Project Title: Comprehensive Legal Needs Study for Low-Income Americans in Eastern Michigan
Faculty Sponsors: Dana Dyson and Kathryn Schellenberg
Department: Political Science/Public Administration; Sociology
Proposed Starting Date: 10/01/2010
Proposed Ending Date: 12/31/2010
Student in mind: Yes, but this project may require as many as 10 students in the future.
Number of hours to work per week: 1-6 hours
Project Description: (Abstract) Despite the existence of hundreds of public and privately-funded programs that provide no or low-cost civil legal aid to the poor, as well as voluntary pro bono services of private lawyers, studies by government agencies and law societies suggest a severe, chronic lack of access to aid. Outcomes for those who do not have expert counsel in legal matters may be severe, especially when an opposing party has the benefit of representation (Gardner, 2007; Seron, Frankel, and Van Ryzin, 2001). Given the potentially serious consequences raised by the lack of counsel, there is relatively little social science research on issues related to civil legal aid.
We are interested in understanding why some low-income Americans receive legal services and others fail to receive legal services. Our approach is to conduct a comprehensive legal needs study. The project investigates the provision of legal services by evaluating the potential and actual needs of clients in the Legal Services of Eastern Michigan service area. It is our contention that multiple factors contribute to recipients receiving legal services. The study of legal services is important because it will help us to understand the factors that influence the legal aid process while providing evidence for modifying reform measures.
Several questions guide this evaluative study. It seems that policymaking has a measurable impact on the provision of legal services (e.g., budget appropriations, congressional mandates, regulations, and decision-making at the state, local and intermediate levels); thus, we need to understand how political behaviors and decision-making influences legal aid processes and outcomes. How are legal aid services dispersed across populations and agencies? Given that education plays a significant role in individuals’ abilities to identify their own legal needs and make optimal use of legal resources, how effectively can the internet support poorly educated, low-income persons overcome the challenges of self-representation? If law firms and lawyers are self-serving in their selection of pro bono cases, what affect does their avoidance of family cases have on the poor community? We also need to understand how differential access to civil justice may reflect, create, or destroy or destabilize inequalities based on social class, race, gender, and geographical location. How does the provision of legal aid differ for these groups?
Using “cluster sampling” surveys, we will interview low-income Americans. Respondents will be asked about a set of circumstances that anyone in their household might have experienced during the preceding year. We will use census data, in addition to supplemental sources, to identify the target population in 14 counties in eastern Michigan. People will be interviewed within each cluster group to determine their legal needs. We will conduct about 400 interviews of low-income individuals/households. Judges, court personnel and agency workers will be interviewed, as well.
Student Tasks & Responsibilities: Develop survey tools, data entry, maintain database and file log, and assist with interviewing participants.
Minimum Student Qualifications:
*Data entry experience a plus, but not required
*Basic knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel
*Excellent verbal and written communication skills
*Work well under uncertain conditions