Access to Legal Services

July 22, 1977

Report Outline
Public's Unmet Legal Needs
Public Interest Law Movement
Resolution of ‘Minor Disputes’
Special Focus

Public's Unmet Legal Needs

Inability and Reluctance to Hire Lawyers

According to the basic laws of economics, excess supply usually results in lower prices and greater accessibility to a product. Conversely, high prices along with growing difficulty in obtaining the product should indicate an inadequate supply. But the law of supply and demand does not always function smoothly, as the current state of legal services in the United States demonstrates.

In the past 10 years, law has become the country's fastest growing profession. There are now approximately 445,000 lawyers in the United States. The nation has one lawyer for every 484 persons—a higher ratio than in any other country except Israel. Despite the number of attorneys, there appears to be a significant demand for legal services that has not been met. The problem, according to a Trial magazine editor, Barbara A. Stein, revolves around two factors: (1) the public's ignorance of how to find an attorney as well as the kind of services lawyers provide, and (2) an apparent inability of the legal profession to deliver services at prices that are reasonable.

A recent survey by the American Bar Association and the American Bar Foundation underscored the magnitude of the problem. Only about one-third (35.8 per cent) of the adults who were surveyed had ever consulted a lawyer, and only about a quarter (27.9 per cent) had actually retained a lawyer. One reason so many people appear to avoid lawyers is the perceived cost of their services. Over 60 per cent of the respondents to the survey agreed to the statement: “Most lawyers charge more for their services than they are worth.”

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Legal Professions and Resources