Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fixing a Broken Legal System

Philip Howard broke all the rules. TED speakers don't stand in one place; they rove the stage. Not Howard. They don't read from notes. Not Howard. They have strong, sometimes stunning, visuals. Not Howard. Yet his talk was one of my favourites at TED. You have to love someone who writes a book called Life Without Lawyers. Of course the title of the book is ridiculous, because we'd have nothing left to joke about.

Howard voiced the concerns of many Americans who feel their legal system is out of control. The cost of torts there is 2% of the GDP. But the most pernicious cost is the way it impacts people's behaviour and inhibits their ability to deliver their best.

He started with some anecdotes from a teacher who said that threat of litigation had crippled her ability to deliver high-quality education, because she had to sacrifice the best interests of the whole class in deference to the few disruptive ones she could no longer discipline.

He argued that the legal system must be changed so that matters are judged based on their benefits to society rather than to individuals. Supposedly Canada's system is more attuned to this point of view, yet we can see some of the same tendencies creeping in here. Certainly the opening stories about the educational system resonate with some I've heard about the Canadian system.

But enough of a summary. Go and listen to his wonderful talk.

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