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Trouble in the Legal Industry

Posted by Steve Markowitz on May 18, 2014

The Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby has published some telling statistics concerning the legal industry. According to Jacoby, 35 years ago when then Chief Justice Warren Burger said that America was turning into “a society overrun by hordes of lawyers, hungry as locusts“, there were 450,000 attorneys in the United States with law schools graduating 34,000 per year. By 2011 these numbers increased to over 1.2 million lawyers with graduation rates at approximately 44,000 per year. Thus, the population of lawyers tripled during this time period when the overall population of the United States grew by only 40%.

lady-justiceHowever, significant changes are occurring in the field of law. According to Jacoby, in 2011 only 50% of graduating lawyers obtain jobs with law firms with only 65% finding positions requiring passage of a bar exam. Given these upside-down results and the efficiencies offered by the Internet and technology, the number of law school students has dropped significantly in more recent years. Even the law industry is not spared invisible hand of the market.

While market forces are in the process of rebalancing supply demand for lawyers, there are larger issues involved. According to Jacoby, the United States has the largest number of lawyers of any country and even a greater number as a percentage of the population. Why has this occurred? Has the increased number of lawyers improved overall society? Answers to these important questions can go a long way to explaining the decline of the United States in recent decades.

It is not coincidental that the explosion in the population of lawyers has occurred at the same time as the skyrocketing growth of big government, its bureaucrats, and regulations. An inordinate number of our politicians come from the legal community. It is not surprising therefore that they create laws requiring intervention of the legal industry to interpret and litigate.

In addition, litigation often benefits the legal industry more than litigants. This result is not surprising given not only the increase in the number of lawyers requiring income, but the fact that responsibility for overseeing litigation is given to judges who come from the legal industry.

Society often rejects the reliability of self-regulation due to inherent conflicts. When it comes in the medical community, the legal industry is often given the task of controlling malpractice. Police are typically overseen by civilian boards. The airline industry has the FAA. Companies that pollute have the DEP. The examples are nearly endless. It is therefore curious that two significant parts of American society are allowed to self-regulate, politicians and the legal industry. It is more curious than Americans accept this obvious inequity.


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