a business stands accused of greed, or especially profiting off of
the misfortunes of others, reporters understandably take it to task.
But their critical faculties depart when anyone outside of the
corporate world engages in greedy behavior.
Case in point: lawyers and
the infamous millennium, or Y2K, bug. If widespread problems with
computer programs occur when the clock strikes midnight on January
1, 2000, attorneys will be one group that is not disappointed. Many
law firms already are creating special units to handle lawsuits
against numerous companies, including those who are trying to fix
the glitch. But in their increasingly large amount of Y2K reporting,
most journalists havenít noticed this bit of avarice.
On every other angle of the
millennium bug story, reporters have been thorough. A Nexis search
found 16 stories about the Y2K bug in Newsweek, Time, and
U.S. News & World Report during October and November alone.
Newsweekís Sarah Van
Boven and Arlyn Tobias Gajilan, for example, note in a November 30
article that while "most of us havenít gotten around to securing
dinner reservations for Dec. 31, 1999, secular survivalists have
figured out exactly how many pounds of lentils and Kraft macaroni
and cheese their families will need if computer failures disrupt the
countryís food distribution system."
In the November 23 U.S.
News & World Report, Avery Comarow points out that "America has
far outspent other nations in deploying an army of programmers and
purchasing new hardware to exterminate the Y2K bug, according to
[the consulting firm] Cap Gemini." An October 12 Time story
about buying computers for business purposes dutifully reminds
readers that "any decision you make should take into account the Y2K
Polls about Y2K are also
becoming common. The October 5 Newsweek reports on a survey
that asked, "Who should monitor and report on progress in solving
the Y2K problem?" Thirty-four percent of respondents suggested the
government, 23 percent private business, 16 percent non-profit
organizations, and nine percent the media. The November 30
Newsweek informs readers that those concerned about Y2K are "not
just folks on the fringes." Its poll of high-tech executives found
that 56 percent didnít think the bug would be fixed in time and 60
percent wouldnít be flying on January 1, 2000.
But not one of the 16 major
news magazine stories mentioned the rush of lawyers seeking to cash
in on any problems created by the bug. To learn about that, readers
had to go to the business magazines. Business Weekís Marcia
Stepanek, in that magazineís November 9 edition, reports that "Y2K
is well on its way to becoming the next litigation bonanza."
According to Stepanek, law
firms are targeting high-tech companies and consulting firms,
expecting hundreds of millions in legal fees, sparking fears that
many companies will be more concerned with liability than with
fixing the problem. She quotes Y2K attorney Vito Peraino as saying,
"On this mess, everyone is either a potential litigant or a
potential target, or both."
This isnít a new concern,
either. According to Susan Adams, in the July 28, 1997 Forbes,
"The prospect of this [Y2K] mess has lawyers drooling." She quotes
Y2K attorney Steven Hock, who expects $1 trillion in legal and
liability costs, as saying, "This thing is going to be on the same
scale litigation wise as the environment, the S&L crisis and
asbestos combined," and Panama City, Florida plaintiff lawyer Wesley
Pittman as saying, "Itís the biggest class action I can imagine!"
But the non-business media
have yet to notice that one group of Americans is gleefully
anticipating Y2K disruptions.