In Our Courts 'Justice' Is Bought

MIAMI - FEBRUARY 02: A judges gavel rests on top of a desk in the courtroom of the newly opened Black Police Precinct and Cou
MIAMI - FEBRUARY 02: A judges gavel rests on top of a desk in the courtroom of the newly opened Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum February 3, 2009 in Miami, Florida. The museum is located in the only known structure in the nation that was designed, devoted to and operated as a separate station house and municipal court for African-Americans. In September 1944, the first black patrolmen were sworn in as emergency policemen to enforce the law in what was then called the 'Central Negro District.' The precinct building opened in May 1950 to provide a station house for the black policemen and a courtroom for black judges in which to adjudicate black defendants. The building operated from 1950 until its closing in 1963. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

There are few elements more important to a free and democratic society than an open, fair and accessible justice system. This is never more apparent than when your liberty or livelihood is at stake.

The executive director of The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, Rebecca Love Kourlis, summed-up nicely the state of the American justice system when she said, "If you get in a car wreck, and there's an argument about who should be paying damages, your assumption is that you can go to court to have that case resolved. The truth of the matter is that's probably the last place you want to be, because the fees and the costs will ultimately be more than your car is worth, even if you drive a really nice car."

Due to the nature of our adversarial justice system, it's more often than not going to be the party with the high-priced attorney who wins in court rather than the party with the more meritorious case. Litigation is a multi-billion dollar industry that favors the wealthy. Much of that money simply lines the pockets of attorneys who charge on average between $300 and $700 an hour to tell us what the law is and how it can be manipulated in our favor to vanquish our opponents. That's great for the small percentage of Americans who can afford a skilled lawyer, but it leaves the rest of the population at a significant disadvantage.

Even if you have a legitimate case, if your opponent has a lot more money to spend on high-priced attorneys who employ delay tactics, as Kevin O'Leary of Shark Tank and Dragon's Den fame would say, either "you're going to be squashed like the cockroach you are", or those high-priced lawyers are going to have you tied-up in hearings and motions and pre-trial discovery for so many months or possibly years that you will go broke before you ever get the chance to present the full merits of your case.

Given the complexity of our laws and legal procedures, if we want any hope in hell of protecting our rights, attorneys are a necessary evil. But why should the average person or business owner need to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to get the justice they're due? If "ignorance of the law is no excuse" when it comes to determining liability or culpability, would it not make more sense for the government to ensure that the laws and procedures can easily be understood by the average person? Shouldn't justice, in the true sense of the word, be available to everyone?

Although America prides itself on having a fair and accessible government-run justice system, the truth is that for most of us, justice is neither fair, nor easily accessible. The American justice system faces serious issues that are not easily resolved and will not be resolved any time soon without drastic reform. Most of us want, and in fact need, options that are cheaper, quicker and less complicated than going to court or hiring an attorney to fight all our battles. We need to make better use of alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation and arbitration. Given our shrinking budgets, both governments and personal, what other options do we have?

(My next post will explain alternative options like arbitration, mediation and online dispute resolution services offered by companies like eQuibbly.)