Imagine if all Unauthorized Practice of Law statutes magically disappeared overnight, allowing anyone to give legal advice. What would happen? I’ve already speculated that the poor and the middle class would probably benefit more than be hurt by such a change.
But how would people and organizations that can easily afford attorneys respond to this change? I suspect they wouldn’t behave much differently than they do now. The current system works for them, so why change anything?
Doing Just Fine, Thanks
I don’t know many wealthy people, but I suspect they see lawyers in a more positive light than middle-income people generally do. If you have a lot of money, you need to protect it and figure out what will happen to it when you die. Like everyone else, the rich get married, have kids, and get divorced, but there’s a lot more money at stake. The wealthy probably think of their lawyers the way we think of our dentists—someone we see regularly to make sure everything is going well and to prevent future problems. The middle class think of lawyers as those people you have to hire for a lot of money when things have really gotten bad. The poor don’t think about lawyers much at all, since they can’t afford them.
And the wealthy can not only afford lawyers, they can afford the most expensive lawyers. While the fact that a lawyer charges high fees doesn’t guarantee good work, the wealthy refer good lawyers to each other just like middle class people do, and warn each other about the bad lawyers. So, good high-fee lawyers stay busy.
Big Business Wants BigLaw
While would-be entrepreneurs would certainly seek to benefit from advice from experts that don’t happen to be lawyers, businesses like large publicly-held corporations would continue to hire big law firms to handle their legal needs. When a company spends several million dollars a year just on printer paper, it isn’t going to give a non-lawyer expert a chance to handle the litigation if that contract for paper turns into a disaster.
Given the continuing flow of wealth (and its accompanying influence) toward the already-wealthy, the fact that the wealthy and powerful would not have to change the way they handle their legal business perhaps makes the notion of opening up the business of legal advice to anyone seem not quite so crazy after all.
Next week: What Effect on Lawyers?