Simplified Courts Can't Solve Inequality

8 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2019 Last revised: 9 Aug 2019

See all articles by Colleen F. Shanahan

Colleen F. Shanahan

Columbia University - Law School

Anna E. Carpenter

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2019


State civil courts struggle to handle the volume of cases before them. Litigants in these courts, most of whom are unrepresented, struggle to navigate the courts to solve their problems. This access-to-justice crisis has led to a range of reform efforts and solutions. One type of reform, court simplification, strives to reduce the complexity of procedures and information used by courts to help unrepresented litigants navigate the judicial system. These reforms mitigate but do not solve the symptoms of the larger underlying problem: state civil courts are struggling because they have been stuck with legal cases that arise from the legislative and executive branches’ failure to provide a social safety net in the face of rising inequality. The legal profession and judiciary must step back to question whether the courts should be the branch of government responsible for addressing socioeconomic needs on a case-by-case basis.

Keywords: access to justice, state courts, social safety net, court reform, poverty, poverty law, law and inequality, civil justice, civil litigation, empirical research, pro se, state courts, procedural justice, unrepresented, courts, lawyers, legal services

JEL Classification: K41

Suggested Citation

Shanahan, Colleen F. and Carpenter, Anna E., Simplified Courts Can't Solve Inequality (January 1, 2019). 148:1 Daedalus 128 (Winter 2019), University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 317, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-630, Available at SSRN:

Colleen F. Shanahan (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Anna E. Carpenter

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States
84112 (Fax)

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