Important Letter From NSF on Interest in Acces to Justice

NSF has issued an important “dear colleague” letter “Stimulating Research Related to the Use and Functioning of the Civil Justice System” on the agency’s continuing interest in access-type research.  While this is not a new solicitation, the letter makes clear NSF’s interest in research related to “how people and organizations define legal claims, whether and how they mobilize the law on their behalf, and how legal institutions respond to questions about civil justice.”  The full text is below.

Date: March 15, 2013

Law and Social Sciences (LSS) scholars have a rich tradition of describing and explaining how people and organizations mobilize the law, and, in turn, how legal institutions respond to legal demands. In order to stimulate research concerning the use and functioning of the civil justice system, the Law & Social Sciences program announces its continuing interest in supporting research in this area.

LSS scholars have developed useful knowledge concerning how people understand the law, what they do about their legal concerns, and how organizations define, mediate and answer legal concerns. In turn, courts and other legal institutions shape and impact people’s family lives, their housing choices, and their business and employment options. These impacts are central both to theory-building concerning legal mobilization and decision making by institutions and to understanding where and how law structures people’s lives.

The Law & Social Sciences program invites research on how people and organizations define legal claims, whether and how they mobilize the law on their behalf, and how legal institutions respond to questions about civil justice.

Proposals concerning civil justice are invited to consider problems involving and not limited to the following:

Individual decisions to engage legal institutions and assistance, and the institutional, cultural, social and economic factors that shape those decisions;
Mediating institutions that define, mobilize or manage legal claims, and the differences they make in process and outcomes; and
The process and outcomes of decision-making in courts, both trial and appellate.
Appropriate methods can include all of those used within the social and behavioral sciences, including and not limited to collecting and analyzing documents, conducting lab and field experiments, conducting surveys and interviews, and engaging in ethnographic research. Comparative approaches in which scholars analyze change over time or compare across jurisdictions are welcome.

Successful proposals will be based on a theoretically driven research design incorporating appropriate methods to: (1) formulate appropriate research questions; (2) implement the collection and analysis of data; (3) interpret the resulting measures and findings generated by the study; and (4) outline steps for successful dissemination to and beyond the scholarly community.

This is not a special competition or new program. Scholars with appropriate proposals should submit to the existing Law & Social Sciences program. Successful proposals will meet NSF’s criteria in terms of both intellectual merit and broader impacts. Proposals will be evaluated through the standard review process.


Dr. Myron Gutmann
Assistant Director, National Science Foundation
Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences

It would appear to me that this set of approaches draws heavily on research in other industrialized countries which, frankly, have a more robust tradition of such research.  (See. e.g. International Legal Aid Group website.)

It also appears that the interest has been greatly stimulated by the meeting last December on research in access to justice held in Chicago.  Indeed, this step underlines again the huge value of having a specific office and focus at DOJ on access issues.

I take the liberty of copying one para from my post on the Chicago meeting:

Personally, I was particularly interested in detailed discussion of research into particular innovations, such as legal aid brief service, document assembly, legal aid protocols, court self-help services, judicial education, etc.  I think there is a real chance that we will see much more research into these questions.  They are of course critical not only to decisions as to which innovations to deploy, but how to build triage systems that reflect real knowledge, not just program instincts.  Practitioner should note that the world really is full of researchers looking for topics to research — but, as was pointed out repeatedly, they need to become involved in planning and discussions before, not after, the data are collected.

There is, of course, a plan to develop a more formal network linking researchers and practitioners, but in the meantime, folks in both communities should reach out to people like me if they want ideas on how to connect.

As I understand it, the next due date for these proposals to NSF would be August 1  However, Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants  are due Jan 15 of next year.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Funding, Research and Evalation. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Important Letter From NSF on Interest in Acces to Justice

  1. Pingback: Newly Released “Community Needs and Services Study” Should Trigger Some Rethinking About Barriers and Needs | Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

  2. Pingback: Public Welfare Foundation Funds Alan Houseman to Explore Research About How civil Legal Aid Helps Reduce and Eliminate Poverty | Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

  3. Hi, Richard. I am pleased to report that the Washington State Access to Justice Board recently decided to look more closely at the various research activities of our Alliance group members in hopes helping to aid and coordinate their efforts. They also decided to support the Pro Se Project’s idea of a before-and-after study of the implementation of plain language forms in family law, which will happen about March 1, 2014. We are planning to take that study to the Washington State Center for Court Research Advisory Board. I now see that the August 1 date is significant for us. Thanks.

    Second item: I will be doing a poster session at the 12th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference in July (Edmonton, Canada) specifically on this increased interest in funding court-related research in the Unites States. Thanks for telling me about this letter.

  4. Jim Greiner says:

    Hi, Richard, this has to be an important moment. I know that a team of Dalie Jimenez (UConn Laww), Lois Lupica (Maine Law), Becky Sandefur (known to all here), and me will be sending an a large-ish proposal on consumer debt collection cases, highlighted in your recent article on simplification as a place where represented versus unrepresented is absolutely standard. Let’s hope NSF bites on this and other A2J proposals!

Comments are closed.