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Research Memorandum
May 1995 No. 6


Taking the Long View Pays Off

“What a difference an election can make.”  We never thought we’d catch ourselves uttering the phrase that is almost as common as “hello” in Washington, but it seems appropriate on the issue of legal reform.

Though we worked for years connecting scholars with policy makers to discuss meaningful reform of our civil justice system, even we were surprised at how intensely the issue resonates with the public and the new Congress. The broader the proposed changes, the more excitement they seemed to generate. Several recent polls show strong and broad public support which surely contributed to the bipartisan victory for three reform bills which overhaul civil procedure, stockholder suits, and personal injury, including product liability, medical malpractice, and punitive damages. The debate over legal reform clearly shows how solid work can inform policy makers and move issues.

We at the Manhattan Institute try to take the long view, generating work that has a real life span and remains relevant for years—but that doesn’t stop us from playing a role in the short-term debate. Our Senior Fellows have testified many times on legal reform before committees on Capitol Hill, most recently on February 6th when Walter Olson was the lead witness for the loser pays principle. Olson was testifying on the centerpiece of the Attorney Accountability Act, the first of three legal reform bills to pass the House. We’ve attached a summary of his testimony. The full 17-page version is available to our friends (phone Karen Padva at 212-599-7000). A forthcoming issue of Reason will feature a more accessible version of Olson’s testimony.

The sheer inventiveness of our critics (particularly trial lawyers) never fails to impress us. Their defenses of the status quo are ceaseless, often contradictory, and impossible to follow without a guide.  Peter Huber puts it all in perspective in a recent Forbes column, which we’ve attached along with some other recent articles by our fellows.

Both Peter and Wally report that they spend a lot of time on the phone helping reporters, columnists, and editorial writers make sense of the fast-moving debate over legal reform. Even when reporters fail to quote our fellows, a careful reading of the press clips reveals that their ideas have worked a certain quiet influence on the news coverage of legal reform. The battle for reform continues to be fought in the world of ideas and that is where, as always, we are delighted to spend most of our time.

 


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SUMMARY:
We at the Manhattan Institute try to take the long view, generating work that has a real life span and remains relevant for years--but that doesn’t stop us from playing a role in the short-term debate.

 


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