How Effective Are Limited Legal Assistance Programs? A Randomized Experiment in a Massachusetts Housing Court

By: D. James Greiner, Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak and Jonathan Hennessy. Published in: 2012.

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We persuaded entities conducting a civil Gideon pilot program in summary eviction cases to allow us to randomize which potential clients would receive offers of traditional attorney-client relationships from oversubscribed legal aid staff attorneys and which would be referred to a lawyer for the day program. We examine outcomes related to whether matters not yet in litigation reached court, possession of the unit, monetary consequences of non-payment of rent cases, and court burden. We find no statistically significant evidence that the Provider’s offer of full, as opposed to limited, representation had a large (or any) effect on any outcome of substantive import. We explore several possible interpretations of our results, and we caution against both over-interpretation and under-interpretation.


  • Tenants who received an offer of representation received approximately 12.4 hours of total attorney work per case, while tenants who received limited or unbundled assistance received only 1.7 hours per case, for 10.7 hour difference, or a ratio of over seven to one.
  • The data suggest it is unlikely that the legal aid provider’s offer of full representation, as compared to a referral to its lawyer for a day program, had a large effect on possession including the critical variable of whether the occupant lost possession at the end of the dispute.
  • An offer of a traditional attorney client relationship from a legal aid provider staff attorney resulted in savings to the tenant of 1.8 months of rent on average, versus limited or unbundled assistance resulting in a savings to the tenant of 1.6 months of rent, which equals about one-fifth of a month of rent. There is no evidence that the difference in services between the two groups had any affect on the burden on the court or on any other outcomes.

Categories: Homeless, Housing, Housing, Legal Aid Attorneys, Legal Aid Practitioners, Researchers and Academics, State-Specific, Unbundling

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