Vice-President’s Quayle’s speech last year regarding the overabundance of lawyers in America seems to have had little effect on the 84 students in my first-year Civil Procedure class. The Vice-President’s speech has affected only some members of the bar who are looking to protect their interests. This lack of response to the Vice-President’s speech is unfortunate because he delivered the right message; he just chose the wrong audience.

The Vice-President correctly noted that the American legal system is replete with problems. Certainly, most reasonable people, which includes even a healthy number of lawyers, agree with the Vice-President’s call for a system that makes the loser pay the winner’s costs in many cases. So too, many of those same persons would agree that the number of lawsuits filed in America hurt our country’s competitiveness. However, neither of these problems, nor a vast number of others hindering our legal system, arose because of too many lawyers. Supply did not create demand.

Instead, the free market system has convinced more and more, and better and better (so my admissions director tells me) students to matriculate at my law school and at others across the country. The free market, with a hand from L.A. Law, has convinced these students that becoming a lawyer will benefit them enough to forego three years of salary at some other endeavor and to spend at least fifteen thousand dollars to come to the law school where I teach. Many of my current students have left jobs to come to law school because they think this will lead to better and more frequent promotions in their line of work. Employers, in other words, have provided an incentive for attending law school. They have done so for several reasons.

Forty or fifty years ago employers considered a bachelor’s degree a mark of distinction; an employee who was a college graduate was, in fact, considered an exceptional thinker. Very few of us hold such ideas today. As the number of colleges and college graduates proliferated, it grew harder to distinguish what the degree actually meant, and whether it meant anything other than four years of spent time. Many college graduates cannot analyze difficult problems, and some of them are barely literate. I know, I teach some of the best of these graduates every year. In short, a college diploma now has little meaning, and like all paper currency it is subject to devaluation. Consequently, the law degree has replaced the B.A. as good coin.

Law professors at most law schools today, Yale being an exception, teach from casebooks and the legal codes. Instruction from either one demands that the students learn how to read a text and how to distinguish right from wrong, success from failure, and winners from losers. The law student learns how to analyze and to find a principle and apply it to varied situations, and how to see an issue from multiple perspectives. Virtually none of these skills are taught, cultivated, or rigorously tested in most of our undergraduate institutions.

Several aspects of the current business climate further encourage the hiring and promoting of lawyers. This country is overrun with laws of all types, many of them as difficult to understand as RICO. Every business must obey volumes of tax, environmental, and regulatory laws issued by federal, state, county, and city government. Few companies and corporations can even conduct business without technically breaching at least some laws. As a consequence, many businesses find it beneficial to have a lawyer on staff to recognize and forestall any legal difficulties. This is critical in today’s regulated business world when even a lawsuit or a technical breach of a law may bankrupt a company. Many employers have concluded that not having a lawyer may be more expensive than having one.

These varied reasons give credence to the argument that, although the Vice-President was correct when he said the country had too many lawyers, he spoke to the wrong audience. If the Vice-President wanted to decrease the number of lawyers he should have addressed the three sources that created the demand. First, he should have addressed the country’s universities, where true learning is at a low ebb. Second, he should have spoken to the legislators in this country who continue to write laws that have few benefits other than ensuring full employment for lawyers. This should have been followed by the President’s stated commitment not to sign any legislation that does not carry with it a clear analysis of the legal costs of compliance with the legislation and the likelihood of extensive litigation arising from the law. Third, he should have encouraged the President to appoint judges who believe the law should be interpreted and not written and rewritten by the courts.

Fortunately, we live in a country where demand gives rise to supply. Unfortunately, demand for lawyers is high because colleges are failing at their essential task, because legislators write volumes of opaque laws, and because judges continue to rewrite laws to fit their particular concept of justice. Mr. Vice-President, cut demand.