The American Bar Association's Amnesty Hypocrisy

Promoting amnesty that will harm low-skill workers -- while protecting the legal field from foreign worker competition.

american-bar-association4If you ever wondered why lawyers cost so much, it’s because legal licensing agencies operate like an old-fashioned cartel. But when it comes to pushing their political agenda in Congress and the media, it is globalism and unrestrained immigration for everyone else.

State bar associations, along with the American Bar Association (ABA), the national regulator, are intensely protectionist. This is understandable, given the current economic pain felt in the industry. Over the last few years, state bar associations have increasingly tightened up the admission standards for foreign law degree-holders. Currently, only a few states let such foreign JD and LLB graduates from developed common law-countries (Britain, Canada, Australia, etc.) take the exam directly after graduation.

On top of essentially barring foreigners, the ABA also tightens entry by regulating the number of places available at accredited law schools. In addition, they ratchet up the level of difficulty of state bar exams, require additional "professional responsibility" exams, and force practicing attorneys to pursue "continuing legal education" throughout their career. Each of these measures is arguably of questionable importance. It also contradicts the ABA’s position in other sectors of the labor market, which is seen most clearly by their very vocal support for amnesty for illegal immigrants and increased immigration in general.

As one of the most powerful special interest groups in the country, the 400,000-member ABA lobbies Congress on a host of policy issues. In recent decades, it has also morphed into something of a public policy think tank. From its giant headquarters just a block from the White House, the ABA churns out white paper after white paper on various "social justice" issues. On immigration, they’ve set up numerous "immigrant rights" commissions as well programs that provide free legal services to illegal aliens. Keeping our nation’s borders as porous as possible seems to be one of the organization’s highest priorities. One ABA-offshoot, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, is particularly adept at lobbying Congress on immigration, specifically on increasing the number of temporary H-1B "skilled worker" visas, whose U.S. employers are the Association members’ main clients.

Pushing for ever increasing immigration imposes a loose labor market on our economy’s most vulnerable participants, namely low-skilled menial laborers, manufacturing workers, people in the restaurant and construction industry, and minimum-wage earners in general. Considering the ABA’s tight regulation of the legal industry and the protectionist policies they apply to their own member base, this all seems rather two-faced.

One development that may temper the ABA’s enthusiasm for liberal immigration policies is the increased utilization of "legal outsourcing" ‒ the growing practice of outsourcing back-office and some mid-office legal work to places like India. India, whose legal system follows the British common law model, has over 1.2 million lawyers, most of whom have excellent English skills. Indian-based legal outsourcing has been increasing in recent years with routine tasks, such as document review and legal writing and research, being sent to Indian practitioners whose rates are 10 percent of their American counterparts. There’s little reason why other more substantive litigation and transactional work couldn’t also follow.

It is also logical to think that enterprising Indian firms, like H-1B visa giants Tata and Infosys, may start bringing in Indian attorneys to do legal work, just as they do computer programmers now. If major consumers of legal services, such as Fortune 500 companies, begin to demand more outsourcing and lower billing rates, it’s unclear how the ABA would respond, but it’s hoped they’ll at least start to realize what it’s like to have one’s livelihood and standard of living put under threat.

Some observers rightly point out that lawyers (like journalists and politicians) are more favorable to immigration because their jobs are naturally insulated from foreign competition. But if legal outsourcing really began to gain momentum, perhaps the ABA elites would begin to feel the pinch that unprotected American workers have felt for decades.

If this were to happen, watch our politicians (40 percent of House members and 60 percent of the Senate hold law degrees) suddenly find the time and resources needed to secure the borders and implement perennially stalled programs such as e-Verify and biometric entry-exit systems. Until then unfortunately, it will likely continue to be "do as I say, not as I do" for elitist lobbies like the ABA.

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