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the Complete Review
the complete review - law

The Law in Shambles

Thomas Geoghegan

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To purchase The Law in Shambles

Title: The Law in Shambles
Author: Thomas Geoghegan
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2005
Length: 142 pages
Availability: The Law in Shambles - US
The Law in Shambles - UK
The Law in Shambles - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : odd folksy tone, but solid, spirited, critique of American law (and politics)

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Thomas Geoghegan is a practising lawyer (specialising in labour law) and in The Law in Shambles he writes both from personal experience (citing many relevant cases he's been involved in as examples) as well as offering a very broad polemic against what has become of the law in the United States. His book isn't merely concerned with the legal system: he sees it very much as part of the larger socio-political system, and so he specifically considers the implications of the law being in shambles on all the other parts of civil life.
       One of the first issues he tackles is, in fact, democracy -- participatory democracy, where the individual feels s/he is involved in the decision-making process and can feel secure in the knowledge that government is responsive to the needs of citizens. Geoghegan argues that there is, in fact, too little democracy in the United States -- and he finds that this lack of democracy clearly "undermines the rule of law".
       He approaches the issue primarily from a labour point of view, pointing out that many of the rights citizens once could rely on were contractual (not, for example, constitutional), specifically in their union contracts, rights that were bargained for and offered some certainty (on everything from wages and job security to health insurance and pensions) -- unlike, for example, the now prevalent 'employment at will'-standard. With a move away from unions there has also been a shift in the settlement of disputes from "contract" to "tort" -- with the latter being far more unpredictable (and costly, for all involved). And that unpredictability undermines both the system and faith in the system.
       Geoghegan points out other absurdities and outrages in the system. Among his targets: so-called charitable trusts and the like (hospitals and universities, in particular), which he points out bear much greater responsibility for the explosion of litigation than patients who sue doctors and hospitals (and can and often do destroy lives by these actions -- despite supposedly being 'charitable' institutions (i.e. whose primary duty is ostensibly towards the welfare of the public)).
       The law (or rather the government that should be implementing the law) also fails, notably in regulation: even where laws -- on safety, for example, (food, workplace, etc.) -- are on the books, the government provides little or no enforcement, unwilling to pay inspectors, etc., again undermining the whole (legal and political) system. Arbitrariness -- outcomes decided by the luck of what jury and now even what judge decide a case -- is also a problem.
       The difficulty of making any meaningful fundamental changes to the American constitution is one of his main targets, and allows him to take aim at the Senate and, especially, the House of Representatives (including the outrageousness of gerrymandered districts) The current political system is, he argues, far from democratic, with Congress especially now wielding too much unrepresentative power.
       The Law in Shambles is a free-wheeling look at much that is wrong in the United States, fairly deftly connected. Geoghegan offers a number of outrageous examples, and though 'left' (and labour) leaning in his politics, he focusses on a number of issues that the 'right' has (or should have) just as many problems with. His explanation (and remedy) for, for example, the explosion of tort litigation may not be exactly how the 'right' sees it but his points are worth considering.
       Geoghegan offers a few suggestions of what might help better the situation, and how to accomplish it (including a creative approach to squeezing out of the Electoral College-system (used to elect the president).)
       Lively, thought-provoking, far-ranging, The Law in Shambles is a fun little polemic.

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The Law in Shambles: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Thomas Geoghegan is a labour lawyer.

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© 2005-2010 the complete review

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