Monday, September 15, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

How About Exporting PA Lawyers?

A new report says rural America needs lawyers. Maybe it's time for PA to have a new export product.

How About Exporting PA Lawyers?

We can reduce the pool of big-firm lawyers and their court-clogging work, and we provide a needed service to areas now neglected.
We can reduce the pool of big-firm lawyers and their court-clogging work, and we provide a needed service to areas now neglected.

Ever notice how many lawyers get involved in all the things PA tries to do?

I mean in addition to government and legal services lawyers.

Any big issue from voter ID to lottery management to Penn State stuff to lawsuits over the mandatory retirement age for judges, pension reform, liquor privatization (you get the idea) invariably involves teams of "outside" counsel to supplement the hordes of government attorneys working the same issues.

Big cities, especially Philly, are glutted with high-priced lawyers who in the end make boatloads of money off these public issues from their inception right through their invariable multiple appeals.

This doesn't even count the very lawyer-profitable business of defending our public officials during investigations, trials and appeals here in Pennsylvania, a/k/a "The Land of the Ongoing Investigation."

So maybe fewer lawyers would speed along alot of the public's business.

I mention this because The New York Times reports Tuesday that rural America is suffering from lawyer deficiency.

The Times says just two percent of small law practices are in rural areas where 20-percent of the country lives.

And this is at a time when only about half of law school grads are finding work as full-time lawyers.

So maybe the state should start a new export business: lawyers leaving for greener pastures.

We could set up a system in rural areas, including in PA, where local business chambers and civic groups provide housing, office space and mini-perks such as free coffee and lunch to any lawyer, new or experienced, willing to relocate. A sliding scale of local benefits can match a lawyer's years of practice; for new lawyers, rural states can offer student loan forgiveness as is done to attract doctors.

Everybody wins. We reduce the pool of big-firm lawyers and their court-clogging work, and we provide a needed service to areas now neglected.

The Times in 2011 did a state-by-state lawyer surplus study and, not suprisingly, Pennsylvania is a national leader (with states such New York, California, Illinois and New Jersey) in just too many lawyers. The PA surplus the year of the study was more than 1,000.

Part of the problem, of course, is lawyers go where the money is, and the trend is toward cities. The Tuesday Times story notes that in the 1970's lawyers spent half their time serving individuals and half serving corporations. By the 1990's, two-thirds of practice was urban business and corporate law. It's no doubt higher today.

So something should be done. PA can lead the way with an innovative lawyer-export plan.

Hey, if you're a lawyer, it's a better idea that Shakespeare's.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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