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Making Justice Accessible: Data Collection and Legal Services For Low-income Americans

Making Justice Accessible

On November 11 and 12, 2015, the American Academy hosted a very successful symposium on the state of legal services for low-income Americans. Symposium participants—including federal and state judges, legal scholars, and social scientists—agreed that the legal community does not have enough reliable and accessible data to be able to address adequately the scope and variety of the crisis in legal services. Participants also agreed that the American Academy, with its diverse membership and its history of data efforts in the humanities, could continue to be a valuable partner by organizing a set of conversations on the topic and, ultimately, by creating a research agenda for future data collection efforts.

We are now beginning a project concerning data on civil legal aid and pro se litigation that would have two goals:

  1. The Collection of Existing Data: Currently, data on unrepresented civil litigants is hard to find, incomplete, and inconsistent. Collection and reporting requirements vary from state to state, jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and even court to court. The first phase of the project would therefore identify, to the degree possible, all of the potential sources of existing data on legal services and unrepresented civil litigation nationwide. After an initial survey to gauge the availability and structure of existing data, the Academy will convene a group of subject-area experts who could identify research questions that are currently answerable given the available data, and discuss how best to aggregate it for use by researchers.
  2. The Collection of New Data: Once the available data have been identified, the Academy will convene a collection of legal scholars, social scientists, and other experts in order to assess the information and discuss what more can be done with the currently available resources. Study participants will propose questions for further analysis and specify which data will need to be collected in order to advance discussions about civil legal aid and pro se litigation, and to direct future policy decisions. The group might also propose methods for future data collection, and might even identify one or two communities that might be suitable subjects of new data collection pilot programs.

Please click here to participate in the Academy’s data survey on civil legal services.

Project Chairs

Mark Hansen
University of Chicago

Rebecca Sandefur
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Project Chairs

Mark Hansen, University of Chicago

Rebecca Sandefur, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Learn More About this Project