Dear John: You have a lot to answer for

by Vault Law Editors | June 24, 2009

  • My Vault

The overall cost of litigation in the United States is around $300 billion, approximately 2% of the gross domestic product.  This is more than the legal bills of the rest of the world combined.  Believe it or not, Jennifer Rubin’s recent Commentary essaydoes not present this factoid as evidence of our national awesomeness. On the contrary: it's meant as damning indictment of our “hyperactive, expansionist, and ruinously expensive” legal system, where litigation has become a “quasi-entrepreneurial business for ambitious lawyers.”

Rubin, an attorney herself, decries the growth of contingent-fee representation, spiraling punitive damages, the absence of a ‘loser pays” rule, and other factors which create a climate in which there is “no longer a meaningful disincentive to sue.”  Of course, this is a shopworn summary of the “Right” side (this being Commentary after all) of the “Right/Left” ideological divide on the ‘tort reform’ issue.  But Rubin’s essay is called “John Grisham’s Law.” 

That’s right: Rubin places a huge portion of the blame for the current state of affairs on the author of Playing for Pizza:

The real question to ask after two decades of his ubiquitous presence on the bestseller lists is whether the Grisham ‘brand’ has had a measurable effect on the way civil litigation is conducted in the United States…has Grisham’s success tainted the American jury pool?

Short answer (according to Rubin): Yes.  The saturation of our popular culture by Grisham’s depictions of Manichean legal struggles between dastardly corporations and victimized little guys “has shaped and refined how ordinary citizens think of the law—and in a meaningful way helped train potential plaintiffs, lawyers and jurors in the use of the law as a weapon against the purported enemies of the ordinary person.”   The whole (slightly unhinged?) thing here (sub. req’d).

[Counterpoint: The Medical Malpractice Myth]

                                                -posted by brian

Filed Under: Law

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