June 01, 2016

Advance Sheet: No Touch of Class

Robert E. Shapiro

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Nothing this side of the Constitution provokes more instant controversy in the litigation community than the subject of class actions. It always seems to force lawyers to choose sides. In one camp are defendants’ lawyers and their mostly corporate clients who view class actions as the bane of the business world and the legal system. The list of indictable offenses they see is long and the charges strident. Class actions are, it is said, a heavy tax on the ability to conduct business efficiently and profitably. The most incidental or unintended mistake, or even sometimes a well-intentioned action, causing little or no significant harm to consumers or employees, can mushroom into a claim threatening tens of millions of dollars in damages. Ordinary disputes metamorphose into bet-the-company nightmares. Settlements, meanwhile, seem mostly designed to benefit the lawyers involved, with class members getting the scraps, a mere pittance for which filling out the claim form often seems not worth the effort at all.

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