The myth of Quayle's anti-lawyer statistics


September 18, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO | MIKE ROYKO,The Chicago Tribune

At last, somebody has come up with an answer to Dan Quayle's provocative question about the disgusting glut of American lawyers.

You surely know Quayle's question: "Does America really need 70 percent of the world's lawyers?"

He's been asking that since he began bashing lawyers, to the delight of this country's lawyer-haters.

If you think about it, that is a stunning figure. As big and wonderful as this country is, we represent less than 10 percent of the world's population.

Yet, as Quayle says, we have 70 percent of the world's lawyers.

Meanwhile, as Quayle and others point out, Japan has only a few thousand lawyers, while we have more than half a million of them. Why, there are probably more lawyers in Chicago than in all of Japan.

This raises further questions: Is Japan's merciful lack of lawyers the reason why that country is so efficient, because it doesn't have hordes of lawyers goofing things up? Only one Japanese lawyer for every 14,000 Japanese citizens?

And are we inefficient and struggling to keep up because we have one lawyer for every 700 Americans?

Well, the answer to Quayle's question has been provided by two men: Ray August, an associate professor of law at Washington )) State University, and Toshika Kitawaki, an associate professor of law at Nihon University in Tokyo.

They've written articles about this strange contrast.

So here is their answer to Dan Quayle's question.

It's a lot of bunk. One might even say it is an outright lie.

That's right, America does not have 70 percent of the world's lawyers. We have less than 10 percent.

And it is a myth (or a lie, if you want to be nasty) that Japan doesn't have many lawyers. It's loaded with them. It probably has more per capita than we do.

A lot of other countries do, too, including Germany, Austria, Italy and most of Latin America. There are at least 34 countries that have more lawyers per capita.

So how did this myth (or lie) get started and become part of modern folklore?

Because when the vice president of the United States says something -- even if he's Dan Quayle -- we assume he has some idea what he's talking about.

But it turns out that he doesn't. Or that he knows it's baloney but it makes for a good political speech.

What Quayle, or his speech writers, have done is play cute games with statistics.

Here's how the game is played, according to the two law professors who are far more knowledgeable on the subject than Quayle.

In the United States, you get to be a lawyer by going to law school and passing a bar exam. Then you can write wills, defend ax murderers, practice corporate law, do tax work, become a judge. In other words, anything in the field of law.

But that's not how it works in Japan. And in many other countries.

In Japan, you go to law school. About 60,000 law students graduate each year.

About half of them take a test to get a license that will permit them to set up a law office, go into court, argue cases, maybe become judges.

But like many enterprises in Japan, law is a closed society. Fewer than 500 of the 60,000 graduating lawyers receive these licenses.

So what happens to the others? Do they drive cabs, slice sushi or stick swords in their tummies out of humiliation?

Of course not. They do what hundreds of thousands of American lawyers do.

They go to work in the law departments of big corporations, where they handle corporate legal matters, write contracts, negotiate deals and so on. Or they go into government and handle legal matters.

According to the two law professors, almost all of Japan's huge corporate and government legal departments are staffed by these non-licensed lawyers. The only thing they can't do is go into court and argue a case. When this happens, they bring in one of the outside licensed lawyers.

Many of them become big corporate executives, government leaders, bureaucrats. Most of the top Japanese business and political figures are law graduates. Or "law providers," as they are called.

The two professors found similar systems in other countries.

So when Quayle, or his hired brains, juggled the figures, they omitted most of the other categories, even though they perform the same kind of non-trial work that most American lawyers do.

But I can understand Quayle making that kind of mistake. All those foreign lawyers, that's a lot of counting. And even if Quayle used all of his fingers and toes, he wouldn't get past 20.

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