The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is thrilled to share the news that one of the pioneers in access to justice research, Rebecca Sandefur, is a winner of this year’s prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant”. Sandefur is a fellow at the American Bar Foundation, where she founded and leads the Foundation’s access to justice research initiative. Her research into ordinary people’s experiences with civil legal aid has given new insight into the access to justice gap, namely:

  1. Civil justice problems are widespread and frequently experienced by the public. Over 100 million people in the United States are living with civil justice problems. These problems impact all segments of the U.S. population and can result in people losing their homes, custody of their children or access to insurance, benefits or pensions.
  2. Most Americans do not take their civil justice problems to lawyers or pursue them in courts. Americans are least likely to consult attorneys about problems involving personal finances, housing, healthcare, employment, and community needs.
  3. Many Americans do not think of their civil justice problems as legal. They do not view problems that affect their livelihood, shelter, neighborhood safety, the care and custody of minor children, and environmental conditions in terms of  law or rights, nor consider law as a solution. Instead, they may view their civil justice problem as a social problem, financial problem, health problem, moral problem, or just plain bad luck.
  4. Geography is destiny. When Americans do decide to seek legal assistance, the services available is determined by where they happen to live, not by the severity of their civil legal problem. Sandefur’s research shows that diversity, fragmentation and lack of coordination between service providers combines to create an access to civil justice infrastructure characterized by large inequalities between states and within them.

See more on Rebecca Sandefur’s research hereRead more about Sandefur’s  MacArthur Genius Grant win here.