Major Department



College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2017

Honors Major Advisor

Jennifer Haylett

Thesis Mentor

Steven Hitlin


The combination of the legal profession, individuals’ own motivations, and modern day sociological issues is an assemblage of topics that is vastly understudied. This paper unites those themes through a qualitative study of the justice gap in the United States. There is a significant divide between public interest and private sector law with private lawyers largely outnumbering public lawyers, including public defenders. This gap produces inequality in access to justice throughout society. Through a review of the literature, interviews with nearly 20 law students themselves, and an interview with a law school Dean I explore different avenues through which this inequality could have manifested itself, including on an individual level and institutional level. My findings were that individuals’ own personal reasons and perceptions—or moral motivations—as well as financial motivations are the two biggest contributors to the justice gap. A surprising finding was that almost all of my interviewees said that, no matter whether private or public law, one of the biggest motivators for them was that in their career they felt they would be upholding social justice and that was vastly important to them. The institution itself did not appear to be an active influencer on what area of law U.S. students are entering into. However, I argue that it is very likely that it does act as an indirect or passive influencer. Looking at all of these possible reasons together, instead of separate, provides a new outlook on how we have studied this topic.

Total Pages

39 pages


Copyright © 2017 Abigail Olson