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Both the title, The Legal, Needs of the Public, and the subtitle, The Final, Report of a National, Survey, of this volume are, quite fortunately, inapt. The report does not seek to quantify the legal needs of the public or to determine whether "needs" are being "met," and we are told by both Barbara Curran in her preface and Spencer Kimball in his foreword that this "final report" signifies the beginning and not the end of data analysis. This study (which I shall call the ABF study) is a joint undertaking of the American Bar Association Special Committee to Survey Legal Needs and the American Bar Foundation. It is the most recent of a number of survey studies that have sought information on popular attitudes toward lawyers and the legal system, the public's experience with lawyers and the legal system, and the past incidence and distribution of situations where individuals might have benefited from legal services. This last focus has led some people to characterize this research as research on "legal need," but, as Curran recognizes, situations where lawyers might have aided respondents are not necessarily situations where respondents needed lawyers. The fact that a problem is in some sense "legal" does not mean that an individual acting alone or with lay help cannot resolve it satisfactorily nor does it mean that it makes economic sense to hire a lawyer whenever professional help promises an incremental advantage.


Reproduced with permission. Copyright 1979 The University of Chicago and the American Journal of Sociology. Available at