Just finished reading Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession by Benjamin Barton. Barton nicely sets out the evolution of the profession in the United States and builds upon much of the empirical work about the US legal profession and study of US law schools. It is a good overview work of how the profession and law schools have evolved and is a great place to start for someone beginning to form their thoughts about the legal profession. The book would be good reading for anyone seriously considering law school.
One thing that struck me in the access to justice discussion is Barton’s recounting of the profession’s view that the problem can only be solved by ensuring that everyone has access to a lawyer. This is consistent with things that I have heard at various ethics and professionalism conferences. At this year’s Federation of Law Societies Ethics Conference in March one of the presenters said something to the effect that ‘the public wants access to a high quality, well trained lawyer’.
Of course, if the only tool you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail. In my experience people are not looking for lawyers what they are looking for is a reasonable solution to a problem. Sometimes a lawyer is a necessary guide to the solution but in many other cases information, decision matrices, or, possibly, artificial intelligence maybe the answer. Touting lawyers as the only answer may be good for the profession but I do not think that it is the best answer for the public.
However, these alternate methods of obtaining legal solutions then force us (society) to answer the question how do we ensure quality of these services. Are we prepared to let consumers decide the level of quality that is good enough for them in the same way that we let them choose a car (think BMW vs, Yugo)?
In any event I think the title probably should be ‘The Decline and Hoped for Rebirth of the Legal Profession.’ Barton charts the decline and has some hopeful comments about what the future could look like, but I do not think (and neither does Barton really) that we are at the pivot point.