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Nora Freeman Engstrom, Sunlight and Settlement Mills,

Publication Date: 
June 10, 2013
Jotwell: The Journal of Things We Like
Scott Hershovitz

Professor Nora Engstrom's article Sunlight and Settlement Mills is discussed in this online journal by University of Michigan School of Law Professor Scott Hershovitz. 

Every year, I ask the students in my torts class whether any of them came to law school because they wanted to practice tort law. So far, only one has said yes. And she planned to join her father’s personal injury practice, so that was something of a special case.

This is not surprising. An awful lot of my students do not know what tort law is, at least not at the start. And those that know what tort law is tend to associate it with the lawyers that advertise on late-night television. Though most first-year students do not know what they want to do, they do know that they do not want to be one of those lawyers, whom they take to occupy the bottom rung of a profession that is not held in all that high esteem anyway. It is a constant struggle to get my students to see that there is more to tort law than those late-night lawyers.

But it turns out that those late-night lawyers may not deserve the scorn that they get. In Sunlight and Settlement Mills, Nora Freeman Engstrom argues that firms like the ones that advertise late at night have developed practice models that achieve many of the aims that reformers have for no-fault accident compensation schemes. They deliver compensation cheaply and quickly, because they settle almost every claim and nearly never go to court.  They resolve claims predictably and consistently, on account of cozy relationships with insurance adjusters that lead to a shared sense as to what different sorts of claims are worth. And perhaps most important, they increase access to justice, offering representation to clients with meritorious claims who would otherwise not seek lawyers or find ones willing to pursue their low-value claims.