Legal cartoons and humorous comment (c) Paul Brennan. All rights reserved.

I decided on 101 reasons as I didn’t want to depress the entire legal profession by having 1,001.
Paul Brennan, Lawyer, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Sunday, April 20, 2008

# 7. They couldn't judge their way out of a paper bag

Much time is spent by the legal profession worldwide, agonizing about how to fix court systems which are universally acknowledged to be slow, expensive, over complex and not customer focused.

Many claim that courts are all about lawyers and judges showing off their huge egos and unconcerned with the real problems facing the punter. They argue that the public would be content with the certainty of a quick, cheap, simple decision-good or bad-so that they could get on with their lives.

Is it time to implement a two tier system of justice? Keep the present one for the “details people” with money and for the rest of us adopt a “thumbs up/thumbs down” model. A “one minute” submission from each side and no appeal. It would be quick, cheap and simple. Legal advisers would have a 50% chance of being right, a definite improvement in some circles.

But hold it. Hasn’t the “thumbs up/thumbs down” method been tried before? Did we not get rid of that as the public wanted something a little more considered and transparent?

Over the centuries the legal profession to its credit, has tried many methods of dispute resolution: trial by combat, trial by ordeal, ducking or even swallowing a feather in a piece of bread (if the person choked he was guilty). However, litigants remain dissatisfied.

Isn’t the underlying problem that litigants often demonstrate a lack of aggression and questionable commitment? They dip out of the legal process through mediation or early settlement just when it is getting interesting. The legal profession not only copes with the disappointment of so few cases coming to trial but also with a repetitive, dull caseload brought by cautious, under funded litigants.

Meanwhile, our society seems to have more to complain about than ever. Listen in any pub, coffee shop, taxi etc. and you will hear people complaining like never before. Rather than flogging a dead horse, the legal profession should harness these complaints and channel them through the courts.

But how? Well, I suggest a competition inviting members of the public to come forward with their complaints to a certain hotel on a certain day. In a room, behind a table we could place three litigation funders to listen to each of the complaints and decide which candidates should be asked back. One of the litigation funders or possibly a retired judge would tear a strip off the contestants and the whole thing would be televised. The combination of TV coverage and a forum to vent their complaints should attract 1,000s of complainants.

Each week, contestants would appear before the panel with a different complaint and be judged. Eventually we would have identified a core of competitive, talented and enthusiastic complainers. The TV royalties would be divided between the contestants to allow them to launch court actions as they choose. This would provide the legal profession with interesting cases which were well funded and clients ready to go the distance. It would give the whole public access to justice by venting their anger on prime time TV.

Courts would be opened to TV coverage. The standard of court advocacy and judgments would be much improved, shorter with more sound bites. Lawyers generally would be better dressed and appear more dedicated, especially if their Mums were watching.

Transfer of judges between courts could result in huge transfer fees for the more disagreeable ones. Court seating would need to be expanded and there may be a need for live evening fixtures.

The idea could be sold internationally, under the name “Sue Idol”.

Cheer leaders and maybe even lions could be introduced to entertain the crowd in the breaks.

Finally, after centuries lawyers would find themselves popular TV celebrities and a public released from the burden of paying for justice would start to enjoy and even see the fun side of the legal process.

I have two words for those who think that this is not worth trying:
“Judge Judy”.

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