More Lawyers than People: The Global Multiplication of Legal Professionals
The Paradox of Professionalism: Lawyers and the Possibility of Justice, Scott L. Cummings, ed., Chapter 4, pp. 68-89, February 2011
Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper Archival Collection
Posted: 28 Dec 2013 Last revised: 22 Jan 2014
Date Written: 2011
Looking back, I am impressed by how many institutions that once seemed bedrock foundational parts of the world - railroads, corner stores, newspapers - have disappeared or morphed into things quite different. But it is not always easy to tell which things are in decline and which are in the ascendant. At mid-century, it appeared to many observers in the United States that law had reached its maturity. Litigation was in a deep trough. Knowledgeable judges and practitioners lamented its decline. As late as 1963, the Dean of the Wisconsin Law School observed that "law is a dwindling profession. In numbers it has remained fairly constant while everything else grows." But through the corrective lens of hindsight we can see that at that very time, law in the United States - and elsewhere - entered a period of unprecedented growth on a number of dimensions - the amount of litigation, the number of lawyers, the density of legislation and regulation, expenditures on law, and its presence in public consciousness. I think it is fair to refer to this growth as legalization.
At least one part of this legalization complex - an increase in the presence of lawyers - is not confined to the United States, or to advanced industrial countries, or to common law jurisdictions, but is visible across a great part of the world. Lawyers everywhere are multiplying. After documenting this, I compare this growth to the trajectories of other dimensions of legalization. Then I shall suggest how other features of societies and legal institutions are related to this growth. I then make a number of surmises about the implications of these trends for the development of the legal profession and the law. I emphasize that these remarks are speculative; My generalizations are based on fragmentary data and subject to modification as I learn more about the variety of local conditions. There is, as you may suspect, a North Atlantic and common law bias since the United States and the United Kingdom are, along with India, the legal professions with which I am most familiar. I hope to present a wide panorama - a bit blurry and containing many blank spaces - rather than a precise portrait. If this galactic view suppresses differences and overstates similarities, I hope it has the compensating virtues of generating plausible hypothesis and inspiring collaboration in filling in those blank spaces.
It should not be surprising to approach changes in law and its place in society by examining changes in the number, organization, and work of lawyers. Lawyers are, after all, an incarnation of the law, its products and its agents. Oliver Wendell Holmes famously observed, "When we study law we are not studying a mystery but a well-known profession." Does this work the other way around? Can the study of lawyers tell us about law as an institution? Does the increasing density of lawyers portend that the world is getting more "legalized" as well as more lawyerized? And what does this mean? Does it refer to a normative condition in which the exercise of power is channeled and restrained by legal standards? Or are we just talking about the presence and prominence of distinctively legal institutions - laws and courts and lawyers and lawsuits? Certainly the recent past has brought us more legality in the second, behavioral sense - a more prominent role of law in society - but what does it say, if anything, about the rule of law? Does it mean that events are increasingly controlled by legal principles or legal procedures? Or does it simply mean that law "reigns" in the sense of supplying the language or idiom through which rule is exercised or appears to be exercised.
Keywords: Lawyers Congresses, Practice of Law Congresses, Legal Ethics Congresses
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation