In What Difference Representation?, James Greiner (Harvard) and Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak (Harv. Stats.--grad student) set out to assess "[P]articularly with respect to low-income clients in civil cases, how much of a difference does legal representation make?" What they find, as the authors note, will likely startle many. The paper's careful attention to a clever research design warrants note as well. Specifically, "the basic idea was to look for practice areas in which demand for legal services outstripped a provider’s capacity, and in those areas, to suggest that the provider allow us to randomize which of several eligible potential clients would receive an offer of representation. The randomization would create “treated” (offered representation from this service provider) and “control” (no such offer) groups identical (up to random variation) in all ways except for the offer of representation." The excerpted abstract, below, includes a summary of the paper's key findings.
"We report the results of the first in a series of randomized control trials designed to measure the effect of an offer of, and the actual use of, legal representation. The results are startling. In the context of administrative litigation to determine eligibility for unemployment benefits, a service provider’s offer of representation to a claimant had no statistically significant effect on the claimant’s probability of a victory, but the offer caused a delay in the proceeding. Because a substantial percentage of the provider’s client base consisted of claimants who were initially denied benefits but who would have that initial denial reversed as a result of the litigation, the delay an offer of representation caused inflicted a harm upon such claimants in the form of an additional waiting time for benefits to begin, this with no concomitant increase in the probability of a favorable outcome. In other words, these claimants would have been better off without the offer of representation."