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Five Questions with Harold Kim

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Learn more about Kevin Sullivan.
Kevin Sullivan
Senior Advisor
George W. Bush Presidential Center

In this month’s installment of “Five Questions With…” Kim talks about the “major resurgence” of trial lawyers, the infamous Popeyes chicken sandwich lawsuit, and movie time at the White House.

Harold Kim’s career has been devoted to the law and improving our legal system.  After beginning his career as an associate at Patton Boggs, he joined the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, ultimately serving as its senior counsel.  He then spent 18 months at on the White House legislative affairs staff, representing President Bush on the Hill during very consequential times.  In December 2008, Kim was hired by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which earlier this month promoted him to president.  In this month’s installment of “Five Questions With…” Kim talks about the “major resurgence” of trial lawyers, the infamous Popeyes chicken sandwich lawsuit, and movie time at the White House.

Q: Congratulations on your recent promotion. What is the state of lawsuit abuse in the country today, and where are you focusing your reform efforts? 

It’s a tremendous honor to lead the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). As you know, ILR led the business community’s efforts to help enact the Class Action Fairness Act that President Bush signed into law in February 2005.

Despite the enactment of this landmark reform and added reforms that followed in a number of states, the trial lawyers have made a major resurgence. They’ve adjusted their tactics, exploited loopholes in the law and have come back with a vengeance. Among other things, we are seeing an explosion of “nuclear verdicts” across the country, more junk class action lawsuits in our federal courts, and the spread of municipality litigation, where thousands of cities and counties are now hiring plaintiffs’ firms under contingency fee arrangements to sue the business community under highly questionable liability theories like the public nuisance doctrine. 

In many ways, we are reaching a crisis point in our civil justice system similar to the levels experienced by Texas in the 1990s that prompted President Bush to prioritize tort reform in the state when he was Governor. We plan on tackling this challenge head on and will use every tool in the toolkit to get there. A balanced legal system is a critical foundation for promoting economic growth and opportunities for every American.

Q: Do you have a favorite recent example or two of the most egregious lawsuits that have been filed? 

Unfortunately, there are many to choose from, but there’s one that comes to mind that is up there with the infamous Hot Coffee case from the 1990s. Readers might remember what happened when Popeyes came out with their new chicken sandwich last year. People went crazy for it, and stores were selling out all over the country.

A man from Tennessee got so frustrated that he couldn’t find a sandwich, he sued Popeyes for $5,000. If you’d like to see more about that and other ridiculous lawsuits, we’ve documented dozens of them on Faces of Lawsuit Abuse. Talk about junk lawsuits. 

Q: What can you tell us about your strategy for legal reform on the Hill this year, and how is the current environment having an impact?

Our first priority on the Hill this year is defending arbitration. Arbitration gives employees, consumers, and businesses a faster and more effective route to dispute resolution than litigation. Last year we worked with ndp | analytics to publish research on this. It shows that on average, employees in disputes with their employers get better outcomes in arbitration than they do in lawsuits. 

Unfortunately, the plaintiffs’ bar has plenty of allies in Congress, and over the last year they’ve introduced dozens of bills that would inhibit or ban arbitration in employee disputes, consumer contracts, and most other contexts.

Moving affirmative legal reforms in a divided Congress will be incredibly difficult, especially with a presidential election on the horizon.   But we still think that the issue of legal reform needs to stay elevated on the national stage; and we will advance as many opportunities to do so this year. 

Q: Do you have a leadership lesson from your time at The White House that you call upon in your role with ILR? 

To always lead by principle.

Q: Can you leave us with a favorite White House memory or story? 

There are so many to list from Departure Ceremonies, lunches in the Mess to traveling on AF-1. But if there was one to choose, it would be taking my then 4-year-old daughter to see “Horton Hears a Who” in the East Wing movie theatre with a surprise visit from POTUS. I will never forget the look on her face from that day!