According to a report from the International Bar Association (IBA), countries that firmly uphold the rule of law experience greater socio-economic benefits from the everyday contributions of lawyers than governments that impose restrictions on legal rights.

In the first global study to comprehensively quantify the legal profession’s socio-economic influence, “The IBA report on the social and economic impact of the legal profession” reveals that the legal profession directly contributes $1,6-trillion to the global economy, or 1,7% of gross domestic product (GDP), via the work of more than 20-million lawyers, paralegals and support staff alongside a further 14-million workers in the supplier sector, including notaries and translators.

The Impact Report also states that, as threats to the Rule of Law become more serious in many parts of the world, action must be taken to improve access to representation, strengthen advocacy, improve education and pursue the highest ethical standards.

Other findings in the Impact Report include:

* Countries with the best access to justice have 25% fewer cases of governmental overreach;

* Countries with a strong independent legal profession can hold governments to account, attract more investment, provide better healthcare and improve gender equity;

* By increasing legal aid to the same standard seen in the top quartile of countries, inequality could be reduced by 5%;

* A robust rule of law can help countries to achieve: a higher life expectancy; 30% more girls completing secondary education; 53% less pollution; 34-million fewer youths that do not engage in education, employment or training; and greater protection of minorities including LGBTQI+ communities;

* Innovation levels were higher in the top quartile countries with the rule of law, which could generate an additional $83bn in research and development investment;

* Improving civil justice effectiveness could reduce informal employment by $34-million globally;

* Armed conflicts, the rise of autocratic states and anti-globalisation movements threaten the rule of law, which declined in many countries in 2023;

* North America and Europe continue to dominate legal services, accounting for 80% of the market; and

* There is a perception gap regarding the legal profession’s contribution to society, with only 54% of the general public believing lawyers have a positive economic and social impact, compared with a 78% positive perception among legal professionals themselves.

With the publication of the Impact Report, the IBA aims to increase the general public’s understanding of the rule of law, the role of lawyers and the legal profession’s social and economic contribution to society.

As an example of the latter, the breakdown of the data on the legal services sector’s $1,6-trillion contribution to global annual GDP is comprised of $787-billion in legal service revenues, $191-billion of tax contributions and $637-billion of “ecosystem effects” in supply-side services such as administration and broader economic systems. Of the world’s legal services, corporate law contributed $222-billion and litigation $193-billion – the two largest elements of the profession.

Where the rule of law is upheld, countries saw major benefits from legal checks and regulations in areas including government policymaking, environmental standards and economic growth, as well as education, health outcomes and human rights.

Almudena Arpón de Mendívil, president of the IBA, comments: “This landmark study demonstrates, for the first time, in a comprehensive manner, the true contribution of the legal profession through its sustaining of the rule of law. It shows how effective legal systems, supported by robust and independent legal professionals, can limit the overreach of governments, whilst also supporting economic growth, promoting innovation and education, and combating inequality.

“But the rule of law is under threat in many parts of the world, including through subtle attrition in many countries with democratic governments.

“Our profession should take more action to educate the public about the rule of law, increasing awareness of its importance and its significant benefits, as well as denouncing examples of lawlessness. The world’s legal profession makes a clear financial contribution to global GDP, worth $1,6-trillion a year. We must now match that economic impact with increased ambition to enhance access to legal representation, engage in advocacy, strengthen access to education and legal literacy, and to promote the highest standards of professional conduct.”

Several areas of improvement to preserve and strengthen the legal profession’s impact are also identified in the study. Together with ongoing initiatives to promote equality, diversity and well-being in the legal profession they include:

* Enhancing access to legal representation;

* Advocacy and support of policy making;

* Education and communication; and

* Ethics stewardship.