NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Legal Bar Defends Its Monopoly

June 9, 2000

Some observers say the legal profession is guilty of some of the grossest anti-competitive practices in the marketplace today -- and some of them are exactly the same faults plaintiffs' attorneys are alleging Microsoft is guilty of. So far, attorneys have filed more than 140 private antitrust suits against the software maker -- hoping, critics say, to cash in on the government's case.

But lawyers do everything they can to keep their own competitors at bay.

  • Earlier this month, the New York State Bar Association called for a clearer definition of what constitutes the "practice of law" and for stepped up efforts to prosecute non-lawyers -- such as accountants and financial planners -- it believes are crossing the line.
  • In the 1960s, the same group tried unsuccessfully to knock legal self-help books off the shelves -- claiming their authors were effectively practicing law without a license.
  • Since then, state bars across the country have succeeded in shutting down low-cost alternative providers of legal advice.
  • In one notorious case, a woman who helped poor clients in failed relationships obtain divorces was actually thrown in jail -- at the behest of the state bar -- for giving legal advice without a license.

While the legal profession protests that it is only trying to protect the public from incompetents, the fact is that only an estimated 11 percent of unauthorized practice suits involve any allegation that customers were actually harmed. The remaining cases are largely protectionist efforts to eliminate competition, critics charge.

Source: Robert Kry (Institute for Justice), "Real Monopolists: Microsoft Pales Compared With Lawyers' Groups," Investor's Business Daily, June 9, 2000.


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