Do We Really Need All Those Lawyers?
by Dr. John E.
Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University
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
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
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
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
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?”
have already been taught that all problems are solved in the courtrooms.
It’s time for a change.