The battle against the high frequency traders

A ‘flash crash’ can knock a trillion dollars off the stock market in minutes as elite traders fleece the little guys. So why aren’t the regulators stepping in? We talk to the legendary lawyer preparing for an epic showdown

Back in the 1990s, when doctors had all but given up on holding the American tobacco industry to account, the lawyer Michael Lewis found an ingenious way through their defences. If juries couldn’t see past individuals’ responsibility for their habit, he reasoned, why not sue on behalf of individual states and their smoke-burdened Medicaid systems? Lewis gathered a team and tested the approach. In 1994, on behalf of the state of Mississippi, he sued 13 tobacco companies for the cost of treating cigarette-related illness; they were joined by another 38 US states and, under intense pressure, Big Tobacco agreed to pay $368.5bn. The industry’s nemesis became legal legend.

A proud Mississippian, Lewis wears his intellect with quiet southern grace; he listens before speaking and never interrupts. In almost half a century of legal practice, he thought he’d seen everything, but over 14 years of retirement he watched the world lurch towards a new technology-driven feudalism, defined by disparities in wealth that were more keenly felt in his own state than most. He was feeling ready for another dragon to slay.

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