Attorneys Should Stop Doing Pro Bono Work

The American Bar Association, a far-left organization for lawyers, encourages lawyers to donate fifty hours of “service” to the “community” (including religious groups, poor folks, civil rights organizations, etc). Many Americans think that this is a kind gesture of the ABA, a sign that it cares about ensuring that legal services can be made available to as many individuals as possible. Just the opposite is true. The American Bar Association is committed to very high legal fees from now to eternity.

The American Bar Association provides accreditation for 200-member law schools in America. This accreditation process reduces the flexibility of law schools because they are required to spend money on things that they otherwise would choose not to spend money on simply to please a committee of elite lawyers who are committed to high legal fees. Yes-that is the secret of the American Bar Association: the main reason for its existence is to make law school as expensive as possible, which reduces the supply of new lawyers, and also ensures that lawyers must charge very high billable hours simply to recoup the cost of attending law school.

The American Bar Association has been successful in its efforts to raise the wages of attorneys. According to the Department of Labor, the median annual wage of all attorneys was $110,590-and that’s in 2008! The results have not been so great for the consumers of legal services, however. There is no free-market for legal services. Attorneys must go to law schools, which are restricted and regulated by the state, and pass a bar exam that is regulated by elite attorneys who are committed to restricting the supply of new attorneys. As a result, attorneys can charge these inflated rates knowing that some organizations and individuals will pay for it. However, a lot of individuals don’t get legal representation at all because they can’t pay for the artificially high wages that attorneys charge.

1 in 9 Americans filing for bankruptcy do so without an attorney. Bankruptcy is complicated and confusing, but Americans can’t afford an attorney because attorneys have created a highly regulated monopoly. In California, 4.3 million individuals are self-represented! In cases where child custody are at stake, nearly 67% of petitioners are self-represented. For individuals being evicted from a leased property, 90% are self-represented. In general, 80% of poor Americans who need civil legal aid receive none at all. The American Bar Association believes that the only way to fix the problem that they created (imposing high costs on those training to be lawyers and thus reducing the supply) is to ask lawyers to work for free! This is immoral for several reasons.

For one thing, by asking lawyers to provide their services for free, it creates the artificial image that the legal profession “cares” (is altruistic) towards the public and actually places the needs of “the public” over the needs of the legal profession. This is false and evil. Why would law students accept $100,000 or more in debt in order to provide free legal services to the public? This would be a form of self-sacrifice that places the interests of others above one’s own interests. Further, this false altruistic message discourages any attempt at reforming the legal profession by moving it in a free-market direction. Those who are locked out of receiving legal services would then wonder why there is a service that has prices that most consumers could never hope to pay for. Such individuals would be amenable to a growing movement to de-regulate the legal profession so that individuals could receive legal services at an affordable rate.

Like any other valuable product or service, you get what you pay for. The public should not expect any “free” legal services from attorneys. In other industries, people don’t expect freebies. Accountants don’t work for free. Neither do engineers. The only way to ensure that individuals can afford legal services is to liberate the profession such that it has a real market for its services, rather than the artificial supply dislocation that has transpired for decades. Instead, we only need to look to why the high prices exist in the legal profession rather than try to create a “band aid” by ignoring where the genuine problems arise.

Legal services are highly regulated at every possible level. Law schools seek the prestigious “American Bar Association” approval, but in doing so, the schools lose the flexibility to run their school in a manner that reflect the best judgment of the management of that law school. For instance, the American Bar Association regulates how many minutes of instruction time a student must endure prior to graduation; the amount of time spent in school (two years is the minimum number of years) required to get a JD; a ban on outside employment for more than 20 hours per week; regulation of distant learning courses; etc, etc. Further, the state bar association of every state in the union requires that law graduates pass a bar exam which asks questions that are completely unrelated to the type of questions that attorneys are likely to encounter in the legal profession. There is no evidence whatsoever that such tests ban incompetent individuals from the practice of law. All of these factors discourage individuals from applying to law school, force out students who are discouraged by the process, and bans perfectly capable individuals from the practice of law who are unable, for one reason or another, from passing a bar exam. A better answer would be to allow any individual to practice law, especially civil law, but to inform clients of their level of education and experience in handling the matter in question. Not every part of the law is complicated or impossible for a novice to figure out. A lot of legal matters are routine and should not require a law degree. Deregulation worked for the airline industry, and it will work wonders for the legal profession. Let’s try it.


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