What's the Legal Climate in Your State?

Mar 31, 2007

By Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
April 24, 2007

One of our most potent weapons in convincing states to reform their unfair and expensive legal systems is the annual State Liability Systems Ranking Study conducted by The Harris Poll and the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). Since the inception of the study, it has become the benchmark against which businesses, elected officials, the media, and other opinion leaders measure their state's legal climate.

The analysis of our most recent poll—to be released tomorrow—will show that over the last six years there's been an overall improvement in state legal climates (check ILR's Web site tomorrow afternoon to learn where your state ranks and to view the full results). We believe a major reason for that improvement is the pressure we and our allies have exerted on states to clean up their acts. We've been telling some of the worst states for six years now that they need to improve their legal system in order to attract new business and grow jobs. We've seen many states in the past few years pass good legal reform packages. But there's still much work to be done before we can rid our courts of lawsuit abuse and other deep flaws.

While state legal reform might seem like an inherently state issue, it's really a global competitiveness issue. Our overall system is only as good as our worst states. Far too many of them have lax class action certification standards, practically encourage venue shopping, invite plaintiffs in other states to sue in theirs even when none of the alleged victims live in that state, and do not adequately punish those who file frivolous lawsuits. All of this harms small businesses, drives up prices, saps productivity and innovation, and benefits our international competitors.

To help advance the fight for legal reform, ILR is launching a national advertising campaign to further spotlight our Harris Poll findings and the costly effects of lawsuit abuse in the states. The overarching goal of the campaign is to make sure that elected officials, the media, and legal reform supporters have an accurate picture of just how serious the problems with their courts are and motivate them to do something about it. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention another major weapon in our legal arsenal ' this year marks the 30th anniversary of the National Chamber Litigation Center (NCLC), the public policy law firm of the U.S. Chamber. Since its inception in 1977, NCLC has argued more than 1,000 cases. Over the course of its history, it has achieved notable victories for small business, including a successful challenge to California fax regulations and the defeat of an OSHA rule requiring employers to pay for employees' time away from their duties when accompanying an OSHA inspector.
ILR and NCLC provide a powerful one-two punch in the fight for legal reform. Combined with the Chamber's lobbyists, communicators, and policy experts, we're making progress in our campaign to make legal systems simpler, faster, and fairer for everyone.

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