The Case for Nationalizing the Legal Profession

Rationale

It might be said that if justice were free, everyone would be in the courts litigating. But in Australia, for example, essential medical attention is free (we call it Medicare) and it hasn’t turned everyone into hypochondriacs. In Japan, were medication is also free, it could be argued that it has.

Case studies

In Charles Dicken’s novel Bleak House (as portrayed by the series on BritBox recently), a young man is driven to death by the stress of claiming his inheritance through the courts, which ends up being totally absorbing the estate in legal costs. This is art imitating reality. I spent 2 years as a unpaid paralegal helping my mother contest her nephew’s will. What would seem a common and simple thing actually costs over AU$100,000. More than half of the $600,000 estate was absorbed in legal expenses.

In Australia legal aid is available to anyone who has no money for representation in the courts. The wealthy can afford lawyers (which includes solicitors, barristers and judges). Everyone in between — that’s most people — simply cannot afford justice.

The system we have (and is common worldwide) incentivizes legal wrangling; it encourages the legal profession to give oxygen to disputes. If the profession were nationalized, there would be no money in ‘over-treating’ clients. That wrangling includes the overly complicated legaleze [ sic].

Solutions

Apart from worthy, recommended tweaks to the system, such as the Plain English movement, universal access to a properly nationalized legal system would enable ordinary, well-educated citizens to both participate in the courts (represent themselves, thus reducing the need for lawyers) and utilize the law to secure justice and settle disputes in a timely manner.

The blood-sucking nature of the legal profession is under threat — and rightly so — by ‘smart contracts’ and other automated digital technology. But that does nothing to simplify it, something I argue for in other areas of life where we also rush inadvizedly [ sic] to technology to solve our problems instead of using our innate abilities.

If these ideas seem outlandish to you, be aware that they have common currency and have had so for some time, as demonstrated by this Forbes article from 2009 by Brett Joshpe, an attorney in New York entitled How about a Nationalized Legal System?, which I found on my first Internet search of ‘nationalize the legal profession’. Search ‘plain english in the law’ and you’ll get plenty of common-sense evidence of efforts from the highest levels of authority to simplify and clarify legislation and other government communication such as Kill all the Legalese: How to Achieve Plain Language Legal Contracts.

Originally published at http://equanimity.blog on April 8, 2022.

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Simon Cole

Simon Cole

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Australian behavioural scientist, community/sustainability advocate, commentator and English language educator. Promoting the steady state.