New Hampshire attorney and mediator Scott Flegal writes an article in the Nashua Telegraph looking at this phenomenon. I’ve copied the most salient points below (with my emphasis added):
Why do Americans love to litigate?
This is a tough question. I mean, most people aren’t crazy about lawyers. Nobody likes paying legal fees. Many people criticize the glacial pace of the judicial process. Everybody loves to rail on about crazy jury verdicts. And yet, we continue to file lawsuits, outsourcing our conflicts to lawyers and judges for resolution. Why is that?
I think there are a few reasons. The first one is because of who we are. Americans believe in justice, and we rely on juries, judges and courts to provide it.
Americans also seem to have a problem with negotiation….Sometimes we even view negotiation as sinister. It involves deal-making, compromise and, heaven forbid, it often goes on behind closed doors.
But is [litigation] healthy? It certainly isn’t good for business, which spends billions each year on litigation. What toll is this taking on American business when we compete in a global economy with nations that don’t share our penchant for litigation?
Our fondness for filing suit is also damaging one of the cornerstones of our judicial system: the relationship between lawyer and client. For the system to work properly, that relationship must be based on mutual trust and respect. More and more it seems like it is turning into one of unhealthy codependence. The clients outsource their conflict to their lawyer and avoid the responsibility of negotiating and decision-making. The lawyer believes she is doing what the client wants, and litigation pays a lot of bills. In the end, when the result isn’t a good one, the lawyer and the system bear the blame, and everyone is miserable. But the beat goes on.
Ironically, part of the solution to this problem may involve rebuilding that very lawyer/client relationship. As lawyers, we might be able to improve it by making sure our clients understand that while the law is almost always relevant in dealing with a dispute, it is not necessarily determinative. There may be other alternatives available to the client that could do a better job of meeting the client’s most important interest than filing a lawsuit. As lawyers we must use the law to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of the client’s position. But every bit as important is the role we play in helping the client decide whether asserting those legal rights in court is the best option.
Certainly gives something to think about.