Access to Civil Justice and Race, Class, and Gender Inequality

23 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2008 Last revised: 1 May 2015

See all articles by Rebecca L. Sandefur

Rebecca L. Sandefur

American Bar Foundation; Arizona State University

Date Written: May 1, 2010


Access to civil justice is a perspective on the experiences that people have with civil justice events, organizations, or institutions. It focuses on who is able or willing to use civil law and law-like processes and institutions (who has access) and with what results (who receives what kinds of justice). This article reviews what we know about access to civil justice and race, social class, and gender inequality. Three classes of mechanisms through which inequality may be reproduced or exacerbated emerge: the unequal distribution of resources and costs, groups' distinct subjective orientations to law or to their experiences, and differential institutionalization of group or individual interests. Evidence reveals that civil justice experiences can be an important engine in reproducing inequalities and deserve greater attention from inequality scholars. However, the inequality-conserving picture in part reflects scholars' past choices about what to study: Much research has focused narrowly on the use of formal legal means to solve problems or advance interests, or it has considered the experience only of relatively resource-poor, lower status, or otherwise less privileged groups. Thus, we often lack the information necessary to compare systematically groups' experiences to each other or the impact of law to that of other means of managing conflicts or repairing harm.

Keywords: law, institutions, alternate dispute resolution, lawyers, procedural justice

Suggested Citation

Sandefur, Rebecca L., Access to Civil Justice and Race, Class, and Gender Inequality (May 1, 2010). Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 34, August 2008, Available at SSRN:

Rebecca L. Sandefur (Contact Author)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Arizona State University ( email )

Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

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