The no win, no sue system witnessed stateside
'The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language', wrote George Bernard Shaw. Likewise, our two countries' legal systems are also separated by a difference in law.
I have just returned from
New York having spoken to lawyers in the Big Apple about the differences in preparing witnesses in the US and the UK, and I can say one such example is the fine line between coaching witnesses.
One side of the pond conducts
a mock cross-examination, complete before a jury of
actors, and the other oversees straightforward witness familiarisation taking place.
However, problems can arise when US citizens are prepared
in the American way for hearings in the UK. What standards are acceptable here? Do the professional standards of the American Bar Association and state regulators apply, or the standards of our Law Society, Bar Council, and court rules? Lawyers and judges I have spoken with here in Blighty say 'improved' evidence would carry less weight and may even be inadmissible. Though there are no international agreements on the point, the recent Law Society report, 'The Future of Legal Services' suggests that law is increasingly global, and so perhaps it is time for such agreements to be made.
Law firms in the US range
from sole practitioners to multinationals. From small high-street practices with shop fronts and neon signs flashing 'ARRESTED?' - much like a Soho sex shop but legal-services related - to beautifully appointed offices on high floors in skyscrapers with awe-inspiring views.
Also, law in the US seems
very much part of everyday life. Illuminated road signs read: 'Don't text and drive: It's the law.' Regular television ads for life-improving medicines, with pictures of shiny, happy people and soothing music, contain lurid details of potential side-effects such as internal stomach bleeding, hair loss, and impotence. A law firm receptionist said she couldn't give me an aspirin as her actions could be construed as a prescription.
While standing in a queue for nearly two hours at JFK airport to reach customs and watching a looped video made by border control which promised that
the US authorities were administering us through the airport and putting us on our
way as soon as possible, I saw a woman hauled off for using her phone. I am not sure if lawyers were eventually instructed.
Everyone has heard of the more absurd cases, such as those involving McDonald's serving coffee too hot, or causing emotional damage when only one napkin was provided (again at McDonald's), but these types of cases, many on a no win, no sue basis,
have in part created a fear of litigation. Theirs is a climate in which all activities could have a legal consequence and result in expensive lawyers. UK, beware; the dramatic reconstruction
of the OJ Simpson trial on television shows that money talks and the quality of legal representation often depends on what you pay.
Property lawyers must also be doing well. Real estate prices are extraordinary - upper, east, and west sides are commonly sold
for millions. Older readers may wistfully fantasise on the return of fixed-scale conveyancing fees.
By the way, the mattress
in my hotel was a little soft and
I got backache. Can anyone recommend a good US personal injury lawyer?