Unemployment Representation Study

James Greiner and Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak, “Randomized Evaluation in Legal Assistance: What Difference Does Representation (Offer and Actual Use) Make?“, 121 Yale Law Journal 2118 (2011).

We report the results of the first of a series of randomized evaluations of legal assistance programs. This series of evaluations is designed to measure the effect of both an offer of and the actual use of representation, although it was not possible in the first study we report here to measure constructively all effects of actual use. The results of this first evaluation are unexpected, and we caution against both over-generalization and under-generalization.

Specifically, the offers of representation came from a law school clinic, which provided high-quality and well-respected assistance in administrative “appeals” to state administrative law judges (ALJs) of initial rulings regarding eligibility for unemployment benefits (these “appeals” were actually de novo mini-trials). Our randomized evaluation found that the offers of representation from the clinic had no statistically significant effect on the probability that an unemployment claimant would prevail in the “appeal,” but that the offers did delay proceedings by (on average) about two weeks. Actual use of representation (from any source) also delayed the proceeding; we could come to no firm conclusions regarding the effect of actual use of representation (from any source) on the probability that claimants would prevail. Keeping in mind the high-quality and well-respected nature of the representation the law school clinic offered and provided, we explore three possible explanations for our results, each of which has implications for delivery of legal services.

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Social Security Disability

The Study

Field operation

To be eligible for the study, an individual must be an adult seeking to appeal an adverse decision regarding eligibility for disability benefits to an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).  The decision might have been either a denial of a request for reconsideration (under the traditional Social Security Administration (“SSA”) system) or an adverse ruling from a federal reviewing officer (under the new Disability Service Improvement (“DSI”) process).  The applicant might be seeking benefits under either the Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) program or the Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program.

After a thorough screening and intake process, consenting individuals are randomized into one of two groups:

  • Treated group: representation by student advocate in a law school clinic
  • Control group: a self-help packet on disability appeals, as well as referral to other legal services providers, and a copy of their own intake information (to streamline the information-gathering that another legal services provider would need).

Outcomes

Randomization is currently active. When the field operation is over, we will analyze the following outcomes for both groups:

  • Were benefits awarded or denied?
  • If awarded, what amount?
  • Compliance with the randomization: did individuals in the control group obtain representation elsewhere? Did individuals in the treatment group continue with their representation?

The Research Team

Jim Greiner, Faculty Director, The Access to Justice Lab; Professor of Law, Harvard Law School