Albiston and Sandefur: Expanding the Empirical Study of Access to Justice

Professor Dr. Catherine Albiston of the University of California, Berkeley, and Professor Dr. Rebecca L. Sandefur of the University of Illinois, have published Expanding the Empirical Study of Access to Justice, forthcoming in Wisconsin Law Review.

Here is a summary:

[…] In this Essay, we place [traditional research] questions [concerning the effectiveness of access to justice programs] in the context of a larger research agenda that includes elements we believe are essential to intellectually exciting and pragmatically useful A2J research. We call for a research agenda that steps back from lawyers and legal institutions to explore not only whether existing policies are effective, but also how current definitions and understandings of access to justice may blind policy makers to more radical, but potentially more effective, solutions. […]

Research on access to justice, legal need, and the delivery of civil legal services has reached a … theoretical crossroads. A growing body of research attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of civil legal services and the need for representation in legal claims related to poverty and inequality. Although this work explores important questions, alone it is far too narrow. Limiting our efforts to evaluation research risks allowing the policy agenda to define the research questions before the problem and potential responses are fully understood. It also does little to identify the mechanisms through which civil legal services might address troubling inequalities or change society. If we truly wish to address a crisis in access to justice, we need a broader understanding of both what access to justice means and what the current lack of access entails.

[…] we outline a framework for a research agenda that interrogates the premises of the policy model, opens up exploration of alternatives not yet considered, and expands the arenas of inquiry in access to justice. We have two goals. The first is to ensure that empirical research about access to justice is informed by and benefits from theoretical developments in the sociolegal field over the past thirty years. The second is to foster innovative, original approaches to access to justice that think outside the box of dispute resolution and program evaluation. To us, this means considering not only individuals, but also institutions, not only resources, but also social meaning, not only how civil legal services are provided, but how demand for those services is shaped, to name just a few issues. […]

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