Photo by Tofayel Ahmed on Unsplash
I see television ads, signs, and billboards for lawyers, and hear lawyers advertising on the radio. Do we really need all these lawyers? Aren’t there too many lawyers?
Words by Nelson P. Miller
Yes, we need the lawyers.
The nation has about 900,000 lawyers in private practice. That is about 1 lawyer for every 350 U.S. residents. The nation has many more accountants (about 1,760,000) than lawyers but somewhat fewer doctors (about 700,000). Only about two thirds of those who earn a law degree actually practice law.
Other lawyers work in government, business, education, and the nonprofit sector. Employment statistics suggest that we do not have too many lawyers. Only about two percent of lawyers are unemployed. The unemployment rate for all occupations is several times that number. Even during the depths of the latest recession, lawyer unemployment remained around two percent, while the rate for all occupations went to ten percent.
Lawyers, doctors, and veterinarians traditionally have the lowest unemployment of the 50 or so professional occupations that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks. New lawyers take some time to pass the bar and find jobs and clients, but the nation does not have a large percentage of unemployed lawyers. The opposite is true that lawyers find plenty of good work to do. Lawyers contribute to the nation’s economy. Lawyers and their law firms give good paychecks to paralegals, administrative assistants, secretaries, bookkeepers, and other staff.
Lawyers and their firms lease, buy, and build offices, which they fill with purchases of furniture, equipment, and even artwork. Lawyers and their firms buy supplies and services. Yet lawyers are also economic drivers for their clients. They help their corporate clients form companies, acquire capital, buy and sell goods and services, employ workforces, and protect inventions. They help their individual clients acquire, manage, control, and protect wealth, while passing it on to the next generation. Lawyers even help turn one unproductive household into two productive households, through divorce and other family law services.
In this economic context, asking if the nation has too many lawyers is like asking if it has too many butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. In general, lawyers are marvelously productive, working famously long hours while juggling many matters. They use and manage their time, technology, transportation, and wits extraordinarily well, while helping others do so.
Lawyers do not make tangible things like cars and furniture that you can readily see and appreciate, but they do make tangible documents like contracts and wills the effects of which are obviously beneficial. Lawyers are productive and valuable even when they are simply giving advice rather than drafting documents. For wayward clients, every course correction is a value add. While you often cannot see what lawyers produce, they are nonetheless hugely productive. What you may have noticed is that lawyers advertise more today than they once did.
Advertising is an important aspect of access. Not everyone has a lawyer on their block or in their congregation. Advertising is especially likely to reach and help those who do not know a lawyer, would have trouble locating one, would fear the cost, and would doubt themselves or their need or matter. Attorney discipline boards regulate lawyer advertising to ensure that it is accurate and not misleading, among other things. Lawyers who exaggerate their qualifications or results may lose their license.
Some people find lawyers offensive when they contact grieving individuals who have just suffered significant loss, say, after a car, plane, or train crash. Few of us would want a lawyer showing up at an accident scene or hospital, as film or television sometimes portray. Actually, though, conduct rules prohibit lawyers from in-person solicitation. You can call or visit a lawyer, but a lawyer should not be calling or visiting you seeking fee-based work without your invitation.
Lawyers restrict their appeals to print and other advertising. States have also enacted rules prohibiting lawyers from any contact, even written appeals, within a reasonable period after an accident. So if you have concerns over misleading or offensive advertising, contact your state’s attorney discipline board or bar association for referral of the matter to investigators. We need the lawyers, but no lawyer should be giving all lawyers a bad name.
To read more from Nelson Miller, check out his book Top 100 Questions Friends & Family Ask a Lawyer on Amazon.
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