Too many lawyers

Some time ago I managed to attract some attention by saying that Ireland didn’t need any more lawyers. My starting point was that too many parents were pushing their children into law as a career choice, and that the glut of lawyers would make us a more and more litigious society. Now that we are experiencing an economic downturn – temporary, we hope and trust – my fear is that this trend will accelerate, as people imagine that law is a safe choice.

As I am a lawyer myself by background, I don’t want to suggest that there is anything wrong as such with wanting to be a lawyer. But while there are a number of good reasons for wanting to go into the legal profession, having the right number of points isn’t one of them. And a country that has too many lawyers pays a high price – in the cost of insurance in particular.

This country needs more people who will take risks and start things – who will be entrepreneurial and innovative. We need more start-up businesses, more social entrepreneurs, more scientific innovators, more people in independent trades. These are the people who will help us to the next level of success and prosperity. We know very well what skills are needed to achieve that, but the pattern of higher education choices doesn’t match that. This is something we shall have to address, or we shall all pay the price.

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3 Comments on “Too many lawyers”

  1. Ultan Says:

    I think you mean barristers and lawyers working in particular fields, rather than “lawyers”.
    There’s a correlation between the law and innovation (your old colleague Bill Kingston would remind you). Plus without the right infrastructure, attitudes, and other financial and regulatory frameworks I’m just not convinced that attempting to teach “entrepreneurial” and “innovation” courses is any more useful to business than watching Dragons Den on the telly.

    So what we need is an environment to encourage more people who will take risks and start things *legally*. Can you teach that or research that into existence? No. Can you open eyes to ideas and possibilities, sure.

    But why stop at “lawyers”? We have a very high per capita number of nurses (and a very high absentee rate on any day) and look where that’s got us…

  2. Ultan Says:

    opps: “barristers and solicitors” (not lawyers)

  3. John Flood Says:

    I’m afraid this is one of these hoary arguments that pops up from time to time. It suggests that professions and especially the legal profession is immune from market forces. It’s not. As in other fields, supply and demand will find equilibrium.

    There is a perception among many law students that they can make a lot of money in law. Which is true if you find yourself in a big City firm, but not if you are working on the high street.

    Law students use law degrees for a number of things these days. One is as a passport into other careers, eg. finance and banking. Some combine a law degree with an MBA. Some might not want to be lawyers at all.

    There are two more aspects to this. First, law school should teach a course on legal profession. Students are woefully ignorant about the profession they may be heading for. Faculty aren’t much better.

    Second, with the changes blowing through from Australia with the first law firm IPO and the Clementi changes in the UK–all partly a result of anti-competition enquiries made by the Irish antitrust authority no less–the legal profession, including the Irish one, will undergo some of the most radical changes ever seen in its history. This will be the age of Tesco law, commoditized legal practice outsourced to India, and law firms becoming auxillaries to banks and other institutions, as they are taken over.

    Maybe you could run a course for parents too.


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