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The Lab’s New Guardianship Service of Process Study Has Launched!

As of yesterday, September 5, a new A2J Lab study is in the field at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in downtown Boston!

CSC staff attorney Jorge Cólon couldn’t be more excited to have our hard copy self-help materials.

Together with our partners at the Boston Court Service Center (“CSC”) and the Volunteer Lawyers Project (“VLP”) of the Boston Bar Association, we are evaluating (via RCT, of course) whether self-help materials can make a difference for court users seeking guardianship over incapacitated adults or minors. CSC and VLP reported high rates of return visits from users they assisted with filling out petitions. Why? Those petitioners often got stuck trying to navigate the often-labyrinthine service of process requirements.

A previous blog entry revealed just how confusing the process of service can be. Petitioners, most of whom are not lawyers, have to:  (1) identify “interested parties,” many of whom are not obvious candidates; (2) determine the proper method of service; (3) effectuate service; and (4) return proof of service to the Probate and Family Court. Completing the process exactly as described is equally important. Unless parties complete all the steps in the correct order, the guardianship matter cannot proceed.

Cólon and his CSC colleague Carolin Hetzner are already distributing (randomly!) Blob’s latest adventures to guardianship petitioners.

Because the process is complicated and the constituencies served have limited access to legal resources (beyond the excellent help of the CSC and VLP), the Lab’s familiar promotion and development of self-help materials seemed like a natural response. The associated RCT will lead to randomized provision of printed materials (developed in large part at our first hackathon) for both adult or minor guardianship cases and in English or Spanish. Once again, Hallie Jay Pope, the intrepid leader of the Graphic Advocacy Project, designed vivid flowcharts, “happy maps,” and new manifestations of the Lab’s favorite humanoid, Blob, to enrich the paper product. In addition, minor guardianship petitioners randomized to receive the hard copy booklets will also gain access to an online tool developed by Bill Palin, the Access to Justice/Technology Fellow with Harvard Law’s clinical programs. That site walks users through their unique legal needs, much like the software pioneered by TurboTax and other online service providers. The RCT will compare rates of successful service, among other outcomes, between the treatment and control groups.

What happens now? The first steps are randomizing cases and letting users go forth with service of process; that’s the part that began yesterday. We’ll start collecting data later this month. Stay tuned here for continued updates on the project!

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Public Safety Assessment Featured on NPR’s Planet Money

Our first RCT studying the Public Safety Assessment (“PSA”), the pre-disposition release assessment tool developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is well underway in Dane County, WI.

Madison is far from the only place the PSA currently is in use; this recent piece from the Planet Money podcast highlights the implementation of the PSA in New Jersey.

The PSA is up and running in New Jersey, as well as the entire State of Kentucky and scattered counties from Santa Cruz, CA to Volusia, FL. Although the PSA has been scientifically validated, only the results from our Dane County RCT—and, hopefully, upcoming trials in other locations—will give us a good sense of how well the PSA really works for a given jurisdiction.

If you have some time on your commute (or whenever you listen to the news), take a listen. It’s about twenty minutes long, and it will give you a great sense of what we’re studying in the PSA trials. Prefer to read the story? The full transcript is also available online.

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TOP 10 A2J RESEARCH PRIORITIES: #7 Criminal Release and Monitoring

TOP 10 A2J RESEARCH PRIORITIES: #7 Criminal Release and Monitoring

The Top Ten is back!

This video series describes what we consider to be the top 10 access to justice research priorities. The quick 2-3 minute videos will wake you up and get you excited about the ways that experimentation, research, and (of course) RCTs can improve access to justice.

Item #7 on the list covers criminal release decisions both pre-disposition and after cases are closed.

Here’s the latest installment:

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TOP 10 A2J RESEARCH PRIORITIES: #6 Court Forms

We’re back with our Top 10 A2J Research Priorities YouTube series! #6 on the list is “court forms.”

As a reminder, we at the Lab have come up with a list of what we consider to be the top 10 access to justice research priorities. This list will be published weekly on our YouTube channel, in quick 2-3 minute videos to wake you up and get you excited about how ripe the field of access to justice is for experimentation, research, and, of course, RCTs.

Here’s our sixth installment:

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Top 10 A2J Research Priorities: #5

We’re back with our Top 10 A2J Research Priorities YouTube series! #5 on the list is “inducing action.”

As a reminder, we at the Lab have come up with a list of what we consider to be the top 10 access to justice research priorities. This list will be published weekly on our YouTube channel, in quick 2-3 minute videos to wake you up and get you excited about how ripe the field of access to justice is for experimentation, research, and, of course, RCTs.

Here’s our fifth installment:

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Guest Post: Another RCT Tackling Failure to Appear, Part I

Today’s guest post comes from two Harvard Ph.D. students in Public Policy and Economics, respectively, Helen Ho and Natalia Emmanuel. Helen and Natalia are affiliates of the Lab and have been working on their own randomized control trial (“RCT”) focused on failures to appear (“FTAs”) for arraignments. If you’ve been following our blog you might have read about FTA in connection to the Pre-Trial Release Study underway in Dane County, WI. Helen and Natalia’s study focuses specifically on interventions to reduce FTA. This post is a first in a two-part series describing their study.

Take it away, Helen and Natalia!

We Need Your Help with the Financial Distress Research Project!

Help the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP) Over Its First Hurdle

by Marie Lawrence, A2J Lab Summer Research Associate

In case you missed it, the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP) officially launched in early June! (Read our launch post here.) Over the past month, the A2J Lab has mailed more than 2,000 letters to people being sued in debt collection cases in Connecticut. Our letters recruit defendants into the study, which offers user-friendly self-help materials or direct representation in their small claims cases. After more than six years preparing to launch this large-scale effort, it’s gratifying to be finally on our way.

There’s only one hiccup: people aren’t enrolling.

Top 10 A2J Research Priorities: #4

Happy Monday! We’re back with our Top 10 A2J Research Priorities YouTube series. This time, Faculty Director Jim Greiner talks about the effectiveness of different service levels.

As a reminder, we at the Lab have come up with a list of what we consider to be the top 10 access to justice research priorities. This list will be published weekly on our YouTube channel, in quick 2-3 minute videos to wake you up and get you excited about how ripe the field of access to justice is for experimentation, research, and, of course, RCTs.

Here’s our fourth installment:

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Guest Post: Eviction in Arizona Part III, Profit in the Pleading

A2J Lab affiliate Daniel W. Bernal has previously introduced us to eviction in Arizona and his own research. This week he discusses how randomized research might inform new court rules.

Profit in the Pleading

The cover of the English language version of eviction self-help materials developed by A2J Lab Affiliate Daniel Bernal and his team.

If you are a tenant facing eviction in Arizona, it is likely that the pleading materials you receive were created by the landlord who is trying to evict you. This is a problem for tenants. Landlords—and their lawyers—have absolutely no incentive to make these materials understandable to the people experiencing eviction. If tenants don’t understand why they are being evicted or how they can defend themselves, then they might be likely to skip their court date. Doing so–defaulting–is a virtually automatic win for landlords and their attorneys, who can handle more cases and charge more competitive rates. Landlords can kick ‘em out quick and avoid costly litigation. …