Randomized Studies Gain an Ally

We do not usually track electoral politics on this blog, except when it directly impacts access to justice.  But this piece from Politico is irresistible in its description, by a Republican consultant, of how the Democrats used the scientific method to achieve their victory.

Beginning with Progressive interest groups more than a decade ago, liberals allied with academic social scientists to study politics the way medical researchers study the effects of drugs. They embraced the core of the scientific method, deploying randomized, controlled experiments to rigorously test the effectiveness of their messages and tactics.

With these experiments, Democrats built – and continue to build – an objective base of knowledge on what works and what doesn’t. Today, the Left is permeated with a culture of testing. Expert opinions are taken as just that; opinions, hypotheses to be tested with experiments.

Why did the Obama campaign invest so heavily in grassroots field offices? Years of randomized-controlled experiments indicated that, for all their expense and difficulty, they gave the highest vote return. Why did they promote strange video pledges to support the president or send “voter report cards” informing Democrats of their voting record and how it compared with their neighbors? Experiments indicated that these are effective at getting out the vote.

The lesson is clear: such studies are how you win the future, including in access to justice.  We need to do be doing more of this work, and we need to be doing it in a systematic way.  We need to develop a whole set of hypotheses and test them.  We need to agree on appropriate outcome measures so we can compare different studies and integrate the results into coherent strategies.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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2 Responses to Randomized Studies Gain an Ally

  1. Sam Prince says:

    You are correct in stating that we, in the access to justice community, need to establish a rigorous testing protocol based on a set of agreed upon principles.

    The single biggest challenge in access to justice is the acceptance of what constitutes a legitimate resource. In my view there are three such resources:

    Government funding; private, non-government funding; and pro bono services by attorneys and other legal professionals. Far too many, especially among those who represent senior management of LSC funded organizations, do not accept that there is any legitimate resource beyond government funding.

    Establishing, as an operating principle, that government should pay for all legal representation in civil and criminal proceedings is all well and good. But, until that happens, we are negligent in fulfilling our responsibilities to protect the rights of our clients by not pursuing all avenues of acquiring resources as aggressively as possible.

    I often hear from staff that pro bono representation is not as advantageous to our clients as it is to the volunteer attorneys. They maintain that the types of cases accepted by pro bono attorneys are such that many applicants with serious legal needs go unserved as we spend our time seeking the types of simple cases preferred by pro bono attorneys – simple, no property, no children, divorces.

    I frequently hear of CEO’s and executive directors who resent having to tolerate the interference of third parties who believe that with their donation of cash comes their ability to influence legal aid operations. They do not want others “sticking their noses in our business.”

    Perhaps we should establish what benefit really comes to low-income clients from pro bono attorneys. And perhaps someone should also take a look at the overall long term effectiveness of legal aid organizations who actively and aggressively seek private donor funds while deploying their CEO as the primary face of the organization to the donor public. In non-legal aid organizations the CEO plays the role of primary contact for potential funding sources. In fact, those organizations who are fortunate enough to have CEO’s who aggressively seek outside relationships designed to increase funding are the most successful when it comes to revenue production. In those cases where the CEO is not the primary face of the organization to potential funding sources (including private donors) revenues stagnate and new sources of funding are few and far between.

    It would be refreshing to see an access to justice movement that is as interested in generating resources from all possible sources and not just government. If and when government finally stands up and proclaims its willingness to meet all of the needs of the low-income community with regard to legal aid, civil and criminal, I’ll be the first to go find another line of work. I’m not holding my breath that government ever will live up to its responsibility, but you never know. Meanwhile, our clients have needs that can easily be met if our legal aid organizations and our CEO’s would accept their responsibility to milk all three legs of the resource stool that keeps us going.

    Sam Prince

    Samuel Prince
    Director of Development
    Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas

    600 East Weatherford Street
    Fort Worth, Texas 76102
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    Email: princes@lanwt.org


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  2. Jim Greiner says:

    Hi, Richard!

    When I am presenting the results of RCTs to legal audiences, one thing I like to point out is that if you “want” to participate in a randomized control trial, simply do any of the following:
    — Do a Google or Bing or other online search
    — Perceive any form of political communication
    — Buy something (anything) from an online vendor

    It seems like we in law are where medicine was in about the late 1940s, debating the relative merits of scientific study versus instinct plus impressionistic “expertise.” Perhaps if as many of us as possible in civil A2J push for a more scientific approach, we begin the process of closing the 70-year gap in the learning attitudes of the legal profession and (portions of) the medical profession.

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