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By D’Anne Buquet, Sergio Contreras and Bobby Jenkins

Texans value the independence and freedom to make their own choices.  But those choices can have an impact in all aspects of our lives in Texas, including at the courthouse. And, in return, what happens in the courtrooms can impact every Texans’ lives and livelihoods, too.

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), a national movement of small business owners, medical professionals and community leaders committed to smart-minded lawsuit reform, has its roots right here in Texas. Over the years, we’ve been on the front lines of lawsuit reform and ensuring our courts are used for justice, not greed. But, one thing is clear, if we’re going to rein in lawsuit abuse, it starts with you.

That’s the name of our latest education and awareness campaign, one that we hope will get more Texans engaged in our civil justice system through jury service and being well informed about alternatives to lawsuits and how to choose a lawyer when you must sue.

Every day, Texans make choices and important contributions toward stopping lawsuit abuse. From small business owners calling out lawsuit abuse in their communities to local lawsuit abuse advocates making their voices heard at the State Capitol, we’ll say it again, it starts with you.

The Lone Star State was once the wild west of frivolous lawsuits and outlandish court awards, ranked among the American Tort Reform Association’s worst Judicial Hellholes. But over the years, supporters of the CALA movement successfully pressed for reforms to rein in abusive legal practices driving doctors out of under-served communities, exposing employers who own or operate delivery trucks to frivolous claims, and costing Texans jobs.  The goal has always been to embrace common-sense reforms to stop the abuse while preserving Texans’ access to our civil courts where and when they need it.

While Texas has enacted strong reforms over the past 20 years, it’s up to all of us to take it upon ourselves to be savvy legal consumers, to show up for jury service, to cast informed ballots every election, and to do all that we can ensure our courts are used for justice.

There are times when one may need to consult with a lawyer, if only to find out where you stand. Finding a lawyer is often like finding a doctor – usually you only look for one when you are in need of help. While selecting a lawyer isn’t easy, there are things you should know before hiring one and deciding whether to go forward with a lawsuit.

The civil justice system is designed to provide compensation for real injuries, and the more the system is abused, the less it’s able to help those who need it the most.

Our courts should not be used to seek revenge or try to “hit the lawsuit lottery.” Conflicts are inevitable in our society, but a lawsuit should be the last resort, not the first choice. Many disputes can be resolved informally, through phone calls, letters, or personal meetings. Make sure you have exhausted all other means before bringing a costly and disruptive lawsuit.

We think an informed Texan is the best tool to fight lawsuit abuse and to make informed decisions about when and how to find a lawyer when those circumstances warrant.  Becoming a sharp legal consumer means understanding your rights, asking the right questions, and being aware of potential pitfalls or common lawsuit scams.

Being a smart legal consumer can be the best weapon against lawsuit abuse. It really does start with you.

D’Anne Buquet is executive director of Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse in Corpus Christi.

Sergio Contreras is president and CEO of Rio Grande Valley Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. 

Bobby Jenkins is a board member of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of Central Texas. He is president and CEO of ABC Home & Commercial Services.