DOJ/NSF White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report on Access to Justice Research

I have been much remiss in not blogging earlier about this important and very timely Report from the Department of Justice (NIJ and ATJ) and the National Science Foundation on Research in Access to Justice.  Formally titled White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop Report, this Report represents a major milestone in one of the ATJ Office’s most important initiatives.  It is no accident that since the Office was created, and particularly since LAIR was set up, we have seen an explosion of research interest in access to justice.  Prior recommendations to create research capacity in this field went unheard ever since the 1980’s when this capacity at LSC was closed down.  (By the way, I think it is safe to say that the definition of “legal aid” is a broad one, reflecting research on the many many ways and places that people get help, and broad popular support for this concept as a goal.)

As the Executive Summary of the Report explains of the Workshop that led to the Report:

First, it assisted NIJ to identify a civil legal aid research agenda in anticipation of possible dedicated funding of this work. By its current authority, NIJ is called to “engage in and encourage research and development to improve and strengthen the criminal justice system and related aspects of the civil justice system.” The 2017 President’s Budget requests $2.7 million for a proposed Civil Legal Aid Research Institute housed at NIJ.  If the funding request is approved by Congress, this Civil Legal Aid Research Institute would be tasked with coordinating the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to develop a better understanding of the policy issues related to civil legal aid, to improve research and data collection, and to provide policy makers with more timely and detailed data to support their efforts to improve the nation’s civil legal aid programs.

Second, the workshop enabled WH-LAIR agencies to hear from civil legal aid experts on the effectiveness of civil legal aid at the intersection with public safety and criminal justice and the critical need for research and evaluation in this arena. This is important because WH-LAIR has been encouraging research and evaluation with respect to existing federal programs involving civil legal aid. In addition, President Obama explicitly mandated the WH-LAIR to “advance relevant evidence-based research, data collection, and analysis of civil legal aid and indigent defense, and promulgate best practices.” Furthermore, the September 2015 Executive Order on Using Behavioral Insights to Better Serve the American People encourages executive departments and agencies to “strengthen agency relationships with the research community to better use empirical findings from the behavioral sciences.” The workshop and this report assist WH-LAIR in fulfilling these obligations.

Finally, the workshop helped spur domestic activities to implement the United Nations’ (UN) call for indicators on access to justice as a development and anti-poverty goal. On September 25, 2015, the UN unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development (Agenda), which included 17 Global Goals to end extreme poverty. Among these goals, Global Goal 16 calls on countries to: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” To track progress on these goals, the Agenda calls for the creation of global, regional, and national indicators that will be in place for the next 15 years. In anticipation of the UN’s inclusion of Global Goal 16 in the Agenda, the Expert Working Group (EWG) considered how to track access to justice and which indicators could be used for that purpose. (Footnotes omitted).

As identified in the Report, these were the general themes of the recommendations that came out of the individual substantive working groups:

  1. Increase support for civil legal aid through increased federal funding and programs that partner with civil legal aid;
  2. Fund research on the delivery of civil legal aid to grow the evidence base and identify what works;
  3. Expand private-public collaborations around civil legal aid;
  4. Improve data collection on the issues impacting civil legal aid and make available information on relevant federal databases and studies;
  5. Create greater transparency regarding the federal government’s research capacity around civil legal aid; and
  6. Develop access to justice indicators to measure the United States’ implementation of Global Goal 16 of the UN’s 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development with civil society input. (Bold added)

It is a measure of the achievement of those working on these issue that these are by now, hardly controversial.  They are obviously useful as providing an overall guidemap for the future.

In addition, as I went through the Report, i found a number of multiple resonances that might be programmatically helpful.

Economic Impact.  Everyone was in favor of research on the broad economic and return on investment impact on services.  The fundraising motivation is obvious, but hopefully such data would also serve broader goals of the integration of different systems.  Ultimately it would be nice to think of a system in which budget-making incentivized spending money where it would have the most impact overall.

Service Co-Location.  There seems to be broad interest in looking at the impact of integrating at least the physical aspects of service delivery.

Training for of Referral and Information Training Partners.  Lots of people suggested research into training partners such as first responders, medical professions, and others who could make referrals.  I would go further and think about training them as legal information providers and navigators into online legal information.

Research Inventory.  Not surprisingly, lots suggested research inventories.

Integration of Feds with legal aid.  Everyone wanted integration of legal aid and Federal policy and statistics.

Those who share this approach might be particularly interested in the nuances and new ideas in some of the individual group recommendations.  I have tried to pull them out below, divided by the workgroup.

Developing Indicators in the Civil Legal Aid Context

  • “Collect data or commission a census of unrepresented litigants.”
  • Support for funding to “research on the benefits of early intervention by legal aid,” and for nonlawyer innovations.
  • Encouraging the creation of a national self-help portal.


  • Examine whether existing rules, regulations, and practices on reentry need to be revised
  • Research on the consequences of sealing or expunging criminal record
  • Compare automatic expungment and expungement by application
  • Integration of civil and criminal services


  • Establishing referral pipeline
  • Seeking restitution orders

Consumer Protection

  • Study default rates
  • Integrating with military-based legal aid
    Mandatory arbitration minimization

Elder Issues

  • Explore medicare reimbursement of legal aid type services.
  • Program medical software to identify legal issues and generate referrals

Domestic Violence

  • Support alternatives to traditional dispute resolution

I would particularly urge everyone to take a good look at Appendix D, which lists existing research and existing data collection capacity.



About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice Generally, Consumer Rights, Dept. of Justice, expungement, Family Law, Foreclosure, LAIR, Legal Aid, Medical System Comparision, Non-Lawyer Practice, Outcome Measures, Reentry, Referral Systems, Research and Evalation, Self-Help Services. Bookmark the permalink.