Access To Justice Research

The Access to Justice Research Initiative produces new knowledge and scholarship that informs our basic understanding of law and legal processes and serves as a resource for policy makers and service providers as they seek to respond to the legal needs of the public today.

Below are links to featured research and scholarship:


All Together Now: Building a Shared Access to Justice Research Framework for Theoretical Insight and Actionable Intelligence (2023)

Authors: Rebecca L. Sandefur and Matthew Burnett

As empirical research into access to justice burgeons around the world, contemporary work offers opportunities for integration and synthesis, generating insights that can inform both policy priorities and practical decisions about program design and implementation. Access to justice is historically a problem-focused research field, but an important strand of contemporary access to justice research focuses on solutions, or a deeper understanding “what works.” This paper offers a three-part framework for thinking about how research about “what works” in one jurisdiction can inform understanding of what might work in others.

Designing Just Solutions at Scale: Lawyerless Legal Services and Evidence-Based Regulation (2022)

Authors: Matthew Burnett and Rebecca L. Sandefur

Around the world, billions of people lack access to justice, often because they cannot access help in resolving their justice issues. An important reason for this is that many access models rely centrally on lawyers, and such models simply cannot scale. Some jurisdictions allow lawyerless legal services. We offer a new framework for understanding lawyerless legal services that breaks away from lawyer-centric logic. Inspired by experiments in reregulating the practice of law in the United States, we propose a solutions framework with two distinct characteristics: it is evidence-based and it is outcome-focused. We draw on experience from other lawyerless models to imagine what a just solutions framework could look like in practice.

Legal Advice from Nonlawyers: Consumer Demand, Provider Quality, and Public Harms (2020)

Author: Rebecca L. Sandefur

As new forms of legal services proliferate, jurisdictions around the country are reconsidering how they regulate the practice of law, including by permitting
people and things that are not lawyers to provide legal advice and other kinds of legal services. This article explores three kinds of empirical evidence that should inform considerations about nonlawyer legal advice providers.

Three questions guide the inquiry: (1) what is the consumer demand for legal advice? (2) what is the quality of the legal advice being offered by nonlawyers? (3) what harms result from the current restrictions on legal advice by nonlawyers?

Legal Tech for Non-Lawyers: Report of the Survey of US Legal Technologies (2019)

Author: Rebecca L. Sandefur

Legal technology is a rapidly developing field. It includes tools targeted at a range of different user groups, including lawyers, law firms, corporations, in-house legal departments, courts, community organizations, and individual users not trained as attorneys. Some tools do legal work; others track and manage it. Still others are “under the hood,” allowing developers to produce legal tools. With funding from the Open Society Foundations, the Survey of US Legal Technologies, reported on here, sought to identify digital technologies that assist with justice problems in US jurisdictions and include among their user groups non-lawyers, whether individual members of the public working on their own justice problems or non-lawyers such as social workers or community organizers working with the public.

Roles Beyond Lawyers: Evaluation of the New York City Court Navigators Program (2017)

Authors: Rebecca L. Sandefur and Thomas M. Clarke

There is a movement in the United States to expand the use of appropriately trained and supervised individuals without full formal legal training to provide help to people who would otherwise be without legal assistance. The need for such innovations is clear. At the time of this evaluation, 90 percent of tenants facing eviction in New York City did not have a lawyer, while the majority of landlords did. Research from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) shows that in 70 percent of nondomestic civil cases in urban counties, one party is unrepresented. This evaluation of the New York City Court Navigators program was conducted by researchers from the ABF and NCSC with support from the Public Welfare Foundation and assessed the appropriateness, efficacy, and sustainability of each of the three Navigator pilot projects.

Paying Down the Civil Justice Data Deficit (2016)

Author: Rebecca L. Sandefur

In civil justice, we face a severe data deficit. The kinds of fundamental data infrastructure that exist in our country today for major social institutions such as education, family and population, labor markets, health, and criminal justice do not exist for civil justice. We confront enormous knowledge gaps with little ability to fill them. Neither the public nor policy makers nor civil society groups can know many basic facts about the workings of civil justice in the United States. This article identifies a possible solution for the data deficit, exploring opportunities for small investments in existing data infrastructure that can pay big dividends in our understandings of the workings of civil justice. In turn, better understanding in these areas could inform the construction of rational and effective social policies and service delivery programs.

What We Know and Need to Know about the Legal Needs of the Public (2016)

Author: Rebecca L. Sandefur

In contemporary market democracies, law reaches deeply into many aspects of daily life. Thousands of Americans every day find themselves facing troubles that emerge “at the intersection of civil law and everyday adversity,” involving work, finances, insurance, pensions, wages, benefits, shelter, and the care of young children and dependent adults, among other matters. Though these different types of problems affect different aspects of people’s lives and concern different kinds of relationships, they are defined by a central important quality: They have civil legal aspects, raise civil legal issues, have consequences shaped by civil law, and may become objects of formal legal action. This paper reviews what we know about the civil legal needs of the public. In so doing, it reveals key gaps in our knowledge.

Accessing Justice in the Contemporary USA: Findings from the Community Needs and Services Study (2014)

Author: Rebecca L. Sandefur

This report presents findings from a new study of public experience with civil justice situations, the Community Needs and Services Study (CNSS), funded by the ABF and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The study found widespread incidence of events and situations that have civil legal aspects, raise civil legal issues, and are potentially actionable under civil law. These events are common and can be severe in their impacts. Yet most were handled outside the formal justice system. When people who did not seek assistance from third parties were asked if cost was a barrier, they reported that concerns about cost were a factor in 17% of cases. However, a more important reason people did not seek assistance, in particular assistance from lawyers or courts, is that they did not understand these situations to be legal.