Stratification of the Legal Profession: A Debate in Need of a Public Forum
Rigertas, Laurel A.
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The American legal profession cannot presently meet the legal needs of the population. Ordinary citizens’ demand for legal services continues to rise, but those services are increasingly unaffordable. Recent law school graduates struggle to find professional employment opportunities, particularly ones that can provide salaries to meet their rising debt obligations. At the same time legal education continues to provide a general program of education while legal practice is increasingly specialized. The legal profession has not been innovative about meeting these related challenges. This article argues that the stratification of the legal profession has not been adequately explored as a way to increase access to legal services. Specifically, stratification would involve the training, education and licensure of professionals - other than lawyers - to provide some legal services. For example, a one-year program that focused on housing law leading to a limited license as a housing advocate could be created. This might be an effective way to meet an area of high consumer demand. However, because the state judiciaries regulate the scope of the legal profession’s monopoly, there is inadequate public participation and, accordingly, insufficient external pressure on the legal profession to consider these options. These deficiencies can be illustrated by comparing the judiciaries’ regulation of legal services to the legislatures’ regulation of health care services. This article proposes reforms to allow for public participation in the debate on the scope of the legal profession’s monopoly.