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MA Guardianship Policy Institute Event this December

The Lab’s current Guardianship Service of Process Study is going strong in the field, and we’re not the only ones actively thinking about the topic. On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Massachusetts Guardianship Policy Institute will facilitate “A National Perspective on Guardianship and Decisional Support,” a day-long conference exploring the state of both areas in several different contexts. You can learn more about the conference here.

This event will present several different perspectives, and the Lab is always looking for new lenses through which to view fields we study. The A2J Lab doesn’t have an opinion about whether guardianship, or alternatives to it, are good or bad, nor about the situations in which any alternatives are appropriate. We believe that as long as guardianship is a step that the law makes available, its availability should turn on the criteria outlined in governing law and not (as it appears to now) on whether a petitioner has a lawyer or is able to negotiate procedural hurdles involved in a petition’s processing.

In the News

We’re happy to share two great articles from the past week that feature the work of the Lab.

The first, “The Justice Gap: America’s unfulfilled promise of ‘equal justice under law'” by Lincoln Caplan, is a longform piece in Harvard Magazine that puts the Lab’s studies of self-help materials in the context of the larger debate about how best to address the access to justice gap. It’s a great read if you’re interested in learning more about the history of legal aid and how the work of the Lab fits into that framework.

The second, “Unicorns: RCTs, the Social Sciences, and IRBs” by Tonya Ferraro, published in Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R)‘s blog, Ampersand, draws on Jim Greiner’s research on the history of RCTs in the legal profession. Ensuring that studies that involve human subjects, such as the studies run by the Lab, are ethical is an important part of the legal research process that both lawyers and review boards can be unfamiliar with because of the paucity of RCTs in law. The article describes how the IRB process can adapt to meet the needs of such studies.

For those of you who don’t engage in academic research, “IRB” is short for Institutional Review Board; institutions whose faculty and students engage in research establish their own committees, which ensure that any studies involving human subjects meet federal ethical standards. (If you’re unfamiliar with IRBs and how they operate, you can learn more here.)

See any great work about access to justice in the press? Share it with us on Twitter or Facebook.

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Top 10 A2J Research Priorities #9: Alternatives to Litigation

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.

Here’s the latest installment: Alternatives to Litigation.

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Law, AI, and Justice

Yesterday, Research Director Chris Griffin spoke with three other Harvard scholars as part of a HUBweek 2017 panel sponsored by the Berkman Klein CenterProgramming the Future of AI: Ethics, Governance, and Justice. The four debated the promises and perils of using computer models and algorithms to guide legal decision-making. The Boston Globe‘s article about the event captures the core questions succinctly: “Should sophisticated computer models help judges predict which defendants are safe enough to release before trial? Or should judges rely on their own wisdom, discretion, and experience to make those decisions?”

Such questions are at the heart of the Lab’s work testing the Public Safety Assessment (“PSA”) in Dane County, Wisconsin (and potentially more sites). The PSA is an actuarial risk assessment that applies an algorithm to static criminal history factors and recommends whether and under what conditions someone should be released prior to disposition. While not an example of artificial intelligence–itself a topic for separate debate!–the PSA does raise similar questions regarding how algorithmic models should influence human decisions in law and whether or not those influences can yield more just outcomes. We hope our study will help provide some answers.

The sold-out event lasted about one hour; if you missed it live, you can catch the full conversation here!

Happy 100th, FDRP!

The Financial Distress Research Project hit a milestone this week. Our hardworking staff just randomized case number 100! And this is just the beginning. The study will continue over the next two years to randomize cases and will eventually have over one thousand study participants, generating one of the richest data sets ever used to evaluate what works and what doesn’t for people in financial distress.

While the Lab is known for its work with numbers and data, our FDRP staff also interact directly on a daily basis with individuals participating in the study. Each of those 100 is someone who will receive assistance with their debt collection case in the form of either an attorney or self-help materials. Dealing with debt in the courts is a complicated challenge involving a maze of choices. (If you’re looking for more reading on the topic, check out this recent piece in The Atlantic about the difficulties people face when trying to declare bankruptcy in Tennessee.)

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A2J Lab featured in The Practice

The blog has been on a brief hiatus, but we’re back with some great news!

The Center on the Legal Profession (of which the Lab is proud to be a part) publishes The Practice, a bi-monthly magazine featuring topics of interest to practitioners. If you’re looking for an engaging read over the weekend, you should check out this month’s issue. That’s right—it’s a whole magazine full of stories about the Lab!

The content includes:

Note: The magazine is behind a paywall. If you register, you can read two articles for free. You can learn more about subscription options here.

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TOP 10 A2J RESEARCH PRIORITIES #8: Legal Service Provider Outreach and Intake

Start off your weekend with this week’s Top 10 video!

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.

Here’s the latest installment: LSP Outreach and Intake. Outreach and intake are major components of determining who gets legal representation, which in turn has serious implications for access to justice.

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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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