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Trouble at the Bar

An Economics Perspective on the Legal Profession and the Case for Fundamental Reform

Clifford Winston, David Burk, Jia Yan
Release Date: March 2, 2021

Deregulating the legal profession will benefit society by improving access to legal services and the efficacy of public policies.

Lawyers dominate a judicial system that has come under fire for limiting access to its services to primarily the most affluent members of society. Lawyers also have a pervasive influence throughout other parts of government. This is the first book offering a critical comprehensive overview of the legal profession’s role in failing to serve the majority of the public and in contributing to the formation of inefficient public policies that reduce public welfare.

In Trouble at the Bar, the authors use an economic approach to provide empirical support for legal reformers who are concerned about their own profession. The authors highlight the adverse effects of the legal profession’s self-regulation, which raises the cost of legal education, decreases the supply of lawyers, and limits the public’s access to justice to the point where, in general, only certified lawyers can execute even simple contracts. At the same time, barriers to entry that limit competition create a closed environment that inhibits valid approaches to analyzing and solving legal problems that are at the heart of effective public policy.

Deregulating the legal profession, the authors argue, would allow more people to provide a variety of legal services without jeopardizing their quality, reduce the cost of those services, spur competition and innovation in the private sector, and increase the quality of lawyers who pursue careers in the public sector. Legal practitioners would enjoy more fulfilling careers, and society in general and its most vulnerable members in particular would benefit greatly.

Praise for Trouble at the Bar

Trouble at the Bar takes an empirically based hard look at the state of the legal profession in the United States. It examines the barriers in place for regulating entry through law schools and restrictions placed on purveyors of legal services. It makes a compelling case for deregulating many aspects of the profession and opening it up to fresh approaches. It is a serious book about a serious problem and warrants a close read.”
—Jame J. Heckman, Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, University of Chicago; research fellow, American Bar Foundation

Trouble at the Bar is an extraordinary book. It surveys and analyzes—with great conceptual and empirical sophistication—the organization of the entire U.S. legal system and the legal professionals who staff it, from the dreams of students choosing to attend lower-rated law schools to lawyers working in the office of the Solicitor General to the lawyers on the Supreme Court itself. Every person in America should understand at some level the operation of the legal profession. Trouble at the Bar provides the basis for that understanding.”
—George L. Priest, Edward J. Phelps Professor of Law and Economics, Yale Law School

Authors

Clifford Winston, the Searle Freedom Trust Senior Fellow in the Brookings Institution’s Economic Studies program, has been with Brookings since 1984. He is an applied microeconomist who specializes in the analysis of industrial organization, regulation, and transportation.

Winston has also been co-editor of the annual microeconomics edition of Brookings Papers on Economic Activity. Prior to his fellowship at Brookings, he was an Associate Professor in the Transportation Systems Division of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Civil Engineering. He has published numerous books and articles, including, most recently, Autonomous Vehicles: The Road to Economic Growth?, with Quentin Karpilow (Brookings 2020) and First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers, with Robert Crandall and Vikram Maheshri (Brookings, 2011).

David Burk is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Economics at Georgetown University.

Jia Yan is Professor of Economics at Washington State University.


Media Coverage

Barron's 08/04/2022

How to Get Ideology off the Supreme Court

The Legal Profession and the Case for Fundamental Reform: Conclusions and Recommendations

The Legal Profession and the Case for Fundamental Reform: Ideological Polarity and Packing the Supreme Court

The Legal Profession and the Case for Fundamental Reform: Access to Justice

The Legal Profession and the Case for Fundamental Reform: Introduction

Barron's 06/04/2021

The New Push for Antitrust Cases May Backfire

Barron's 16/03/2021

Pack the Supreme Court — with Economists