The Trouble With Lawyers
Deborah L. Rhode
Oxford University Press, £23.99
This book is not about the troubles we lawyers cause, but problems with the profession in the US. There are interesting parallels between our countries.
The author argues that there are too many lawyers, too many students on poor courses, and that the profession is badly run by out-of-touch white middle-class men. She deals with the topics of access to justice, diversity, regulation, education and conditions of work, arguing that each is unsatisfactory. Too many entrants to the profession think being a lawyer is an easy route to riches. The author looks at access to justice and argues that pro bono work is a solution and there should be a constitutional right to counsel in civil and criminal cases, especially those concerning basic human needs such as housing.
The issue of diversity seems to be even more urgent than in the UK. The profession is beset with stereotypes. Although the topic is covered well, the author does not propose many solutions here.
With regard to professional regulation, the author complains about self-regulation and argues for external checks and balances, non-lawyer investment and multidisciplinary practices. She is critical of attempts to reform the bar without lay involvement. Interestingly, she does not say much about how complaints should be dealt with.
The author argues for better legal education with a greater variety of courses to encourage more diversity. CPD is compulsory in all but five US states, but seems an excuse for a tax-deductible holiday. Courses include a baseball game with free hot dogs, an afternoon watching movies and a Club Med holiday with judges.
The author also attacks the profession’s working conditions, low self-esteem and dissatisfaction at the long-hours culture prevalent in many firms: 1,400-1,600 billable hours per year used to be acceptable, but now a lawyer billing this would only be excused if they had died in the meantime.
One is left with the impression that US lawyers are overworked, unpopular and too numerous, but some of these problems are due to the profession’s successes.
This is a well-researched book and, in many ways, makes you proud to be British – we in England and Wales can sit back smugly and say we are ahead on diversity, regulation, complaints and training.
David Pickup is a senior partner at Pickup & Scott, Aylesbury