An Open Letter to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
By Alfred P. Carlton Jr.,
American Bar Association President
The United States Chamber of Commerce's current advertising campaign impugning lawyers is a sad attempt to divert America's attention from the far more serious problem facing our nation today: the need to restore confidence in American business. If the Chamber seeks to represent the interests of decent and responsible American businesses, why is it spending its good money in attacking lawyers rather than on addressing the business at hand?
The Chamber's television ads claim that consumer lawsuits against businesses are clogging the U.S. courts and adding to the cost of products. What the ads do not mention are the facts. An extensive study of caseloads in the federal courts found no evidence of an "out-of-control and damaging-to-business increase in the number of lawsuits brought by an increasingly litigious public." In fact, the study found that in the major area of contracts, "businesses participate at least as often as plaintiffs as they participate as defendants." In addition, in the state courts, 50 percent more contract than tort cases were filed in 2000, and the number of product liability lawsuits by consumers against businesses declined about 20 percent between 1996 and 2000.
As John Adams told juries: "Facts are stubborn things." Besides ignoring some stubborn facts, the ads do not recognize the true function of the nation's courts: to provide justice to those who are harmed. Nor do the ads say what anyone with common sense knows and what all good businesses practice: the best way to avoid lawsuits is to make safe products.
Attacking lawyers has been a popular sport since the time of Shakespeare. But at least Shakespeare spoke knowledgeably, with tongue firmly in cheek. It is ironic that the Chamber's campaign war chest - the unknowing source of which is the American consumer - attacks the one profession that advocates for the consumer's right to safety, quality and fairness, an attack that is not simply uninformed but just plain wrong.
But we lawyers believe that the American people are not easily fooled. They and we see the ads for what they really are - a failed effort to divert attention from behavior by more than a few bad apple businesses that have caused Americans to lose their confidence in our nation's capital markets. Wouldn't it be better if the legal profession and American business worked together to restore such confidence, rather than the Chamber attacking lawyers?
We believe that, by engaging in frivolous diversionary tactics and ignoring the real needs of U.S. businesses, the Chamber is failing to strengthen our American business ethic. We call on the Chamber to cease and desist from these diversionary tactics - and instead to turn its considerable resources toward the real needs of its members. We do this in the name of the decent and responsible American businesses the Chamber claims to represent, businesses that care about their customers, their shareholders and their American democracy - and appreciate that our democracy is based upon the rule of law.
Alfred P. Carlton, Jr.
President, American Bar Association
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