“We live in a law thick world. To secure a benefit or avoid a loss in this world, we often find that we must somehow use the law. This is as true for global corporations as it is for ordinary individuals…” Noel Semple in Legal Services Regulations at the Crossroads
People often hire lawyers to help them “use the law”. But, how do ordinary people go about finding a lawyer?
Although the Internet has drastically changed how people purchase services, significant resources are still required to find a lawyer. Semple remarks in his book that “both quality and price of legal services are difficult for legally inexperienced clients to ascertain…There is a startling lack of objective, verifiable information available concerning an attorney’s malpractice and discipline history and record of failure and success.”
Semple calls on regulators to fill the vaccum through online directories “populated with as much information as possible”, especially on quality and price.
Why regulators and not the private market?
Regulators are better positioned than private companies to facilitate connecting lawyers to clients. They can compel the participation of lawyers and mandate public disclosure of pricing (from time-based, flat fees, or contingency). And, they do not depend on advertisements from lawyers for revenue, meaning they could be more honest about quality of services than a customer review website.
Despite the benefits of public disclosure, I am pessimistic about law societies leading the way. Christine Parker states that “regulatory schemes are born in historically contingent circumstances of moral panic or professional politics, and then remain in place largely unchanged for decades.” I am not convinced that we are presently in a “moral panic” about information asymmetry or that lawyers are exerting sufficient pressure to change the status quo.