May 25, 2016


Sharing the results of our work is critical to making change in the field. We make all of our publications and, as much as legally possible, all of our data publicly available. For data on current studies, check study pages for up-to-date information.

Overcoming obstacles to experiments in legal practice

H. Fernandez Lynch, D. J. Greiner, I. G. Cohen
06 Mar 2020, Vol. 367, Issue 6482, pp. 1078

“The importance of evidence-based policy rooted in experimental methods is increasingly recognized, from the Oregon Medicaid experiment to the efforts to address global poverty that were awarded a 2019 Nobel Prize. Over the past several decades, there have been attempts to extend this scientific approach to legal systems and practice. Yet, despite progress in empirical legal studies and experimental social policy research, judges, lawyers, and legal services providers often fail to subject their own practices to empirical study or to be guided by empirical data, with a particular aversion to randomized controlled trials (RCTs). This is troubling, as many questions fundamental to legal practice and those it affects, such as allocation of attorney services, bail decisions, and use of mandatory mediation, could and should be informed by a rigorous evidentiary foundation. Although there are practical obstacles to undertaking legal practice RCTs, they have also been stymied by cultural barriers within the legal profession. Whereas medical practitioners are expected to subject their practices to randomized study and rely on the data produced, the default in legal practice is to rely on experience, common wisdom, and professional judgment, often in settings in which clients face constraints on their freedom. To address ethical concerns stemming from this cultural difference, we draw on lessons from biomedical and policy research, as well as experiences of the Access to Justice Lab (A2JL), a leading institution promoting the use of RCTs to inform legal practice.” (Science,

Reprints and summary available.

Publications for completed studies include:

Pro Bono Representation in Divorce

D. James Greiner, Ellen Degnan, Thomas Ferriss, Roseanna Sommers, “Trapped in Marriage” (2018).

Unemployment Representation

D. 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).

District Court

D. James Greiner, Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak, and Jonathan Hennessy, “The Limits of Unbundled Legal Assistance: A Randomized Study in a Massachusetts District Court and Prospects for the Future,” 126 Harvard Law Review 901 (2012).

Housing Court

D. James Greiner, Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak, and Jonathan Philip Hennessy, “How Effective are Limited Legal Assistance Programs? A Randomized Experiment in a Massachusetts Housing Court” (2012).

Publications on RCTs in the U.S. Legal Profession

D. James Greiner and Andrea Matthews, “Randomized Control Trials in the United States Legal Profession,” Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 16-06 (2016).