More information on our Default Part II study in four graphs

We’ve been working on some new data representations for our Problem of Default Part II study, which is now in the field in Boston. This Part II study doesn’t have its own non-intervention control group (meaning, all of the groups we’re evaluating are receiving some sort of intervention). This is because Part I already demonstrated that even limited intervention has a statistically significant effect on defendants’ answer and appearance rates compared with no intervention. Part II seeks to build on that knowledge by testing whether some interventions are more effective than others.

That said, we always like to be as thorough as possible as we design our studies. To that end, before we launched Part II, we did some analysis of existing court case data for all small claims cases filed in 2016 to gather some baseline information. We’ve created four graphs, now live on a new study web page. (If you haven’t seen the study volume tracker, that’s worth a look as well.)

The graphs contain a lot of information, and, if you’re not familiar with statistics or the intricacies of programs available in Massachusetts courts, they might be a little difficult to read.

Before we drill into an example, we have a few notes on the definitions of the different variables. One variable is whether or not a hearing for a case was scheduled on a Lawyer for the Day (LFD) program day. The Massachusetts Lawyer for the Day program is a pro bono legal service that provides some pro-se advising services in some courts on certain days of the week. Exact services and availability varies between courts. Another is whether a defendant fails to appear (FTAs) at a given hearing.[1] The graphs break down data between these two variables at different courts in four different ways:

  • If a defendant ever failed to appear (FTA’d) at any hearing that was held
  • If a defendant failed to appear at their first hearing that was held
  • If the defendant’s first scheduled hearing was scheduled on a day when the Lawyer for the Day (LFD) program was happening at the court and the defendant appeared at that scheduled hearing
  • If any of the defendant’s scheduled hearings were scheduled on a day when the LFD program was happening at the court and the defendant appeared at one or more such scheduled hearings

Let’s take a look at an example data point:

In this example, the circled dot is the proportion of study ineligible (noted by color) cases in Cambridge Small Claims Court (y-axis). The dot’s size shows that the number of cases it represents comprises about .4 of the total cases in the court, which in this case would be around 325 cases (.4 of the court’s total number of cases in the sample, 811).

The dot shows us that in almost 25% of the study ineligible cases in Cambridge Small Claims Court, the first hearing was scheduled on a Lawyer for the Day program weekday and the defendant appeared at that hearing.

Our hope is that these graphs, along with the frequently updated study volume information, provide a window into the study’s design and progress as we move forward. Look for more updates on data from this and our other studies in early 2018.

[1] In Boston Municipal Court (Civil), the defendant FTAs if the defendant does not file an answer or does not appear at the first hearing; the defendant does not FTA if the defendant does both of those things.


  1. Jeffrey Wallk


    Just curious of the FTA statistics are influenced by the “type of” institution which is the plaintiff. For example: Are individuals less likely to show up when the plaintiff is a smaller organization (which may be perceived to lack the same resources to pursue a debt ~ small claims) as a larger organization ? For cases involving civil matters, is there anything in the study that suggests the reason for the differences between eligible & ineligible sampling appear to be much less for FTAs perceptions ?

    • Sandy North


      Thanks for your thoughtful questions! The evidence we have seen is not strong enough to make us believe that individuals are actually less likely to show up if the plaintiff is a small organization. In fact, the rate of FTA is almost categorically higher among study-eligible cases, which usually have “large” plaintiffs like debt buyers, banks, utility companies, insurance companies, and auto and education loan companies, than among study-ineligible cases, which usually have “small” plaintiffs like auto repair shops, chiropractic clinics, nannies, boutique shops, daycare centers, and individual people. In general, however, it is difficult for us to draw any conclusions either way because it is difficult for us to (a) define what makes an organization large or small and (b) identify whether the plaintiff in each case is a large or small organization under the criteria defined in part (a).

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *