Food For Thought

Do We Really Need All Those Lawyers?

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

I was talking with a student enrolled in the School of Business at George Mason University. I asked him what he planned to do after graduation and he said, “Go to law school.” He wanted to be a corporate lawyer.

Entering the law profession is the goal of a significant number of college graduates. Do we really need that many more lawyers? I thought crime was on the decline. Maybe not — seems like there are a lot of individuals in the corporate world going to jail these days. In the past, the law profession was held in high esteem. Today, I don’t believe it commands the same high degree of public respect, a very troubling idea with major ramifications.

The U.S. has about one lawyer for every 200 adults. We are a society of laws, and maybe the number of lawyers means we have too many laws. A large percentage of elected officials are lawyers. Thomas Jefferson said, “If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send 150 lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?”

Good lawyers are an absolutely necessary element in a great democracy, but I think we may have too much of a good thing. And in the next decade, the number of lawyers will increase by 50 percent to approximately 1.5 million. I just don’t believe we will need that many more lawyers.

Who’s to blame for the overload of lawyers? We usually blame the schools and, in this case, that’s probably correct. Every university wants to produce lawyers. I can remember when George Mason was seeking approval for a law school. A law school is like a medical school: they both bring instant credibility. Today, George Mason University School of Law gets about 5,000 applications each fall and accepts between 20 and 25 percent of the applicants.

Consider those types of numbers across all the other institutions offering law degrees. It’s obvious we have and are producing too many lawyers. You must feed what you breed, so we can look forward to a more complicated society, where the simplest problems are solved in the courtrooms.

There was a time when many people defended themselves in court proceedings, a practice I hope we see more of in the future. Do you really need an attorney for all legal issues? It’s been said that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client. This is a statement probably written by a lawyer, and I disagree with the premise.

I’ve appeared in court several times. In some cases hiring a lawyer was a good decision. In one case involving homeowner’s covenants, I decided against hiring an attorney. I felt that if the courts were truly just, they would make the right ruling regardless of the presenter. I read some legal material and prepared myself for trial.

When I arrived in the courtroom, the judge asked if I was representing myself and I said, “Yes, your honor.” He asked me to sit where the attorneys sit during the case. The plaintiff had hired an attorney. I’d gotten some advice from friends with legal backgrounds and one told me not to be afraid to object. The judge asked for opening statements and the plaintiff’s attorney began an overview of his client’s position in the case. I immediately jumped to my feet and said, “I object your honor, he hasn’t proven any of those things.”

The judge smiled and said, “Mr. Bonfadini, he’s only making an opening statement. Would you like to say something?” I did, but my stupidity also got the point across that I wasn’t afraid to take on the system. After a three-hour trial involving numerous witnesses, the judge told me that I made a good attorney and saved myself a lot of money. I responded by saying, “I didn’t do it to save money, I just don’t believe these types of issues should be solved in a courtroom.” A few days later I got a ruling in my favor. So much for a fool as a client.

If the law becomes so difficult that a person can’t defend himself in the simplest case, then where is democracy going? It rests in the hands of a few who will negotiate my welfare in almost everything.

The idea for this column came during a recent visit to Tampa, Fla., to see the grandkids. Almost every other billboard in the Tampa area has some attorney telling me how they will get me the money I deserve for my injury or some other issue. To me the tone is offensive. Legal advertisements have become epidemic.

A large part of the cost of doing business is legal expense. Do you have a tax attorney? I don’t. Any tax system that needs an attorney is far too complicated. I’d love to see the IRS changed, but I know I’m barking at the moon.

There is an obvious need for competent legal assistance. My wife and I just received some from a local attorney who helped us develop a will and medical directives. I could have done it on LegalZoom, but I chose to seek professional help. As we seek to control the cost of government, we may also want to rein-in legal costs for both the general public and business.

A few years ago a third-grade teacher asked me to assist in presenting a science unit on simple machines. One young lady was disturbing the other students, so I attempted to correct her behavior by requesting she sit in another chair. She responded by saying, “No, and if you touch me my parents will sue you.”

I called my attorney to determine what legal parameters I could use to make her sit down. He said, “Not many — just pray she responds to your request.” I responded, “Isn’t school prayer illegal?”

Kids have already been taught that all problems are solved in the courtrooms. It’s time for a change. 

Whats Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: bsherrod@odec.com, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.

 

 

 

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