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If you are like most general counsel and other in-house attorneys, you probably grumble from time to time about the inequities of the civil justice system in this country. This is particularly true in California, thanks to laws like Business & Professions Code �17200, Proposition 65 and myriad other statutes that expand on related federal laws. Beyond the laws themselves, of course, are those members of the plaintiffs’ bar � we all know some of them, don’t we? � who have reputations for filing meritless suits for their holdup value. Then there are the courts that fail to dismiss these frivolous suits. Ultimately, the cost of “winning” these cases can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And although it is almost always cheaper to settle such matters, that option is unattractive because settlements often encourage plaintiffs’ attorneys to bring more similar claims. Over the last several decades, individual companies, trade associations and other organizations have battled against the heavily funded and politically savvy plaintiffs’ bar over tort reform. Perennial issues include reform of securities laws, class actions, punitive damages, access to juries and a “loser pays” approach to civil litigation. Although past successes have been few and far between, the current political climate may make the time ripe for positive changes in the civil justice system. Most companies, of course, have budgets that cover internal and external legal costs but don’t leave much, if any, room for supporting political causes. After all, there are too many pending cases and claims, along with all those cases and claims yet to be filed. No wonder that it’s so easy to be caught among the trees while losing sight of the proverbial forest. But is it fair to want, and even expect, tort reforms without actively supporting the efforts necessary to make those reforms happen? If those companies that have been sitting on the sidelines all these years became more actively involved, imagine how much greater the chances of success could be. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get involved. The first step is to make tort reform a high priority at your company. As a GC or senior in-house counsel, you have the understanding of the system, the data, the anecdotes and the arguments that will persuade your senior management to allocate resources to tort reform. Supporting tort reform should be approached as a long-term investment that, if successful, will reduce future operating costs. Even if your company by itself does not have substantial resources to commit to tort reform, it can help raise the priority of the issue within the trade associations with which it is affiliated. Here is some information about three organizations working on your behalf for tort reform and some ways in which your in-house resources can support them: U. S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) has embarked on a national campaign whose mission is to make the legal system simpler, fairer and faster as far as business is concerned. The institute was founded in 1998 to address the country’s litigation explosion and advocate comprehensively for reform, focusing not only on changing laws but also on changing the legal culture and the legislators and judges who create and maintain that culture. The institute uses a variety of means to achieve its objectives, including proposals for federal and state legislative reforms, voter education efforts, public education campaigns and grassroots activities. The ILR also spearheads a number of special projects to address special problems, ranging from activist state attorneys general to securities litigation. In-house counsel can play an integral part in the reform effort because they have their fingers on the pulse of the litigation environment in federal and state courts. They also serve as a critical early warning system for identifying emerging litigation trends, problem jurisdictions and seminal court decisions that deserve publicity and scrutiny. General counsels can also serve as strong advocates for legal reform within their companies and advance the cause by promoting corporate membership in appropriate organizations. Indeed, general counsels are often in the best position to contact state and federal policymakers and advocate reforms that will restore fairness and efficiency in the civil justice system. Additional information about the ILR can be found at www.instituteforlegalreform.org. MANHATTAN INSTITUTE For nearly 20 years, the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy (CLP) has been working to reform the nation’s civil justice system. Successes include the Supreme Court’s treatment of scientific evidence in the landmark Daubertdecision and its progeny, the recently passed Class Action Fairness Act and many comprehensive state level reforms. Two of CLP’s current projects deserve special attention. First, the center has recently released “Trial Lawyers, Inc.: California,” a publication prepared in the style of a corporate annual report that describes construction defects lawsuits that have slowed new housing starts, employment lawsuits that harm job creation and securities class actions that target the state’s core high-technology businesses. The report contains useful charts and statistics that highlight the key figures in the California litigation industry. The second major CLP initiative is an online magazine � PointOfLaw.com � which launched in June 2004. Its content focuses on news and commentary and also serves as a reference resource for key legal reform issues, including excerpts and summaries of the work done by others. Since its launch, PointOfLaw.com has grown rapidly and has established a loyal and increasingly diverse readership base. In-house counsel can assist CLP by distributing the “Trial Lawyers Inc.” publication and spreading the word about the online journal. In-house lawyers can also help by sending to CLP information about current cases and reform legislation and by writing papers or short essays for the online publication. You’ll find more information about CLP at . COMMON GOOD Although Common Good has only been around for about two years, the group has already made great strides in addressing the costs our society is bearing because of our civil justice system. The group was founded by Philip Howard, a New York-based partner at Covington & Burling and the author of “The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America” (Random House, 1995) and “The Collapse of the Common Good: How America’s Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom” (Ballantine, 2002). The group has achieved wide bipartisan support � its eclectic advisory board runs the gamut from Newt Gingrich to George McGovern � because it focuses on our common experiences, which tell us in no uncertain terms that our civil justice system of allowing everyone his “day in court” is not serving, much less promoting, a common public good. One of Common Good’s top priorities is the elimination of litigation abuses in health care, including medical malpractice claims. The group has assembled a broad coalition in support of creating a reliable system of medical justice, including special health courts. The group has also entered into a joint venture with the Harvard School of Public Health to design this new system of medical justice. Another one of Common Good’s initiatives involves efforts to educate judges and others about the importance of exercising better judgment when it comes to deciding who should be entitled to bring civil suits. Toward that end, the group recently sponsored a conference, “Lawsuits and Liberty,” at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, which attracted several prominent judges and academics. General Counsels and in-house counsel can spread the word about Common Good and the work it is doing, attend events sponsored by the group and otherwise look for opportunities to highlight and showcase the group’s various initiatives. Online information can be found at www.cgood.org. All three of these groups are working on your � and your company’s � behalf to reform a civil justice system that has run badly off track. There is no question that the reform effort will take a lot of work and resources to succeed. Isn’t it about time that you, your company and your trade associations got actively involved? Michael C. Ross, former general counsel at Safeway Inc., is an adjunct consultant for Altman Weil Inc., which provides management consulting services to corporate law departments.

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