The Limits of Unbundled Legal Assistance: A Randomized Study in a Massachusetts District Court and Prospects for the Future

By: D. James Greiner, Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak, and Jonathan Hennessy. Published by: Harvard Law Review. Published in February 2013.

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Members of a randomly selected treated group were offered a traditional attorney-client relationship from a legal aid provider staff attorney; members of the remaining randomly selected control group received no such offer. The study concluded that an offer of full representation mattered. Approximately two-thirds of tenants in the treated group, versus about one third of tenants in the control group, retained possession of their units at the end of litigation. Treated group tenants received payments or rent waivers worth a net of 9.4 months of rent per case, versus 1.9 months of rent per case in the control group. Although treated cases did take longer to reach judgment, the offer of representation caused no increase in court burden.

Methodology

Randomized study of 129 tenants facing eviction in a District Court in Massachusetts during a 17 month period. Most tenants received limited assistance when they attended a how-to session including instruction on the summary eviction process as well as help in filling out answer and discovery request forms. After receiving this unbundled assistance, some tenants were offered legal representation and others were not. Of the 129 tenants, 76 were offered representation (97% ended up being represented) and 53 tenants were not offered representation (89% ended up having no representation).

Findings

Approximately two thirds of tenants who received an offer of representation retained possession of their units at the end of litigation, while only one-third of tenants would did not receive an offer of representation retained possession.

Tenants who received an offer of representation received payments or rent waivers worth a net of 9.4 months of rent per case, versus 1.9 months of rent per case for tenants who did not receive an offer of representation. An offer of representation caused the more favorable possession and financial results mentioned above without increasing the burden on the court, beyond an increase in the time needed to reach judgment, which on its own has limited substantive significance.



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

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