Last week, a lot of controversy was stirred up when Clifford Winston suggested that we completely do away with law school and the bar exams, and just let anyone who wants to practice law. According to Clifford Winston, the barriers that the exams create ”simply…protect lawyers from competition with the non-lawyers and the firms that are not lawyer owned. This is a competition that could greatly reduce legal costs and give the public a greater access to legal assistance.”
Yet, no one is convinced. Carolyn Elefant ”pick[ed] apart Winston’s assertions piece by piece in an effort to diminish his credibility.” Elefant took some issue with Winston’s assertion that costs would go down if the non-lawyers were able to practice. Also, Elefant cited in an example that using Legal Zoom could cost three, maybe even four times what it would normally cost a lawyer to perform the same exact task.
So who is right here? Winston or Elefant?
If we set aside all the problems with Winston’s factual support, his premise poses a significant threat to small-firm lawyers. If we do as Winston suggests and we no longer require law students and state licenses to practice law, then the law firms will be replaced by law businesses.
As Winston says:
”At the same time, if corporations, and not just law firms, now structured as partnerships, could provide legal representation, their technological sophistication and economies of scale could offer much more affordable services than established law firms do. These firms, in turn, would have to reduce prices to compete.”
If this change were to occur, law firms would start to resemble shopping malls. There would be the mom-and-pop stores (which would be the law firm hold-outs) and the huge departments stores, both higher-end (including a majority of actually trained and licensed attorneys) and discount shops (a warehouse full of untrained and unlicensed practitioners). There may even be a few solo people wandering around. They’re the ones that like to shove used bath salts in your face, ask to curl your hair for you, or want to give you a massage, when you’re just trying to peacefully shop in the mall.
If you were to look at a mall directory from 15 years ago, you would notice that something was missing. It would a complete lack of the independent stores that we took for granted. Its the same in the real world. In a tough economy the poor small stores can’t compete with the big superstores.
What would happen to us if we took away the law school and the license requirements? Would that mean a complete end to small law firms? Or would they try to stick through it? How could small firms try to take down the superstore that is the Winston variety of attorney? They wouldn’t even stand a chance.