Class Actions: A New Book And Book Review

Every now and then a book about comes along – or at least a book review about the book – that it deserves discussion in a blog. This is true about U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff’s review in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books of a book authored by Columbia securities law Professor John C. Coffee Jr. entitled Entrepreneurial Litigation.

The review is intriguing enough (and incisive enough – as anyone who has appeared before Judge Rakoff knows him to be) that I recommend the review itself – and maybe even the book based solely upon the review.

Man, Read, Cigar, People, Book, Old Man

Professor Coffee’s topic is class actions – their history, purposes, usages and abuses.  Judge Rakoff is a particularly good choice to critique the book and class actions (as well as other significant issues in law and policy, which he frequently does in the NYRB).

He acknowledges that class actions “are among the most controversial forms of litigation in the United States today.  To their advocates, they provide an opportunity for interested private citizens to have a meaningful role in combating corporate misconduct, to serve in effect as ‘private attorney generals,’ supplementing or even substituting for inadequate regulatory oversight.  To their detractors, however, class actions are not much more than a racket, doing little to penalize the executives responsible for the alleged misconduct and chiefly serving, instead, to line the pockets of self-interested lawyers, who get a large share of the settlements.”

While a great deal of the review/book is focused upon “sophisticated frauds in the financial markets,” enough note is taken of employment class actions that it is very relevant to this blog.

Judge Rakoff observes that “Although critics have claimed that this argument [about plaintiffs’ lawyers being private attorney generals] is simply a rationalization for a system by which class action lawyers line their pockets, many judges with whom I have spoken have come to believe that, particularly in the civil rights matters that gave rise to the modern expansion of class actions, this rationale has a modicum of truth. For example, class actions against employment discrimination appear to have led to a considerable increase in minority hiring and promotion well beyond what would have likely occurred in their absence (emphasis added).”

Anyway, after I actually read the book, I’ll tell you about it!



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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]