Cover image for The rule of lawyers : how the new litigation elite threatens America's rule of law
The rule of lawyers : how the new litigation elite threatens America's rule of law
Olson, Walter K.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
358 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"Truman Talley books."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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KF8896 .O44 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Big-ticket litigation is a way of life in this country. But something new is afoot - something typified by the $246 billion tobacco settlement, and by courtroom assaults that have followed against industries ranging from HMOs to gunmakers, from lead paint manufacturers to "factory farms." Each massive class-action suit seeks to invent new law, to ban or tax or regulate something that elected lawmakers had chosen to leave alone. And each time the new process works as intended, the new litigation elite reaps billions in fees - which they invest in fresh rounds of suits, as well as political contributions.

The Rule of Lawyers asks: Who picks these lawyers, and who can fire them? Who protects the public's interest when settlements are negotiated behind closed doors? Where are our elected lawmakers in all this? The answers may determine whether we slip from the rule of law to the rule of lawyers.

Author Notes

Walter K. Olson A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Olson has written on law and lawyers for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, City Journal, and others. He lives and works in Chappaqua, New York

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Olson examines class action and mass tort law on behalf of consumers and how such laws have become a platform for a new legal elite. He reviews the early asbestos, silicone breast implant, and tobacco cases, showing how the law has expanded to accommodate this legal elite at the expense of the public. Good public relations and the capacity to confuse the public contribute more to jury verdicts than justice, according to Olson, who cites examples of the bashing of the auto industry by the popular television programs 60 Minutes, 20/20, and ABC's Dateline. Olson is especially concerned that as private attorneys accept contingency fees to litigate on behalf of states, they have become too cozy with states' attorney generals, particularly in tobacco lawsuits. This effective privatization of the public interest has created a group of lawyers who have become exceptionally wealthy and major donors to political officials. This book will appeal to readers interested in the intersection of the law, current events, and politics. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

Olson, a veteran legal commentator (The Litigation Explosion) and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, profiles a sector of the American legal system that he contends is out of control, inflicting serious damage on the nation's economy. The target of Olson's polemic is the use of class actions by a coterie of private lawyers who extract enormous verdicts and settlements from lawsuits against producers of tobacco, asbestos, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and the like. According to Olson, trial lawyers subvert democracy by using courtroom procedures to obtain reforms, such as regulating guns, which the American left has not been able to achieve in the federal or state legislatures. The lawyers distort public opinion, buy influence with judges through campaign contributions, introduce junk science into evidence and manipulate juries through unworthy courtroom theatrics. The class-action lawyers, Olson contends, garner stupendous fees for themselves, often produce minuscule payments to their clients and drive entire segments of business into bankruptcy. Olson contends that the class-action bar is bolstered behind the scenes by left-leaning organizations such as those affiliated with Ralph Nader. This is a partisan indictment, powerful enough in its recital of horror stories about misuse of the law, but so one-sided that it will appeal largely to those already convinced of the rectitude of big business. (Jan. 22) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Olson (senior fellow, Manhattan Inst.; The Litigation Explosion) frequently writes about the impact of law on society. Here he decries excessive and frivolous civil lawsuits, outrageous jury verdicts and awards, egregious class-action settlements, anything-goes jury-selection practices, and the bulging wallets of trial lawyers. He goes so far as to coin a term for a region of the United States synonymous with inimical and conspicuous legal consumption: the Jackpot Belt, which stretches along the nation's Gulf Coast and inland to its rural areas. Olson attempts to classify inhabitants of these and other mini-Jackpot Belts. While demographic patterns may be complex, one legal pattern is simple and constant: top trial lawyers with sharply honed skills can and do play to any audience and manipulate both juries and the adversarial system of justice. Olson notes the deleterious impact of such manipulative jurisprudence upon the separation of powers and exposes the unfortunate extent to which politics and money dictate justice. Recommended for academic and law libraries.-Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., First Judicial Dist., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Better Living Through Litigationp. 1
1. The Joy of Tobacco Feesp. 25
2. Serial Litigationp. 73
3. Sunning for Democracyp. 99
4. Stacked: The Breast-Implant Affairp. 129
5. Trial Lawyer TVp. 153
6. Asbestos Memoriesp. 181
7. The Jackpot Beltp. 209
8. The Art of the Runaway Juryp. 237
9. The Lawsuit Lobbyp. 263
10. Litigators on Horsebackp. 293
11. Afterwordp. 315
Notesp. 327
For Further Readingp. 351
Acknowledgmentsp. 353
Indexp. 355