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Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America Paperback – February 1, 2010

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Frequently Bought Together

Life Without Lawyers: Restoring Responsibility in America + The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America + The Collapse of the Common Good: How America's Lawsuit Culture Undermines Our Freedom
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393338037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393338034
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #327,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his latest prescriptive survey of American law abuse and its consequences, Howard (The Death of Common Sense, The Collapse of the Common Good) sticks to the formula: one ghastly anecdote after another demonstrating how the justice system hinders freedom and confounds Americans who simply want to do the right thing. Either through litigation or the fear of it, Howard argues, we've ceded our everyday decision-making to the lawyers (we "might as well give a legal club to the most unreasonable and selfish person in the enterprise") resulting in everything from "no running on the playground" signs to a 5-year-old handcuffed at school by police; from diminishing health care quality and spiraling costs to doctors afraid of discussing treatments among themselves over email. Chair of nonpartisan advocacy organization Common Good, Howard has a great deal of knowledge and a catalog of abuses that will elicit fury and despair. For the third time in some 15 years, Howard agitates for change by asking "How did the land of freedom become a legal minefield?"; in this time of financial depression and political hope, Howard may have found the perfect moment to sound his alarm.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“Surely will be 2009’s most needed book on public affairs.” (Washington Post)

More About the Author

Philip K. Howard, a lawyer, advises leaders of both parties on legal and regulatory reform. He is chair of Common Good and a contributor to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Customer Reviews

Well written and researched book!
Myron Phillips
I think it's the only way to repair America; what Mr. Howard offers to fix Washington in my view is only wishful thinking.
Thomas W. Sulcer
Coping with fear of risk with lawyers is resulting in great inhibition of children in both play and education.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In 1995 Phillip K. Howard's The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America aroused so much interest that it became a bestseller. Fourteen years later, has our society heeded the call to become less litigious? Have we opted for more common sense approaches? Sadly, no -- leaving the path open for further coverage of our accelerating tendency to abandon sensible freedom of action for the false "safety" of reams of rules, due process and litigation. In Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law Howard reminds us of how imbalanced, fearful and nonsensical our society has become with a multitude of legal cases, news stories, and statistics and studies. Among the outrageous occurrences: a five-year-old child being taken away in handcuffs by police because her school forbade any teacher or the principal from restraining her when she threw a tantrum. Another: a Catholic archdiocese that was ordered by a jury to pay $17 million to a paralyzed plaintiff because the Church volunteer who caused the accident had no deep pockets. Also: the city fathers who chopped down three mature hickory trees at the demand of a couple with a child allergic to nuts. To name a few.

Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law main body consists of eight chapters:

1. The Boundaries of the Law
2. The Freedom to Take Risks
3. The Authority to Be Fair
4. The Boundaries of Lawsuits
5. Bureaucracy Can't Teach
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By D. Curtis on February 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This excellent book explains how excessive litigation has lead to excessive caution. Frightened individuals and institutions adapt their decisions and actions to avoid potential lawsuits, undermining our economy and our free society. Three especially interesting insights I got from this book were:

1. Sometimes the ability to anticipate and prevent a bad outcome should not be enough to establish liability for that outcome. The social value of an activity in which a risk inherently resides may outweigh the cost of that risk. For example, the few but inevitable accidents on school playgrounds have lead to lawsuits, which have compelled many schools to ban running at recess or eliminate playground equipment altogether. Kids should not be deprived of healthy and developmentally necessary play to prevent accidents that are few and far between.

2. Due process, once used to prevent the coercive power of the state from being abused, has been extended to institutions like schools and businesses, eviscerating the authority that individuals need to run their institutions. Teachers can no longer maintain order in most public schools, as their ability to discipline students is highly restricted and students know they won't be held accountable.

3. Objective rules cannot replace discretion and judgment. Most of human life is just too complex to be reduced to rules and regulation. There must be room for intuition and creativity, and in every institution some individuals must have the authority to make judgments. Out of fear and distrust of authority we have attempted to eliminate all discretion with rules, which instead has lead to stultifying bureaucracy and a decline in personal responsibility.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Robert McAvoy on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Philip Howard has written a clear, compelling, and insightful commentary on the impact that we can now associate with the highjacking of the Black Liberation Movement in the U.S. With seventy percent of the U.S. population now members of a protected class, we have devolved into a political community where Ç pluribus Unum (from many one) has been reinterpreted to mean one from many. We don't celebrate what unites us so much as we, with the help of the legal class, use what divides us to extort value from our treasury of social capital.

I recommend that you read Howard's "The Death of Common Sense" in order to understand how the U.S. Judicial System has been complicit, if not instrumental in the highjacking. You may conclude with me that tort reform drains energy from a more fundamental reform that should demand judges who judge, arguing that individual responsbility and accountability is more important than class extortion.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, Philip K. Howard talks about the litigation and regulation explosion that has reduced Americans' ability to take risks, exercise authority, fire incompetent employees, maintain discipline in schools, and to take responsibility for their actions.

There are two main points in the book. One, is that there are too many rules prescribing how to do things. These rules derive from the assembly-line mentality that arose from the Industrial Revolution. While some rules are necessary in any complex endeavor, such as a business, government, or school, our society has gone overboard with rules and organization. Too many rules stifle individual initiative and decision making. Howard presents many examples of this in the public schools. Teachers in New York City are forbidden from calling on students who raise their hands during the first part of class. A mother of a third grader, who arrived with a supply of birthday cupcakes, was turned away because there is a rule against parents in the classroom. Teachers write out detailed course plans every week that no one ever reads. Loudspeakers constantly blare out announcements, interrupting classes and making it impossible for teachers and students to concentrate. No Child Left Behind made things worse by focusing on standardized testing. Teachers' union contracts dictate hours worked, limit teacher duties, and make it virtually impossible to fire incompetent teachers.

The second main point is that since the 1960's individual rights have trumped concerns over the common good. "Let any individual who feels aggrieved bring a legal claim for almost anything" (p. 23). This mindset arose from a desire to remedy abuses due to racial and gender discrimination.
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