What if We Regulated Legal Services Like Health Care?

Well, the future of American health care is now controlled by lawyers. That may not be news – doctors, drug makers, and medical-device makers have long complained about the cost of lawsuits. But this different: The future of PPACA is in the hands of the Supreme Court. Hundreds of lawyers billed thousands of hours analyzing and preparing briefs for the case. And that’s after countless hours spent by Congressional staff lawyers putting the bill together in 2009 and 2010. The result? A “law” so confusing that even the legislators – themselves mostly lawyers – could not bother to even try to read it.

It makes one think: If the lawyers are designing the health-care system, shouldn’t they be forced to operate under regulations similar to those they’re imposing? How, for example, do lawyers get paid? Today, they negotiate fees with clients. That hardly seems fair. In health care, doctors don’t negotiate fees with patients, they get paid according to an opaque schedule determined by health plans. Lawyers should do the same. The solution is “legal insurance”. After all, who amongst us knows when we’ll need a lawyer? It is often an unpredictable expense, and yet the “market” seems to have failed to provide such insurance. Government must intervene.

And what about seniors? Can they all afford the legal services they require? Certainly not. So, we need a compulsory, single-payer, legal care program for seniors. The Department of Justice will oversee all claims. How will fees be determined? That’s easy. Let’s define a standard “unit” of legal care. For the sake of argument, let’s say it is preparing a will for a married couple, each 60 years of age, with a combined household income of $100,000 and wealth of $200,000. Suppose this will takes ten hours to prepare at a cost of one thousand dollars. Thus a standard “unit” of legal care is $100 per hour. Cases that are more complex than this will receive higher hourly reimbursements. A divorce, for example, could be “worth” 1.4 times the standard charge per hour. Fixing a dispute over whether your neighbor’s fence is on your property could be “worth” 0.8 times the standard charge. Of course, there would also be geographic adjustments so that lawyers who practiced in high-cost areas earned more. You might think that the Department of Justice could not possibly manage the overwhelming complexity of this system.

You’d be right, that’s why we would outsource the project to the American Bar Association, which will maintain the codes and earn licensing revenue from vendors who sell manuals, software, training, et cetera to lawyers across the country who need to master the codes in order to submit claims. This revenue will comprise almost all of the ABA’s business in the years to come. Needless to say, any reform to the system will have to be blessed with the ABA’s imprimatur, which the government and media will promote as representing the will of all lawyers.

And what about the quality of legal advice? Look again at the ongoing Supreme Court ObamaCare case. Anyone could submit an amicus brief without any external vetting. Today, the only person a lawyer has to satisfy is her client. Any lawyer who wants to try out a new legal theory is free to do so. This is very confusing, messy, and adds needlessly to legal costs. So, the federal government should establish a 15- person “independent legal advisory board” comprised of the best scholars from the nation’s top law schools. All legal arguments will have to be approved by this board before being used in court, arbitration, or negotiation, to ensure that clients (and “the system”) get value for money.

Well, lawyers, what do you say? Any takers?

Comments (6)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    This a great example of how medical care is over-regulated to the extent that it cannot function in anyway akin to a normal market. If the market for medical care were really free (and had been so for 200 years), it’s impossible for us to even imagine what the industry would look like.

    Just imagine telling a shopkeeper, cobbler or tailor — 200 years ago — that today people would purchase clothing in standardized sizes, from large stores with an infinite variety of goods, much of which were made in low-cost countries. They would never have believed it. It is said that when Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, toured a retail stores during an American visit, he believe the inventory was staged because it was not possible for a free market to provide such bounty.

    The same is true of medical care. People cannot imagine what is possible because they have never seen it.

  2. Joe S. says:

    John, the lawyers would be screaming bloody murder.

  3. Greg says:

    If we did, a lot of lawyers would get what they deserve.

  4. Brian says:

    There would be fewer lowers. The legal market would go from a mass glut to a shortage pretty quick.

  5. Beverly Gossage says:

    Great analogy!

  6. Charles Harris says:

    As a newly barred attorney (working in healthcare law), I love the post!