We must reform Missouri’s legal climate

By Dan MehanAccording to a recent study, television viewers in Missouri see more legal ads than almost anywhere else in the country.

In the St. Louis market, trial lawyers spent $860,000 on nearly 14,000 television ads between April and June of 2018. That amounts to 153 ads soliciting legal claims or advertising legal services every single day. Things only get worse in Kansas City where there were almost twice as many televised legal services ads during the same time period, averaging nearly 10 ads each hour, according to the American Tort Reform Association.

These astonishing numbers beg an obvious question: Why are trial attorneys spending so much money to advertise in our state?

It’s really very simple — trial lawyers advertise in Missouri because Missouri is a great place to sue people. It’s worth it to spend millions of dollars on television time because they recoup those costs, and much more, by dragging businesses and individuals into our state’s unfair courtrooms.

Missouri’s slanted judicial system is a boon for their industry. The system has made millionaires out of many attorneys. Some of that cash then flows directly to Jefferson City where the trial bar works to influence lawmakers to keep the system as-is.

You can watch it happening. We’ve set up a website that tracks how trial attorneys are spending money to influence elections: mochamber.com/advocacy/money-trail.

While the status quo is great for attorneys — as well as for the TV stations that profit from the advertisements — it’s bad for Missouri. Missouri businesses operate in constant fear that they could be pulled into a court system that’s designed to fleece them. Likewise, our state’s unfair legal system is well known across the country. This reputation makes it harder to attract jobs and business investment to Missouri.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry knows how to fix this problem, but we need your help. When the Missouri General Assembly convenes for their legislative session in January, we will push for a slate of new laws that will level the playing field in Missouri’s courtrooms.

One of the most important proposals would stop attorneys from easily moving out-of-state cases to Missouri where they can take advantage of our legal system. This commonsense idea, called venue reform, fails to make it through the Missouri General Assembly each year.

While this proposal has support, many lawmakers are hesitant to pass a bill that could alienate them from wealthy trial attorney donors — or worse, cause the trial bar to fund a candidate to oppose them in a primary. We saw this exact scenario play out in Missouri over the summer.

We need Missourians to let their elected officials know that Missouri cares about this issue. Lawmakers need to know that we are watching when they accept trial attorney donations. We need them to turn away this money and focus their efforts on reforming our court system.

We can do this. We can bring fairness to our state’s court system. We can grow our economy and attract jobs to our state, all while telling the trial bar: Sorry, the show’s over.

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