Philip Howard: Four ways to fix a broken legal system

The land of the free has become a legal minefield, says Philip K. Howard — especially for teachers and doctors, whose work has been paralyzed by fear of suits. What’s the answer? A lawyer himself, Howard has four propositions for simplifying US law.

TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Featured speakers have included Al Gore on climate change, Philippe Starck on design, Jill Bolte Taylor on observing her own stroke, Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child, Jane Goodall on chimpanzees, Bill Gates on malaria and mosquitoes, Pattie Maes on the “Sixth Sense” wearable tech, and “Lost” producer JJ Abrams on the allure of mystery. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts. Closed captions and translated subtitles in a variety of languages are now available on, at Watch a highlight reel of the Top 10 TEDTalks at


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  • The courts have too much authority due to lack of checks and balances and also due to "same-hands governance"! This must stop!

    Harsha Sankar May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • 1. Abolish the Bar Associations 2.Disband the "Attorney Profession" 3. Repeal all UPL laws
    4. Ban executive, legislative, and judicial officers from providing "assistance of counsel" in court cases.

    Harsha Sankar May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • What economic theory can I use to analyze the video?

    Miraculous Hulumununun May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • This man has been my hero ever since I read The Death of Common Sense. This is my absolute favorite TED talk. History will regard this man in the same light as the founding fathers (well, almost.) Nothing but simple common sense issues from him.

    ToddtheExploder May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • SJWs ruining everything…

    Moe S May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • His last part I disagree. It's up to congress to come up with law and apply it how they believe. They are accountable to the people, who have the power to run themselves. If you give more power to unelected judges then in turn, you the people, don't have a say and there is no consistency. I think his way would, in part, perpetuate the issue he is trying to solve.

    Feda May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Louis j. Ulman of Offit Kurman Law is a liar and a thief. Lying Lou lied about me and stole from my dead husbands, Bill Tadlock, estate. Lying Lou refused to let the estate pay for my insurance and immediately forced me off of life altering meds. In the first 10 months following my husbands death Lying Lou billed for over $110,000 and the estate was less than $500,000. Lying Lou belittled and laughed at my dead husband less than a week after his death right to my face. Lying Lou also has his hand in Ulman Cancer Fund for young adults. Thanks for reading, Don Williams-Tadlock

    Don Williams May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Mersi bine.

    Eduard Maltezu May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Most of these problems are actually not with the substantive law, but with procedure. Eliminating Juries from civil disputes between two non government litigants would prevent the perfect standard of care problem, as well as the assumed causation problem. Reinstituting Rule 11 of the FRCP and allowing demurrer without an appearance would eliminate nuisance, malicious, and unmeritorious claims. Establishing an office of the business advocate within the US Government, as suggested by the American Enterprise Institute, would prevent most unreasonable regulations.

    vandertuber May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • This is very true…

    Kameron Rose May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Changing civil law to a "loser pays" structure like the rest of the world will diminish many of these frivolous lawsuits. 

    TsterMr63 May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Judges already have authority to "toss out unreasonable claims."  They can toss out complaints that 'fail to state a claim recognized by law,' and the judge can decide that a plaintiff is not entitled to judgment 'as a matter of law.'  

    I don't understand why he would fail to even mention this, unless he is either a shill for chamber of commerce/business interests or just stupid.  I don't think he is stupid, so….

    the shamburglar May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Derp, if we 'restore authority to judges and officials to interpret and apply the law,' that will make the outcomes much less arbitrary and uncertain than if there was legislation laying out a test in specific and particular language passed by an elected body that considered the issue with input from experts over the course of months.

    I'd love to go back to a time when people didn't think about the consequences of their actions, because "self-consciousness is the enemy of accomplishment."  Back in the good ol' days, doctors weren't self-conscious about their actions or thinking about the consequences of their treatment, they would just give you whatever.  Things were accomplished, sure, sometimes that thing would be your death, but at least the Doctor didn't have to think about whether his actions would harm his patient. 


    the shamburglar May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • I'm starting to see EFFICIENCY coming back in everyone's life with those simple and brilliant advice from TED.
    Thank you, Philip K. Howard!

    Ingrid Bashor May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Most of his stories aren't problems with the law, they're either problems with people being poorly educated about the law and therefore being terrified of it, or with professions that want a scapegoat for their own poor performance. "Oh, I'm so scared of lawsuits I can't do my job properly." More likely, you just can't do your job properly period. Some of his examples are just wrong. 

    Look, this guy's speech sounds great, until you find yourself harmed by some doctor who was negligent, or your kid has a teacher who's not properly protecting them from bullying and the administration won't intervene. Or the company builds the polluting factory upwind from your house because there was no environmental review. There are problems with the law, but his "fixes" are too vague and/or in the wrong direction.

    Chance Williams May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • This talk should have focused on the central question "Who do you trust?" Laws are made because of that lack of trust. Almost all professionals and professional groups cannot admit that there are bad doctors, teachers, priests, CEOs, managers, bankers, investors, policemen, judges in short people with authority that may abuse it. They all become reflexively defensive instead of reflective. Only when these groups justifiably out and throw out these abusers who give the profession a bad name will trust be restored and legal remedies be reduced. Currently, I don't see this happening. The ethos if I'm not caught I didn't do anything wrong is permitted by their kind. The complacent commit a worse crime than the abusers.. 

    Zhu Bajie May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • I like what you say.  I don't have any faith that anything will happen.  You are outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded by a majority that has a different agenda.  I have to go now, Judge Judy is on.  Good luck.

    John Mccauley May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • I enjoyed listening to this but I do not agree with much of the limited information that is being addressed as an all incompassing perspective. The coruption of government has led to the userping of naturla rights and enslaved the people as citizens of the corporation. This is the legitimate problem with administrative jurisdictions. Common law is no longer followed as the civil law has userpt it without the peoples consent and now the majority is ignorant of it.

    txflyguy40 May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Olivia, if you don't mind, please share your view of the other side.

    Solutions Over Soundbites May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • To counter intimidating legal expense, Howard proposes giving radical authority to judges to rule by a greater social justice. But he ignores the obvious “elephant in the room” of looser pays”, saying tort reform has been tried with limited success. No! No one has required losers in civil cases to pay all expense of winners, including requiring their attorney to pay if he was working on contingency. This is the obvious solution to such an unnatural plaintiff advantage, but lawyers despise it.

    billandpech May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Have a look at my blog, insightful article on Diversity in the British Legal System 🙂

    Tania Hardcastle May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • This is one side of it, but can't help poking holes through this logic here. Noble ideas and all that…

    Olivia Chaunders May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • In my higher level courses, we watch TED every day. 🙂

    kschultz24 May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • Ability to judge by Congress and mandatory sentencing. While we pay billions to fight the war on drugs that we have already lost, and we fill our prisons with non violent drug addicts who simply need help, while there is no room left for rapists. The Land of the Free has become the Land of Fearful, and instead of laws protecting our freedom now enslave us!

    Hollister Hogle May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • You can't run a society by the lowest common denominator! We have to trust people, restore the authority for people to make common sense judgements, and judge a law on its impacts to society as a whole and not on how it affects the disgruntled individual. Right on! Law makers pass laws to justify their existence, lawyers fight to make things as complicated as they can to ensure future work, and dishonorable people use the legal system to bully and rob, and judges have been stripped of their

    Hollister Hogle May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply
  • As a teacher, I have to watch everything I say every day. Everyday I have to watch everything I do as to not violate some city, county, state, or federal law as any violation could cost me my career.

    Hollister Hogle May 18, 2020 6:58 pm Reply

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