Posted Jul 28, 2005 06:24 pm CDT
As members of the legal profession, we are privileged to work on the most interesting and challenging issues facing our society. The complete spectrum of life—from birth to death, with every nuance of success and failure—is affected by the law and our justice system. There are few professions that directly or indirectly have such a profound impact on daily activities.
There are ample opinions on the virtues and shortcomings of the law. Every American Bar Association president has devoted a significant portion of his or her presidency to improving the way law supports our way of life in this country. To that end, I focused on the jury system and received support from many entities and organizations both within and outside the ABA.
The motivation to cast a wide net for others to support this effort came in part from my desire to show the public that the profession, not just the ABA, is truly interested in improving our system of justice—not only for us, but for everyone.
Dramatic, long-lasting improvements must be products of a broad cross-section of the profession. This approach allows us to cover a wide range of issues on particular areas of the law, and it ensures that the voices and advice of the most knowledgeable are taken into account.
The first notable result of this ongoing effort was the ABA’s February adoption of the Principles for Juries and Jury Trials.
The principles reflect the input of experts on civil and criminal trials, including defense lawyers, plaintiffs lawyers, prosecutors, the judiciary, the legal academy, court administrators, civic specialty bars, former jurists and sections of the ABA. Together, they forged a consensus on ways the jury system could be improved for the 21st century. Implementing these improvements is not a one-year task. Accordingly, the ABA will establish a working group to continue promoting, advising and publishing the progress being made on the vital effort of making the American jury system the best that it can be. Why? Because society will benefit, because lawyers have a responsibility to care for and improve our system, and because we can.
But our efforts shouldn’t stop with the jury system. The greatest strength of the American Jury Project—the myriad perspectives it incorporated in developing the principles—should be extended and its activities continued so that the whole system of dispute resolution can be examined.
The opportunity to modernize, streamline and provide a more efficient process for resolving disputes can only produce positive results for society and the profession. There are no losers, only winners, in this effort.
In 2003, the ABA Section of Litigation sponsored a symposium on the vanishing trial, producing thoughtful, innovative suggestions from a wide range of scholars, practitioners and jurists. Some of their ideas have been used in a few jurisdictions with great success. However, real improvements won’t happen until a broad coalition within the profession decides to make change a priority.
Innovative, creative approaches include limitations on discovery, setting reasonable time limits for civil trials, reducing the number of expert witnesses, and more discipline by judges and lawyers in managing the costs and time associated with litigation. Respect for and confidence in our justice system from clients and the public depend on the legal profession continuing to focus on ways to promote efficiency and deliver justice.
A trial is not always the best way to resolve a dispute. Lawyers have to know when mediation, negotiation and arbitration—or more innovative methods like summary jury trial—are the best use of resources to achieve a just solution.
Likewise, if litigation is the best approach, then it should be viewed as highly professional, technologically enhanced and streamlined for efficiency.
We have the tools and the talent. We must demonstrate our commitment to improve our country’s ways of resolving legal disputes and fulfill our duties as the guardians of the American justice system.