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With one giant, elegant stride, Philip Howard enters a conference room in the midtown Manhattan offices of Covington & Burling. A crisp beige suit drapes over his lanky frame; a copy of his latest book, “The Lost Art of Drawing the Line,” is tucked under his arm. His assistant chases after him yelping about a scheduled appearance on the Fox News channel. Once she’s gone, urgent queries and other pressing concerns find him via the conference room phone and his BlackBerry pager, which seems to buzz nonstop. Howard, in other words, looks like the busy big-firm partner that he is. Except it’s not his corporate deal work that’s whirling around him. Calmly staying on message for an interview while the BlackBerry buzzes, Howard plays his part as the anti-lawyer lawyer, the voice of reason in an overlawyered society. On cue, he blasts money-grubbing plaintiffs and their lawyers, weak judges, and other do-nothing bureaucrats for perpetuating a culture where people live in fear of being sued. It’s been six years since this spotlight first found Howard. His earlier book, “The Death of Common Sense,” which condemned government regulations for their inertia-inducing, contempt-breeding tendencies, was a best-seller. His new book (also published by Random House Inc.) moves beyond government regulation and attacks the pursuit of fairness in protecting individual rights in this country, which he argues has undermined people’s ability to make judgments for the common good. Breaking into an easy smile, Howard launches a fusillade of anecdotes to illustrate his theme and expose the weaknesses of the U.S. judicial system. A children’s sandbox brawl sends parents scurrying to the courthouse. A manager in fear of being sued for racial discrimination promotes rather than fires an inept secretary. A principal, also scared of being sued, doesn’t dismiss an obviously indifferent teacher, and the students pay the price. Reporter Tatiana Boncompagni spoke with Howard, a senior partner in the New York office of Washington, D.C.-based Covington, about his book, his ideas, and why he thinks lawyers are bad for freedom. Q: One of the things you’ve received criticism for on the book is that you don’t offer any concrete remedies, that you make all these statements about what’s wrong with the system but you don’t offer any solutions. A: The people who say I don’t offer solutions are so blinded by our current conventions that they can’t see what I tried to state in the clearest possible terms. In order for Americans not to be fearful of making reasonable choices, judges have to make rulings of what people can sue for and what they can’t. Today judges don’t make those rulings. If someone sues over a seesaw, it goes to a jury. What that means is, win or lose that case, everyone in America is going to start removing seesaws because of the fear that you might get sued. Q: Do you think lawyers in general promote the idea of freedom? No, lawyers are the worst [laughing]. Lawyers still labor under the illusion that they can go into a proceeding and argue something and come up with the truth. You know that’s necessary when you have certain kinds of disputes, or when government is trying to take away your property or put you in jail or something. But when you’re trying to run a school, or a playground, or a hospital, there needs to be a mechanism by which people in charge can act on their reasonable judgment. Q: So how do you wish lawyers would act? A: Well, I think lawyers have done what they can get away with. Thirty years ago when somebody sued for $5 million, it was shocking; today they sue for $5 billion. Why? Because they’ve learned they can get away with it. Thirty years ago you would not consider suing over seesaws, or peanut butter, or all the other ordinary things people sue over. Today we’ve gone way past that. Why? Because lawyers have learned they can get away with it. The legal profession is a profession that, by its nature, encourages people to do what they can get away with. So unless we have authority in the form of judges setting the boundaries of reasonable dispute, lawyers will never be the solution because their job is to push the envelope for their clients. There’s also the problem of the professionalism of law. There was a time when being a member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York required other lawyers to think you are a person of good character and stature in the community. Today you can join by paying your $250 and proving that you’ve never been indicted. Q: So you think the standards should be higher? A: Yes, but that requires making value judgments about people, which in today’s culture we’re not allowed to do. Q: Your practice focuses mainly on M&A work. So why are you driven to write about regulatory reform and freedom? A: I’ve always had this knack. My father was a preacher doing social work, so he was always working in the community. My first job was with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory doing economics research, actually about post-nuclear war recovery. It was in the 1960s. Today I’m chairman of the Municipal Art Society [of New York]. I’ve been active in either community affairs or social issues for my whole life. This is completely of a pattern. None of the things I’ve done as a civic leader have ever had anything to do with my legal practice. Q: As a lawyer-bashing lawyer, do you get any grief from the lawyers you encounter across the table? A: Not at all. Most lawyers I know agree with me. We would all feel a lot better about being lawyers if the laws weren’t so silly. The lawyers are very interested in the ideas in the book. In fact, that’s all they want to talk about. [Pauses, laughing.] That, and what it’s like to be interviewed for The American Lawyer. Q: Really? A: No.

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