IJ v. The Legal Cartel
By Anthony Sanders
IJ has taken on some of the nastiest licensing cartels in American industry, from interior design to transportation to veterinary medicine. Where established interests have used occupational licensing and government force to fence out competitors, IJ has been there to protect the rights of hard-working Americans to earn an honest living.
And now, IJ has taken on the biggest and most-entrenched cartel of them all: the legal bar.
Across the nation, licensing laws protect established attorneys by burdening aspiring practitioners with superfluous educational requirements just for the privilege of taking a bar exam. A minority of states go as far as requiring attorneys to attend only those law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. In these states, even if an attorney has practiced for years with a stellar record, he or she cannot sit for the state’s bar exam—let alone become licensed—without graduating from an ABA-accredited school.
Minnesota is one of these states. In December, IJ Minnesota submitted to the Minnesota Supreme Court a detailed analysis of the choke-hold that the ABA has over the licensure of lawyers in the land of 10,000 lakes. IJ proposed a change allowing a person to take the Minnesota bar exam if he already is licensed in another state.
IJ’s efforts in Minnesota will be a significant blow to the monopoly that the ABA has over accreditation of law schools. It will lower the barriers to entry for prospective lawyers and thereby expand consumer choice. In turn, we will continue to educate the judiciary on the misuse of occupational regulations for future attacks on other anticompetitive regulations.
IJ not only attacked current licensing requirements, but briefed the court on the increasing overreach of occupational licensing. For example, less than five percent of workers needed a license to work in the 1950s. Approximately 30 percent do today. More than 800 occupations require a license to work in at least one state. Further, although licensing is almost always sold to the public as necessary for health and safety, the fact that established industry groups are usually the ones pushing for greater licensing laws should tip off the public and regulators that such demands are more about protecting themselves from competition than protecting the public. In other words, when a practitioner stands up and cries, “Please regulate me!” that should be a red flag to all involved.
Of course, keeping out competition pays rich dividends. Licensing laws drive up wages for licensees by 15 percent within regulated professions. For all this, there is little evidence that licensing protects public health and safety or improves quality.
Just think: If IJ can bring economic liberty to lawyers, what can’t we do?
Anthony Sanders is an IJ Minnesota Chapter staff attorney.