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MacArthur 'Genius Grant' Given for Access-To-Justice Work

A law professor and American Bar Foundation researcher, Rebecca Sandefur, has been awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant to help advance her research in the field of access to justice.

Sandefur has been focused on figuring out how to help individuals attempting to navigate the civil justice system. As the ABA Journal explained, the civil access to justice problem impacts countless individuals in regards to housing, healthcare, family law matters, and employment issues. Sandefur specifically has been researching how low-income individuals view and obtain legal services for civil matters.

The Access to Justice Problem

While there's no shortage of lawyers, there's certainly a shortage of people who can afford lawyers.

When it comes right down to it, justice is not affordable. From the court fees to attorney fees and case costs, it all adds up pretty quick, and that doesn't even account for financial losses or damages that may have spawned the justice problem to begin with, meaning that even most middle-class individuals can't afford to hire a civil attorney (that doesn't work on contingency). If a person is living paycheck to paycheck, hiring a lawyer could require impossible financial gymnastics that leaves a person unable to meet other obligations.

And, while the tendency is to blame the lawyers, it's more of a systemic problem than one might imagine, though admittedly it is pretty easy to understand attorneys not wanting to cut their hourly rates.

Tech to the Rescue?

Fortunately, apart from Sandefur, there are many other individuals working on improving access to justice. Earlier this year, the Access to Justice Tech Fellowships selected a law student seeking to create a chat bot for Legal Aid of Hawaii to streamline intake. Using tech like this can help bring down the cost of legal services by reducing overhead costs, which in theory, if put into practice in the private sector, could help to reduce an attorney's rate without reducing the firm's net.

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