Is It Time to Deregulate the Law?

In today’s WSJ, Clifford Winston and Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution argue that now is the time for the legal profession to deregulate.

The reality is that many more people could offer various forms of legal services today at far lower prices if the American Bar Association (ABA) did not artificially restrict the number of lawyers through its accreditation of law schools—most states require individuals to graduate from such a school to take their bar exam—and by inducing states to bar legal services by non-lawyer-owned entities. It would be better to deregulate the provision of legal services. This would lower prices for clients and lead to more jobs.

Occupational licensing limits competition and raises the cost of legal services. But those higher costs are not justified when the services provided by lawyers do not require three years of law school and passing a particular test. One example is LegalZoom.com, an online company which sells simple legal documents—documents that should not require pricey lawyers to prepare—like do-it-yourself wills, uncontested divorce documents, patent applications and the like.

The competition supplied by new legal-service providers, who may or may not have some type of law degree and may even work for a non-lawyer-owned firm, will not only lead to aggressive price competition but also a search for more efficient methods to serve clients.

They are also co-authors of a new book, First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers.

Are Winston and Crandall right? Although it may be against my own economic interests to say so, I am inclined to think they are. For more on this subject, check out Truth on the Market’s forthcoming online symposium on whether to deregulate the legal profession. In addition to Crandall, confirmed participants include Bill Henderson, Bruce Kobayashi, George Leef, Jon Macey, and Richard Painter, with more to come. It should be good.