RCTs in law: the Shriver studies

As you may remember from a previous post, the A2J Lab is developing an RCT in Providence, Rhode Island to study the effectiveness of triage in summary eviction cases.

Part of our interest in studying eviction is that it’s a topic very much on policymakers’ minds. Because housing instability continues to receive a lot of attention (see, e.g., Matthew Desmond’s Evicted) more resources and political action tend to follow. The even better news is that those resource allocations and policy changes have been based, at least sometimes, on empirical research.

As the Lab has documented elsewhere, access to justice interventions often aren’t studied at all. If they are, the studies are often observational rather than randomized—and readers know how important we think randomization is here at the Lab!

We’re always very excited to see the work of other legal studies teams who think so as well. One recent example is the evaluation of the California Shriver Civil Counsel Act. Among other things, the Act enhanced tenant representation in eviction cases. As part of a trial for additional funding provided by the Act, the State studied the impact of seven pilot programs designed to increase access to legal representation among low-income populations in California. More than simply moving toward empirical data, analysis in the report states that: ”[i]mportantly, for a limited period of time, three pilot projects randomly assigned litigants to receive Shriver full representation or no Shriver services, and data for these two groups were compared.”

We’re excited to see other researchers embrace randomized evaluations and policymakers appreciate their findings. The ultimate hope is that this progress continues to transform the legal profession into a more evidence-based one.

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