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Legal Aid in the Eye of a Storm: Rationing, Contracting, and a New Institutionalism

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This article discusses possible rationales underlying a legal aid system through an articulation of theories of distribution in the legal services market, considers the idea of prioritization and planning or, in the political vernacular, rationing of public funding, and addresses the impact of economic and social theories of the professions on legal aid structures. Finally, the emerging concepts of '‘new-institutionalism’ and ‘new public management’ are introduced to indicate the organizational and sociological complexity of reforming the legal services market. Each of these threads illustrate competing values and institutional influence on publicly funded legal services. Bureaucratic rules mix with professional and economic incentives to articulate entitlement to public money in a predominantly private forum. Drawing on research in the field of rationing health care, sociological and economic work on legal services, and organizational theories, it will be demonstrated that conceptual, policy, and research tools need to play closer attention to this competition of values.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, England

Publication date: September 1, 1998


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