The Law of Lawyers

Sun, Jun 18, 2023 tags: [ misc ]


Over the past years, I’ve repeatedly seen articles claiming a looming shortage of lawyers:

But I’ve wondered: is such a shortage serious, and more importantly, would having more lawyers (which in the following also includes judges and so on, essentially jurists) help ameliorating the situation?

My provocative thesis is: No, more lawyers/jurists/judges would - in many cases - not improve a situation of long-running lawsuits, overworked judges, and so on. Quite the opposite! Why so? The premise is that lawyers, other than professions like farmers, manufacturing labor, service staff, etc., are essentially “antiproductive”. This word I just made up (and haven’t looked up if it’s already used for something else), and is supposed to describe a profession in which for every hour of work done, the total amount of work is not reduced, but increased!

For example, if I want to manufacture 100 widgets, and this takes $x$ hours per widget, then I need workers to work $100 x$ hours on my widgets. For every hour worked, the remaining required time is reduced. In terms of service staff, for e.g. every restaurant customer served, one fewer customer is left to serve – assuming a constant demand.

But what about lawyers especially and jurisprudence more generally? Here, in my impression, the opposite relation holds. And not only an additive relation, but a multiplicative one! Let’s say my neighbor’s cherry tree grows into my garden, but I hate cherries, and I hate my neighbor. Assuming I have a cheap enough lawyer at hand to sue my neighbor, I will do just that. The lawyer works for one hour, writing up a lawsuit, and hands it in to my local court. Now, the court, my neighbor’s lawyer, and potentially auxiliary roles like expert witnesses need to spring into action and work on my lawsuit! This means that for 1 hour of my lawyer’s work, a demand of $y$ hours of additional work has been created. If the supply of lawyers and jurisprudence personnel is unconstrained, this will lead to increasing the labor force in that sector until constraints are hit. Imagine a society in which nearly 100% of labor is simply suing each other, writing lawsuits, responding to lawsuits, and negotiating contracts to prevent or resolve lawsuits!

And of course, all this work is not only non-productive, but has an active cost to me, my neighbor, and society at large: not only do we pay for the lawyers and so on, but those people are also working on my frivolous lawsuit now, instead of doing something useful (-> i.e., doing Bullshit Jobs). In fact, the Deutschlandfunk article says that of the relatively few lawyers leaving universities, many of the good ones choose to go to large well-paying law firms, which - dare I say - are responsible for mostly useless legal work, defending large well-funded corporations against public interests, and such things. Otherwise they wouldn’t be well-paying, I presume.

I might be deterred by the fact that my lawyer is too expensive - due to high demand - or that my local court takes several years for each lawsuit. In this case I might decide to not sue my neighbor over a cherry tree, and thus not create demand for additional legal labor. Thus, a shortage of lawyers automatically reduces the demand for their work!

And due to the multiplicative factor, this turns out to result in geometric growth (see below). If one hour of legal work causes $y$ hours of additional legal work, then those $y$ hours in turn create demand for some $y^2$ hours of work! This is obviously exaggerated and simplified, but - in theory - there is no limit to this. As long as more lawyers and judges and prosecutors are educated and put to work, making it easier and faster to file lawsuits, the number of lawsuits will (or might…) increase, creating additional demand for personnel handling those. Thus, the obvious solution to a labor shortage in the legal sector is reducing the available labor :^)

The Law of Lawyers

So my Law of Lawyers’ main statement would be

One unit of legal work on average creates $y$ units of additional legal work.

instead of reducing the total amount of legal work done. A judge finishing a case will lower the value of $y$ but likely not manage to make it negative for an entire legal system.

As a corollary, one can add:

Adding more lawyers to the system results in even more legal work, keeping the workload per lawyer constant.

and specifically, constant at however much work a single lawyer can accomplish.

If $0 < y < 1$, where $y$ is the number of additional legal work units generated by one legal work unit, the number of required lawyers is finite.

This fact is due to the total legal work generated by one unit being given by $\sum_i^\infty y^i < \infty$. However, one might argue that

For a skilled lawyer, it is simple to push $y > 1$, i.e. to cause many more units of legal work following little effort on his/her side.

In which case the amount of legal work units is unbounbed! The better the lawyers, the more work there will be.


This obviously leaves out some parts of the problem, such as criminal law, in which the demand for legal work is mostly given by external factors. However, it appears to apply to civil law, administrative work, corporate law, and several other areas within the overall legal profession.

I also mentioned that doctors, for example, are only exempt from this law to some extent. More doctors might, for example, come up with and prescribe more complicated medical procedures to keep their employing hospitals or practices profitable. Often, such procedures will result in improved treatment outcomes - but certainly not always, says my inner cynic.