Legal Aid and Legal Expenses Insurance, Complements or Substitutes? The Case of the Netherlands


  • We thank Olaf van Vliet and an anonymous referee for useful comments on an earlier draft of this article. Jim Been and Nikolaj Tollenaar helped us with the statistical analysis.

Carolien M. Klein Haarhuis, PO Box 20301, 2500EH The Hague, The Netherlands; email: Van Velthoven is Associate Professor in law and economics, Faculty of Law, Leiden University; Klein Haarhuis is Researcher at the Research and Documentation Centre, Ministry of Justice.


This article is an empirical study of the interrelationship between (subsidized) legal aid and legal expenses insurance (LEI) in the Netherlands. Is LEI a system that is relevant only to the high-income groups that are not eligible for legal aid? Is it therefore a complement to legal aid? Or is LEI also of interest to lower-income groups, and can it serve as a substitute? Our analysis is based on data from the second wave of the Dutch Paths to Justice Survey held in 2009. We first study how the holdership of LEI policies is distributed among the population in general and among income classes in particular. We then discuss how the incidence of justiciable problems interrelates with the possession of LEI. Next, we study how the possession of LEI affects the responses to justiciable problems. Do people take action? Do they seek legal advice? From which sources? Finally, we take a look at the results. Comparing the respondents with and without LEI in various income classes, we try to answer the central question: Complement or substitute? We conclude that a shift from legal aid to LEI has some clear disadvantages for low-income citizens, but these may well be compensated for by some important advantages, brought to the fore by our empirical data.