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Howard Speaks About Life Without Lawyers at Northwestern Law

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February 25, 2009 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
CHICAGO --- Philip K. Howard, founder of Common Good, will talk about "Life Without Lawyers (W.W. Norton & Company), at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at Northwestern University School of Law, Lincoln Hall, 375 E. Chicago Ave.

Howard's talk about his recently published book is sponsored by the law school's Searle Center on Law, Regulation and Economic Growth.

Litigation and regulation overwhelm life today and seriously hamper Americans' freedom to make everyday decisions, according to the book. "Ordinary choices -- by teachers, doctors, officials, managers, even volunteers -- are paralyzed by legal self-consciousness," Howard argued in a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Decisions -- whether by doctors treating patients or teachers treating unruly students -- often are based on fear rather than on common sense, according to the book.

Seventy-eight percent of middle and high school teachers in America say they have been threatened with lawsuits or claims of violating rights by their students, according to Howard. Skyrocketing health-care costs, he argues, are affected by doctors' fears about how they will defend themselves if a sick person sues.

"What is needed is not reform but a quiet revolution," according to the book. "This shift in approach is not about changing our goals -- almost everyone I know wants a clean environment, safe workplaces, good schools, competent doctors and laws against discrimination."

The challenge, Howard argues, is to turn away from current legal conventions -- from endless rules and rights – "toward law that restores free exercise of judgment at every level of responsibility."

Judges and legislatures, he says, need to "liberate America's can-do spirit" by affirmatively asserting social norms of what's reasonable and what's not.

"Schools would be run by the instincts and values of the humans in charge -- not by bureaucratic micromanagement -- and be held accountable for how they do," according to Howard's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. "Government officials would have flexibility to meet public goals, also with accountability. Public choices would aspire to balance for the common good, not, generally to appease someone's rights."

In line with that goal, Howard is an advocate of such measures as a separate court system to handle health care and medical malpractice disputes and temporary waivers of the more restrictive education mandates.

The book calls for a non-partisan national civic leadership, to propose a radical overhaul of government and develop solutions for the nation's most pressing problems.

"Reviving the can-do spirit that made America great requires a legal overhaul of historic dimension," the book concludes.
Topics: Campus Life