All together now: Building a shared access to justice research framework for theoretical insight and actionable intelligence




access to justice, effectiveness, sustainability, scaling, Acceso a la justicia, eficacia, sostenibilidad, ampliación


As empirical research into access to justice burgeons around the world, contemporary work offers opportunities for integration and synthesis, generating insights that can inform both policy priorities and practical decisions about program design and implementation. Access to justice is historically a problem-focused research field, but an important strand of contemporary access to justice research focuses on solutions, or a deeper understanding “what works.” This paper offers a three-part framework for thinking about how research about “what works” in one jurisdiction can inform understanding of what might work in others. We propose a common core of research questions; a framework for conceptualizing the objects of study (in the example here, programs); and a framework for conceptualizing the contexts in which those programs might operate. 

A medida que la investigación empírica sobre el acceso a la justicia crece en todo el mundo, el trabajo contemporáneo ofrece oportunidades para la integración y la síntesis, generando ideas que pueden informar tanto las prioridades políticas como las decisiones prácticas sobre el diseño y la implementación de programas. El acceso a la justicia es históricamente un campo de investigación centrado en los problemas, pero una importante vertiente de la investigación contemporánea sobre el acceso a la justicia se centra en las soluciones, o en una comprensión más profunda de “lo que funciona”. Este documento ofrece un marco de tres partes para pensar en cómo la investigación sobre “lo que funciona” en una jurisdicción puede informar sobre lo que podría funcionar en otras. Proponemos un núcleo común de preguntas de investigación; un marco para conceptualizar los objetos de estudio (en el ejemplo que nos ocupa, los programas); y un marco para conceptualizar los contextos en los que podrían funcionar esos programas.

Available from:


Author Biographies

Rebecca Sandefur, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Professor, Arizona State University and Faculty Fellow, American Bar Foundation.

Matthew Burnett, American Bar Foundation/Arizona State University

Senior Program Officer, American Bar Foundation and Visiting Scholar, Arizona State University.


Albiston, C.R., and Sandefur, R.L., 2013. Expanding the empirical study of access to justice. Wisconsin Law Review, 1, 101.

Blacksell, M., Economides, K., and Watkins, C., 1991. Justice outside the city: access to legal services in rural Britain. Harlow: Longman Scientific and Technical.

Buchholz, K., 2020. How Has the World’s Urban Population Changed from 1950 to Today? [online] 4 November. Geneva: World Economic Forum. Available at:

Buck, A., Tam, T., and Fisher, C., 2007. Putting Money Advice Where the Need is. Legal Services Research Centre Research Paper, 16. London.

Burnett, M., and Sobol, P., 2021. Making the Law Work for People: Legal Empowerment and Inclusive Innovation [online]. Open Society Foundations. Available at:

Carpenter, A.E., et al., 2018. Studying the New Civil Judges. Wisconsin Law Review [online], p. 249. Available at:

Clements, L., 2021. Clustered Justice and the Level Green. Legal Action Group.

Conference of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators, 2015. Resolution 5: Reaffirming the Commitment to Meaningful Access to Justice for All [online]. Available at:

Ellickson, R.C., 1991. Order without law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Engel, D.M., 1984. The oven bird’s song: Insiders, outsiders, and personal injuries in an American community. Law and Society Review, 18(4), 551–582.

Farmer, A., and Tiefenthaler, J., 2003. Explaining the recent decline in domestic violence. Contemporary Economic Policy, 21(2), 158–172.

Friedman, L.M., 1986. The law and society movement. Stanford Law Review, 38(3), 763–780.

Gray, A., Forell, S., and Clarke, S., 2009. Cognitive impairment, legal need and access to justice. Justice issues [online], paper 10. Sydney: Law and Justice Foundation of NSW. Available at:$file/JI10_Cognitive_impairment.pdf

Greiner, D.J., 2019. The New Legal Empiricism & Its Application to Access-to-Justice Inquiries. Daedalus [online], 148(1), 64–74. Available at:

Hadfield, G.K., 2008. The levers of legal design: Institutional determinants of the quality of law. Journal of Comparative Economics, 36(1), 43–73.

Haqdarshak, 2021. About_hq [online]. Bangalore: Haqdarshak. Available at:

Kania, J., and Kramer, M., 2011. Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review [online], 9(1), 36–41. Available at:

Kelkar, G., 2016. Between protest and policy: Women claim their right to agricultural land in rural China and India (No. 2016-10) [online]. UNRISD Working Paper. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). Available at:

Kirkland, A., Talesh, S., and Perone, A.K., 2021. Transition Coverage and Clarity in Self-Insured Corporate Health Insurance Benefit Plans. Transgender Health [online], 6(4), 207–216. Available at:

Kohl, R., 2021. Crosscutting Issues Affecting Scaling: A Review and Appraisal of Scaling in International Development [online]. February. Global Community of Practice on Scaling Development Outcomes. Available at:

Legal Services Corporation, 2017. The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans. Prepared by NORC at the University of Chicago for Legal Services Corporation. Washington, DC.

Long, S.C., and Ponce, A., 2019a. Global Insights on Access to Justice [online]. Washington, DC: The World Justice Project. Available at:

Long, S.C., and Ponce, A., 2019b. Measuring the Justice Gap [online]. Washington, DC: The World Justice Project. Available at:

Manuel, M., and Manuel, C., 2021. People-centered justice for all: A route to scaling up access to justice advice and assistance in low-income countries [online]. Report. April. London: ODI. Available at:

Marouf, F., and Herrera, L., 2020. Technological Triage of Immigration Cases. Florida Law Review [online], 72(3), 515.

Maru, V., 2020. Give the people the law. Democracy [online], 4 September. Available at:

Maru, V., and Gauri, V., eds., 2018. Community Paralegals and the Pursuit of Justice [online]. Cambridge University Press. Available at:

McQuoid-Mason, D., 2013. Access to justice in South Africa: are there enough lawyers? Oñati Socio-Legal Series [online], 3(3). Available at:

Montaner, J.S., O’Shaughnessy, M.V., and Schechter, M.T., 2001. Industry-sponsored clinical research: a double-edged sword. The Lancet, 358(9296), 1893–1895.

National Center for Access to Justice, 2022. UPL Enforcement in California: Protection or Protectionism [online]. February. New York: NCAJ. Available at:

NYU CIC, 2020. The native health partners ensuring justice for people in Alaska [online]. New York: Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. Available at:

OECD and Open Society Foundations, 2019. Legal Needs Surveys and Access to Justice [online], 31 May. Paris: OECD Publishing. Available at:

Open Government Partnership (OGP), 2021. OGP Factsheet [online]. Available at:

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2018. Access to Justice [online]. Paris: OECD. Available at:

Pleasence, P., and Balmer, N.J., 2019. Justice & the Capability to Function in Society. Daedalus [online], 148 (1), 140–149. Available at:

Pleasence, P., Balmer, N.J., and Sandefur, R.L., 2016. Apples and oranges: An international comparison of the public’s experience of justiciable problems and the methodological issues affecting comparative study. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 13(1), 50–93.

Pleasence, P.T., et al., 2014. Reshaping legal services: building on the evidence base [online]. Sydney: Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales. Available at:

Pruitt, L.R., et al., 2018. Legal deserts: a multi-state perspective on rural access to justice. Harvard Law & Policy Review [online], 13, 15. Available at:

Rostain, T., 2019. Techno-Optimism & Access to the Legal System. Dædalus [online], 148(1), 93–97. Available at:

Samuel Hall and The Norwegian Refugee Council, 2016. Access to Tazkera and other Civil Documentation in Afghanistan [online]. Report. Available at:

Sandefur, R.L., 2007. Lawyers’ Pro Bono Service and American‐Style Civil Legal Assistance. Law & Society Review, 41(1), 79–112.

Sandefur, R.L., 2008a. Access to civil justice and race, class, and gender inequality. Annual review of sociology, 34.

Sandefur, R.L., 2008b. Fulcrum point of equal access to justice: legal and nonlegal institutions of remedy. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 42, 949.

Sandefur, R.L., 2016. Commentary on Carroll Seron’s Presidential Address: Embrace Disciplinarity and Talk across It. Law & Society Review, 50(1), 34.

Sandefur, R.L., 2019. Access to what? Dædalus [online], 148(1), 49–55. Available at:

Sandefur, R.L., 2020. Legal Advice from Nonlawyers: Consumer Demand, Provider Quality, and Public Harms. Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, 16, 283.

Sandefur, R.L., 2021. Access to Justice. In: S. Talesh, E. Mertz and H. Klug, eds., Research Handbook on Modern Legal Realism. Northampton: Edward Elgar, 324–335.

Sandefur, R.L., and Clarke, T.M., 2018. Evaluating access to justice programs: the AES framework. Chicago/Williamsburg, VA: American Bar Foundation/National Center for State Courts.

Sandefur, R.L., and Teufel, J., 2020. Assessing America’s Access to Civil Justice Crisis. UC Irvine Law Review [online], 11(3), 753. Available at:

Sarat, A., and Silbey, S., 1988. The Pull of the Policy Audience. Law & Policy, 10(2-3), 97–166.

Shdaimah, C.S., 2011. Negotiating justice: Progressive lawyering, low-income clients, and the quest for social change. New York University Press.

Statz, M., 2021. On Shared Suffering: Judicial Intimacy in the Rural Northland. Law & Society Review, 55(1), 5–37.

Task Force on Justice, 2019. Justice for All - The report of the Task Force on Justice, April 2019 [online]. New York: Center on International Cooperation. Available at:

Taylor Poppe, E.S., 2020. Institutional Design for Access to Justice. UC Irvine Law Review [online], 11(3), 781. Available at:

Terry, L.S., 2013. Putting the legal profession’s monopoly on the practice of law in a global context. Fordham Law Review [online], 82(6), 2903. Available at:

Teufel, J., et al., 2021. Income and poverty status among women experiencing intimate partner violence: A positive social return on investment from civil legal aid services. Law & Society Review, 55(3), 405–428.

Tobin Tyler, E., et al., 2011. Poverty, Health and Law: Readings and Cases for Medical-Legal Partnership. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

Udell, D., 2018. Building the Access to Justice Movement. Fordham Law Review Online, 87(1), 142. Available at:

United Nations and the Rule of Law, 2021. Sustainable Development Goal 16 [online]. Available at:,access%20to%20justice%20for%20all

United Nations Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor, 2008. Making the Law Work for Everyone [online]. Available at:

Viswanathan, V., 2020. Land conversion, social impacts, and legal remedies in India: What’s Working? [online] Center for Policy Research, Namati. Available at:

Weber, M., 1958. Science as a Vocation. Daedalus, 87(1), 111–134.

World Bank, 2021a. Access to Electricity, Rural (% of rural population) [online]. Washington, DC: World Bank Group. Available at:

World Bank, 2021b. Rural Population [online]. Washington, DC: World Bank Group. Available at:

World Justice Project, 2019. Partnering for Native Health [online]. Washington, DC: WJP. Available at:

Ziv, N., 2012. Unauthorized practice of law and the production of lawyers. International Journal of the Legal Profession, 19(2-3), 175–192.



How to Cite

Sandefur, R. and Burnett, M. (2023) “All together now: Building a shared access to justice research framework for theoretical insight and actionable intelligence”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 13(4), pp. 1330–1350. doi: 10.35295/osls.iisl/0000-0000-0000-1357.