There are too many lawyers. Too many law schools. The bar exam is too easy. The Law Society should fail more applicants. Such statements are familiar in Canada but they are also heard in Israel where I am spending part of the year as a Visiting Scholar at the David Weiner Centre for Lawyers’ Ethics and Professional Responsibility and as a Visiting Professor at the Halbert Center for Canadian Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
When I was much younger, I worked for a year in the Israeli court system as a law clerk so I know something about the Israeli legal system, but I soon realized how dated my knowledge was.
Israel has four law faculties associated with long-established universities at Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities. The newest – Haifa – was established in 1992 and thus only recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.
However, in those two decades there has been an explosion in higher education in Israel which has deeply affected legal education and the practice of law. This was the establishment and the proliferation of colleges which focus on social sciences and professional education like law, business, administration, etc.
As a result, Israel experienced a huge boom in new lawyers over the last two decades. Israel now reportedly has the highest per-capita rate of lawyers in the world. With a population just over 8 million, Israel has 55,000 active lawyers and several thousand more on the way once they complete their “stag’” (articling). In comparison, Ontario has a much larger population – more than 70% larger – with 13.7 million people and almost 20% fewer lawyers (46,000 lawyers). Surprisingly, the Israel Bar Association does not publish statistics about those who they regulate.
By my rudimentary calculations (“Damnit, Jim, I’m a lawyer not a mathematician!”), Ontario would need 97,000 (!) lawyers to match Israel’s rate. Applied across Canada, this would give us 240,000 lawyers, more than twice the most recent number of 115,000 lawyers nationwide reported by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. And people say we have too many lawyers in Canada!
In Israel, some people are trying to stop this trend. Earlier this fall, the Israeli Minister of Justice announced a package of reforms that included making the bar exam more difficult. Apparently the Israel Bar Association heard the message. In November, it was reported that more than a third of all those who wrote the latest bar exam failed. A record 36.6% of all bar exam writers failed, the most since the results were computerized in 2000. Those are numbers that have never been seen in Canada in my lifetime. They are downright American. According to the head of the Israel Bar Association, the results are attributable to a change in the exam format and an intent to make the exam harder. It apparently worked.
Another frequent complaint against the Israel Bar Association is that it places the interest of lawyers over protecting the public. Like the old Law Society of England and Wales, the Israel Bar Association is both the regulator and the representative body for Israel’s lawyers. The Clementi Report recognized the inherent conflict of interest in such a role and the U.K. Legal Services Act stripped the Law Society of England and Wales of its regulatory functions. Research presented by Dr. Michal Ofer Tsfoni in July 2014 at the International Legal Ethics Conference in London revealed an incredibly high level of deference by courts to decisions of the bar in discipline.
Pressure to reform the regulation of the practice of law in Israel is likely to continue. At the end of November, the Minister of Justice introduced a bill which would create greater transparency and improve governance of the Israel Bar Association. The bill includes a number of interesting features, including allowing the Minister of Justice to appoint an inspector to oversee the stag’ process. The Minister will also now appoint all the members of Bar Exam Committee. Apparently, the budget of the Israel Bar Association was somewhat of a mystery because the new legislation would require that it be posted online.
The watchwords for the reforms are “transparency, governance, and professionalism”. Sound familiar?