The Access to Justice Lab

Lead Article From The Practice September/October 2017
Transforming the U.S. legal profession into an evidence-based field

Parts of this story were adapted from Randomized Control Trials in the United States Legal Profession by Jim Greiner and Andrea Matthews, published in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science.

Think of a time when you provided a service to someone or to some people who looked like they needed help. It might have been a financial donation, perhaps to people affected by a hurricane or earthquake. If you’re a lawyer, it might have been a legal service, like providing assistance to a low-income person on a government benefits application, or a divorce, or a will. Maybe you represented a pro bono client in a civil rights case. Think about that time for a moment. Was the result good? Was the client happy afterward? Did the client thank you? Did you feel good about it?

Now comes the hard questions: Did you do your client any good (not did your client have something good happen)? Did you do your client any good, meaning did your services make a difference in what the client experienced?

You might think the last question silly. If you worked hard and the client achieved a good result (and was happy and thankful), of course you did good. But what the last question asks is not whether a good thing happened, but whether you had anything to do with it—whether you caused the good result, meaning would it have happened without you (or another lawyer)?

Many lawyers have responded to such questions with these statements: The legal system is complex, too complex for a nonlawyer to navigate. I have expensive and extensive professional training. I have professional judgment. I have professional experience. I am a professional, and I know what works. I see that what I do makes a difference in my day-to-day practice.

But there’s the rub. You can’t see in your day-to-day practice whether you’re making a difference, not easily anyway. Why? Because in your day-to-day practice, you see only the people you represent or provide services to. To see whether you’re making a difference, you’d have to keep track of people you didn’t provide services to and compare the two groups. And hardly anyone in law does that. (Note: Keeping track of people you don’t represent wouldn’t be enough by itself, either. For more on that, see below.) The point is, you can’t know whether you—or another lawyer—really make a difference for clients without a comparison.

The Takeaway

The mission of the Access to Justice Lab is to transform U.S. law into an evidence-based profession by implementing and publishing rigorous, empirical studies to create credible evidence about what works and what doesn’t in access to justice and court administration. We hope to provide the needed knowledge about how to run and interpret randomized control trials (“RCTs”) in the legal profession. We hope to demonstrate that RCTs can inform, supplement, and enhance professional judgments. Above all, we hope to remind lawyers and judges of what they already know: that the people who depend on us to represent them, and to provide advice or information to them, and to adjudicate their cases, deserve the best knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

The same thing is true if you’re a general counsel of a large company. Your company probably gets sued (most big companies do), and you use your professional experience to decide which cases to handle in-house and which to farm out to private law firms. Because of your professional experience and judgment, you think you know which cases belong in-house and which should be farmed out. But how would you know without a comparison with a different way of doing things?

This is also true if you’re a judge. Maybe you handle cases a certain way because, in your professional experience, you think you know that’s the best way to handle them. Because of your professional experience and judgment, you think you know that active case management makes cases settle earlier. Or that mediation gives parties more control over dispute resolution so that they are happier with the result. Or perhaps it’s the opposite: you think you know that leaving the parties to themselves, plus having a firm trial date, is the best way to make cases go away while preserving your scarce resources. Whatever your preferred case management system is, how would you know whether it works without comparing it with a different way of doing things? And would that comparison be enough to tell you what works and what doesn’t if the cases that were litigated under your preferred system weren’t similar to those in your comparison group?

A lawyer faced with all of the above might respond, “Well, are there reasons to doubt my professional judgment that I am making a difference and that I make good choices? After all, I know the legal system that a low-income client has to get through, and it’s a bear. There’s no way he or she would have made it through without me.” Or you might think, “I know the lawyers my corporate client hires, and I’ve seen the sorts of cases that win or lose when I make the wrong choice, so I know which cases belong in-house and which should be farmed out.” Or, “I’ve seen a lot of cases and parties over the years, so I know what’s best. Are there good reasons to question my professional judgment?”

You can’t know whether you—or another lawyer—really make a difference for clients without a comparison.

Yes, there are. Lots of reasons. Here’s one: Every professional field that has studied what works and what doesn’t by using rigorous scientific methods, especially the randomized control trial (RCT), has discovered that lots of its professional judgments were wrong. Sacred cows have fallen one after another. In medicine, think of hormone replacement therapy and bilateral mastectomy; in criminology, think of “scared straight”; in public health, think of Fitbits and robot babies; in education, think of school vouchers and Head Start; in international development, think of microcredit. Professionals in each of these fields believed strongly in these programs, treatments, or ideas. Professionals knew that each of these programs worked. The result of that “knowledge” was the exposure of huge numbers of people to these programs and expenditure of huge sums of money on them. Rigorous scientific evidence from RCTs showed that none of these programs was what it was supposed to be. (For more on how RCTs are built, see “Judging from Empirical Research.”)

The idea of an RCT is simple. In law, it looks like this: personnel in a field (judges, lawyers), in partnership with quantitative analysts, randomly assign a set of cases or potential clients to one of two or more treatment groups. The research team then measures predetermined outcomes for all those cases or potential clients and compares them to see which treatment groups’ outcomes were the most favorable, and whether any differences in outcomes are statistically and substantively significant.

The primary benefits of an RCT include the following:

  1. An RCT forces a legal services provider or a court to specify sharply the purposes of a program, or form of representation, or way of handling cases, or whatever it is to be tested. Without a sharply defined set of purposes and thus a definition of success, no RCT can occur.
  2. An RCT assures that the success or failure of a program is defined in terms of a comparison. In other words, an RCT forces those who engage in it to ask not “Does X work?” but rather “Does X work compared to Y?”
  3. Because cases or clients are randomly assigned to different treatment groups, the groups are as close to the same as we can make them in all ways except for the treatment, meaning that it is as safe as we can make it to attribute any significant difference in observed outcomes to the difference in treatment received. Austin Bradford Hill, one of the primary proponents of RCTs in medicine, stated it this way: “It ensures that neither our personal idiosyncrasies (our likes or dislikes consciously or unwittingly applied) nor our lack of balanced judgement [sic] has entered into the construction of the different treatment groups—the allocation has been outside our control and the groups are therefore unbiased.”

But perhaps we lawyers and judges are just that much smarter than everyone else. Perhaps our professional judgments are just that much better. Here’s another reason to doubt professional judgments: the more a field uses rigorous study, the more questionable it finds professional judgments. In medicine, for example, one study reviewed 10 years’ worth of articles in just one journal. It found 146 instances in which an RCT showed that a standard medical practice was worse than the alternative tested. Another study reviewed what fraction of promising drugs are shown to be effective after field RCTs that cost millions of dollars per test. The answer? Less than 10 percent.

Why RCTs?

Robot babies. In recent decades there has been an increase in the use of robot babies, or infant simulators, as a sexual education tool. The idea is that teens carry these (disturbingly) lifelike babies around for a week as a way of preventing teen pregnancy. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea, and the program has been received positively by students, health practitioners, and community members alike. Many are even convinced that it strengthens community bonds. Incidentally, each baby costs thousands of dollars. However, results of an Australia have revealed that robot baby programs may in fact have the opposite effect, leading to more teenage pregnancies rather than fewer. In the RCT, the proportion of girls giving birth and having abortions was higher in the group who received sex education plus the infant simulator program than in the group who received sex education without the infant simulator.

Scared straight programs. Popular in the 1980s and 1990s (and even continuing today), “scared straight” programs arrange for at-risk youth to spend a night in jail in the hopes of deterring them from bad behavior. In some past iterations of the program, inmates yelled at and harassed the kids. Two PBS documentaries (1979 and 1999) reported high success rates for these programs, with almost all of the participants staying out of trouble for three months after attending the program. But several RCTs on the programs tell a very different—and much more disturbing—story. By these indications, the programs either have no effect or, more likely, actually increase recidivism rates.

Professionals in some fields have largely concluded that the stakes are high enough for the people the field serves to require rigorous, credible information through the frequent use of RCTs to find out what works and what doesn’t. We lawyers and judges have, historically, concluded otherwise.

Is the news all bad? No. Sometimes, RCTs show that little things can have positive effects. Sometimes, RCTs show that we can replace something really expensive (like scholarships) with something really cheap (like text messages). Sometimes, RCTs show that legal interventions make an enormous difference. But to find out where and when and how these things are or could be true in law, we have to be willing to look.

What stands in our way? Willpower. Our high regard for our own legal professional judgment. A lack of knowledge from within law on how to run and interpret RCTs.

The mission of the Access to Justice (A2J) Lab is to change all that. We hope to provide the needed knowledge about how to run and interpret RCTs in the legal profession. We hope to demonstrate that RCTs can inform, supplement, and enhance professional judgments. Above all, we hope to remind lawyers and judges of what they already know: that the people who depend on us to represent them, to provide advice or information, and to adjudicate their cases deserve the best knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

Faith in professional judgment

How strong is the legal profession’s faith in its own professional judgments? Strong. Here is one example from one of the most powerful court systems in the nation concerning something called the Civil Appeals Management Program (CAMP).

The mission of the Access to Justice Lab is to provide needed knowledge about how to run and interpret RCTs in the legal profession.

In the mid-1970s, attempting to respond to an influx of appeals, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered lawyers in five pending appeals to attend settlement conferences over which he personally presided. Faced with encouragement to settle from the most powerful judge of the court that would eventually adjudicate their cases, and a potential member of their cases’ adjudicatory panels, the parties in all five appeals reached agreement before oral argument.

The chief judge then constituted CAMP. CAMP consisted of a mandatory one-hour preargument conference presided over by a lawyer working for the Second Circuit. The chief judge predicted that CAMP would reduce the rate at which cases reached the oral argument stage of litigation by 25 percent, oral argument being one stage at which an appellate court’s investment of resources into the adjudication of a case rises sharply. The chief judge also set, as the key criterion for CAMP program effectiveness, an absolute minimum of a 10 percent reduction in the oral argument rate.

CAMP needed funding for its presiding lawyer. Funding was provided, but at the same time, the Federal Judicial Center designed and implemented an RCT. This first RCT showed no statistically significant reduction in oral argument rates in CAMP versus non-CAMP cases. In other words, rigorous, scientific study showed no statistically significant effect, much less a 10 or 25 percent difference.

What was the federal judiciary’s reaction to this news? The Second Circuit remained committed to the CAMP concept and maintained the program. A 1978 Second Circuit report credited CAMP as the reason why the Second Circuit, alone among the federal courts of appeals, closed more cases than it opened that year. And the Second Circuit requested that funding for CAMP continue.

The funding was provided, but a second RCT began. Before the second RCT could be finished, however, the chief judge found sufficient political clout to terminate it. The reason given: “the reluctance of the court to continue to exempt [control cases] from the CAMP program.”

Prior to the chief judge’s efforts, however, cases sufficient in number for a statistical analysis had made it through the second RCT’s randomization protocol. The published analysis of those cases may be suspect because of an attempted adjustment for the fact that two different attorneys, rather than a single attorney, conducted the CAMP conferences during the second RCT. Accepting the results at face value, CAMP caused a 9.9 percent reduction in oral argument rates. In other words, the second RCT provided evidence that CAMP failed the chief judge’s pre-specified absolute minimum success criterion and was still nowhere near his predicted reduction of 25 percentage points in oral argument rate.

What was the federal judiciary’s reaction to this news? The Federal Judicial Center concluded, “The potential of [CAMP] is so great that all persons sharing responsibility for the management of appellate caseloads should give these procedures serious consideration.”

Almost a century ago, the ethos in medicine, with its faith in the judgment of the frontline professional, was the same as currently exists in law.

There are other examples of how legal professionals’ certainty in the correctness of their own professional judgments stood in the way of good science. In one, prosecutors in Florida sought appellate court orders effectively halting an RCT, one that trial judges in the relevant court system initially supported, evaluating a counseling program for domestic violence defendants. The prosecutor’s position was that the RCT was unethical and illegal because it denied domestic violence victims whose batterers were randomized to the no-counseling group the benefit of having their batterers undergo the mandatory counseling program. Despite the prosecutor’s opposition, the RCT went forward. The RCT’s results were as follows: on the basis of offender self-reports, victim reports, and official records, there was no statistically significant difference between treated and control groups in batterer rearrest rates, in (minor or severe) reabuse rates, or in batterer attitudes or beliefs regarding domestic violence.

And there are other examples, including a legal services provider’s opposition to an evaluation of representation in government benefits litigation.

We are the U.S. legal profession. The people we serve deserve better from us.

Does it have to be this way?

Almost a century ago, the ethos in medicine, with its faith in the judgment of the frontline professional, was the same as currently exists in law. In the 1920s and 1930s, physicians thought that they alone, as professionals, knew what was best for patients and that no nonphysician could say anything useful to improve professional medical judgments. Correspondingly, in this time period, medicine recognized as epistemologically valid only two sources of knowledge: the pronouncements of medical elites and each physician’s own personal experiences with “his” particular patients.

Medicine transformed itself. In the first half of the 20th century, it began recognizing an important role for rigorous scientific evidence, particularly evidence from RCTs, in deciding what works. Now, medicine is the field that people most often associate with RCTs, “double-blind studies,” and other forms of randomized drug trials required for FDA approval of new drugs and medical devices.

The transformation of medicine, or at least that part of medicine that concerns new drugs and medical devices, was neither easy nor inevitable. Medicine fought an intellectual civil war. It took 30 years from the 1931 publication of the first medical RCT in the United States to Congress’s passage of the Kefauver-Harris Amendments, which required that a new drug be evaluated by “adequate and well-controlled studies” (a phrase that came to be interpreted as requiring RCTs) before it could be sold to the public. And after the passage of the legislation, wrangling over the implementation of regulations went on for a decade and continues to the present day.

The transformation of medicine was difficult. But physicians self-consciously transformed their field; medicine became less of an art and more of a science. Medicine demonstrated that evidence-based thinking was not fundamentally inconsistent with professionalism.

Law can learn from this lesson. The A2J Lab will try to help the U.S. legal profession and the court system do so.

The Access to Justice Lab

The A2J Lab is founded on the belief that we must know what works in the legal system and what doesn’t in order to serve those seeking justice. The Lab has three primary goals: to produce rigorous evidence from RCTs regarding what works in access-to-justice and adjudicatory administration; to transform access-to-justice and adjudicatory administration from impressionistic domains to domains governed by credible evidence; and to grow practice-grounded researchers who can start their own agenda to produce RCTs in the legal setting. Our staff and research partners include legal faculty at other institutions, lawyers with backgrounds in statistics, data analysts with interests in access-to-justice issues, and other scholars and law students interested in ensuring that their future work will be governed by rigorous data.

Law is a field in transition. No one thinks that in 20 or 30 years we will be practicing law and deciding cases the way that we have in past decades. With respect to paying clients, technology has been transforming and will continue to transform all that we do. With respect to low-income clients and courts, a major engine for change has been and will continue to be crushing resource scarcity. Indeed, the defining characteristic of U.S. adjudicatory administration and access to justice is resource scarcity. Nationally, and in every state that has analyzed the problem, demand for legal assistance among those unable to pay market rates vastly outstrips supply. Chronic underfunding of state court systems, which began before the 2008 financial crisis, has united members of opposing political parties. The federal courts operated under sequestration for years. The pro se litigant “crisis” in state and federal court systems is now decades old and shows no signs of abating. These facts make clear that the bar’s preferred solution to all problems in court administration and access to justice—for example, a lawyer at government expense for (almost) everyone with a civil legal need who cannot afford to access the private market—is a nonstarter. The costs of such a proposal remain undefined but are known to be staggering. Crushing resource scarcity is here to stay.

As a field in transition, law should be eager to adopt data-based methods to evaluate and complement access-to-justice developments. How else will we determine how best to use unusually scarce resources? But such has not been the case. In a field structured around evidence and precedence, lawyers have repeatedly chosen to resist both when it comes to their own practices. RCTs in U.S. law are rare. In the particular area of civil legal assistance, despite the billions spent in the 140 years since the creation of the first U.S. legal aid organization, there have been a total of six published RCTs evaluating U.S. legal services.

The A2J Lab exists to change this situation. It’s been a little over a year since the Lab officially launched, and we already have seven studies in the field. We have identified a “top 10 list” of access-to-justice issues that we think courts and legal services providers could improve through study.

  1. Self-help: In a world in which at least half of eligible individuals and families who seek help from free or low-cost legal services providers (LSPs) are turned away with no help at all, how should we best create, structure, and deliver legal materials that will allow individuals and families to help themselves? Because the court system has a duty to assure minimal procedural due process, the problem of self-help is one of both access-to-justice and adjudicatory administration.
  2. Civil triage: The fact that demand for legal services vastly exceeds supply means that only a small fraction of individuals seeking help from LSPs will receive a traditional attorney-client relationship. Most individuals will receive some form of limited legal service, such as telephone advice or ghostwritten pleadings. How should LSPs triage potential clients to different service levels to achieve the biggest bang for the buck?
  3. Criminal triage: The promise of Gideon v. Wainwright has never been fulfilled, nor will it be anytime soon. Legislatures lack political will to fund criminal defense services. The federal courts have excused the inexcusable among defense attorneys, even in capital cases. Faced with severe resource scarcity, public defender services and Criminal Justice Act (CJA) attorneys offer what is in all-but-name limited service representation to many of their clients, while offering traditional attorney-client relationships to other clients. How should public defenders and CJA attorneys triage actual clients to different service levels?
  4. Effectiveness of different service forms and levels: How much is “lost” by an eligible individual or family who is given limited legal services compared to a traditional attorney-client relationship? How much is “gained” by an eligible individual or family who is given limited legal services compared to no help at all? Here, we must move beyond measuring only adjudicatory outputs (for example, whether a housing court enters a judgment of eviction against a tenant/defendant) to also measuring socioeconomic outcomes (for example, whether the tenant/defendant retains possession of the relevant housing unit).
  5. Inducing action: A high percentage of individuals and families facing legal problems do nothing. Many do nothing even when the legal system proposes to intrude forcibly into their lives. For example, 95 percent or more of debt collection defendants lose their cases because they do not show up to court; the working hypothesis is that many such cases are easily winnable. How can LSPs and courts persuade individuals to participate in legal processes? (For more on the Lab’s efforts to induce action, see “Drawn to Action.”)
  6. Court forms: Every adjudicatory system uses forms to elicit information from, and to transmit information to, litigants. How should forms be structured to maximize litigant accessibility and engagement as well as court efficiency?
  7. Pretrial and postconviction release and monitoring: The cost and consequences of mass incarceration have become the subject of national debate of unusual coalitions. Although mandatory minimums and judicial bashfulness currently inhibit rigorous studies at sentencing, pretrial initial release decisions and postconviction monitoring/reentry provide fertile grounds for research on reducing unnecessary incarceration. Do tools currently available for the pretrial and postconviction stages function as promised when courts and lawyers actually use them? (For more on the A2J Lab’s ongoing study on pretrial release, see “Judging from Empirical Research.”)
  8. LSP outreach and intake: Budget cuts and resource constraints have compelled LSPs to eliminate local offices in favor of centralized headquarters. Simultaneously, the medium for intake has shifted from in person to telephone and online. Individuals and families thus face higher search costs (i) to become aware that LSP services might be available, (ii) to attempt to access those services, and (iii) to make it through the intake process. A danger in these developments is that only the strong survive; for example, the individuals who manage to complete intake processes are those who need the least help because they already enjoy greater access to social networks, or higher levels of motivation and determination, or a greater knowledge of English. How should LSPs structure outreach and intake to elicit contact from the potential clients for whom they can do the greatest good?
  9. Alternatives to litigation: The alternative dispute resolution (ADR) industry is large and growing. Almost every court system in the country administers some form of mediation, arbitration, early neutral evaluation, or judicial settlement conference. What are the costs and benefits of ADR vis-à-vis traditional litigation?
  10. Ex ante law for human beings: Law for low- and middle-income individuals and families is almost exclusively ex post and litigation-focused. It is applied after a problem arises, and by that time, resolution of the problem ordinarily requires an adjudication, often via an adversarial process. Thus, the overwhelming majority of LSP resources are focused on litigation. But some legal needs are (or should be) ex ante and transactional: wills, adoptions, legal immigration. And a failure to address a legal need ex ante can cause collateral consequences ex post. For example, an owner of a house does not have a will, so when she dies, unclear ownership of the house causes it to fall into disrepair and become a blight on the surrounding neighborhood. Or an improperly completed SSI/SSDI form results in summary eviction litigation when a disabled individual cannot pay rent. Where can legal assistance resources be deployed efficiently to focus on problem prevention instead of problem resolution?

The Financial Distress Research Project

Each of our studies takes one of these areas and develops a testable proposal using treated and control groups. (To learn more about other studies the Lab is conducting, see “Judging from Empirical Research” and “Drawn to Action,” or visit Our largest and most recently launched study, the Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP), tests a variety of interventions for people interacting with the courts around issues of debt. As of 2014, more than 77 million people in the United States had at least one account reported as “in collection” on their credit reports, owing an average of $5,178 (median $1,349). Distressed debt results in collection lawsuits, a messy and error-prone credit report, and a potential need for bankruptcy. In other words, debt problems are legal problems, and an inability to resolve debt problems leads to legal consequences. What proposals are out there to address the legal aspects of distressed debt? How would we know whether those proposals work? The FDRP is a partnership among multiple branches of government, academia (students and professors), multiple nonprofit service providers, and the private sector. Its backbone is a gold-standard RCT. It will combine this randomized design with highly consequential credit-reporting information. It will supplement all this information with the results of surveys and court records.

The profession is changing, and its newest members know it. In our students, we see a deep desire for credible, empirical research and an understanding of the importance of data.

After convening the study partners, our team began by creating the self-help materials we wanted to test. More than 60 law students, most of them volunteers, have already dedicated thousands of hours to court observations, individual interviews, and research with one goal in mind: the production of a state-of-the-art self-help assistance packet covering how to:

  1. Litigate a debt collection action
  2. Pull, review, and correct errors in a credit report
  3. Self-diagnose whether bankruptcy or negotiation with other creditors is the right option
  4. Negotiate with other creditors (with specific materials tailored to credit card, medical, and public/private student loan debt)
  5. File a successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy (including attempting to discharge student loans in bankruptcy)

The assistance packet was created specifically for the capabilities of its target audience, namely, persons in financial distress who are not themselves lawyers. Thus, it features cartoons that teach legal concepts, material designed to combat feelings of shame and guilt, and small items (such as detachable sticky notes) that have been shown to aid in plan making and follow-through. (For more on the Lab’s innovative cartoons, see “Drawn to Action.”)

An individual who has been sued in debt collection proceedings, calls a study-created hotline, meets eligibility criteria (for example, income and assets below study ceilings), and agrees to participate will receive limited advice and assistance over the telephone. After he or she executes appropriate waiver and consent forms (including a consent to allow us to access credit information), he or she will be randomized to one of four treatment conditions, as follows:

A chart that shows four groups. Under group 1: All Self-Help is listed:
1. Self-help packet for debt-related legal issues.
2. Self-help financial counseling packet.

Group 2: Legal Self-Help, Pro FInancial Counseling
1. Self-help packet for debt-related legal issues
2. 50 dollar incentive to undergo internet or telephone financial counseling

Group 3: Pro Legal Help, Self-Help Financial Counseling
1. Offer of attorney-client relationship for debt-related legal issues
2. Self-help financial counseling packet

Group 4: All Pro Help
1. Offer of attorney-client relationship for debt-related legal issues
2. $50 incentive to undergo internet or telephone financial counseling.

Finally, we will collect outcome information. We will obtain deidentified credit scores and credit report attributes for each study participant as of one, two, and three years before entry into the study. We will also collect this information at one, two, and three years subsequent to entry. We will collect case records from small claims and bankruptcy courts. And we will survey study participants at intake, year ones and two, to measure overall financial well-being, perceived stress levels, and other wellness indicators.

A comparison of financial health across our four groups will provide gold-standard evidence regarding the effectiveness of self-help packets, financial counseling, and attorney representation. The result will be the richest and most detailed data set ever conducted in an evaluation of what works for individuals in financial distress. This is rigorous evidence, and it’s the type of credible, empirical research the Lab believes will improve the foundation of our work.

Going forward

The profession is changing, and its newest members know it. In our students, we see a deep desire for this type of knowledge and an understanding of the importance of data. Some students today even expect it. Even before the official launch of the A2J Lab, hundreds of students worked tirelessly to prepare and design materials for the field. Why is this new generation different? We can think of a few potential reasons. Perhaps most important, they have had a much more robust STEM education than prior decades. These students have spent years in a system that prioritizes the scientific method as an evaluative tool across disciplines. The students have come of age in the world of Big Data. They expect decisions to be informed by credible evidence. They have also been steeped in the reality of the resource scarcity mentioned above, and they often have an intuitive sense of the need for new solutions.

Given this, it would be easy to think that the change to a more data-centric model of law is inevitable and that we should wait for the next generation to make the transition. But the life cycle of an RCT in the legal profession is a long one. It takes several years to design and prepare a study, often several years to randomize it, and then several years of follow-up to complete it. Science takes time, and developing the infrastructure and data we need to transition to a science-based field will take decades. The system already needs change faster than we can change it. For the sake of our clients and ourselves, we can’t afford to wait any longer.

The A2J Lab needs your help. While the Lab is a self-funded center that depends on donations from foundations and people like you, what we need most is your time and attention. Please consider sharing the importance of using RCTs in law with your friends and colleagues. As leaders in the field, you can make the biggest impact in changing the system. If this article hasn’t convinced you, reach out. Visit our website. Read the rest of this issue and read our blog. Or just e-mail us with questions. The Lab’s staff would love to hear from you and talk with you about our work.

There’s no FDA to approve our strategies, but the decisions of the courts can be equally life or death. We, as lawyers, have the power to change the field ourselves. When your doctor gives you a prescription, you expect to get medicine that has been proven to work. Our clients should expect no less from us.

Jim Greiner is the faculty director of the Access to Justice Lab and the Honorable S. William Green Professor of Public Law at Harvard Law School. He can be reached at [email protected].