MY COLLEAGUE BEN BARTON’S BOOK, Rebooting Justice: More Technology, Fewer Lawyers, and the Future of Law, co-authored with Stephanos Bibas, gets a really positive review in the Wall Street Journal.
‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Proposed by Dick the Butcher, a nefarious rebel in “Henry VI, Part 2,” the line often gets a laugh. But it also makes a serious point: Fewer lawyers would make it easier to overthrow the king and install a new regime. Lawyers, Shakespeare implies, are the guarantors of justice.
Or are they? According to Benjamin Barton and Stephanos Bibas, law professors at the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, the answer is “not necessarily.” In their brief and accessible “Rebooting Justice,” Messrs. Barton and Bibas observe that, when it comes to securing justice in an efficient and affordable fashion, lawyers can in fact be the primary obstacle.
As the authors note, the legal profession presents a “paradox.” “America has more lawyers than any country in the world,” they write, “and law schools are graduating more new lawyers than there are jobs. Yet legal education and legal advice are horrifically expensive.” Even basic legal services at small or mid-size firms may cost more than $200 an hour, placing meaningful legal representation beyond the reach of many Americans. . . .
A large portion of “Rebooting Justice” is devoted to the authors’ ideas for systemic changes aimed at reducing the reliance on lawyers. They note that in medicine, for example, paraprofessionals like nurse practitioners and physician assistants increasingly provide basic services at lower costs. There’s no reason that paralegals, notaries, social workers and others with relevant training could not do the same in law.
Messrs. Barton and Bibas are also hopeful that evolving technologies can fill many legal-service needs. Web-based databases have expanded public access to once-arcane legal rules and judgments, and companies like LegalZoom offer inexpensive, download-able forms to cover basic legal matters, like living wills or articles of incorporation. . . .
As exciting as technology is, Messrs. Barton and Bibas recognize that it will not be enough to fix what ails our legal system. Their more radical suggestion is to restructure the system so that many processes are specifically designed to omit lawyers. For example, instead of trying to fund lawyers for litigants who might otherwise represent themselves, legal processes could be made more friendly to pro se representation.
Interestingly, one of the reasons Richard Posner gave for retiring was poor treatment of pro se litigants.