California’s Lawsuit Environment and the OC Register

I love reading my local news. The Orange County Register does a good job covering local business affairs. Jan Norman, covering small business, is a fantastic reporter. She is objective and fair. But I have a little beef with her recent article, “Business survey ranks Calif. 47th in lawsuit climate.”

The article is about a survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber Institute of Legal Reform (ILR), a national lobby group for big business. According to ILR’s website:

The (ILR) is a national campaign, representing the nation’s business community, with the critical mission of making America’s legal system simpler, fairer and faster for everyone.

Further down the page it states:

ILR aims to neutralize plaintiff trial lawyers’ excessive influence over the legal and political systems.

This is a ridiculous position. Plaintiff lawyers are consistently the underdogs representing the little guys. In general, they don’t have millions of dollars to throw at cases like the lawyers who were surveyed by ILR. Moreover, plaintiff lawyers don’t have the lobbying power that Corporate America has in Federal and State legislatures.

Read more after the jump….

The survey is also biased. It surveyed lawyers who exclusively represent big ($100 million plus) companies. These corporate defense lawyers rank California 47th in “legal fairness.” Legal fairness? How did they come to that conclusion? Do these big-wig lawyers somehow know better than judges and juries what is fair? Legal fairness is determined on a case-by-case basis, not by a biased survey population.

Lisa Rickard, the institute’s president, was also quoted saying:

Plaintiffs’ lawyers bring cases in California because the state’s courts rubber-stamp class actions and juries award outsized paydays….

Having been personally involved in multiple wage and hour class actions, I can definitively state that plaintiff lawyers have to fight tooth and nail to certify any class action. There is no such thing as a “rubber-stamp.” Plus, I bet that the judges in Santa Ana would be offended by this statement. They work very hard to ensure fairness in the certification process.

As for Ms. Rickard’s statement that plaintiff lawyers get “outsized paydays,” all I can say is that this is simply not true. The recent documentary, Hot Coffee, goes in great depth on this issue so I won’t belabor the point.

In all fairness to Jan Norman, she reached out to the Consumer Attorneys of California, a lobby group for plaintiff attorneys, to get their side of the story. So I don’t really have beef with Jan Norman, just the survey and lobby group upon which her article is based.


Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who exclusively represents employees in workplace disputes. He focuses his practice on sexual harassment, wage & hour, wrongful termination, and retaliation. Visit his website at or call his office at 949.667.3025.

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