I never thought I’d say that, since I’ve spent a good many years trying to keep students out of law school. But here I am just taking my cue from the New York Times, which editorializes today that we have a crisis of inadequate legal resources available to the poor. The editors may have a point. They do not, however, have a solution. They propose 1) more federal spending on legal services for the poor; 2) more professional devotion to pro bono work; 3) throwing a few bones to nonlawyers to perform some simple (and not very remunerative) services; and 4) more of a push by law schools to get graduates into such work.
The Times has never met an economic incentive, it seems, or pondered the effects of guild (i.e., cartel) behavior. The other day in the Wall Street Journal, a far cleaner solution was proposed to the problem the Times identifies–and a lot of other problems besides: Deregulate the legal profession. We can start, argue Clifford Winston and Robert Crandall, by dismantling the stranglehold the ABA has on the profession:
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 non-lawyer-owned entities. It would be better to deregulate the provision of legal services. This would lower prices for clients and lead to more jobs.
Lower fees, more access, a fairer justice system–just what the Times is after. But do the editors love the poor more than they dote on the ABA?