Monday, April 4, 2011

Against lawyer licensing, redux

Above the Law has the story of a recent (2009) Touro Law grad, Joseph Rakofsky, who had a D.C. Superior Court judge declare a mistrial due to his incompetence. ATL blogger Elie Mystal uses this story as an illustration of "how the system for preparing people to become lawyers failed." It's true that the young lawyer involved comes off as a buffoon who's none too bright. But the solution is not, as Mystal would have it, to get the ABA to regulate law schools more aggressively.

Mystal sensibly observes that the defendant in this case, Dontrell Deaner-- who will see the wheels of justice turn more slowly, thanks to Rakofsky's incompetence -- pays a real cost here. It is indeed likely that Deaner would have been better off if he'd been able to hire a more expensive, higher-quality lawyer who knew his work better. At the same time, decreasing the number of American law schools and regulating them more tightly will decrease the supply of American lawyers. If lawyers become more scarce, they will charge higher prices. The Dontrell Deaners of that world will have fewer options when they need legal help, not more.

It's not clear things are so bad in this world, either. Deaner was able to notice that things weren't going well in his defense. He approached the judge about a new attorney and was able to get one. Rakofsky's poor performance was the subject of an article a major metropolitan newspaper and a prominent legal blog. Any prospective client can find either easily on the Internet, and I imagine Rakofsky's reputation will dog him for quite a while. And all this without involving the organized licensing cartel! Would that Mystal could see that he's part of the solution, albeit not in quite the way that he might have intended.

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