Not Enough Lawyers?

In one ear we hear the news that thanks to the recession firms are laying off lawyers and hiring fewer; and today in the other ear McLeans tells us that Canada needs more lawyers than its law schools can produce. According to the article, “Where’s a lawyer when you need one?” by Kate Lunau, Canada has fewer law schools for its population than any other Commonwealth country. Lunau explores some of the constraints — provincial refusal to fund new law schools being prime among them — and depends on Vern Krishna’s analysis to a large degree.

It might be that there is an unfulfilled demand for non-corporate lawyers, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. It’s not clear to me, though, that increasing the number of law graduates significantly would alleviate that sort of problem. I suspect there’s a bind here: taking the view of legal education as a professional training course, controlled entry can make sense (whether or not it’s fair to entrants or the public) to the regulators; but if legal education is viewed as an academic study like any other, there’s no reason whatever to limit admission to law schools, provided that decent teaching can be provided. Of course, legal education carries both cans…

At the end of the article, there’s one comment at the moment: “Where’s a lawyer when you need one? Throw a rock.” The commenter is one David Fraser. Our David Fraser, one wonders?


  1. Small nitpick: it’s “Maclean’s”

  2. It might just be that Maclean’s is having a tough time finding counsel after proclaiming that, “Lawyers Are Rats.”

  3. Omar, that was my laugh for the day!

    I do think Simon’s assessment is likely correct, that there are likely not enough lawyers doing things like family and estates work in rural (including northern Canada) areas. That’s just a guess on my part, though.

  4. Hi Ro. Sorry about the apostrophe. I’m a big fan of that mark. Nipicks welcome.

  5. Can you foresee the day when small remote towns are putting together incentive packages to attract lawyers, as they have already had to do to get doctors?

  6. Of course, Wendy, they’d have to get a pair of lawyers, wouldn’t they?

  7. As I’ve explained elsewhere, the statement “controlled entry can make sense (whether or not it’s fair to entrants or the public) to the regulators” is incorrect. If something is not “fair to the public” then the law societies, who are charged with acting in the public interest, are obliged to forebear from that course of action and in fact to act in the opposite manner. That our law societies are not screaming for an increase in law school placements is shameful.

  8. Greetings:

    I have met and talked with many young lawyers who are intent on setting up their own solo or small firm. I invariably ask if they have considered moving to a smaller town, as they are crying out for lawyers. I can probably count on one hand the number of lawyers who have actually done so – and I understand (anecdotally) that they are very happy they did so. But still, most lawyers (like most people) want to live in a busy urban setting.

    So Canada’s urban settings may *perhaps* be over-lawyered; but the rural settings are certainly not.

    It also may be that we are content with the level of lawyers and legal services and that this is just reflective of our societal values.

    Japan has roughly 22,000 lawyers — one for every 5,790 people, compared with one for every 268 in the United States.”

    MacLeans says: “Here, there’s about one lawyer or notary for every 421 people. In the U.S., it’s one lawyer for every 265 people.”

    Would increasing the number of law schools and law school admissions work in societies favour? I imagine we could ask the same question for doctors and plumbers, too. How do we determine the “optimum” number of any profession or trade, aside from trying to compare relatively meaningless statistics. Wouldn’t a better question have been to conduct a survey across Canada asking the public if they are happy with the accessibility to a lawyer?


    Dave Bilinsky

  9. In all seriousness though, I don’t believe the solution is to necessarily open up new schools and increase admissions.

    It would be great for senior partners everywhere because it would create what is referred to in the literature as the “mass reserves of the unemployed.” Not so great for lawyers just starting out. The surplus of lawyers and further increased competition may also make law a less appealing option for students.

    I don’t see this challenge as considerably different than that face in health care, where I’m far more intimately familiar with human resources issues.

    Solutions devised in that sector include delegating duties to other professionals (i.e. nurse practitioners), and telehealth initiatives. I would argue that paralegals are the appropriate equivalent in the legal industry, and that remote services (via the web) are still underutilized in Canada. A court appearance might be a challenge if your offices are 500km away, but no more challenging than performing an operation.

  10. And so, to the surprise of precisely no one, the response of the lawyers at slaw is to (a) deny that there’s a problem (hint: we’re not \overlawyered in urban areas\ – when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court called access to justice a \crisis\, she didn’t append \in the sticks\ to the remarks), and (b) argue strenuously in favour of retaining the current number of lawyers so as to not damage the market position of current lawyers. Which is entirely consistent with the positions taken thus far by the organized bar. And which is also entirely inconsistent with our duties to act in the best interests of the public.

  11. Bob,
    With all due respect, I don’t think we’re necessarily overlooking the best interests of the public.
    I’m simply suggesting that the problems of access to justice may be addressed in better ways than just assuming if we increase law graduates the problem would resolve itself.

    In addition to the strategies I already identified, I would also suggest more funding for Legal Aid (something we’re seeing here in Ontario), lower tuition for law students, more public interest and pro bono work by major law firms (even as a PR tactic).

    All of these would also address the access to justice issue in a far more comprehensive way. Reducing problems in the system to a shortage of lawyers is a gross oversimplification. But it’s also what Maclean’s tends to do best (see “Rats,” supra).

  12. Omar

    I think I’ve realized what the disconnect is: we’re talking about two different access to justice problems. There is an access to justice problem among the poor (ie those who would not be able to afford lawyers regardless of the price being charged) and an access to justice problem among the middle class (ie those who *could* afford to pay their lawyers, but either are unable to find an available lawyer or who cannot afford to pay the prices which available lawyers are charging). Your proposed solutions tend to address the first grouping, while the second grouping is best addressed by solutions which target price. There are only two ways to lower prices: increase supply or government fiat. If our profession elects not to proceed by the former, we will have the latter imposed upon us.

  13. According to the article in question, which is admittedly of limited insight, the two issues are related.

    High tuition rates and relatively low billable hours to cost overhead do encourage lawyers to seek specific areas of practice that leave others neglected.

    The solutions I propose would address both of your groupings.