TED Talk: Phillip Howard on Fixing a Legal System


“we’ve been trained to squint into this legal microscope, hoping that we can judge any dispute against the standard of a perfect society, where everyone will agree what’s fair, and where accidents will be extinct, risk will be no more. Of course, this is Utopia; it’s a formula for paralysis, not freedom.”

“You’ve got to judge law mainly by its effect on the broader society, not individual disputes.”

“the doctor’s saying, “Well, I doubt if that headache could be a tumor, but who would protect me if it were? So maybe I’ll just order the MRI.” Then you’ve wasted 200 billion dollars in unnecessary tests. If you make people self-conscious about their judgments, studies show you will make them make worse judgments.”

“Because what people can sue for establishes the boundaries for everybody else’s freedom. If someone brings a lawsuit over, “A kid fell off the seesaw,” it doesn’t matter what happens in the lawsuit, all the seesaws will disappear. Because no one will want to take the risk of a lawsuit.”

“To make law simple so that you feel free, the people in charge have to be free to use their judgment to interpret and apply the law in accord with reasonable social norms. As you’re going down, and walking down the sidewalk during the day, you have to think that if there is a dispute, there’s somebody in society who sees it as their job to affirmatively protect you if you’re acting reasonably. That person doesn’t exist today.”

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