Rebecca L. Sandefur joined the American Bar Foundation in 2010 to found and lead a new access to justice research initiative. She continues to head up this initiative as Faculty Fellow at the Foundation and also serves on the Sociology and Law faculty of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
Professor Sandefur studies access to civil justice from every angle – from how legal services are delivered and consumed, to how civil legal aid is organized around the nation, to the role of pro bono, to the relative efficacy of lawyers and non-lawyers as advocates and representatives, to how ordinary people think about their justice problems and try to resolve them. Her current research includes the Community Needs and Services Study (CNSS), a community-sited, multi-method study of ordinary people’s experiences with civil justice problems and the resources available to assist them in handling those problems. The CNSS is funded by the National Science Foundation (SES-1123507) and the American Bar Foundation. She is also at work on a project drawing on the After the JD (AJD) surveys exploring how lawyers who take relatively low-paying jobs serving government, public interest causes, or ordinary people are able (or not) to manage high levels of educational debt. She serves on the Executive Coordinating Committee of the AJD. Her work has been published in law reviews, edited volumes and peer-reviewed journals such as American Sociological Review, Work and Occupations, and Law and Society Review.
Her public service has included advising state access to justice commissions and service on the Right to Counsel Committee of the California Access to Justice Commission, the Research Advisory Board of the Civil Right to Counsel Leadership and Support Initiative, and the Sargent Shriver Civil Right to Counsel Evaluation Committee. Before joining the American Bar Foundation and the University of Illinois, Sandefur received her PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago in 2001 and served for 9 years on the sociology faculty of Stanford University.
In October 2018, Professor Sandefur was notably awarded a 2018 MacArthur Fellow and MacArthur “Genius” Grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for her research involving inequality in law, particularly as it relates to her work addressing the civil legal needs of low-income people.