Bugher

By MARK B. BUGHER

HUNTINGTON -- The United States Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform has released its 2010 report on the legal climate of all 50 states, and once again West Virginia rates dead last on every single measurement criteria.

This report, conducted by Harris Interactive for the U.S. Chamber, seeks to measure the perception of almost 1,500 in-house general counsels, senior litigators or attorneys, and other executives who indicate they are knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues.

Why should we care what these people think? It is simply, like it or not, these people who make or influence the decisions at large companies as to where to locate, expand or shut down major manufacturing and other business around the country.

And although there are always arguments about the methodology of the survey, the meaning of it, and whether or not it represents reality, it really doesn't matter. And let's face it, there has to be some underlying reason that we are in last place year after year, and two thirds of the respondents report that the litigation environment in a state is likely to impact important business decisions.

Stated another way, almost a thousand $100 million companies in the U.S. have said that West Virginia's legal climate would negatively impact their business decisions about this state! How can we continue to ignore this and expect to ever have any substantial growth in our economy?

Fortunately, the Governor and the Legislature are starting to address this issue, with the recent high-level review of our judicial system, and the development of a "business court" in the state to help handle complex business contract disputes. However, these small changes that do move us more toward the mainstream legal climate of other states will most likely leave us still in last place when the 2011 survey results are released.

The Huntington region was recently named the most unhealthy and fattest area in the country, and we were up in arms over that! How dare the rest of the country think that? We saw immediate steps being taken by many groups to address this critical health issue. Obesity and health are directly related to the poor economy in many ways. Yet by not addressing the state's poor legal climate perception, we are basically ignoring a major factor that contributes in a large way to our continued place on the bottom of the list for job and business growth.

Although our legislative leaders have made progress in addressing civil justice reform, we must continue to push for further reform that at least puts our legal climate in the mainstream with other states, and encourages business leaders at a thousand $100 million companies to give us another look.

Bugher is president and chief executive officer of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce.

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