Sunday, December 23, 2012

Empirical study of legal services

The Boston Globe Ideas section today (December 23, 2012) has an interesting article about Harvard Professor James Greiner who is doing empirical studies on the efficacy of providing free legal services to poor people who otherwise would have no representation. It makes legal services attorneys and friends of legal services kind of nervous in a lot of ways. But he is actually a supporter of legal services. He just wants to be sure the money and services are going where they will do the most good.

Greiner's first research effort examined the clients of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau who were represented in their unemployment insurance claims. His findings were reported in the Yale Law Journal, and discussed in the Yale Law Journal Online, "Service Delivery, Resource Allocation, and Access to Justice: Greiner and Pattanayak and the Research Imperative," by professors Jeffrey Selbin, Jeanne Charn, Anthony Alfieri & Stephen Wizner. Basically, his first study found that the clients were no better off, and had to wait longer for their cases to be resolved when they were represented by Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. Apparently, Greiner has gone on since this first study to examine the effects of legal assistance in other types of cases, and it varies, which is interesting. He has completed a study that showed that representation in eviction cases made it more likely that a client would prevail. Greiner has three other studies in process now: divorce, social security disability benefits, federal prisoners making civil rights complaints.

In all the discussion I saw in the Globe article and in the scholarly discussions in the Yale publications, one aspect I did not see touched on was whether representation of clients assisted the courts. I know from conversations I have had with court librarians that the courts get jammed up with self represented litigants. Judges who have to deal with cases involving self represented litigants end up spending much more time explaining civil procedure and rules, and generally offering assistance to them. It slows the entire law suit down and can make settlements much more difficult. Anything that can assist the self represented litigant to prepare better before getting to the court room would speed the process along, and help the courts. Not all self represented litigants are poor and unable to afford a lawyer. Some simply do not like or trust lawyers and prefer to handle their case by themselves. But whatever the reason they are self representing, they are at a disadvantage in terms of all the rules of procedure, and evidence that lawyers had to learn in law school. And there should be some way to offer assistance to the literate pro se litigant.

Little Free Library

I only just heard about Little Free Library, a project that anybody can set up to share books for free. They often look almost like bird houses with books in them. I think it's a lovely idea, and it just made me smile. They have a map that shows how these little boxes for books have been set up all over the world. I clicked on icons to look at the Little Free Libraries in Pakistan and Poland, England, France, Canada and some of the zillions of them across the United States where they are so thick you cannot just click on a single icon.

I hope you enjoy the website!

The image decorating this post is from the Little Free Library website where you can order boxes pre-made like this one or many other styles (, but many people obviously make their own.