Q: I attended a recent political function where the most common topic of conversation (besides attacking the other political side) was lawyer bashing. I was shocked and dismayed by the jokes and what was being said, especially since almost all of it was totally bogus. But as an attorney, by choice I just bit my tongue, smiled, and laughed while saying nothing. I believe you once wrote about one stereotype that said the United States has 70% of the world's lawyers. Could you do an article on that?
A: Like many of the modern American myths, this 70% figure seems to keep bouncing around and never goes away. I believe its source was Dan Quayle and the President's Council on Competitiveness, which he chaired around 1991. As a result, a number of years ago Ray August actually compiled the numbers from 100 countries and came up with a figure suggesting 9% of all lawyers in those 100 countries (as opposed to 70% in the whole world) lived in the United States, if you define "lawyer" as a person with formal legal training who has passed an exam and is allowed to handle matters in a judicial setting, even if he or she never does so. If Mr. August had time to include the other 90 or so countries, then the 9% would be further reduced.
Of course, defining who is a lawyer is difficult because legal systems differ so much from country to country and culture to culture. But if the term "lawyer" is defined as a "law provider" both inside and outside the judicial system, after being trained in the law, then it is readily apparent that Mr. Quayle's 70% is suspect, at least according to the article that Mr. August published in the American Bar Association Journal.
Many nations, such as Japan, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, publicly like to brag about the minimal number of attorneys they need. But Japan, for example, has about 35,000 law graduates each year (mid 1990s figures—the latest I found), but out of 30,000 who annually take the bar exam, only 475 pass, so there are just 13,000 "bengoshi" in all of Japan. But the other law graduates work for the government and industry in the law departments or elsewhere, or do other things like teach, etc., all using their legal training.
For what it is worth, using the premise of a "law provider," Mr. August found among the 100 nations that he studied, occupying first place, with the highest percentage of its population being defined as lawyers, is the Vatican with about 1/3 "lawyers," followed by Uruguay, Lebanon, Argentina, and Spain.
The United States was 35th among the studied 100 countries, coming in lower than countries like France, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland, but ahead of Australia, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The bottom 100 included Zaire, Chad, Mali, Burundi, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Yes, figures can be made to reflect almost anything the user wants (I believe the term is "spin doctor"). But it would be interesting if Dan Quayle, or someone, would count the "lawyers" in 190 countries, to come up with data to support this 70% assertion. If that is not possible, then this assertion needs to stop, and we can move on to knock down some of these other lawyer myths and stereotypes.
As a tongue-in-cheek observation, since we are only 35th in the world and have less than 9% of the world's attorneys among 100 countries, does that suggest we are losing the race to supply "law providers" and in fact need to encourage the building of more law schools and produce more law graduates? Just asking.