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    Charging for joy vs charging for necessity

    Nicole Fichera
    Oct 28, '11 7:04 PM EST

    I don't have time for a long post, so I'll have to come back and write more on this later. But I can't get this article out of my head.

    Architects, doctors and lawyers have all traditionally needed licenses to practice professionally. But young architects [including this one] are questioning the necessity and value of a license in their own lives. For me, the idea of going back to school and then sitting through exams sounds like an awful lot of time and money, and I'm questioning the direct benefit. Not all architecture requires a license. My skill set is applicable to many other things besides architecture. I mean, that's what this blog is all about. I've been thinking for quite some time that It might not be worth it for me to get licensed, that I can practice in other ways successfully.

    But this article stopped me in my tracks:

    Disclaimer: it's about lawyers, not architects. If you hate lawyers, hate reading about them, hate thinking about them, don't read this article.

    Apparently, there is a pair of scholars, Clifford Winston and Robert Crandall [those are like WASPy movie character names!] traveling around preaching a revolutionary idea about the law industry: deregulation. They say, "the legal industry works like a cartel. Requiring lawyers to graduate law school and pass a state bar exam artificially limits the supply of lawyers, pushing up prices. The process also blocks potential business innovations that would bring down costs."

    This sounds like standard modern business rhetoric: open up the playing field, let people compete, let innovation happen.

    The interesting part of their argument [for me] was this: "ABA occupational licensing requirements have allowed lawyers to create a club with a limited membership that is able to raise prices to consumers, which is how top lawyers can get away with charging upwards of $1000 per hour for their time."

    I think their argument is flawed, and here's why. If exclusivity sets the high prices, then why can't architects charge at the same level? Architects have a much harder time billing for their hours than other professional practices--doctors and lawyers.

    It's not the club, because we have that too. It's not the rigorous education or the arduous exam process--we've got that down.

    It's the circumstances under which we're hired. Doctors and lawyers are hired out of necessity, and often fear. They are hired to clean up messes, to make problems go away.

    We are hired for a very different reason. Sure, we clean up messes; sure, we deal with complicated problems. But our value is not just one of coordination and technological expertise. Our value is beauty, joy. People are willing to pay to escape misery, but they skimp on attaining joy.

    My question is: what can we do to fix this?

    My other question is: if the exclusivity of licensure increases our value, are we [am I] doing myself a disservice by pursuing alternate routes?



    • ariana

      hmm...good questions.

      why do people have to jump through so many hoops at all?


      Oct 29, 11 8:31 pm  · 

      so, nicole, two thoughts on both the article and your reaction: first, i think these guys are dead wrong on their assumptions. licensing, in any profession, inherently creates a kind of exclusivity because there are only going to be a given number of people willing to do what it takes to attain the license. but what licensing does that's vastly more important is to set a minimum - MINIMUM - level of competence which is (supposedly) designed to protect the public from just anyone laying claim to the title. but what they miss on worst is their supposed correlation between exclusivity and pricing. the reason there are lawyers that can charge $1000/hr is that there are people who want or need the level of precise, specialized expertise those people provide. that's not just basic level, general practice lawyers - that's highly specialized people who take care of your billion dollar problem. even then, the percentage of highly specialized lawyers is relatively small - for every one, there's a public defender or rural lawyer charging $250 for an uncontested divorce. 

      second, and to your reaction - i really hope it's for the joy and beauty that we offer. mostly, though, i'm afraid it's actually simpler and more difficult to change:  buildings are usually planned out far in advance and selecting an architect happens (relatively) far in advance. that extra time, compared to needing a lawyer to handle a dwi, gives clients more room to choose and think (a lot) about that choice. too many practitioners will use that gap to make price a determining factor (but, look, so will a lot of lawyers and a ton of other professions in general).

      Oct 29, 11 10:32 pm  · 

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We live in uncertain times. Let's use the uncertainty to redefine the way we are valued and the way we measure ourselves, to create the context for the change we want to make.

Twitter: @NicoleFichera

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