How the New Litigation Elite Threatens America's Rule of Law
Author: Walter K. Olson
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
December 2002

From the Publisher

Big-ticket litigation is a way of life in this country. But something new is afoot--something typified by the $246 billion tobacco settlement, and by courtroom assaults that have followed against industries ranging from HMOs to gunmakers, from lead paint manufacturers to "factory farms." Each massive class-action suit seeks to invent new law, to ban or tax or regulate something that elected lawmakers had chosen to leave alone. And each time the new process works as intended, the new litigation elite reaps billions in fees--which they invest in fresh rounds of suits, as well as political contributions.

The Rule of Lawyers asks: Who picks these lawyers, and who can fire them? Who protects the public's interest when settlements are negotiated behind closed doors? Where are our elected lawmakers in all this? The answers may determine whether we slip from the rule of law to the rule of lawyers.

Publisher's Weekly

Olson, a veteran legal commentator (The Litigation Explosion) and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, profiles a sector of the American legal system that he contends is out of control, inflicting serious damage on the nation's economy. The target of Olson's polemic is the use of class actions by a coterie of private lawyers who extract enormous verdicts and settlements from lawsuits against producers of tobacco, asbestos, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and the like. According to Olson, trial lawyers subvert democracy by using courtroom procedures to obtain reforms, such as regulating guns, which the American left has not been able to achieve in the federal or state legislatures. The lawyers distort public opinion, buy influence with judges through campaign contributions, introduce junk science into evidence and manipulate juries through unworthy courtroom theatrics. The class-action lawyers, Olson contends, garner stupendous fees for themselves, often produce minuscule payments to their clients and drive entire segments of business into bankruptcy. Olson contends that the class-action bar is bolstered behind the scenes by left-leaning organizations such as those affiliated with Ralph Nader. This is a partisan indictment, powerful enough in its recital of horror stories about misuse of the law, but so one-sided that it will appeal largely to those already convinced of the rectitude of big business.

Library Journal

Olson (senior fellow, Manhattan Inst.; The Litigation Explosion) frequently writes about the impact of law on society. Here he decries excessive and frivolous civil lawsuits, outrageous jury verdicts and awards, egregious class-action settlements, anything-goes jury-selection practices, and the bulging wallets of trial lawyers. He goes so far as to coin a term for a region of the United States synonymous with inimical and conspicuous legal consumption: the Jackpot Belt, which stretches along the nation's Gulf Coast and inland to its rural areas. Olson attempts to classify inhabitants of these and other mini-Jackpot Belts. While demographic patterns may be complex, one legal pattern is simple and constant: top trial lawyers with sharply honed skills can and do play to any audience and manipulate both juries and the adversarial system of justice. Olson notes the deleterious impact of such manipulative jurisprudence upon the separation of powers and exposes the unfortunate extent to which politics and money dictate justice. Recommended for academic and law libraries.

Other books by Walter K. Olson:

Understanding the Legal Revolution around Us
Author: Walter K. Olson
Publisher: Dutton/Plume
June 2002


Twenty years ago, Americans saw lawsuits as a last resort; now they're the world's most litigous people. One of the most discussed, debated, and widely reviewed books of 1991, The Litigation Explosion explains why today's laws encourage us to sue first and ask questions later.

Publisher's Weekly

Since the 1970s, according to Olson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in New York, an explosion has taken place in American jurisprudence, and it is dangerous for everyone but lawyers and judges. It has resulted in our becoming the most litigious society on earth. Among the more insidious features of the new legal age are forum-shopping (picking the venue where a case has the best chance of succeeding), shotgun complaints (instituting a suit and then shopping around to determine in how many states one can simultaneously sue), depositions for discovery (asking hundreds of questions in hopes that some answers will prove incriminating). The catalogue of abuses by the legal profession cited here seems endless. Olson offers faint hope in his conclusion, urging that, to curb frivolous litigiousness, the loser in a case should pay all costs. An important book.

Library Journal

A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Olson concisely examines the 20-year evolution of America's sue-and-be-damned society. Written primarily for the nonlawyer, his book will appeal to anyone wondering why the litigation explosion developed, what it means, and who profits and who loses. Olson thoroughly discusses the Alternative Dispute Resolution and the recent Rule 11 legislation, which promise some hope for reform. Recommended for public and university libraries.

Author: Waltler K. Olson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
March 1997

From the Publisher

The Excuse Factory goes right to the heart of the increasingly absurd American workplace, showing how Kafkaesque employment laws make it nearly impossible to fire even the most incompetent and unmotivated workers. Employers have become understandably nervous about firing someone lest it open them up to a lawsuit, no matter how frivolous. They would rather tolerate bad employees than remove them - a choice that has profound implications for the future of business, the American economy, and our collective mental health. From the merely annoying, like the chronically late secretary, to the extremely dangerous, like the alcoholic airline pilot, Olson shows how the legal system coddles those who least deserve it. In the name of protecting victims of discrimination with laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1991 Civil Rights Act, we have made it tremendously difficult just to get people to do their jobs. The Excuse Factory will spur outrage and spark a national debate about the role of government in the workplace. Olson's expose is certain to shake up the legal industry, rattle government regulators, and cause thousands of workers and managers to nod in vigorous agreement.