Do lawyers cause lawsuits?

It is a topic that is stated expressly or implicitly routinely:

Lawsuits happen (too frequently in many people’s opinions) because lawyers are riling up people to sue and then paving the road to court.

When an apparently silly lawsuit is filed by a business I often hear “well, I guess the lawyers had too much time on their hands.” The tone of the comments about lawsuit-creating-lawyers is that society would be better off without lawyers.

I must admit when I started thinking about this topic it was difficult to get beyond the advertisements by lawyers that seek people harmed by prescription drugs, vasectomies and weight-loss scams. Frequently seen during daytime TV and on billboards, these advertisements appear to be plaintiff-trolling – putting the idea of a lawsuit in people’s heads who might not otherwise have thought of it.

Lawyers do not cause lawsuits any more than doctors cause arthritis.

Do lawyers tell people about claims they might not know they had? Do corporate lawyers agitate in favor of litigation when a company’s rights are at stake? YES and YES. And it’s not a bad thing. Let me tell you why it is okay.

Attorneys advise, clients decide.

It is the lawyer’s role to advise their client, including advice on what the client’s rights are and how to protect them. This advice comes in the form of one-on-one consultations between high-powered corporate attorneys and the CEOs of companies. It also comes in the form of an advertisement by an attorney about the chance for victims of a defective prescription drug to be compensated for the harm they suffered. The principal is the same: the attorney provides the advice, discusses the alternatives and the client makes the decision about whether to file a lawsuit. Solid, reliable information is a positive thing.

There is power in numbers.

The mass-advertised lawsuit based on prescription drug defects provides a chance for people to recover for harm that they probably would never have had (due to a lack of resources). A lone individual has little chance to ever pay for or prevail against a giant prescription drug company, mortgage company or other mega-corporation.  The corporation has the resources and experience to make the process so difficult for the individual, that pursuing a lawsuit simply isn’t possible.  Of course, this statement is based on the assumption of two conclusions: (1) lawyers are only seeking and accepting clients who have a legitimate legal claim; and (2) clients are only seeking to be part of lawsuits where they sincerely and in good faith believe they have been harmed.


Our legal system is the worst one in the history of the world, except for all the others.

In other words, our legal system is the best thing going – it provides a structure for people to settle disputes civilly, without violence and with a decent amount of predictability. It is not our legal system that is the problem, it is relatively infrequent cases of abuse of the system that are the problem. These few instances (think the grossly distorted McDonald’s coffee burn case from many years ago) receive all the attention rather than the infinitely larger number of times cases are resolved reasonably.

Do you think lawyers in general are the problem or are you willing to consider my position?  Let me know in the comments.



Posted by Shawn Roberts

On this blog, I write about and try to answer practical Oklahoma legal questions. My focus and most experience is in estate planning and business issues including Oklahoma non-compete law. I make a living as an attorney in the law firm I founded, Shawn J. Roberts, P.C. in Oklahoma City. I live in Edmond with my wife Amy and my two children, Sam (19) and David (11). We live precisely in the path of where the "wind comes sweeping down the plains."