Let’s assume that (i) there is an optimal number of lawyers and that (ii) said number is between 0% and 100% of the population.

  • The cost of adding a lawyer to society is that a smart, articulate person no longer works in a productive capacity. Maybe there are additional costs in the form of extra frivolous lawsuits or overly complex laws.
  • The benefit of adding a lawyer to society is that more complex laws can be implemented. Sometimes this is desirable because surgical justice is desired. It can be worth spending billions of dollars on precision and nuance, if the cost of being wrong is great enough.

For example, corporations object to Sarbanes-Oxley because the implementation is too expensive. Companies above a certain size (for we Americans are always willing to regulate large corporations) have to pay $1 million extra per year in order to comply with Sarbox regulations, each.

Of course, everybody is in favor of “transparency” since that word sounds so pleasantly costless. But — is it worth the cost? What are regulators doing with all of that information and how does it benefit the common man?

I don’t think there are incentives to reduce the complexity of the law. People generally seem to agree that the law is too complex but it’s not a focus issue — it won’t swing enough people’s votes. That’s bad, because it means legislators are pushed only one way, with no countervailing force — in other words, they’re not optimizing on this parameter.

I’m not saying that we need to eliminate all laws — but I wish there were a way for legislators to be rewarded at least somewhat for reducing the national lawyer total.

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