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Access to Justice

Author: Rebecca Sandefur

From the founding of the American Bar Foundation, ABF scholars have been deeply engaged with fundamental questions of access to justice. Faculty Fellow Rebecca L. Sandefur's research on access to justice and civil legal needs continues this tradition through innovative empirical research and symposia that bridges the divides of scholarship and practice. Professor Sandefur's research produces new knowledge that informs our basic understanding of law and legal processes and is a powerful resource for policy makers and service providers as they seek to respond to the legal needs of the public today.

Civil Legal Aid: In the United States, civil justice problems are widespread. Just how widespread cannot be known, as the most recent comprehensive national survey of public experience with civil justice problems and institutions is thirty-five years old. These common problems affect as many as 150 million people each year, and have potentially wide-ranging and powerful impacts on core areas of life such as livelihood, shelter, the care and custody of minor children and dependent adults, neighborhood safety, and environmental conditions. Despite the fact that most of these problems never reach the formal justice system, courts are often overwhelmed by the numbers of civil litigants. Local, state, and federal governments, generous individuals, and private foundations contribute more than $1 billion each year to fund civil legal assistance for low- and moderate-income people, but because we lack research on this topic, we know little about how this activity is organized, what services this funding supports, how existing programs do their work, and whether outreach efforts adequately understand and address the most common barriers to access to these services. 

Roles Beyond Lawyers: Many in the United States who need assistance handling civil justice issues do not obtain it; some call this an “access to justice crisis." Emerging strategies for responding include new “roles beyond lawyers”—people who are not fully trained and qualified attorneys but who are authorized to do some of the work that traditionally only licensed lawyers have been able to do, such as giving legal advice to members of the public. These innovations seek to expand people’s access to rights and remedies under law while at the same time reducing the burdens that courts face when many litigants appear without lawyer representation. The Roles Beyond Lawyers study investigates how and how well these programs work at achieving their goals.

Read the ABF Research Brief on Professor Rebecca L. Sandefur's research on civil legal needs and public legal understanding »


Summaries and findings

Preliminary Evaluation of the Washington State Limited License Legal Technician Program
Mar 21, 2017
Roles Beyond Lawyers: Evaluation of the New York City Court Navigators Program
Dec 14, 2016
Professor Sandefur presents her Access to Justice research at U.S. Department of Justice meeting
Feb 29, 2016
Roles Beyond Lawyers: New study will open door for examination of how legal needs are met without lawyers
Apr 12, 2015
Professor Sandefur presents her first findings on civil legal needs at 2014 ABA Annual Meeting
Aug 8, 2014
Civil Legal Needs and Public Legal Understanding Handout
Jan 1, 2014
Building Capacity for Access to Justice Research
Dec 7, 2012
Community Needs and Services Study (CNSS)
Jan 1, 2012
Access Across America
Oct 7, 2011

All summaries and findings »

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