Billions of dollars are spent on legal development every year, but its effectiveness continues to be questioned. Many donors have responded to this internal and external critique by developing monitoring and evaluating systems. This article problematizes the tendency of conventional modes of evaluation to assume a link between the outcomes of individual projects (the ‘truth’ of rule of law) and the fulfillment of overarching program goals (the ‘consequences’). We argue that examining this assumed link is of particular importance as rule of law projects take place within a host of simultaneous political and social changes; are time consuming and unpredictable and have multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives. Our analysis of four recent rule of law projects from Asia, Africa and Latin America exposes the inability of conventional evaluations to accommodate such complexities. We demonstrate how, by contrast, robust empirical research reveals important truths about the disparity between the actual, intended and unintended consequences of legal development projects.