- The United States has only five percent of the world's population, but seventy percent of the world's lawyers.
- That's one lawyer for every 275 people and rising all the time.
- That's more laywers than doctors. Imagine if all of the $132 billion that's spend on tort liability every year went to medical research.
- There are very nearly one million lawyers in practice in the US. But shockingly, there are more law students in colleges right now than there are in practice. This is actually leveraged as a reason to buy better malpractice insurance, on the bald assumption that many of those new layers will try to get involved in lucrative litigation.
- Half of both Congress and the Senate are members of the American Bar Association, as were the previous President and her husband.
Why are there so many lawyers? Because practicing law, particularly litigation, is lucrative. Why is it litigation lucrative for lawyers? Because lawyers charge high fees. Why can they charge high fees? Because their clients (or cats-paws depending on how you see it) are awarded high amounts? How is this sustainable? Because insurance companies can raise their fees to sustain it. Heck, they even justify that based on the simply observation that there are more lawyers out there looking to make a fast buck every day!
So does this effectively amount to a lawyer tax? I believe that it does. Do we want a layer tax? I certainly don't. So how can we address it?
What I can't see working is bringing in more legislation to try and fiddle with insurance. Trying to limit the amount that insurers can pay out, or stopping insurance covering legal fees would only punish those without the resources to scam the system. The main area of change is the courtroom.
- Simplify proceedings and produce plain language crib sheets so that parties in civil litigation have a realistic chance of defending themselves. If you can't translate from legalese to English (and Spanish and...) then you have a law that's written for the benefit of lawyers, not for we, the people. Saying that you can't simplify laws is equivelant to saying that only lawyers can interpret law, and that gives lawyers absolute power over justice, which I find abhorent.
- Allow the defence to disclose details on the plaintiff's previous legal actions. Let juries know when they're dealing with a serial litigator. Yes, this will prejudice them with respect to the current case, but damn it, we know people are scamming the system. We can either continue doing nothing about it, or we can let juries choose whether they want to address it.
- Produce a national scale of reasonable settlement amounts and make it available to juries with advice that they view these as maximums.
- Make it more common for courts to award both side's legal costs to the winning party, especially if it's the defendant. At the moment, it's common to have to counter-sue just to recover costs (and then you tack on emotional distress to scam a profit). Only the lawyers win when that happens.
- Give courts carte blanche to award punitive damages against both sides. Suits over trivial matters should never come to court. Award Bob $10 token damages from Sally, and then fine them both the equivelant of a week's worth of income or gross revenue for wasting the court's time. Gasp! But that makes just defending litigation risky! Sure, but remember that many winning defendants then launch counter suits in the hope of winning money. Make litigation a no-win prospect for both parties. For an action to reach court, it's likely that at least one party is acting unreasonably, but let's not blind ourselves to the possiblity that both parties might be acting unreasonably.
- In the case of civil litigation, recognise that council is acting as a paid agent of the client, not as an independent advisor. Council does most of the talking, and council has a vested financial interest in winning. So why does do we allow council in a civil case to be exempt from penalties if the case is thrown out as frivilous, or if the court decides that the plaintiff and/or defendant has acted unreasonably to allow it to come to court at all?
Gasps of outrage about that last one, I suspect. We have a notion that council must be treated as completely independent. Well, in civil litigation, it isn't. I'll just assert that flatly, because it seems so blindingly obvious. I'm not talking about public defendants or prosecutors working in criminal cases, I'm talking about parasites that make their living cleaving the spirit of the law apart from the letter for a personal share of the profit. If council really was just providing advice, this wouldn't be the case, but legal proceedings are run almost entirely by council. The actual parties in a case have almost no say in how it proceeds. And I believe that we've now accepted the insidious attitude that because we've allowed justice to be run by lawyers, it might as well be run for lawyers.
You want one of many, many examples? How about the lawyer in Illinois that billed a divorce client for time spent having sex with her. But that's just petty greed. You want to know the part that actually makes me wheeze in despair? That same lawyer was later appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court's Committee on Character and Fitness.
Enough. We're well beyond the point where it's commonly acknowledged that the system isn't working, and it's effecting us in our daily lives. I, for example, used to perform historic weapon reenactments and displays at public shows, usually at cash-poor historic sites, usually absolutely free or for token (~$10 - $20) compensation. I no longer do this, because clients absolutely insist that I carry personal liability insurance (in addition to their insurance), and the cost has simply become prohibitive for what is in effect a hobby and a volunteer educational service ($60 a year eight years ago, now $350 a year and rising, along with insistences that we put up signs and announce to the audience that it's dangerous to stick your head in front of a swinging sword, and no, I am not joking). And the worst part? There are almost no accidents at these events, ever, nor has the record got worse over the years. But insurers are pumping up premiums to cover their cost in other areas, and even specialist insurers are raising theirs to match (just because they can). That's the Lawyer Tax in action, right there.
So if we all know that this is wrong, why aren't we doing anything about it? It beats me. Unless, of course, it's something to do with half of the Legislative branch being lawyers. Do you think that might just possibly be a factor?
"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs