Money Isn't Everything: Understanding Moderate Income Households' Use of Lawyers' Services
Rebecca L. Sandefur. 2012. “Money Isn’t Everything: Understanding Moderate Income Households’ Use of Lawyers’ Services.” In Middle Income Access to Justice, edited by Anthony Duggan, Lorne Sossin and Michael Trebilcock. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
13 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2017
Date Written: 2012
We know surprisingly little about the use of lawyers by moderate income people. What we do know includes some unexpected elements. Despite a widely shared perception that lawyers' services are prohibitively expensive, a survey of Americans who have used lawyers' services finds that Americans are often satisfied with the fees they paid, while surveys of Americans who considered and decided not to use lawyers have found that this decision is motivated by cost in only a minority of instances.
Drawing on fundamental insights from sociology, I propose two additional factors that may shape middle income Americans' use of lawyers: the social construction of legality and social searching. The legal nature of any given problem is socially constructed. In many instances, people do not think of their civil justice problems in legal terms and so do not consider legal staff, such as lawyers, as an appropriate source of assistance. Social searching reflects a common way that people respond to the challenges attendant on finding service providers in markets: people rely on people whom they already know as sources of referrals to specific attorneys or as providers of legal services. The costs of lawyers' services are a part of what is shaping moderate income families' behavior, but they are not the only factor. The findings have implications for access to justice policy.
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