seek to resolve it through mediation and enlist the help of a trained, neutral third party (the mediator), neither the public nor the press has any business to participate as Big Brother.
Ernest A. Cohen
Lawyers Mediation Service Corp.
Any court of law would sustain an objection to "leading the witness." Why can't we object to "leading the victims"? The disgusting television and radio ads, in addition to billboards with 800 numbers, amount to blatant solicitation. I know one thing, Will Rogers never met any personal-injury lawyers.
Traditionally, Big Business has been wed to big law firms. In almost every area of the practice of law, and especially in the area of litigation, there are midsize law firms providing excellent services at very competitive rates.
Not long ago, business' response was to stall or "string out" for years to wear out the plaintiff, regardless of cost. Only recently has business decided that a better and less expensive strategy is to get to the bottom of the problem and resolve it. If a lawyer has the cooperation of his or her client to obtain the client's side of the issues quickly after suit is filed, then often after one or two key depositions, a lawyer can analyze a case, determine the issues, and the risk of liability. If a business wants its case moved through the courts and resolved quickly, often the lawyer can do that. Lawyer-bashing is popular, but remember: We follow the directions of our clients.
Jack N. Sibley
Freeman & Hawkins
When (not if) the second revolution comes to the U.S., it will not be because of race or recession, gangs or greed, economy or environment. It will come when the people finally decide to take back their Constitution from the legal rat pack.
John T. Burridge
North Las Vegas, Nev.
So Motorola would rather mediate than go to court? I am a member of the political organization Citizens Advocating the Protection of Privacy. When Motorola implemented their random, without cause, drug-testing program, my organization attempted to protest by distributing literature in the company cafeteria during lunch hour. In spite of consecutive National Labor Relations Board rulings in our favor, Motorola has appealed to a federal court and continues to prohibit us from distributing literature. I think Motorola decides to mediate only when a possibility exists for a large financial loss, not out of any idea of fairness.
It is interesting to know that Alan Dershowitz' passions are inflamed. It would be more interesting to know what cap he places on the legal fees he charges clients. It would also be interesting to know the amounts, not the percentages, that he has kept for himself and given to "people who really do good for society."
Perhaps if he were not so heavily involved in the effort to obtain reversals for convicted criminals, he might realize there are also lawyers who do good.
Robert W. Ellis
There is merit in your feature, but Alan Dershowitz' comments cannot pass without comment. I'm sure he defended Claus von Bulow and represents Mike Tyson on an hourly basis reflecting the top of the Boston rate, but I could be wrong. And, for his enlightenment, may I add that all lawyers, regardless of income, do "take some of what they get and give that to elementary school teachers, nurses, health workers, people who really do good for society" through a method called taxation. If the money they give in this manner is inadequate for the identified segments, it is not the fault of the lawyers. Perhaps Dershowitz, with all his brains and clout, can come up with some fix.
Jon R. Kerian
North Dakota District Court