The article ``Do Too Many Lawyers Spoil the Economy,'' Feb. 15, from the ``Business Goes to Court'' series, omits an important consideration in the analysis of whether the United States has too many lawyers. The legal systems of the countries mentioned in the article vary widely.
Prof. Stephen Magee, whose study is addressed in the article, is practically comparing apples to oranges. For example, in England there are barristers and solicitors. Only barristers are licensed to appear in court, but solicitors perform other legal functions comparable to what lawyers in the US do. Germany, France, and most other civil law countries have several categories of legal professions, only one of which is referred to as ``lawyer'' in their respective languages. Specifically, in Germany ``notaries'' perform many of the functions that lawyers in the US perform, such as drafting wills and contracts and performing other transactional legal work. Germans do not refer to notaries as lawyers. Nevertheless, the same people in the US would be licensed as lawyers.
If Mr. Magee compares lawyers in the US to ``lawyers'' in these countries, he will necessarily find that the US has more lawyers because of these systemic differences. The article does not make clear whether Magee's research takes such differences into account.
Ray August, an associate professor of law at Washington State University, and Toshika Kitawaki, an associate professor of law at Nihon University in Tokyo, have taken these differences into account and have concluded that Japan probably has more lawyers per capita than the US (whereas on the ``Magee curve,'' Japan has less than half the number of attorneys per 1,000 workers than the US).
Finally, even comparing apples to oranges, US law firms bill less per hour than law firms in most of the countries listed in the Magee curve.
According to a 1992 survey of leading law firms conducted by International Financial Law Review 1000, Britain charges the most in average billing rates at $585 per hour. The US is not even among the top 10. The cost of legal services to the economy is also a major factor that Magee's research is not adequately addressing. David T. Cox, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published, and none acknowledged. Letters should be addressed to ``Readers Write,'' and can be sent by Internet E-mail (200 word maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115