Rebecca Sandefur, a sociologist and researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has spent years considering a question that’s central to the American legal system: Does everyone facing legal issues need a lawyer?
She has found that, especially for everyday matters, many people would benefit more from what she likes to call the “just resolution” of legal problems. “Across a number of common justice problems,” she wrote in a recent article, “nonlawyer advocates and unrepresented lay people have been observed to perform as well or better than lawyers.”
In October, she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” fellowship for her work on this topic. She also coedited the latest edition of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Its 24 essays, among other questions, address reframing the politics around justice for the poor, the need for evidence-based solutions and a renewed call for greater resources for the Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit that funds legal aid for low-income people.