Eric Talley on Deregulating Lawyers: Comments From a Knee-jerk Skeptic

I have spent the last few days reading the recent study by Clifford Winston, Robert W. Crandall, and Vikram Maheshri, entitled “First Thing We Do: Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers” (Brookings Institution, 2011, $19.95).  In it, the authors marshal a variety of empirical methods to argue that the current practice of state bar admission and licensing of attorneys imposes an inefficient barrier to entry that keeps incomes high and reduces access to needed legal services (particularly among the poor). Moreover, the authors argue that the oligopoly rents enjoyed by practicing lawyers have grown further as the federal bureaucracy has grown, essentially feeding a legal / regulatory beast that that artificially increases the demand for lawyers, exacerbating the oligopoly problem.  Given these observations, the authors conclude that the current practice of law is severely afflicted by anticompetitive barriers to entry, regulatory capture, and artificially inflated prices.  In response, they advocate a good old school form of deregulation of the legal industry, allowing free (or nearly free) entry into the profession.  Although they are open to keeping state bar exams around (primarily as certification devices), bar membership should not be – in their view – a necessary condition to the practice of law.

Read the full piece here.