Business of Law

Are There Too Many Lawyers--Or Too Many Lawyer Restrictions? Op-Ed Calls for Deregulation

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Trucking and telephones have been deregulated, so why not law practice?

The authors of a Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) op-ed are endorsing the idea. The problem isn’t too many lawyers, according to Clifford Winston and Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution. The problem is the regulatory scheme that restricts legal education and the entities that can offer legal services.

“The reality is that many more people could offer various forms of legal services today at far lower prices if the American Bar Association (ABA) did not artificially restrict the number of lawyers through its accreditation of law schools—most states require individuals to graduate from such a school to take their bar exam—and by inducing states to bar legal services by nonlawyer-owned entities,” the authors say. “It would be better to deregulate the provision of legal services. This would lower prices for clients and lead to more jobs.”

Winston is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Crandall is a nonresident fellow in the Economic Studies Program. They suggest that accounting firms, management consulting firms, insurance agencies and investment banks could offer legal services. Law schools don’t need to be the only option for those pursuing a legal education, they say. Students could attend vocational and online schools and take apprenticeships without acquiring formal legal education.

While large companies would still likely hire lawyers trained at traditional law schools, consumers seeking a simple divorce or a will could hire those with less formal legal training, Winston and Crandall say. “Just as the medical field has created physician assistants to deal with less serious cases, the legal profession can delegate simple tasks,” they write.

The New York Times also addresses the topic this week in an op-ed that argues low-income people could get more help for their legal problems if nonlawyers were allowed in the mix. “The American Bar Association has insisted that only lawyers can provide legal services, but there are many things nonlawyers should be able to handle, like processing uncontested divorces,” the Times says.

Additional coverage:

Simple Justice: “No Lawyers, All Lawyers”

Updated on Aug. 25 to include articles by the New York Times and Simple Justice.

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