This paper is concerned with how we ought to think about legitimate expectations in the non-ideal, ‘real’ world. In one (dominant) strand of contemporary theories of justice, justice requires not that each gets what she deserves, but that each gets that to which she is entitled in accordance with what Rawls calls ‘the public rules that specify the scheme of cooperation’. However, that is true only if those public rules are part of a fully just scheme and it is plausibly the case that no such scheme obtains in the real world. Given that, and given the centrality of legitimate expectations to theories of justice, it is vital to think about the status of such expectations in non-ideal circumstances. Having explained the sense in which legitimate expectations have come to play a role often previously associated with desert, a brief argument in favour of an ‘expectations’ view of punishment is considered to show that the system to public rules that generates expectations must itself be (in some sense) just. This argument is illustrated by appeal to just punishment and the relevance of thinking about punishment and not merely distributive justice is defended. In the absence of justice, one possibility would be simply to declare that there are no legitimate expectations and so theories of justice provide no guidance as to who should get what in non-ideal conditions. However, this would be to render such theories more-or-less useless in practice. Through discussion of a series of vignettes, the paper offers an account of how we might think about the demands such expectations place on the systems that give rise to them even in cases where the system is unjust.