Harvard University – Center on the Legal Profession
June 21, 2015
Publication Status: Unpublished research in progress
In their article "The Problem of Default, Part 1", D. James Greiner and Andrea J. Matthews discuss how intervention from legal service providers (LSPs) can reduce the number of defendants not showing up to court and help them resolve their cases more favorably.
D. James Greiner and Andrea J. Matthews’ research on the Boston Municipal Court’s debt collection docket seeks to combat the overwhelming trend of routine default: when defendants, often with a strong legal case, do not show up to court to attempt a defense. In the cases they studied, the researchers observed a 95% baseline default rate.
Greiner and Matthews carried out a study that involved sending mailings to eligible defendants. These mailings were designed to educate the recipient about the legal process, explain the costs and benefits of contesting the case, and appeal to his or her sense of procedural justice with the hope of convincing the recipient to attempt a defense. The researchers found that 13% of the control group answered and 7.5% went to the first scheduled court date, while 24% of both test groups answered. Fourteen percent of the “limited intervention” group and 15.3% of the “maximal intervention” group (no statistical significance between them) went to their first court date.
Greiner and Matthews see these results as indicating that legal service providers (LSP) should rethink how they allocate their resources. A great case is made from this data for reaching out to clients and convincing them to appear in court in addition to representing them. If LSPs only serve clients who make initial contact with them, this may mean that only defendants who are more equipped to handle their own case are getting any help, and those who know nothing about the legal system or process receive none. Furthermore, the authors see the potential for breaking through the current broken debt collection system: the more cases that are brought through the courts, the more expensive the process becomes for the courts. The authors hope, on a wide-enough scale, this could prevent debt collectors from bringing cases to court only because they expect the defendant to default.
PUBLICATION DETAILSFormat: Data, Research
Publication Type: Article
Geographic coverage, US: Massachusetts, NATIONAL
Topics: Benefits of Legal Aid: Economic & Social Return on Investment | Benefits of Legal Aid: Other | Recruitment and Retention
Case type: Bankruptcy/Debtor Relief, Collection/Repossession
How Provided: Legal Aid Attorneys, Self-Help
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