NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Backlash Against Lawyers

August 5, 1999

Critics say that lawyers who have grown more arrogant and the enormous fees they are reaping have set the stage for an anti- lawyer backlash. That backlash may already be here.

Courts, state legislatures and Congress have barred certain types of suits entirely and tried to limit the type of advice lawyers can give. New federal and state laws and court decisions, for example, make it harder to bring certain kinds of personal injury suits, limit the legal arguments available in immigration cases and curtail civil rights suits on behalf of prisoners.

Laws that went into effect in 1996 forbid all government-financed lawyers for the poor to file class-action suits, challenge welfare reform legislation or lobby on behalf of their clients.

  • The legal profession now amounts to a $130 billion business.
  • Just 20 years ago, there were 3 lawyers for every 1,000 adult Americans -- now there are more than 4.6 and the total number of lawyers and judges practicing is fast approaching 1 million.
  • Gross revenues of the country's 100 largest law firms more than doubled to $23.1 billion last year from $10.6 billion in 1988.
  • The 1,467 partners of the largest 13 firms made annual profits of more than $1 million per partner.

One limitation on lawyers that has drawn particular attention is a two-year-old federal law known as "Granny's Lawyer Goes to Jail." It declares that any lawyer who advises an elderly person how to give away property to qualify for need-based Medicaid benefits is guilty of a crime. Last year, a federal district court declared it unconstitutional -- but it remains on the books.

Source: William Glaberson, "Lawyers Contend with State and Federal Efforts to Restrict Their Rising Power," New York Times, August 5, 1999.


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