A new Berkeley Law initiative explores how to make the civil justice system more accessible and fair to those seeking relief.
Through interdisciplinary, independent, and academically based research, the Civil Justice Research Initiative (CJRI) examines how the system can better deliver justice to everyday people seeking redress in courts. Topics of interest include inadequate court funding; the provision of legal services to those who cannot afford private lawyers; the effects of arbitration clauses; restrictions on class-action lawsuits; and other barriers to legal remedies.
“Too often, the courthouse doors are closed to those who have suffered serious injuries and violations of their rights,” says Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, the initiative’s founding chair.
Chemerinsky originally launched the CJRI in November 2016 while dean at UC Irvine School of Law. In writing his book Closing the Courthouse Door, he found little independent research regarding access to courts. UCI Law received approximately $1 million in support for the project, led by a $250,000 gift from Richard Bridgford of Bridgford, Gleason & Artinian.
The initiative is now a joint project of Berkeley Law and UCI Law. Executive Director Anne Bloom, now in Berkeley, aims to “advance a field of study that’s been neglected” through systematic and rigorous research.
“Our legal system and democratic institutions are crafted on the notion that we’re all entitled to our day in court,” says Bloom, who coordinates CJRI projects and events with Chemerinsky and UCI Faculty Director Shauhin Talesh (Ph.D. ’11). “But we have relatively little research on how well that principle is operating.”
In 2017, the CJRI’s inaugural conference in Irvine focused on access to legal services for low-income Americans, the access to justice implications of new developments in arbitration, and recent developments in complex litigation.
At the initiative’s first Berkeley symposium in April 2018, scholars and practitioners from around the country discussed recent court outcomes research— including a sharp decline in plaintiff victories in federal courts. A recent CJRI white paper explored this development in more detail and made recommendations for future research to illuminate why it is happening. A copy is available on the CJRI’s website, www.civiljusticeinitiative.org.
Future events will focus on topics such as civil jury improvement, ethical concerns in domestic arbitration, and access to justice issues in the context of racialized violence. In addition to organizing conferences and producing white papers, the initiative posts research on the civil justice system on its website, provides links to other organizations conducting research on access to justice issues, and hosts a speakers series featuring prominent litigators and policymakers in the civil justice field.
“We want to provide quality research to inform policy discussions and encourage scholars and practitioners to engage more with each other in discussing civil justice issues,” says Bloom. “It’s imperative that we work together to research and identify workable solutions to the growing limits on the public’s access to justice.”
Law students will serve as CJRI project research assistants and scholars from around the country are affiliated research fellows. The initiative also works with other researchers to assess how best to gather reliable data about the civil justice system and whether to create a central repository for scholars and policymakers.
With wealth stratification rapidly increasing, courts underfunded, and growing attacks on the rule of law, Bloom relishes the initiative’s challenge. “The way I see it,” she says, “this work is more important than ever.”