The economic crisis presents an opportunity to overhaul the legal system, says Covington & Burling partner Philip Howard. And with bold policy goals emerging from the Obama administration and Congress controlled by Democrats, such structural changes could be on the horizon.
“An essential component to making anything work that’s broken is rebuilding the legal infrastructure,” Howard says. It’s harder to change the rules in times of prosperity, he says, but the challenging times ahead could initiate such a reset and allow lawmakers to clean up regulatory systems such as environmental laws, which could block green energy development for years.
In his new book, Life Without Lawyers, Howard argues that a fear of litigation has stricken America’s health care and education systems and paralyzed teachers and doctors, among others. Howard spoke about the book at a luncheon last week hosted by the Committee for Economic Development at the Willard hotel.
“It’s as if everyone has a little lawyer on their shoulder whispering in their ear all day long,” he says.
In health care for example, where “defensive medicine” has become the norm, he says, lawmakers should create a specialized health court to bust up legal gridlock and improve efficiency.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) sat beside Howard in the roundtable discussion after lunch and gave his reactions. "We need more justice for injured patients," he says, citing the tens of thousands killed by medical errors every year, "but we need to lower the transaction costs, so justice isn't so expensive."
The Committee for Economic Development, a Washington think-tank hosted the event. The group is currently advocating for the reform of state judicial elections.