Since its founding nine months ago, Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab has aimed to revolutionize thinking about access to legal help. Often misunderstood and sometimes controversial, the lab sponsored a five-hour symposium in April that drew scholars from across the country to Harvard Law School.
As a response to the shortage of affordable legal services for poor and middle-class people who face debt-related legal problems, denial of benefits, domestic violence and divorce, the lab seeks to compile rigorous evidence of what works in law and what doesn’t, using randomized control trials. What the lab does, explains Faculty Director Jim Greiner, is apply scientific and statistical research to the questions of who gets legal assistance and how much difference it makes. “We are researchers and scientists, and we’re all pretty nerdy,” he said in an interview last week. “Our instinct is to go into our caves to find out truths about the world, but that isn’t very useful by itself. Being a Southerner, I’d describe the event as coming-out party for the Lab — and also an opportunity for objections to be raised and answered.”
The lab displayed different facets of its work during the afternoon sessions on April 19. Beginning with remarks from Greiner and Dean Martha Minow, the afternoon included presentations from the lab’s Research Director Christopher Griffin and Associate Director of Field Research Erika Richard ’10, who outlined studies now underway. The class then split into groups for a problem-solving exercise, and compared results when the class reconvened. Finally, Greiner led a wide-ranging discussion on the lab’s future direction.