Seeing this tractor festooned with as many stickers as an Indy race car, I got to thinking about lawyers… When exactly did they take over?
How do you think the concentration of lawyers in the U.S. in 1970 compares to prior decades, back to 1900? I assumed a steady growth of lawyers, given the profound transition from a rural agrarian nation to a metropolitan nation with complex industries.
It reminded me of a fascinating talk by Robert Putnam on social capital and the breakdown of a culture of general reciprocity:
“Astonishingly, America had fewer lawyers per capita in 1970 than in 1900.
After 1970, however, the ratio of lawyers to the rest of us suddenly exploded, more than doubling in the next quarter century, and bloating this entry in our national ‘transaction cost’ accounts.
No other major profession experienced this same post-1970 explosion. After 1970 the legal profession grew three times faster than the professions as a whole.
For the first seven decades of the 20th century the ratio of lawyers to engineers fell steadily, as our economy became more ‘technology intensive.’ By 1970 America had 1 lawyer for every 4.5 engineers. At that point, however, the century’s trend was completely reversed. By 1995, despite all he talk of a high-tech economy, we had 1 lawyer for every 2.1 engineers.” (Bowling Alone, pp.145-6.)
Last year, an IBM executive told me they have more lawyers working on “nanotech” than engineers.