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BAR ASSOCIATIONS AS INTEREST GROUPS

In addition to restricting entry into the profession and seeking to control the activity of their members, bar associations are interest groups actively engaged in the promotion of activities that the bar considers vital to its interests.

Much of the bar’s activity concerns the organization and personnel of the courts. Historically, bar associations have often attempted to devise and to promote court reorganization plans. Much of this effort went into the elimination of nonprofessional elements (e.g. individuals without sufficient legal training to be a judge) from the judicial process. The bar has also been active in seeking to influence the actual selection ofjudges. On the state level, where judges are often elected on a partisan or nonpartisan ballot, the bar association has frequently lobbied for a change in selection procedures that would give the bar a greater voice. The bar also influences the selection of federal judges, and it is now a standard procedure for the U.S. attorney general to seek the ABA’s opinion about political nominees when choosing a name for submission by the president to the Senate.

The bar is also active in promoting legislation that will benefit lawyers and the administration ofjustice. For example, the bar has pushed for legislation against the unauthorized practice of law (UPL), which during the last few decades has included software programs and manuals for creating wills, contracts, or simple divorce papers (Time, 1998). The aim here has been to safeguard its monopoly of legal services. Although the bar characterizes UPL legislation as a way of protecting customers from charlatans, the practical effect of this legislation is to protect lawyers from lower-priced competition.

In addition to taking a leading part in shaping certain laws, structuring the legal system, and making recommendations for judicial positions, the national and state bar associations have often turned to politics to promote their professional and economic interests. Over the decades, such efforts have yielded state regulations that limit the number of lawyers and raise the income of those who do practice. Associations of trial lawyers have also sought to influence state and national legislations or regulations that affect their economic interests. For example, trial lawyers opposed no-fault automobile insurance, whereby people in an automobile accident can collect from their own insurance companies without having to hire a lawyer, go to court, and establish liability (Passell, 1998).

Not surprisingly, publishers of self-help legal books and software have been popular for some time (Benjamin, 2001). These legal resources are useful for simple matters such as simple will, no-fault divorces, landlord-tenant disputes, bankruptcies, and other bread and butter issues that previously used to be the exclusive domain of lawyers. They specialize in routine paperwork—the legal equivalent of the common cold. Their books mostly guide people through tasks that lawyers delegate to their secretaries and paralegals, like setting up basic wills. The fee of $150-$400 or more per hour that attorneys usually charge for those services is certainly much higher than the average person’s hourly wage. Despite the old maxim that a person who represents her- or himself “has a fool for a client,” many people are using online sites, software, and the legal guidebooks to in effect act as their own lawyers.

 
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