To Lawyer, or Not to Lawyer, is That the Question?
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Forthcoming
41 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2007 Last revised: 26 Aug 2008
Date Written: February 1, 2008
A central aspect of much of the debate over access to justice is the cost of legal services. The presumption of most participants in the debate is that individuals of limited or modest means do not obtain legal assistance because they cannot afford the cost of that assistance. The question I consider in this paper is whether income is a major factor in the decision to obtain the assistance of a qualified legal professional. Drawing upon data from seven different countries (the United States, England and Wales, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Japan) I examine the relationship between income and using a legal professional. The results are remarkably consistent across the seven countries: income has relatively little relationship with the decision to use a legal professional to deal with a dispute or other legal need. The decision to use a lawyer appears to be much more a function of the nature of the dispute. Even those who could afford to retain a lawyer frequently make the decision to forego that assistance usually at about the same rate as those with limited resources. The analysis suggests that those considering access to justice issues need to grapple with the more general issues of how those with legal needs, regardless of the resources they have available, evaluate the costs and benefits of hiring a lawyer.
Keywords: legal needs, access to justice
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation