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The amount and the quality of schools and graduates in legal sciences has been a permanent but extremely low-intensity debate in Latin America. Is it time to pop the region’s legal bubble?

In Latin Trade’s inaugural ranking of the size of legal services, Paraguay is the country with the most lawyers per capita. The South American nation has 722 legal professionals per 100,000 inhabitants. Panama follows with 570 and Bolivia comes-in third with 489. World figures make these numbers seem extraordinarily large. The UK, one of the largest and most prestigious legal centers on the planet, has 413 lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants.

Still (surprisingly) attractive: Social prestige, no math requirements for admission and a flexible curriculum that allows graduates to drastically alter their career path, are some of the appealing elements for law students in Latin America. Why?

  • Recent World Bank studies have shown repeatedly that the lack of engineers, compared to graduates in humanities and law, represents an obstacle to innovation and economic growth in the region. Poor mathematics, tech and engineering training go against the promotion of new technologies.
  • Oversupply seems to be the word that characterizes the Latin American legal scene. Rubén Galeano, president of the Colegio de Abogados del Paraguay, cited by Última Hora, stated that one in four law graduates will find formal employment in the country. The rest will go to self-employment or completely change activities. Per Última Hora, call centers seem to be the best refuge for unemployed lawyers in Paraguay.

 

A sign of weakness? Sources cited by Bolivian Brújula Digital hypothesize that weak institutions explain the demand for lawyers in the country. This situation requires constant legal battling between individuals and the demands of the labor system.

  • The amount and the quality of schools and graduates in legal sciences has been a permanent but extremely low-intensity debate in Latin America. With few exceptions, there seems to be no action to change the situation.

A global comparison: There might be some methodological differences between global and Latin American statistics, but a worldwide ranking does give elements, albeit impressionistic, to shape a picture on the state of the legal profession in the region.

  • One half of the top 20 countries in the world ranking are in Latin America.
  • With the exception of Panama, where legal services are a significant part of the economy, the efficacy of the business of law might be questioned in other parts of the region. Compare: Per CityUK, the UK employs 314,100 in legal services and dispute resolution (413 per 100,000). It derives close to 2 percent of its GDP and generates a $4.2 billion trade surplus from these activities. Two of the four largest companies by headcount and 10 by revenue are based in the country and almost a third (27 percent) of the world’s 320 legal jurisdictions use English Common Law.
  • “Germany has too many lawyers,” stated a recent DW report. “… some young lawyers already have to work second jobs to get by financially as there is not enough work for them,” the document added. Food for Latin American thought?

 

A word of warning. Chinese firms are growing rapidly. Per the International Bar Association, large U.S. and UK-based firms are losing ground in China, due to Chinese firms taking domestic and inbound work, forcing international competitors to retreat from the country.

  • With figures from The Lawyer China, the top 10 Chinese firms grew their lawyer headcount by 68 percent between 2014 and 2016, to almost 8,000 professionals. This is getting closer to one-third of the 26,200 lawyers that the top 10 U.S. firms post.
  • This reshaping of the legal practices world map might well put additional pressure on Latin American markets. Is it time to pop the region’s legal bubble?

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