In his play, Henry II (Part 2), William Shakespeare penned this famous line: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Many Americans—even those who do not read Shakespeare—seem to agree with his sentiment. America has too many lawyers. How do I know? Is it the high cost of medical care caused in large measure by ambulance chasing lawyers who work on a contingency basis because they cannot find a real job? Is it that so many legislators at the state and national levels are attorneys that badly needed tort reform can never be achieved? Is it because Americans have to live self-defensive lives because a lawyer lurks threateningly behind every bush? Is it that America has become the most litigious nation in the world because there are so many lawyers that they have to create work for themselves?
In truth, all of these reasons and many others contribute to the belief of many Americans that our country has too many lawyers. But there is another reason to believe we have too many lawyers in America, one that gets little or no attention, or at least it didn’t until recently. As a result of the great recession and our tepid economic recovery, trial attorneys have now resorted to cannibalizing their own profession. When people in groups have too many members and too few resources, they will sometimes turn to cannibalism to survive. There are plenty of gruesome examples of this in history. This is exactly what is happening with the legal profession in America. Trial attorneys have resorted to suing some of America’s most prominent law schools.
Frankly, I don’t blame them. America has too many law schools, which is another reason it has too many lawyers. These schools must recruit heavily to stay in business. One of the tactics law school recruiters use to attract a new crop of students every year is the promise of good jobs after graduation—a promise many law schools have not been able to fulfill for a long time.
In what is perhaps the irony of all ironies, a lawyer in New York is bringing a class-action lawsuit against two dozen law schools that have not lived up to their recruiting promises. You know you have too many lawyers when lawyers are suing law schools because their graduates cannot find jobs. New York City lawyer David Anziska is leading this class-action suit. In an interview with the American Bar Association Journal, Anziska said: “We want to sue as many schools as possible…We feel this practice (guaranteeing jobs after graduation) has been a dirty secret for a long time.”
America already had too many lawyers at the start of the great recession, but determined ambulance chasing coupled with creative contingency-based lawsuits kept lawyers out of the unemployment line for years. But the great recession that began in 2007 changed everything—even for attorneys. The recession had the same effect on law firms that it had on all businesses. Businesses that, prior to the recession, would have consulted an attorney on practically every move they made instead began conserving the few dollars they still had. When they needed an attorney’s services cash-strapped businesses looked for the lowest possible prices or turned to inexpensive options such as legalzoom.com. The result was that so many lawyers were chasing the same ambulance that eventually something had to give.
I never thought I would say anything positive about trial attorneys and their endless parade of class action suits but for the attorney suing two dozen law schools, I might make an exception. In fact, I think the lawsuit is a good thing. Perhaps when the sharks turn on each other, the rest of us swimming in dangerous waters will be safer. Our country could benefit from fewer attorneys, which means we could benefit from fewer law schools. I hope some major university administrators are paying attention.