Universal provision of legal identity, most commonly birth registration, is viewed as both an intrinsic human right and an instrumental development necessity. Legal identity is commonly associated with citizen access to certain benefits and opportunities, protection of human rights, and generation of vital statistics to inform development planning. Research conducted in Nepal, Cambodia, and Bangladesh demonstrates that significant obstacles to obtaining legal identity include financial and procedural barriers, discriminatory laws and policies, institutional incapacity, and citizens’ lack of knowledge and motivation. Robust alternative markets for legal identity reveal the true public demand for identity documents. In the developing country context, the provision of legal identity alone does not necessarily deliver desired development outcomes. Thus, universal civil registration is a necessary and worthy goal, but focus should remain on the ultimate development goals behind universal registration.