CHAMPAIGN, Ill. According to one estimate, half of Americans are confronting a civil legal problem at any one time.
Without access to the right information or advice, or an advocate in civil court, they may lose a home, a job, maybe custody of a child, says Rebecca Sandefur. They may lose out in a divorce, or in a billing or insurance dispute.
For those with limited means, however, getting those services depends not on their need but where they live, says Sandefur, a University of Illinois sociology professor and lead author of a first-of-its-kind report, published and posted online this month by the American Bar Foundation.
"There's this tremendous arbitrariness with respect to geography" in the availability of these services, often underfunded even under the best circumstances, Sandefur said.
Those living in wealthy states or in urban areas generally benefit over those in poorer states or in rural areas, Sandefur said.
Also, the level and type of services in a given community often depend on the initiative of local providers to establish programs and seek out grants and donations with no coordination of services nationwide or within states, and often even within communities, she said.
The report, titled "Access Across America," is the first from the foundation's Civil Justice Infrastructure Mapping Project, and claims to be the "first-ever state-by-state portrait of the services available to assist the U.S. public in accessing civil justice."
Sandefur directs the project and wrote the report, along with co-author Aaron Smyth, a doctoral student at the University of California at Berkeley. The report was funded primarily by the foundation, with additional support from the Friends of Legal Services and the Legal Services Corp.
"The U.S. is an interesting country in that we have our big public legal system that we all pay for, yet it's almost impossible for an ordinary person to use it wit
|Contact: Craig Chamberlain|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign