Deregulating lawyers: not more incompetent lawyers but fewer lawyers

Larry Ribstein —  30 October 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.

Larry Ribstein

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Professor of Law, University of Illinois College of Law

One response to Deregulating lawyers: not more incompetent lawyers but fewer lawyers

  1. 

    What do you think about eliminating the J.D. requirement for the practice of law? A lot of the contributors to the legal deregulation symposium referenced above seemed to think this was a good idea. But, I wonder what sort of implications it would have for law professors, which is pretty much everyone on this blog. If law schools can no longer charge $40,000 a year per student, then what will happen to your job, Professor Ribstein? You have to admit, your job is pretty nice. You probably don’t teach more than two classes a semester, which means that you only *actually* work about 3-4 hours a week, not including, of course, those annoying exams you have to grade at the end of the semester. The rest of the time is spent writing on blogs and reading journal articles. Pretty nice, if I do say so myself. Are you prepared to give all that up so that the “legal market” can become more efficient? What about the security (and likely luxury) of your family, or the families of all the other Law Professors? To think, you guys might have to go back into private practice!!!