November 28, 2018
This study investigates the effectiveness of a Philadelphia pro bono legal aid initiative to assist individuals pursuing a divorce. While the program was found to be effective, the study provides an in depth analysis of all the factors that come into play. Researchers conducted a randomized control trial (RCT) to measure the relationship between being referred to a pro bono lawyer or being referred to self-help or low pro bono resources on the legal outcome in divorce cases.
The researchers conducted an RCT on a pro bono initiative in Philadelphia. This RCT is in response to “the aspirational goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs” by the Conferences of Chief Judges and State Court Administrators (p.4). This study evaluates the effectiveness of a pro bono divorce practice in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program (VIP), from January 2011 to July 2016. The treatment group received a referral to VIP and the control group received a referral to self-help or low pro bono resources. Of those who participated in the study,“87.8% of participants randomized to a Philadelphia VIP effort to find a lawyer ended up with one, while roughly 36.7% of those randomized to no such effort found one” (p.33).
- “Eighteen months after randomization, 54.1% of the treated group, as opposed to 13.9% of the control group, had a divorce case on record. Three years after randomization, 45.9% of treated group, as opposed to 8.9% of the control group, had achieved a termination of a marriage” (p. 5).
- “If one expands one’s focus to other Pennsylvania counties, and thus considers filings by Philadelphia County residents who risked a dismissal due to improper venue and who abandoned the system they support as taxpayers, results remain statistically and substantively significant: 60.8% of the treated group, versus 36.3% of the control group, had a divorce case on file after 18 months, p < .00002; 50.0% of the treated group, versus 25.3% of the control group, succeeded in terminating the marriage in 36 months, p < .00002” (abstract).
- “Only 12 of the 237 participants in our control (no effort to find an attorney) group, or 5.1%, managed to obtain a divorce with 36 months of entering our study without having either an attorney of record, or the opposing spouse initiate the divorce lawsuit” (p. 7).
“Our results support the proposition that at least in some circumstances, procedural systemic complexity difficult to link to non-trivial substantive policy goals imposes on would-be litigants a cost of access analogous to a filing fee without an IFP process, namely, a requirement that the litigant obtain a lawyer” (p. 7).
Geographic coverage, US: Pennsylvania
Case type: Family
Practice Area: Family
Who Served: General/unspecified clients
How Provided: Pro Bono, Self-Help
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