Justiciable events -- happenings and circumstances that “raise [civil] legal issues,” whether or not people “recogniz[e] them as being ‘legal’” and whether or not they respond to the event by using some part of the civil justice system (Genn 1999:12) -- provide a powerful analytic tool for understanding the workings of civil justice. Over the next week, I want to take the opportunity of this blog to introduce the study of justiciable events, to discuss some excellent, fascinating research from other countries, and to make a plea for American scholars to get involved.
Given the most recent available data, we can estimate that about half of the low- and moderate-income households in the United States are in the midst of experiencing at least one “justiciable event” (American Bar Association 1994: Table 3-1; Curran 1977). In a country with nearly 300 million people residing in more than 100 million households (Simmons and O’Neill 2001), that’s a sizable number of people and families exposed to problems with civil legal aspects. The most commonly experienced events involve money -- credit, bills, livelihood, benefit payments -- and housing-- landlord/tenant problems, mortgages and rent, repairs and property tax assessments -- but households also report family matters, personal injuries, civil liberties and civil rights violations and problems with children’s schooling, health care and municipal services.
The last large-scale, nationally representative social scientific surveys of Americans’ experience of justiciable events were the Civil Litigation Research Project (Trubek et al. 1983, archived at ICPSR) and Barbara Curran’s American Bar Foundation-affiliated national survey of household legal needs (Curran 1977). These were fine studies, but they are, at this point, going on 30 years old. The American Bar Association sponsored a more recent national survey, but even this is more than a dozen years old, represents only those households with annual incomes less than $60,000 in 1992, and was reported in highly aggregated tabulations meant to describe the volume and distribution of “unmet legal need” (American Bar Association 1994). If one wants more detail from this most recent survey, he or she is out of luck, because these data are not publicly released.
Stellar work is being conducted in other countries,
including Australia, Canada, China, England,
Scotland and Wales -- about which more next time.
American Bar Association. 1994. Report on the Legal Needs of the Low- and Moderate-Income Public. Chicago, IL: American Bar Association.
Curran, Barbara A. 1977. The Legal Needs of the Public:
Final Report of a National Survey.
Chicago, IL: American Bar Foundation.
Genn, Hazel, with the National Centre for Social Research. 1999. Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think about Going to Law. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.
Simmons, Tavia and Grace O’Neill. 2001. Households and Families: 2000. Census 2000 Brief. September 2001. http://www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/c2kbr01-8.pdf.
Trubek, David M., Joel B. Grossman, William L.F. Felstiner,
Herbert M. Kritzer, and Austin Sarat. 1983. Civil Litigation Research
Project: Final Report. Madison, WI:
University of Wisconsin Law