Deregulating lawyers: not more incompetent lawyers but fewer lawyers

Cite this Article
Larry Ribstein, Deregulating lawyers: not more incompetent lawyers but fewer lawyers, Truth on the Market (October 30, 2011),

Jordan Weissman is scared about Winston & Crandall’s plan to deregulate all the lawyers.  He admits that the idea has some appeal, but concludes that “a lot of it is also completely bunk.” He says the proposal is basically irrelevant for big law, where clients are looking for top talent (although he’s on board with non-lawyer financing of big firms).  But for small-time lawyers, “without licensing you’ll welcome incompetent lawyers into the market.”  He doesn’t have W & C’s confidence in third party intermediaries’ ability to do the screening or that “most consumers will be savvy enough to do their research and protect themselves.”

Weissman has a point: the idea of simply deregulating the whole industry is too simplistic.  But he needs to check out our symposium before assuming that the alternative is just a few relatively modest tweaks.

The possible futures aren’t limited to the “legal profession” as we know it today, but extend to the creation of a legal information industry.  Deregulation isn’t all about lawyer licensing. Most importantly, it will involve dismantling the regulatory infrastructure that requires legal information to be parsed out by lawyers one client at a time. Kobayashi and I discuss some of the possibilities.

The likely consequences of meaningful deregulation will not be more incompetent lawyers.  Rather, lawyers will have to prove their value against an array of technologies and information services that make legal advice cheaper and more accessible to ordinary consumers.  Whether or not they continue to be licensed, lawyers will have to get better in order not to be replaced by machines.  Licensing may remain, but its domain will shrink.  The changes throughout the existing profession are likely to be vast.