Deregulate, Don’t Subsidize the Legal Profession

An op-ed in today’s New York Times argued that not enough lawyers served the poor. The author, Theresa Amato, therefore proposed that the government should subsidize lawyers and lawyering. It should provide more funds for the Legal Service Corporation, a federal entity that offers legal services for the underserved. It should provide more loan forgiveness for lawyers who work in the “public interest.” Law schools should provide more clinics to make lawyers practice ready for low-income service

Ms. Amato may well be right in believing that the poor need more lawyers, although her own evidence is relatively weak, focusing on a few unrepresentative rural jurisdictions. Moreover, the poor might well choose to take the money by which the state subsidizes lawyers and spend it instead for other goods and services that would more greatly improve their lives.  But, whatever the need, Amato’s proposals are the wrong way to solve the problem. We should deregulate the legal profession to lower its costs, rather than subsidize it.

The cost of most law schools is far too high, but forgiving student debt will just encourage law schools to charge more. Instead, we need to create a variety of lower cost platforms for legal education. I have suggested an undergraduate option and the University of Arizona has initiated such a program. The Arizona Supreme Court should now create a program letting undergraduates sit for the bar.

My dean, Dan Rodriguez, and Sam Estreicher of NYU law school have suggested allowing students to sit for the bar after two years of law school. This would also be a positive development. More generally the ABA should radically deregulate their accreditation requirements for law schools, permitting law schools to differentiate their programs. Law is a very variegated profession and a lawyer serving Goldman Sachs likely needs more training than a divorce lawyer for the poor

But deregulation should not stop with the legal education. Unfortunately today, lawyers are trying to use norms against the unauthorized practice of law prevent firms like Legal Zoom from using machines to provide cheap services to the poor and middle class. As machine intelligence improves, the alternatives will become only more effective unless they are blocked by a greedy and self-interested bar.

States should also experiment with permitting paralegals to undertake relatively simple legal tasks on their own after graduating from a certificate program. Just as physician’s assistants can deliver a lot of medicine efficiently so can such legal practitioners.

Finally, Amato who has forthcoming book, Liberated Lawyering: How Lawyers can Change the World, has proffered proposals that would also advance the left-liberal agenda by providing government resources to a group that, as I have argued before, promotes the larger state. “Public interest” lawyers tend to promote that objective most of all. Deregulation will not only serve poor, it will help prevent the lawyer class, particularly the professoriate, from becoming a more powerful left-wing pressure group.

Reader Discussion

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on June 18, 2015 at 08:46:43 am

[…] Deregulate, Don’t Subsidize the Legal Profession […]

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San Francisco Defies the Right to Arms - Freedom's Floodgates
on June 18, 2015 at 16:13:09 pm

Yeah, yeah, generally agree with making it easier to get a law license. But the effect of subsidizing lawyers is not so much to promote statism as to promote the interest of those who don't already have lawyers (i.e. the little guy) against those who do (the big guy). And government is a big guy. Does McGinnis really think it would be a bad thing for more people to have the resources to challenge tax assessments, fight eminent domain, resist arbitrary public school rules, etc?

And anyway, what about the Texas license plate case?

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on September 24, 2015 at 21:23:25 pm

I agree that the legal profession should be deregulated.

It will lower the cost of legal services, reduce corruption in courts and allow people to secure independent court representation, representatives not afraid to lose their license and livelihood for doing their jobs and raising sensitive issues.

My position is that it is unconstitutional to regulate the practice of law, and especially prosecute UPL criminally, while many states do not clearly define what the practice of law is.

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Tatiana Neroni

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