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Since the late 1930s, lawyers have argued that their services are not used to the fullest advantage by a large segment of the population. More recently, other concerned groups such as trade unions and consumer organizations also have become convinced that there is an underutilization of lawyers' services, and that it is important to increase access to such services. As a result, attempts have been made to develop alternatives to the traditional methods of providing legal services that to date have proved inadequate in meeting the legal needs of the public. Legal clinics have proliferated, prepaid legal services plans have been inaugurated on a wide scale, and the organized bar has attempted to revitalize its lawyer referral services. All of this has been done, however, without a complete understanding of why people do or do not use lawyers.

This Project examines factors said to affect utilization of legal services by analyzing the results of a national survey conducted between 1973 and 1974 by the Special Committee to Survey Legal Needs of the American Bar Association and the American Bar Foundation (ABA-ABF Survey). This analysis reveals that lawyer use depends principally upon three factors—the number of times a person has experienced a legal problem, whether a person owns real property, and whether a person has personal contacts with a lawyer. These findings are then used to evaluate the potential of several alternative legal delivery systems for increasing lawyer use. The Project concludes that closed-panel prepaid plans and legal clinics have the greatest potential for increasing lawyer use, though both may have only a limited impact.

Publication Citation

90 Yale L.J. 122 (1980).