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Friday, June 24, 2016

Overview of ABF Research (Part II): Diversity & Inclusion and Access to Justice

My apologies for the long gap between posts about ABF research.  I’m clearly not as prolific as other guest bloggers.  In fact, I don’t think I can read as fast as David Fontana can blog.  Well done, David! 

Let me see if I can pick up the thread on the different parts of the ABF’s research portfolio.

In addition to Criminal Justice and Legal Education (described in my previous post), ABF research has also focused on the important topics of Diversity & Inclusion in the Profession and Access to Justice.  Like most ABF research topics, these two aren’t self-contained or isolated areas of scholarship and programming.  In fact, they often blend together.

Let me begin by describing some of our work on Diversity & Inclusion in the Profession. 

Diversity & Inclusion

Some of the projects I’ve already mentioned, particularly “After the JD” (AJD), are connected to diversity in the legal profession.  With three waves of AJD data, we know, for example, about the stubborn persistence of gender and racial inequality in the profession.  We also know that there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in practice areas, salary growth, and job satisfaction.

But AJD is just one ABF project related to diversity.  Our recently established Research Group on Legal Diversity (RGLD) has also been conducting regular conferences, and producing innovative research, on this important topic.  The first conference in 2012 brought together leading scholars on the topic of “The Future of Legal Diversity.”  In the following year, the ABF hosted a conference organized around the theme of talent, with the more verbose official title of “Pursuing Diverse Talent in Legal and Professional Services: Research within and Across Professions, Organizations, and Societies.” This conference led to the recent publication of an edited volume, Diversity in Practice, that contains many of the papers presented at the 2013 conference (we’re all hoping for an affordable paperback version soon).

In 2014, the ABF’s RGLD hosted a conference on “Bias and the Law.”  And most recently we held a fascinating conference last month on “Metrics, Diversity & Law.”  All of these conferences and their resulting publications build upon the ABF’s longstanding tradition of innovative, empirical, and interdisciplinary research.

As part of its diversity initiatives, the ABF has also recently established an endowed chair honoring William Neukom of Microsoft fame.  We are fortunate to have UCLA Law Professor and Dean Emerita Rachel Moran as our inaugural holder of the visiting William H. Neukom Fellows Research Chair in Diversity and Law.  During her year with the ABF, Rachel has helped launch a new ABF project: “The Future of Latinos in the United States: Law, Opportunity, and Mobility.”  Together with our colleague, Bob Nelson, Rachel has been advancing research and policymaking focused on the future trajectory of the Latino community and American democracy.  The project aims to explore four key issues facing the growing Latino community in the United States– education, immigration, political and civic participation, and economic opportunity – through research, teaching, and outreach. You can learn more about the first phase of this project here.

Because the ABF occupies a unique space between the academy and the practicing bar and bench, some of our research projects are also the direct result of collaborations with ABA entities.  One stellar example of such cooperation is our work with the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession.  In 2015, the ABF and ABA published a report, First Chairs at Trial: More Women Need Seats at the Table, documenting how women are consistently underrepresented in lead counsel positions and in the role of trial attorney for the vast majority of criminal and civil litigation.  Not surprisingly, this important joint study has received lots of attention within the legal community, especially among trial lawyers.

Access to Justice

Although nearly all ABF projects deal in one way or another with Access to Justice issues, a few of our projects focus directly on the yawning gap between civil legal needs and available resources.  One project, supported in part by the Legal Services Corporation and led by our joint-appointee Rebecca Sandefur (ABF/U. of IL), maps civil legal assistance across all 50 states to show how diversity and fragmentation have created a highly uneven and unequal civil justice infrastructure. 

Similarly, the ABF’s Community Needs and Service Study, supported in part by the National Science Foundation, chronicles how Americans who often have “justiciable” legal problems frequently do not perceive these issues as legal problems and hence do not seek legal assistance.  When they do seek legal help, where they happen to live, rather than the kind of help they need, determines the legal assistance they obtain.  One of our newest projects, conducted in collaboration with the National Center for State Courts and funded by the Public Welfare Foundation, explores the effectiveness of recent experiments in Washington and New York to provide new forms of legal representation from non-lawyers.

Another important part of our research portfolio on Access to Justice is our work on juries and legal decision making. Our law and psychology colleague Shari Diamond (Northwestern Law/ABF), for instance, has been using unique access to videotaped real jury deliberations in Arizona to explore the multitude of factors that shape how juries make decisions.  In one of our newest projects, Janice Nadler (Northwestern Law/ABF), our other law and psychology scholar, is exploring the relationship between visual images and legal decision making in the courtroom.

These studies on Legal Diversity and Access to Justice are just two more examples of a rich research portfolio that we hope to expand in years to come.  Next time, I’ll conclude this series of posts on “An Overview of ABF Research” by discussing some of our international work and something close to my own interests, our scholarship and programming in legal history.

Posted by Ajay K. Mehrotra on June 24, 2016 at 11:14 AM | Permalink


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