Looking back, moving forward

NewYearsResolutions_main_0Pop Quiz:  What was your new year’s resolution and have you already abandoned it?

According to those who study these kinds of things, the top three resolutions for Americans in 2014 were: 1.) Lose weight 2.) Get organized 3.) Spend less and save more.  While I can personally identify with each of these, my resolution was a bit more modest: put the correct year on all my checks.  Now here we are, not even a month later, and I must humbly admit, I am still struggling. Apparently I am not alone, as more than 75 percent of us give up our resolutions after just nine days into the year.

This begs the questions why then, if so many of us fail, do we even bother to make resolutions?  It is because the new year is NEW.  A time for reflection on the past, and a time to look ahead and make changes for a brighter future.  With the start of each new year, we resolve to become better.

I hope this sense of determination and optimism stays with you throughout the new year, and I also hope it makes its way up to the State Capitol in Baton Rouge, where it is absolutely critical that we resolve to improve Louisiana’s legal landscape.

Let’s be honest about our state’s current legal environment. 2013 was an abysmal year filled with sometimes meritless litigation targeting Louisiana’s employers and job creators.  All too frequently, it seemed lawsuits in Louisiana were motivated by a desire to reach into “deep pockets,” rather than to ensure justice for someone wronged. Not only did this hostile legal climate cost us new economic opportunities and investments, it also earned us top ranking as a “Judicial Hellhole.”

Fortunately, it seems that efforts to sound the alarm have not fallen on deaf ears. Throughout the holidays, it seemed everyone was talking about the shortcomings of Louisiana’s legal landscape and the resolution to make changes in 2014.

A Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “The Lawsuit Bayou,” described Louisiana as “the tort bar’s new mecca for litigation.”  Meanwhile, Rep. Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) authored a letter in newspapers around the state calling for reforms and saying, “When investors are scouring the world looking for places to make a financial commitment, they are repeatedly bypassing the state of Louisiana primarily as result of our legal climate.”

Speaking on behalf of Louisiana’s small businesses, Gary Selvy, South Region Public Policy Director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) said, “Small business is the bedrock of Louisiana’s economy. It represents 97 percent of all employers in Louisiana and employs 55 percent of the state’s private-sector workforce. In the coming session, we’ll be asking the Legislature to level the playing field for small businesses in the state’s courts. No one wins if small businesses lose.”

We also heard from Stephen Waguespack, the new head of the Louisiana Association of Business and industry (LABI) on the subject, stating, “The Judicial Hellholes report accurately reflects the reputation of Louisiana’s climate, a self-inflicted reputation that is only getting worse thanks to the actions of a few.” He wrote, “Our national reputation is long-held, persuasive and discouraging investment in our state. This reputation will not go away until we change our tune, stand together and improve our laws.”

It is encouraging that so many are focused on the need for legal reform in 2014. The new year provides the perfect opportunity for lawmakers to pass the common-sense reforms that will help bring some fairness and predictability back to our courts. It’s time to move past our reputation as a “Hellhole,” and make Louisiana a great place for businesses to invest and grow communities – and that starts with a fair legal system.

Melissa Landry is executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-partisan, non-profit, citizen watchdog group focused on a broad range of civil justice issues in Louisiana.

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