Assessing Access to Justice: How Much “Legal” do People Need and How Can We Know?
In February 2020, our Principal Researcher, Dr Hugh M. McDonald was invited to the Thinking About Law & Accessing Civil Justice Symposium convened by University of California Irvine Law School and the Civil Justice Research Initiative.
The symposium brought together leading access to justice scholars to discuss legal consciousness, dispute processing, and civil legal needs.
Papers from the symposium have now been published in UC Irvine Law Review, Volume 11, Issue 3 (2021).
Dr McDonald’s paper considers the question of just how much “legal” understanding or help different people require to enjoy access to justice, and just what type of research evidence we need to know.
About this paper
The paper contends that the shift from institutional ‘top-down’ to ‘bottom-up’, user-centric, holistic, and multifaceted access to justice approaches, that seek to better match service provision to legal need and capability, requires a commensurate shift in empirical methods and measures to build the ‘what works’ evidence base.
Three main sources of people-centred data and what is needed to improve understanding of critical access to justice and legal need issues are examined: access to justice and legal needs surveys; justice system administrative data; and evaluative research designs. Without improved ability to monitor and measure critical aspects of legal need, capability and outcomes, our ability to assess access to justice, user-centric policy reforms, and learn what works to most effectively and efficiently meet legal need is likely to remain stunted.