01.23.2020 0

Deregulate the legal profession and protect the rights of those who represent themselves in court

By Richard McCarty

Republicans should support reforming the legal profession and the legal system. As it is, the legal system is pretty much of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the lawyers. Although we have many lawyers in this country, their services are unaffordable for many Americans. The high cost of legal services is likely the reason that an estimated 30 million people, which is nearly 10 percent of the population, go to court each year without a lawyer. Americans deserve more options than just shelling out thousands of dollars – that they may not have – for a lawyer or taking their chances representing themselves in a court system that is stacked against them.

One of the reasons why legal fees are so high is because law schools are so expensive; and one of the reasons that law schools are so expensive is because of the American Bar Association’s standards for law schools. Here are just a few of the ABA’s expensive and unnecessary requirements for law schools that wish to obtain or maintain their accreditation: law degrees must take three years, all law faculty must be full-time at most law schools, professors’ teaching loads must be light, and law libraries must be filled with copious amounts of books despite the fact that most legal research is done online. By making law school unnecessarily expensive, the ABA creates a hurdle for minorities and those with low incomes. For these reasons, the Trump Administration should terminate its recognition of the ABA to accredit law schools.

Furthermore, the bar exam requirement is a barrier to competition in the field of law and should be eliminated. The exam is also a waste of time: it requires months of study and memorization of a broad spectrum of laws when most lawyers specialize in particular areas of law. Although defenders of the bar exam claim that it helps ensure the quality of lawyers, the fact of the matter is that the bar exam bears very little relation to the day-to-day work of a lawyer – and passing the bar in no way means that one is a fit lawyer.

The legal profession should be more like the medical and accounting professions. In medicine, paramedics, nurses, and nurse practitioners are being allowed to provide more care than they were previously allowed to provide. In accounting, non-CPAs are allowed to handle many accounting functions. Similarly, in the field of law, non-lawyers, such as paralegals, should be able to provide legal services to clients including such things as writing wills, filing for bankruptcy or divorce, and reviewing real estate contracts. To further increase competition, more states should allow lawyers to practice law across state lines. In addition, just as taxpayers can turn to TurboTax for help with their income taxes, so those in need of legal services should be able to turn to legal technology companies, such as LegalZoom, for more than just basic legal forms. One way to increase the likelihood of legal innovation would be to allow non-lawyers and investors to own law firms, which is currently prohibited in most jurisdictions.

Finally, the court system should be made more friendly to pro se litigants (those who represent themselves in court).  For example, courts should have instruction forms for filing documents and appearing in court, much like the IRS has instructions for filing taxes. By posting instructions online, courts could likely reduce the number of errors made by pro se litigants as well as reduce court delays. Judges found to be biased against pro se litigants should be removed.

Our courts and legal profession are in desperate need of reform. In many ways, they are stuck in the past, and their arcane rules serve to keep legal costs high and make it difficult for average citizens to get justice in our courts. To address these problems, Republicans should embrace legal reform to help lower costs and give more options to those in need of legal services.

Richard McCarty is the Director of Research at Americans for Limited Government


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