Bridging the Gap: Rethinking Outreach for Greater Access to Justice

Posted: 19 Apr 2017

See all articles by Rebecca L. Sandefur

Rebecca L. Sandefur

American Bar Foundation; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Sociology; University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: April 8, 2015


This paper reviews findings from recent studies of how ordinary Americans think about and handle their civil-justice problems, analyzing these findings in search of insights into why people do not usually take these problems to lawyers or to courts. Building on this research, this paper identifies three principles that should be present in future efforts to connect people who may need services with the services they need. Each principle is illustrated with examples of already-existing programs or practices that employ it.

To summarize:

• Americans do not take their justiciable problems to lawyers because they do not consider these problems to be legal, frequently feel that they are quite capable of handling these problems on their own, and often do not believe that anything can be done about them-by anyone.

• Americans' descriptions of how they do handle their justice problems reveal that the kind of assistance that they would appreciate would likely have three qualities: it would be timely, appearing at a moment when they recognize that they have a problem; it would be targeted, specific to their actual needs; and it would be trustworthy, coming from sources that they believe are responsible and working in their good interests.

• Some programs already exist that embody these qualities. Different kinds of problems and different populations will require different strategies.

Keywords: Legal Needs, Civil Justice, Legal Profession

Suggested Citation

Sandefur, Rebecca L., Bridging the Gap: Rethinking Outreach for Greater Access to Justice (April 8, 2015). University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, Vol. 37, No. 4, p. 721-40, 2015. Available at SSRN:

Rebecca L. Sandefur (Contact Author)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
2173336100 (Phone)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - Department of Sociology ( email )

702 South Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801
United States

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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