- Issue 4 - June 2016, Volume 43

Do Lawyers Matter? The Effect of Legal Representation in Civil Disputes

Article by: Emily S. Taylor Poppe & Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

43 PEPP. L. REV. 881 (2016)

With declining law school enrollments, rising rates of pro se litigation, increasing competition from international lawyers and other professionals, and disparaging assessments from the Supreme Court, the legal profession is under increasing attack. Recent research suggesting that legal representation does not benefit clients has further fueled an existential anxiety in the profession.  Are lawyers needed and do they matter? In this Article, we review the existing empirical research on the effect of legal representation on civil dispute outcomes. Although the pattern of results has complexities, across a wide range of substantive areas of law (housing, governmental benefits, family law, employment law, small claims, tax, bankruptcy, and torts), professional legal representation is associated with better outcomes for litigants. Only in juvenile court (and perhaps in cases involving claims to government benefits) is the benefit of representation unclear.