I recently attended a seminar where a lawyer-lobbyist opined that non-lawyers should not be lobbyists. Influence peddling, it seems, should be the sole province of lawyers. Not that much explanation was given. Perhaps none was needed. After all, most in attendance were lawyers. Somewhere in the lawyer DNA is genetically grafted an exaggerated belief that “Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.”
Not that it’s true — especially in lobbying where cunning, connections, comprehension and experience count as much if not more than a legal education. Nevertheless, those advocating the supposed advantages of lawyer-lobbyists over nonlawyer-lobbyists also sniff that “Nonlawyer lobbyists lack a system of obligatory ethics norms akin to the Rules of Professional Conduct.” Apparently it matters little that such self-serving smugness is undercut by the likes of former lawyer-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Bottom line, for lawyers fiercely wedded to the medieval guild’s monopoly-has-its-privileges — free market competition sucks. Or to Ben Franklin’s “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” — add with certitude the protectionist instincts of lawyers.
The ABA takes the lead.
Under the sheltering cover of “ponderous, backward looking, and self-preserving” bar associations, licensure was the sine qua non to supposedly protect “the uninformed public against incompetence or dishonesty.” Or at least that’s what Professor Walter Gelhorn said in “The Abuse of Occupational Licensing” where more significantly, he also pointed out how such pretextual public protection always has “the consequence that members of the licensed group become protected against competition from newcomers.”
Ah, the joys of monopoly or as Professor Gerard Clark explains in “Monopoly Power in Defense of the Status Quo: A Critique of the ABA’s Role in the Regulation of the American Legal Profession,”
“Since its founding in 1878, the American Bar Association (ABA) has served the legal profession in two principal ways: by limiting membership in the profession, and by protecting its prerogatives. It has done so by: advocating a system of licensing backed by unauthorized practice rules; supporting and then regulating law schools and thereby diminishing the apprenticeship-clerkship route to admission; regulating the delivery of professional services through detailed professional codes; by lobbying the state and federal legislatures for favorable legislation; providing a continuous public relations campaign to put the bar in a favorable light; and supporting the growth of state bar associations that press for these prerogatives at the state and local level. The result is an outsized and comfortable profession that is costly, and inefficient. By seizing the initiative in the creation of a trade association, which simply declared itself the official voice of the bar over all aspects of the profession (although less than one-third of the 1.2 million lawyers in the United States are ABA members), and then convincing state bar authorities to accept its judgments, the ABA accomplished its goal of self-regulation through the use of monopoly power.”
Lawyer regulation to protect the public sounds good. But by regulating who can practice law, lawyers also maintain a monopoly on who provides legal services. The legal establishment accomplishes this by regulating the unauthorized practice of law (UPL) either by statute or court rule. But the rub is that bar association regulators have an inherent conflict of interest. On the one hand, they’re supposed to protect and serve the public by regulating lawyers. But at the same time, they function like trade associations promoting the legal profession’s common interests.
These two purposes conflict because lawyers and the public often have different interests. When these interests conflict—such as when out-of-state lawyers or lower-cost legal services wish to compete with lawyers — lawyers use their regulatory powers to stop that competition.
Last year, for example, in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against a protectionist North Carolina Dental Board, the State Bar of North Carolina settled its suit against LegalZoom. LegalZoom is now free to offer online document services and prepaid legal services plans to North Carolinians.
Here in Arizona, examples of lawyer interests trumping public interests include the Arizona State Bar’s efforts to stop realtors in the 1960s, legal document preparers in the 1990s, and out-of-state lawyers in the 2000s from offering services in Arizona.
When it comes to access to justice, those at the temple precincts mean access to just-us.
Credits: The governors of the guild of St. Luke, Haarlem, 1675 by Jan de Bray, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Theodoor Rombouts, Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; other photos via Morguefile.com, no attribution required.