We find ourselves from time to time wondering about many things:

  • Will Moore’s Law ever hit a wall?
  • When will the last print edition of The New York Times be published?
  • Could Lord General Cornwallis have escaped the French/American pincer movement at Yorktown and gone on to win the war for King and redcoats?
  • Are Social Media a dagger to the heart of civilization?
  • And, how exactly does the “intensity” of the application of the Rule of Law and legal services vary around the world?

Some things are imponderable but that last question would lend itself to nothing more than some good old-fashioned solid data.  Except we could never put our hands on everything we needed.

That is before last week, when the just-released 2021 Annual Report Recent Trends in US Services Trade, faithfully published every  year since 1993 by the United States International Trade Commission, hit our desk.

It enabled us to finally pursue our mission of wrapping some data around the question of the relative “intensity,” or penetration, or scale, of the legal services sector in various regions of the world.  I won’t be so audacious (or over-reaching) to suggest that this has anything to do with the power of The Rule of Law; let’s just be content to consider it a rough proxy for how much various countries are predisposed to “lawyer things up.”

Here’s half the data we  need:

Source: USITC 2021 Services Report, p. 66

Using any number of widely available sources of (a) worldwide; and (b) country by country, population, together with the USITC’s handy listing of which countries it deems “European,” “Asia-Pac,” etc., here’s the punchline:

Adam Smith, Esq. calculations


We were, and we were not.  Nothing surprising in the least that the US is the most lawyer-centric economic model in the world, nor that “All other” (mostly Africa, the Middle East, and Islands and Archipelagos) is the least lawyer-centric.  But we honestly anticipated Asia-Pac to be a bit more lawyer-heavy.  (The  USITC specifies that it includes Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as smaller players–China is just over half [50.7%] of all of Asia-Pac.)

And the scale of the differences was something we had not seen coming: It was within the range of reason that the US would be roughly three times as lawyer-intensive as Europe, but 35 times more than Asia-Pac?  

I leave it to you whether to reassess your Asian office footprint–and granted, much of the Asia-Pac demand for lawyering that the Global 100 firms where many of the readers of Adam Smith, Esq. come from is actually driven by clients headquartered in the US or the EU.  To that extent, the “indigenous” legal spend in (say) Japan or South Korea seriously understates the degree to which lawyers are in fact key players at the corporate boardroom tables.  The fees they charge are simply recorded on the books of firms hailing from the  US or the EU.

We will refrain from speculating about the sociopolitical implications of this, whether it reveals anything about cultural attitudes towards what it means to “agree” to something, risk aversion, and so on.  We have satisfied our goal:  Checking something off our “wondering about” list.



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