Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Do we need more lawyers?

Anonymous asks, in comments:
Do we really need more lawyers? I once heard a statistic that America has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined. That may be a bit of hyperbole, but it does make me question the wisdom of making it easier to obtain a law degree. Wouldn't we be far better off with more skilled laborers, engineers, etc. than more lawyers?
Good question, but that wasn't really the thrust of the post.

The question of how many lawyers to we need is appropriate to the market. Market forces will decide how many lawyers we need. A wise man once told me (and he was probably quoting from Mark Twain) that if there was one lawyer in a little town, he'd starve to death, but if there were two, they'd both make a good living. But again, that's not the point of the discussion.

The concern is that law school is no longer available to a great number of people. One of the concerns that some folks have in the political arena is that there seems to be a gentry class on the ascension in the United States. It's the old canard about the privileged few and the unwashed masses. The privileged few (the Gentry) get to make the rules and the unwashed masses can only aspire to rise above their station. One of the common motivators in the US is that anyone can rise to be better educated, better earners than their parents and that we have a gentry of achievement rather than a gentry of birth. Education and personal drive are the two basic prerequisites to success in this country.

So, the question becomes: Are we better served by attorneys who descend from a particular economic class and are able to afford to spend three years preparing to pass the bar exam, or would we be better served by having attorneys from a wider economic pool? Do we want law schools to follow the public-service model? Is the law not designed to protect everyone? Should not everyone be allowed the opportunity to participate? Understand, I'm not recommending that we dilute the standards for entry, just that the pool of potential students be as wide and deep as possible.

Another question in the debate is not so much do we have enough (or too many) lawyers, but do we have the right kind of lawyers?

I agree that generally the country is served best by those folks who are productive, who build things that need building and fix things that need fixing. We need folks from all walks of life, all doing what they do best to make this country a productive, inventive and technologically advance society. Someone still needs to dig the ditches and haul the garbage. We won't argue about that.

Thanks for helping me sort through my thoughts.

1 comment:

Windy Wilson said...

Lawyers, laws and contracts are needed the more people deal with strangers. Third world countries have fewer lawyers, and fewer laws, and notably, a lot less economic activity because rather than dealing with somebody that actually knows the financial side of the business, some guy who knows manufacturing partners with his cousin, because a blood relation is seen as less likely to cheat a relative than would a stranter. Consequently the businesses in the third-world countries are less efficient because they don't take the best managers they can get.
As for the legal system in America, there was a TV commercial about 20 years ago, with a mechanic bending over the engine of a car. He explained how preventive care prevented costly repairs, and solemnly intoned, "you can pay me now, or pay me later."
Criminal law is a different matter, but civil practice falls into two main categories, entity/contract formation, and fighting over the language of the contracts after some dispute arises. A lot of civil lawsuits essentially boil down to hiring two lawyers and a judge to decide what the parties would have though about some situation if they had thought about it before hand. Lawyers have a reputation among entrepreneurs as "deal killers", because they ask questions that make the parties think and one party or the other backs out of the deal. "Pay me now or pay me later" applies here, too.