By Herbert M. Kritzer. Published by Fordham Urban Law Journal. Published in 2010.
Kritzer asks whether affordability is the actual reason why low and moderate income households frequently do not seek representation when facing a legal problem. Citing ABA’s Comprehensive Legal Needs Study, he notes that only 16% percent of low-income respondents and 8% of moderate-income respondents mention cost concerns when surveyed. Across various studies, other factors tended to be mentioned more often than cost. While acknowledging the ABA’s finding that 85% of low-income and moderate-income households do not seek counsel, Kritzer claims that a study of the entire population, including the top economic quintile, needs be surveyed to see if seeking counsel is dependent on income status or if most people, regardless of financial situation, do not seek counsel when handling a legal issue.
In the studies reviewed by Kritzer, whether legal advice was sought depended heavily upon the nature of the problem at issue:
A 1967 Detroit Area Study found that the type of problem, rather than the type of person, was the best predictor as to whether a lawyer was sought. While the highest income group was the most likely to employ a lawyer, Kritzer explains that this was the product of a cost-benefit analysis – individuals with higher incomes had more assets to protect.
A 1973-74 American Bar Foundation study, surveying all income groups, found little mean income difference between those individuals who employed counsel versus those that did not employ counsel ($10,600 for those that did employ counsel compared $10,200 for those that did not). The study also recognized a strong correlation between the type of problem and whether a lawyer was employed.
A Civil Litigation Research Project Study identified households which had experienced a “middle-range” dispute, focusing on disputes where the parties had a choice of whether or not to involve a court. The study found some correlation between an individual’s wealth and the likelihood that they employed a lawyer to resolve their grievances, but Kritzer notes that the dominant factor was still type of problem.
Unable to find a recent nation-wide survey covering all income groups, Kritzer also cites a survey conducted by the Canadian Department of Justice in 2006 that found no clear relationship between lawyer use and income. Kritzer says that assessing the demand for legal aid is difficult as offering the services for free inherently distorts the market and claims that requiring a client to co-pay might lower the excessive demands placed on the system. He also concludes that a study must be conducted nation-wide of all economic classes. If there is little correlation between income and lawyer employment, it might indicate “that the legal profession’s view of the value of lawyer assistance is overstated.”