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Do America and Greece Have a “Lawyer Problem”? Or is it a “Law Problem”?

Category : Law

University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds posed that question in an interesting column in the Washington Examiner over the weekend. In the context of recounting the strife of Demetri Politopoulos, an American brewer/entrepreneur in Greece, in dealing with complex and antiquated laws and regulations, Reynolds asks whether Greece’s hurdles to economic recovery are a result of too many lawyers (1 family lawyer Melbourne for every 250 people), or simply too many laws. Citing to the work of his colleague Ben Barton (and comparing the Greek and American situations), he concludes:
In particular, he [Barton] notes that in America, pretty much all judges (except for a few justices of the Peace and such) are lawyers. And, after examining the work of judges in a number of different areas, he concludes that judges systematically rule in ways that favor lawyers, and that make the legal system more complex. (And legislators, mostly lawyers themselves, aren’t much better).
Barton tells me that his thesis gets two very different reactions depending on the audience: Non-lawyers find it painfully obvious, while most lawyers and legal academics find it shocking and offensive.
I’m neither shocked nor offended, but I do think that there’s a real problem with America’s current legal environment, and I think that we’re in pretty much the same situation as Greece: If we want the kind of economic growth it’s going to take to get us out of our current economic and indebtedness crisis, we’re going to have to drastically reduce the number of laws and regulations confronting new and existing businesses.

The New York Times article on Politopoulos to which Reynolds cites is a great read on an American entrepreneur abroad. Among many interesting tidbits is this difficulty with Politopoulos’ idea to produce a Snapple-like herbal tea beverage:
Bad as all that has been, nothing prepared him for this reality: He would be breaking the law if he tried to fulfill his latest — and, he thinks, greatest — entrepreneurial dream. It is to have his brewery produce and export bottles of a Snapple-like beverage made from herbal tea, which he is cultivating in the mountains that surround this lush pocket of the country.
An obscure edict requires that brewers in Greece produce beer — and nothing else. Mr. Politopoulos has spent the better part of the last year trying fruitlessly to persuade the Greek government to strike it. “It’s probably a law that goes back to King Otto,” said Mr. Politopoulos with a grim chuckle, referring to the Bavarian-born king of Greece who introduced beer to the country around 1850.

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