Life in the Law-Thick World: The Legal Resource Landscape for Ordinary Americans
In S. Estreicher and J Radice (eds) Beyond Elite Law: Access to Civil Justice in America (Cambridge University Press 2016)
40 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2015 Last revised: 19 May 2016
Date Written: January 9, 2015
Most advanced democracies are thick with law and regulation, rules that structure almost all social and economic relationships. Yet ordinary Americans, unlike their peers in other advanced systems, face this law-thick landscape with relatively few legal resources at their disposal. In this chapter, an updated version of Hadfield Higher Demand Lower Supply? A Comparative Assessment of the Legal Resource Landscape for Ordinary Americans (2009), we document what little data exists on the performance of legal markets for non-corporate clients in the U.S. Our results suggest that while the U.S. has nearly twice as many lawyers as comparable countries on a per capita basis, Americans in fact confront the legal problems of daily life - housing, family, employment, finances, health - with relatively little access to affordable legal help. We begin with a ‘macro’ view, comparing the resources at an aggregate level that are devoted to the legal system in the U.S. as compared to other countries. We find that the U.S. operates with fewer public dollars, judges and even lawyers on a per case basis than other advanced countries. We then consider ‘micro’ data, specifically data on legal needs and use of legal resources, comparing the intensity of legal need and access to legal assistance across countries. Here too we find that Americans experience comparable rates of legal problems but both give up on those problems or manage them without legal help at higher rates than in other advanced countries. The paper concludes with a discussion of how the distinctively restrictive U.S. approach to regulating the legal profession can account for the diminished access to legal help experienced by Americans as compared to those in countries with more open legal markets such as the U.K. and the Netherlands.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation