Here is Professor Sandefur’s comment letter to LSC on the Draft Strategic Plan. Professor Sandefur heads up the access to justice empirical research initiative at the American Bar Foundation (ABF). I share the letter, with permission, because it makes the case for such research so well and so succinctly, and because it highlights how innovative it is that LSC recognizes the need in their Draft Plan. Some of the key language from the letter:
Compared to other major social institutions such as education, labor markets, health care, and criminal justice, we know comparatively little about civil justice in the United States. For example, to inform our understanding of criminal justice we have censuses and surveys of correctional and public safety facilities and staff, national victimization surveys, and the FBIs Uniform Crime Reports. One the civil side, by comparison, we have little information about public contact with events that might lead to civil legal action or about facilities and staff that may assist members of the public when they encounter these events. Similarly, while we have studies of legal need, we have little understanding of the precipitating events that give rise to situations in which legal services might be impactful interventions or of the mechanisms through which people learn to think of particular situations as those for which law might provide remedies. We also have limited information about how the legal services that people consume are actually produced, funded, and priced, and little conceptual work that could inform a comparative analysis of different institutional arrangements for producing and delivering services. This kind of knowledge is essential for understanding and responding to the access to justice challenges that poor and other Americans face today.