Financial distress

The Financial Distress Research Project is a partnership among multiple branches of government, academia (students and professors), multiple non-profit service providers, and the private sector. People who participate in the project will be a part of a randomized control trial to understand the effectiveness of attorney representation, financial counseling, and self-help materials on important financial health outcomes.

Read more about financial distress

 Default in debt collection cases

We know that 95% or more of debt collection defendants lose their cases because they do not show up to court, even when they have a strong chance of winning their cases. Our debt collection studies address the question: How can legal services providers and courts persuade individuals to participate in legal processes?

Our pilot study, Problems of default, part I, demonstrates that a well-constructed letter sent to debt collection defendants at the start of their case can more than triple the rate of defendants coming to court to contest their cases.

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Intimate partner violence: how we decide who gets services

When there aren’t enough resources to meet people’s legal needs, legal services providers have to decide who will receive which level of services. A legal aid organization in northeast Ohio currently triages victims or survivors of domestic violence who seek civil protection orders to one of three service levels: an offer of full representation, a telephone call plus a self-help packet, or a self-help packet alone. The Intimate Partner Violence Triage Study will randomly divide callers into a triage process guided by an attorney, or a random triage process. We will measure both the outcome in court (who obtains the court order that they were seeking), and whether the process prevents further abuse.

Read more about IPV triage

Pre-trial release

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (the “LJAF”) developed the Public Safety Assessment (the “PSA”) to provide an accurate tool to distinguish criminal defendants according to the risk that they will engage in future misconduct. Jurisdictions across the United States have begun to implement the PSA at the initial  release/detention hearing at the start of a criminal case. We are conducting a randomized control trial to assess whether providing the PSA to judicial officials making initial release/detention decisions leads to reductions in the following outcomes:

  • failures to appear at future hearings;
  • new criminal activity;
  • new violent criminal activity; and
  • the number of days defendants spend incarcerated pretrial.

Read more about pre-trial release

Legal representation & divorce

A randomized control trial evaluating the effectiveness of a pro bono initiative’s oversubscribed divorce practice in a large United States city.  Our study randomized a person seeking a divorce to one of two options: (a) an effort to find a free attorney to represent her, or (b) a referral to existing self-help resources coupled with an offer to answer questions by telephone. Treated and control groups experienced radically different outcomes: people with an attorney were significantly more likely to have a divorce case on record within 18 months after entering the study, and were significantly more likely to have gotten the divorce they were seeking within 3 years.

Read more about the divorce study

Legal representation & Social Security disability

A randomized control trial evaluating the effect of legal services representation in disability benefits cases before an administrative law judge. In this study, adults seeking to appeal an earlier decision about their eligibility for disability benefits were randomized to either (a) representation or (b) no representation.

Read more about the Social Security disability study

Mediation in federal court

A randomized control trial evaluating the effect of a formal mediation session with inmates in federal prison with civil rights complaints. This study is the first of any kind to evaluate an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program rigorously on multiple dimensions, including court and party expenditure of resources, litigant opinions of the judicial process and the result, and nature of the parties’ post-litigation relationship.

Read more about the mediation study