The Litigation Lobby, Revealed

By February 10, 2010General

The Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy has released another in its series of reports on the litigation industry, “Trial Lawyers Inc., K Street.” From the Message for the Director, James R. Copland:

With business groups now fighting back against Trial Lawyers, Inc.’s longtime grip on state judiciaries, the litigation lobby has turned its attention to state legislatures, where it is not only blocking tort reforms but working to expand its portfolio of litigation opportunities. Among other things, state legislators are authorizing new kinds of lawsuits, raising damage caps, and giving private lawyers authority to sue on behalf of the state.

Of course, the growth in federal regulation and law has made it necessary for Trial Lawyers, Inc. to lobby Congress as well. Thanks to large contributions, both to the Democratic Party and to individual legislators, lawyers have not only blocked most federal efforts at tort reform but are also working to coax goodies from Congress that pad their bottom line. Such efforts include:

  • Lengthening statutes of limitations in employment law to make it easier to file discrimination suits;
  • Spurring securities litigation by allowing suits to be filed against the vendors of corporations accused of fraud;
  • Cutting contingent-fee lawyers a tax break worth over a billion dollars;
  • Gutting arbitration contracts designed to encourage resolution of disputes that are too expensive to take to trial; and
  • Allowing state juries to override federal regulations.

The full report is available here as a .pdf file (3MB). The Center’s “Trial Lawyers, Inc.” series is especially valuable as a thorough introduction to the political power and economic clout wielded by the trial bar — and the harm it does. The authors provide history, big picture, footnotes and economic analysis.

In a Feb. 8 op ed in The Wall Street Journal, “How the Plaintiffs Bar Bought the Senate,” Copland also put the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC in the context, explaining why the trial lawyers were so incensed by the decision upholding First Amendment rights.

[For] those, like me, who view factions as inherent in democracy, the decision was welcome. Labyrinthine campaign-finance laws serve mainly to entrench incumbents and empower those special interests either exempted from regulation (i.e., the institutional media) or best able to navigate the maze of rules. Among the latter group, no lobby has been more empowered than the legal profession—specifically the trial lawyers.

More: John O’Brien, Legal NewsLine, Blog of Legal Times.

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