In my Thoughts on Law column last week I reviewed an editorial by Clifford Winston and Robert W. Crandall, and added another idea to bring choice and competition into the legal industry. Over the weekend I received an email from Mr. Winston, and I’m happy to report that he enjoyed my article. He also generously provided me a copy of his book First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers, co-authored with Crandall and Vikram Maheshri. (You can purchase a copy from the Brookings Institution here).
I haven’t had a chance to read it thoroughly, but I did give it a quick run-through. What really jumped out at me were the per capita lawyer numbers. In the United States we have 3.06 lawyers for every thousand people; only Greece has more (not very pleasant company these days). Most developed nations are well below that figure, with Japan having a very low figure of 0.17 lawyers per thousand.
What amazes me is that America has such a shockingly large number of lawyers, yet the authors discuss how regulatory obstructions to entering the practice of law keep the number of lawyers artificially low. That gives us an idea how badly over-lawed we are in this country! As I have argued before, in addition to regulatory reform we also need to simplify the laws of this country, as well as legal processes—as a former commercial litigator I can tell you that litigation in this country is a nightmare.
But for all of the authors’ well-reasoned proposals for regulatory reform of the legal industry, there is one enormous obstacle that I didn’t see mentioned—lawyers are largely self-regulated, meaning that the legal industry would have to willingly subject itself to many of the proposals, which isn’t likely. In many (if not most) jurisdictions, regulation of the practice of law is delegated to the courts via state constitutions. The deregulation of law may have to include constitutional changes, which is a messy process with uncertain odds of success.
Again, I have not read the book thoroughly yet, so let me apologize in advance if the difficulty of reforming the largely self-regulated legal industry is in the book, and I hope one of the authors corrects me if he reads this article. (I will update this post as neceesary if that is the case.)
This article is also posted at The Country Thinker.