This article is posted on the Cato Institue’s website. Cato is a think thank in Washington, D.C. that has
approximately a twenty-five member policy staff. Mr. Leef’s articles on UPL say everything that we have
been saying to the court, so we are not alone. The truth is out there. (Bold or red emphasis is added.)
by George C. Leef
George C. Leef is president of Patrick Henry Associates and an adjunct scholar with the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He earned a J.D. from Duke University in 1977.
Lawyers are not a popular group among the general public, and the high price of legal services in
part accounts for their poor reputation. A principal reason for those high prices is the lawyer’s
monopoly on providing legal services. Every state except Arizona has an "unauthorized practice of
law" (UPL) statute that makes it illegal for anyone who does not meet the requirements set by state
bars to render legal assistance. Lawyers invariably argue that UPL statutes serve the public interest.
Wrote F. M. Apicella, J. A. Hallbauer, and R. H. Gillespy II in the American Bar Association
Journal (1995), repealing UPL statutes "would result in the most unwary, guileless members of the
public being incompetently represented and advised, if not victimized and defrauded."
But the notion that the best or only way to protect consumers of legal services is to prevent them
from hiring people without bar membership is based on fundamental fallacies. First, it assumes that
only governments can protect consumers. Second, it assumes that a government-sustained monopoly
has no adverse effects that might offset purported benefits. And third, it ignores the mechanism that
best protects the interests of all consumers—the free market.
All UPL statutes prohibit individuals from legally practicing law without bar membership. Bar
membership, in turn, has four prerequisites for aspiring legal practitioners: (1) they must earn a
college degree; (2) they must graduate from an approved law school; (3) they must pass the state’s
bar exam; and (4) they must convince the bar that they are "of good moral character." Such criteria,
however, did not always hold. According to Dietrich Rueschemeyer in Lawyers and Their Society,
as late as 1951, 20 percent of American lawyers had not graduated from law school and 50 percent
had not graduated from college.
Lawyers argue that licensure protects consumers from unqualified or unscrupulous practitioners, but
it is more likely that licensure protects lawyers from competition. Many economists and even some
lawyers have assailed licensing laws as special interest legislation that is supported by those who
want to restrict competition, not protect the public interest. As Professor Walter Gellhorn of
Columbia Law School wrote in the University of Chicago Law Review (1976):
Licensing has only infrequently been imposed upon an occupation against its wishes . . .
Licensing has been eagerly sought—always on the purported ground that licensure
protects the uninformed public against incompetence or dishonesty, but invariably with
the consequence that members of the licensed group become protected against
competition from newcomers.
Gellhorn’s comments apply to members of the legal profession who sought licensing laws. While they
argued that licensing was for the public’s benefit, no test of competence was imposed on those who
were practicing law when the UPL statutes were passed.
Judge Richard Posner likens the legal profession to a medieval guild with an elaborate structure of
internal and external controls designed to suppress the kind of marketplace competition that it claims
is "unbefitting." In the Indiana Law Journal (1993) Posner wrote:
[The legal profession] was an intricately and ingeniously reticulated, though imperfect,
cartel. Governmental regulations designed to secure the cartel against competition and
new entry from without, and centrifugal, disintegrative competitive pressures from
within, held the cartel together against the dangers that beset and ordinarily would
destroy a cartel of so many members.
Cartels hold together better when there are fewer members and the cost of meeting membership
requirements is high. Professor Roger Cramton of Cornell Law School wrote in the Case Western
Law Review (1994), "When the opportunity costs of foregone income are taken into account, the
investment in human capital presently required to become a lawyer amounts to at least $100,000."
That cost prices many potential practitioners out of the field and requires those who can afford a
legal education to charge high fees.
Licensure is not the sole cartel-protecting device used by the bar. In the past, the bar restricted
competition by prohibiting advertising and requiring adherence to bar-established fee schedules.
Those restraints, however, have been swept away. In Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar (1975) the
Supreme Court struck down bar-imposed fee schedules, and in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona
(1977) the Court ruled against advertising restrictions; both cases were argued on antitrust grounds.
UPL statutes, however, are still a major barrier to competition in legal services.
The English Example
The practical case for permitting a free market in legal services is supported by several case studies.
In England, for example, conveyancing services—that is, the legal work associated with transferring
real estate titles—had been a legal monopoly for over a century. But in the 1970s, the public
complained about the high cost of those services. Like bar associations in the United States, the
English Law Society had restrained competition with recommended fee scales and a prohibition
against advertising. As Avrom Sherr and Simon Domberger wrote in the International Review of
Law and Economics (1989), "The conveyancing monopoly came to be viewed with increasing
hostility by aspiring homeowners and by a government committed to greater competition."
Consequently, in 1984 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government announced that, beginning in
1987, the market would be opened to "licensed conveyancers" who were not members of the legal
profession. That edict began what Sherr and Domberger call "a unique, controlled experiment in the
liberalization of the supply of legal services." The result was that the market for conveyancing
services was transformed even before licensed conveyancers entered the market. The authors wrote:
Fees started to fall in 1984 . . . a full three years before licensed conveyancers entered
the market. By 1986 the discriminatory element in the combined fees charged for sales
and purchases of property had fallen by one-third. . . . The threat of competition has
yielded significant welfare benefits. Price discrimination has been reduced,
conveyancing costs have fallen in real terms, and there has been a measurable
improvement in consumer satisfaction.
The market for legal services clearly responds to economic laws. More competition, brought about
by eliminating artificial barriers to market entry, lowers prices and increases the quality of available
The Arizona Example
Arizona has also opened up its market for legal services. In1986, Arizona’s UPL statute expired and
the legislature declined to reenact it. Since that time, many businesses offering legal assistance by
nonlawyers have opened. The benefit to consumers of having the option of contracting with
unlicensed practitioners is illustrated in Arizona Attorney (1994):
Bob Haves knew he needed help in filing for a divorce when a nine-year search finally
turned up his wife in Georgia. But when the air-conditioning and heating mechanic was
told by an attorney that he needed to pay an $800 retainer up front, Haves balked.
Instead he turned to one of a growing number of legal document services in Arizona
that helped him prepare and file his divorce and even sort through child support, child
custody, and spousal maintenance problems. Haves believes that the $175 he paid for
the service was a bargain.
Haves saved $625 because he was able to shop around for the help he needed.
In California there has been a de facto move away from the lawyer monopoly. The California bar
has stopped taking action under the state’s UPL statutes against unlicensed practitioners, for
example, those offering divorce and other services in low-income neighborhoods. So far there has
been no outbreak of customer complaints about unlicensed practitioners providing low-quality
Repealing UPL statutes would be particularly beneficial for low-income Americans. A study
commissioned by the American Bar Association found that in 1987, 40 percent of Americans near
or below the poverty line experienced civil legal problems for which they had no legal assistance.
With a free market in legal services, those individuals could patronize an affordable, unlicensed legal
practitioner. The success of such businesses in Arizona indicates that many people regard that
option as a good alternative to lawyers.
The Bar’s Defense
Bar supporters argue that without UPL statutes, incompetent or dishonest practitioners would harm
consumers. But that is a case of looking only at the supposed hazards of a free market while ignoring
the palpable benefits. For example, the president of the Michigan bar, Thomas G. Kienbaum, wrote
in Michigan Lawyers Weekly (1995),
[George Leef] would no doubt not allow a member of his family to be operated on by
a nurse any more than he would have a will or estate plan prepared by an insurance
agent. Yet, he appears to advocate a legal system that would leave the fates of children
and families—particularly the poor—to the whims of an unregulated, incompetent or
even unscrupulous marketplace.
But most individuals, including those who are poor, are careful decisionmakers. Few individuals
would ask a nurse to perform a heart operation, a bookkeeper to perform a difficult accounting
analysis, or a patent lawyer to defend against a murder charge even if doing so appeared cheaper
than the alternatives.
Moreover, the consumer’s self-interest is not the only protection against incompetent practitioners;
the provider’s self-interest is also important. It is very much in the provider’s interest to perform the
tasks for which he has contracted and not to leave dissatisfied clients in his wake. A bad reputation
will lose customers and money. Professionals who fail through incompetence lose the investments
they made in their enterprises and their prospects for future success.
Nonlawyers routinely refer cases that are outside their competence to lawyers, even though they are
not bound by law to do so. In Arizona and California referrals from paralegals to lawyers are
common. That indicates that nonlawyers tend not to take cases that they feel are beyond their level
of competence. In a leading Michigan unauthorized practice case, State Bar v. Cramer (1976), the
record disclosed that the defendant had referred over six hundred cases to lawyers. Referrals,
another filter against foolish contracting, work to protect consumers from incompetent practitioners.
Experience shows that the vast majority of UPL cases are brought by bar organizations, not injured
consumers. Actual cases of harm to clients due to incompetent or dishonest nonattorney assistance
are rare. Professor Deborah Rhode wrote in the Stanford Law Review (1981) that of all UPL
inquiries, investigations, and complaints in 1979, only 2 percent arose from consumer complaints and
The Canadian experience is similar. In particular, the province of Ontario reserves most legal
services for bar-approved attorneys. The Report of the Task Force on Paralegals, prepared for
Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General in 1990, analyzed the 155 cases of unauthorized practice
brought from 1986 to 1989. The task force found that 87 percent of the cases had been brought by
lawyers, governmental agencies, or the Law Society. Moreover, the report stated, "Those few
complaints of incompetence or fraud related to one independent paralegal business [that is] no longer
in operation." The report concluded:
The great majority of clients of independent paralegals feel that they have received
satisfactory legal services. In fact, the information assembled by the task force suggests
that any intimation of large scale incompetence or fraudulent activity by independent
paralegals is incorrect and misleading.
Consumers and Information
Supporters argue that UPL statutes help the public assess the competence of service providers.
Supposedly, in a free market consumers of legal services generally would be unable to judge the
quality of prospective unlicensed practitioners.
There is an element of truth in that argument. It is difficult for consumers to obtain information on the
quality and reliability of one-time purchases of certain goods and services. How does one know who
is a good architect, accountant, or lawyer?
But the market for legal services is no different from markets for other services when it comes to the
problem of uncertainty, and consumers would approach the problem in the same way. Consumers
would ask friends, relatives, and associates to recommend a service provider. They might also be
aided by various indicators of success, such as business location. Consumers might also contact
agencies, governmental and nongovernmental, that maintain records of complaints against businesses.
Finally, consumers might choose to use certification as a screening device if they have reason to
believe that possession of a certain certificate shows a level of competence relevant to their needs. In
a free market for legal services, consumers would use the same information-gathering techniques to
assess the competence of unlicensed practitioners that they now use to assess the competence of
licensed ones. The only difference is that they would have a wider field of choice than they do now.
Competence and Credentials
Supporters of UPL statutes contend that only practitioners who have the right credentials can
properly assist people with legal problems. "Members of the bar are required to pass a state bar
examination which insures a minimum level of legal competency," contends Ryan Talamante in the
Arizona Law Review (1992). And the Michigan Supreme Court decision in State Bar v. Cramer
Those persons offering advice on legal matters regarding child custody, contract and
property rights, inheritance, separate property, and support, to name the more
significant, must possess a measure of competency and judgment to insure proper
The implicit assumption behind those statements is that the only way a person can demonstrate the
degree of knowledge and judgment needed to render legal assistance is by taking all of the steps
required for bar membership. That assumption does not withstand critical examination.
Law school provides a broad but shallow education. Would-be lawyers learn a smattering of many
subjects but none in depth. In-depth training usually does not begin until graduates land a job and
enter an area of specialization. In the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics (1990) Rhode notes:
An increasing specialization in legal work, coupled with a growing reliance on
paralegals and routinized case-processing systems, undercuts some of the traditional
competence-related justifications for banning lay competitors. Law school and bar
exam requirements provide no guarantee of expertise in areas where the need for
low-cost services is greatest: divorce, landlord/tenant disputes, bankruptcy,
immigration, welfare claims, tax preparation, and real estate transactions. In many of
these contexts, secretaries or paralegals working for a lawyer already perform a large
share of routine services, and this experience has equipped a growing number of
employees to branch out on their own.
A law school education, while valuable, does not guarantee competence. For example, a
fresh-out-of-law-school attorney is incapable of handling many complex legal matters. A newly
admitted bar member is almost never equipped to handle, for example, worker’s compensation
litigation, but there is no law against "unauthorized worker’s compensation practice." Such a law is
unnecessary. The legal profession and the public rely on market incentives and disincentives to see
that attorneys who claim to have worker’s compensation or any other type of expertise have
The Federal Example
Another indication that individuals without bar approval can adequately render legal services is that
most federal administrative agencies permit unlicensed practitioners to represent parties in cases
before them, both adversarial and nonadversarial. According to the Results of the 1984 Survey of
Non-Lawyer Practice Before Federal Administrative Agencies, published jointly in 1985 by the
ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Responsibility for Client Protection and the Center for
Professional Responsibility, there have been few reports of problems with lay advocates.
The U.S. Patent Office administers a competency test that both attorneys and nonattorneys must
pass before they can bring cases before the office. There is no evidence to suggest that the
nonattorneys are any less capable than the attorneys in dealing with the complexities of patent law
and procedure. And in the case of Sperry v. Florida Bar (1963), the Supreme Court rebuffed an
attempt by the Florida bar to prevent a non-bar member from representing Florida clients in
Accountants, who are usually not bar members, frequently advise their clients on tax matters, and
"enrolled agents" are permitted to appear before the U.S. Tax Court on behalf of their clients in
disputes with the Internal Revenue Service. Accountants usually understand tax law as well as or
better than many lawyers. As Barlow Christensen argues in the American Bar Foundation
Research Journal (1980):
The accountant who lives every day in the field of tax law almost surely has an
understanding of that field comparable to a lawyer’s understanding. Indeed, a proficient
accountant probably knows and understands the tax laws far better than does the
general practice lawyer.
In Michigan, nonlawyers are permitted to represent parties in proceedings before the Michigan
Employment Security Commission (MESC). That requires considerable knowledge of the relevant
law, but there is no evidence that claimants or employers have been ill-served by nonlawyers. The
Michigan bar in 1985 fought to have a slight ambiguity in the wording of the Michigan Employment
Security Act interpreted in a way that would place MESC cases under Michigan’s UPL statute, but
In many states, nonlawyer real estate agents have been successfully preparing legal conveyancing
documents for years. In Arizona, for example, a state supreme court decision in 1961 ruled that such
work constituted the "practice of law" and was therefore illegal (State Bar of Arizona v. Arizona
Land Title & Trust Co.). The realtors mounted a campaign, vigorously opposed by the state bar, to
overturn that decision by amending Arizona’s constitution. The public voted in favor of the
amendment by almost four to one. Since the adoption of that amendment, no evidence of consumer
harm from incompetent document preparation has come to light.
The Discipline Argument
Defenders of UPL statutes make much of the fact that licensed attorneys are subject to disciplinary
actions, such as disbarment or sanctions. One objection to this argument is that the bar’s disciplinary
system is an inadequate consumer protection mechanism. In the Loyola Consumer Law Reporter
(1991) attorney Deborah Chalfie wrote:
Nationwide, more than 90 percent of all discipline complaints are dismissed. The bulk
of these complaints are dismissed at the screening stage because they are considered
outside the agency’s jurisdiction, which is confined to enforcing the ethical rules that
govern lawyers. Thus, even if all the complaints about over-charging, neglect, and
incompetence are true, they state no violation of the ethical rules and are therefore
The bar’s discipline system does little to deter poor service because sanctions are almost never
levied for anything less than criminal behavior, gross and repeated negligence, or unconscionable
Supporters of UPL statutes also argue that bar membership is a seal of approval that guarantees
quality for consumers. That argument is belied by the fact that when the bar administers sanctions, it
often does so secretly; thus, the public gains no valuable information on the reliability of the
attorney who has been the subject of disciplinary action. Moreover, bar sanctions seldom redress the
financial loss to the client. The alleged efficacy of the bar’s disciplinary system to protect consumers is a
very slender reed upon which to base the prohibition of legal practice by non-bar members.
Moreover, the absence of a formal system for disciplining unlicensed legal practitioners does not
mean they are not subject to disciplinary forces. The competitive marketplace has powerful, built-in
incentives for providers to supply high-quality goods and services, which minimizes the need for a
formal disciplinary apparatus. As Professor Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law
School wrote in Simple Rules for a Complex World (1995):
There’s a regrettable tendency among lawyers to say that if there is no legal remedy,
there is no constraint on human behavior at all. Social sanctions cannot be ignored in
determining the institutional value of any legal arrangement. No one is socially a free
agent where others depend on him, and customers should not be treated as strangers
whose preferences are to be disregarded simply because they are unable to win a
lawsuit . . . . Virtually everybody involved in business recognizes the enormous
importance in business affairs of preserving a reputation for fair and honest dealing. . . .
Where the reputational bond is strong, the legal bonds may be weak, because the
incentives for good conduct can be secured without having to incur the extensive
administrative costs of any system of liability.
Finally, even if the bar’s system of attorney discipline were effective, it would not follow that people
should be deprived of the option of contracting for legal services with unlicensed practitioners. The
bar’s discipline system is arguably one reason why consumers may prefer to deal with licensed
attorneys. But just because one product has a superior feature does not mean that consumers should
be prohibited from choosing other products.
Local bars presumably will attempt to convince consumers that they will be served better by highly
educated, licensed attorneys who are subject to professional disciplinary action for malfeasance. In
that way, bar membership could serve as a seal of approval similar to the Underwriters Laboratories
label for electrical appliances. If consumers regard the "protection" afforded by the bar’s disciplinary
system as worth the added cost, they will act accordingly. They should not, however, be deprived of
freedom of choice merely because the bar has an established disciplinary system.
An Alternative to UPL Statutes
Certification is a sound alternative to licensing that does not restrict consumer choice. It is a means of
informing consumers that a service provider possesses one or more specific qualifications, and it
need not involve the government. For example, the Certified Public Accountant designation is earned
by those who can pass a rigorous accounting examination, but the exam is voluntary. There is no
"unauthorized practice of accountancy" statute. Consumers of accounting services are free to hire
accountants who come with the private seal of approval and a higher price tag, or they may use a
non-CPA who they believe will meet their needs at a lower cost. Certification provides information
without restricting consumer options. In Capitalism and Freedom (1962) Milton Friedman wrote:
The usual arguments for licensure, and in particular the paternalistic arguments, are
satisfied almost entirely by certification alone. If the argument is that we are too ignorant
to judge good practitioners, all that is needed is to make the relevant information
available. If, in full knowledge, we still want to go to someone who is not certified, that
is our business; we cannot complain that we did not have the information. . . . I
personally find it difficult to see any case for which licensure rather than certification can
Bar membership too is a form of certification. Without UPL statutes, bars might make this
informational device more useful to consumers by certifying attorneys in various subfields of law.
The great advantage of certification is that it is subject to the test of the market. Consumers decide
whether the higher fees that typically accompany contracts with certified practitioners are worth the
service. Without UPL statutes, the bar’s steps to certification would be put to the test of the market
as well. Are three years of law school really necessary? Are two years sufficient? If one can pass the
bar exam, is graduation from law school necessary? The need to serve consumers should force bars
to review and probably refine their requirements and rating systems.
Whatever the purposes of UPL statutes, their principal effect is to limit the freedom of individuals to
engage in voluntary transactions. UPL statutes restrict free exchange against the will of those who
would sell legal services without bar certification and the customers who would purchase those
The nineteenth century French political and economic thinker Frederic Bastiat proposed this test for
bad laws: "See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen
himself cannot do without committing a crime." UPL statutes certainly fall into this category.
Consumers are better-off if they can shop for the goods and services they want in a free market. By
imposing a very high and costly barrier to entry, the state makes consumers worse off. The case for
repealing UPL statutes was summarized well by W. Clark Durant, former chairman of the Legal
Services Corporation, in a speech before the ABA in 1987:
We should encourage at every turn the ability of entrepreneurs, para-professionals and
lay people to be a part of the delivery of legal services to the poor and for all people.
I’ve met many eligible clients around the country who can quite capably be advocates
in resolving disputes if barriers to practice did not exist. How can doors be opened to
others to participate in this profession? In serving others, a private sector deregulated
legal profession can deliver a good quality product in much the same way that a good
commercial enterprise does. . . . We let the free competitive energies of creative and
energetic people in the private sector provide and deliver for us. . . . Such people exist
for the delivery of legal services but are blocked by UPL statutes and aggressive bar
efforts to halt them.
UPL statutes are inconsistent with the optimal price of legal services, and they are inconsistent with
the freedom of individuals to peacefully interact. For those compelling reasons, all UPL statutes
should be repealed.
by George C. Leef
George C. Leef is president of Patrick Henry Associates in East Lansing, Michigan,
and adjunct professor of law and economics at Northwood University.
Every state except Arizona prohibits the unauthorized practice of law (UPL); a person must possess
an attorney's license to hold himself out as a lawyer. UPL prohibitions restrict the right to pursue a
legitimate occupation and the right to contract with others. By imposing a costly barrier to entry,
they distort the market for legal services. Consequently, consumers face higher prices and fewer
UPL prohibitions are part of a wider phenomenon: governmental limitations on freedom to engage
in voluntary economic transactions. Before the New Deal, the Supreme Court regarded economic
liberty as worthy of constitutional protection. Since 1937, however, the Court has drawn a
distinction between "fundamental" and "nonfundamental" liberties, with economic liberties consigned
to the latter category.
Governmental interference with fundamental liberties faces "strict scrutiny" from the courts and is
frequently invalidated, whereas interference with economic liberties receives only minimal scrutiny,
implying that legislatures may do virtually anything in the field of economic regulation. That distinction
is without any constitutional basis.
UPL prohibitions are neither necessary nor sufficient to protect consumers from incompetence.
A competitive market, reinforced by remedies for fraud, breach of contract, and negligence, offers the
optimal combination of price and quality.
Because they infringe upon individual freedom and serve no legitimate public purpose, UPL
prohibitions should be repealed or struck down by the courts as unconstitutional.
The Legal Profession Defends Its Turf
by George C. Leef
George C. Leef is president of Patrick Henry Associates and author of the just-published
Cato Institute Policy Analysis "The Case for a Free Market in Legal Services".
Chances are that you've seen Norman Dacey's book, How to Avoid Probate! which has
been helping Americans steer away from the shoals of probate for more than 30 years,
without the expense of an attorney. Today, you will find this book and many other self-help
legal books available in stores. But did you know that if the legal profession had had its way,
Dacey's book would have been kept off the market?
The New York Bar Association sued to prevent sale of the book on the ground that it
constituted "unauthorized practice of law." Fortunately, the New York Court of Appeals
ruled in favor of Dacey and the freedom to publish. But the allure of using government power
to stifle competition never goes away.
Currently, the state bar of Texas is waging war against Nolo Press, a publisher of self-help
law books. A state bar committee has been "investigating" to determine whether the sale of
Nolo's books and computer programs violates the Texas unauthorized practice statute. A
hearing before the Texas Supreme Court is scheduled for October 21.
The case ought to be a slam-dunk win for Nolo Press. The First Amendment is an awfully
clear statement that government must not interfere with freedom of the press. Even if one or
more of Nolo's books were inaccurate or deficient -- and there is no evidence of it -- there
are better ways of dealing with that than to open the Pandora's box of allowing the
government to decide what books may be sold.
Nolo's travails ought to lead us to think not only about the First Amendment, however, but
also about the very concept of "unauthorized practice of law" (UPL) itself. In every state
except Arizona, there is a legal prohibition against practicing law without a license from the
government. When bar organizations bring UPL cases, they almost always say that the laws
are necessary to protect the public against dishonesty and incompetence. That's a weak
To get a lawyer's license, you must pass the bar exam, and you're not allowed to take that
exam unless you have graduated from law school. In many states, only an "approved" law
school will do. The underlying assumption is that only those who have gone through this
wonderful course of training can be relied upon to render good legal assistance to others. But
that assumption doesn't stand up.
Many judges, law professors, and lawyers candidly admit that the prescribed route into the
legal profession is neither necessary nor sufficient to ensure legal competence. Much of what
is learned during three years of law school and crammed in for the bar exam is forgotten once
a lawyer actually settles into an area of practice. That's when the real learning begins.
The problem is, not that the law school and bar exam gauntlet is bad preparation, but that the
legal profession has made it the only preparation allowed. The cost of going through that
gauntlet is very high, but, as many disinterested observers have pointed out, it does
surprisingly little to get the would-be practitioner ready to practice law. The result is general
overinvestment in legal education that drives up the cost of legal services.
Before the American Bar Association began its crusade for "high standards" in the 1920s,
many capable lawyers attended law school for only a year or two, not the now-mandatory
three, and the majority of lawyers did not attend law school at all. They learned law as
apprentices in law offices. When lawyers had the freedom to choose the training they thought
best, few decided that three years in school was worth the cost.
The best means of delivering affordable legal services to the public with minimal risk of harm
is through a competitive marketplace, backed up with remedies for fraud and incompetence.
Professionals want to succeed and will find the kind of training they need to do competent
work for their clients. Fear of failure and financial loss is a stronger deterrent to incompetent
work than any licensing scheme.
Arizona has had no UPL statute since 1986. Consumers can take their problems to lawyers
or to clinics staffed by paralegals. The latter specialize in routine work they know well and
perform for fees most people can afford. Consumers don't have to pay for more legal training
than they need.
Competition works as well in legal services as in other markets. But we'll have to get rid of
the UPL statutes to enjoy the benefits.