Are Lawyers’ Case Selection Decisions Biased? A Field Experiment on Access to Justice

52 Journal of Legal Studies 273 (2023)

41 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2023

See all articles by Jens Frankenreiter

Jens Frankenreiter

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Michael A. Livermore

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: July 18, 2022

Abstract

The lawyer-client relationship is pivotal in providing access to courts. This paper presents results from a large-scale field experiment exploring how demographic information (encoded in potential clients’ names) affects how attorneys respond to initial inquiries in private injury cases. Based on prior literature, we hypothesized that race would be a significant factor, but we also explore race and gender interactions. We find that ostensibly Black or Hispanic senders receive fewer responses than ostensibly White senders, a result largely driven by a preferential treatment of White female senders. The racial disparities are larger than those previously documented in some contexts, such as public services, but smaller than in others, such as employment. We also find suggestive evidence that White attorneys are more likely than others to treat White senders preferentially, implying that the differences in response rates are not merely a reaction to jurisdiction-level factors affecting the expected payoff of lawsuits.

[The Online Appendix and replication data for this paper is available at https://www.jensfrankenreiter.com/bias-in-case-selection-decisions]

Keywords: discrimination, field experiment, audit study, access to justice

JEL Classification: K41, C93

Suggested Citation

Frankenreiter, Jens and Livermore, Michael A., Are Lawyers’ Case Selection Decisions Biased? A Field Experiment on Access to Justice (July 18, 2022). 52 Journal of Legal Studies 273 (2023), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4648378 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4648378

Jens Frankenreiter (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

Michael A. Livermore

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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