NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Lawyers Becoming The Fourth Branch Of Government?

July 17, 2000

Observers of the legal profession say lawyers are using lawsuits as instruments of social change to govern aspects of life or commerce that elected lawmakers have not seen fit to regulate.

The danger, they say, is that America may have lost its reliance on personal responsibility. Courts have become the key to tapping corporate or insurance coffers to pay for injuries even to those who harm themselves.

  • There are currently 1.2 million lawyers actively plying their trade in the U.S.
  • Their ranks are being swelled by nearly 55,000 new lawyers a year -- triple the number admitted 30 years ago.
  • Here, the ratio of nonlawyers to lawyers is 227 to 1 -- compared to 8,412 non-lawyers for every lawyer in Japan.
  • Worldwide, lawyers number about 7.3 million, one law review estimates.

Some think lawyers are losing public respect due to the well-publicized and inordinate fees they are raking in from class-action suits, such as Friday's $145 billion decision against tobacco companies by a jury in Florida -- from which the lawyers stand to reap about $48 billion if the verdict stands on appeal.

They note that Westlaw Directory -- which bills itself as the premier tool for legal research -- lists 695 firms and individual lawyers who specialize in suing other lawyers for malpractice.

Source: Frank J, Murray, "Modern-Day Jousters Continue to Battle for Respect," Washington Times, July 17, 2000.


Browse more articles on Government Issues