Nationalise Lawyers

What, if anything, is wrong with this idea?

Given that the legal profession is already heavily regulated, and given that socialised provision already exists in the form of legal aid, why should we tolerate the practice of receiving money in return for legal respresentation?

(Obviously the ideal would be to ‘socialise’, with ‘nationalise’ being the slightly perverted statist version of that, but it makes a catchier title so nevermind)

The legal system is already, in almost all other areas, publically run and funded – judges don’t get paid by plaintiffs, police aren’t paid by victims of crime, prisons aren’t run for profit, are they?

(Well actually, half the time they are – private security companies, privatised prisons, that case where the privatised prison paid the judge to sentence young offenders to incarceration, etc. But we have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t actually the best way to run a justice system)

So surely it’s appalling that those able to hire better lawyers enjoy such an advantage. Surely it’s absurd that the rich can afford to go to court, can afford to seek legal redress, and the poor can’t. Why not have a legal system which is designed from the ground up to exclude financial considerations as much as possible from its workings? Rather like the NHS, an NLS.

Note though, that unlike with public schools and public hospitals, it wouldn’t be any good to have a public sector and a private sector co-existing – the whole point of lawyers is that they operate against each other, so if one sector can pay more, and get better lawyers, it will dominate the other, and wealth would still grant a big advantage. So it would have to be complete – evidence that a client has paid their representative would be grounds for disqualifying that representative.

Possible objections:

1) Lawyers will have no incentive to try hard to win cases. The natural response would be, give them incentives, possibly monetary incentives, to win, as well as incentives to take on more cases, especially cases that nobody else has taken on. Is there a major flaw in this?

2) People will be able to waste time on frivolous lawsuits if they don’t have to bear the burden themselves. To this the first response would have to be that currently, only the sufficiently rich have the luxury of frivolous lawsuits, and that’s not obviously better.

But more seriously, it’s not obvious why there could be no other way of ‘rationing’ access to courts. Cases can be dismissed, waiting lists can be introduced, etc.

On both counts, I must confess my substantial ignorance of how the law actually works. But I would also say firstly, that neither problem seems particularly insoluble to me, and secondly, that it’s not at all obvious that if they were insoluble, they would be more serious problems than the problem of access to ‘justice’ being a product of wealth.

So have I missed some obvious fact or flaw?

5 Responses to “Nationalise Lawyers”

  1. Lindsay Says:

    I know nothing at all about law, but I think this idea would make things much fairer.

    As it is, nobody except the fairly well-off (and, to a lesser extent, people who qualify for Legal Aid) can even think of bringing a lawsuit, unless it’s a huge class-action lawsuit where no one person has to shoulder the cost of legal representation.

  2. Colm O'Connor Says:

    I’ve always preferred this idea. Although perhaps not “nationalize” per se, the whole idea of being able to buy better access to justice is abhorrent, so another way of allocating legal resources via a socially responsible mechanism (much like the NHS does with QALYS) would be far better.

    After studying it for a while (admittedly I’m no expert) I haven’t found there to be anything particularly complex about the law in general – just around a lot of complexity in legislation in particular. I see no reason why it couldn’t be ‘crowdsourced’ via the net. In much the same way Wikipedia draws together a pool of amateurs to share their knowledge, you could develop a social website that draws together a bunch of people with rudimentary training in the law and a specialization in particular parts of the law to help out one another or compete against one another. Smart amateurs could easily do this, especially if vast swathes of the law that are needlessly overcomplicated were simplified or eliminated.

    The only reason that it takes so long to train to be a lawyer and costs so much is because it is an profession that doesn’t like competition too much. So they lobby hard to make it hard to become a lawyer – this drives up the price of their services, and makes incumbency powerful. Ask any lawyer how much of their training that they actually use day to day and the answer will be “very little”.

    >1) Lawyers will have no incentive to try hard to win cases.
    > The natural response would be, give them incentives,
    >possibly monetary incentives, to win, as well as incentives to
    >Take on more cases, especially cases that nobody else has
    >taken on. Is there a major flaw in this?

    I can see one pernicious flaw with this – the lawyer who is fairly well off (by his standards) will not be as incentivized as, say, a lawyer with a large credit card bill.

  3. Colm O'Connor Says:

    I might add though, that I see very little harm in the notion of for profit prison building. If the market process is open and clear and free from corruption, competition will drive down the price of building prisons.

    Just so long as those who build prisons are given a taste of what they’ve built if they make any attempt to lobby.

    I’m not so sure I want those running a prison to be private sector employees though.

  4. apostate Says:

    I always worry about corruption. This idea would work and be great in a society where wealth is equitably distributed. But if we put this plan in place in our current society, better lawyers (or lawyers with flashier credentials) will simply accept more money under the table from ultra-rich crooks (unless you are talking about taking the power away from lawyers of being able to choose who they work for) and we’ll be back where we started.

  5. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    Well, certainly it’s true that power in money terms can usually be transferred into power in other forms whatever we do short of getting rid of it altogether. But I think we can make that easier or harder. It’s harder to bribe a lawyer without getting caught than to just pay one above-board.


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