Case Study

Creating more equitable legal environments by transforming the pipeline from college to successful legal practice and access to people-centered justice systems

The Equity Accelerator (EA) is dedicated to creating more equitable environments, from college to careers, and has been applying our approach in the legal space, from improving student experiences and outcomes with tests like the LSAT and Bar Exam, to improving people’s lived experiences with access to court proceedings. Learn more about our work in creating more equitable legal environments.

BAR EXAM STRATEGIES AND STORIES PROGRAM

Every year, tens of thousands of students enroll in law school with the hopes of entering the legal field, but around a third of those students do not pass the bar exam three years later. Achievement gaps in legal education disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups, and are reflected in the field: in the US, only 15% of lawyers are people of color, and barely a third of all lawyers are women. Research by EA and a team of law and psychology researchers from Indiana University, University of Southern California, and Stanford University showed that the root of the problem may lie in social psychological factors for law students: when they reported weaker relationships in law school, it is associated with reduced feelings of belonging, lower satisfaction, and lower grades.

Are there ways to help all who take a bar exam better prepare and improve their performance?


We created the
Bar Exam Strategies and Stories program to answer this question. After conducting surveys and focus groups of California bar exam participants in (2018?), we developed an online program designed to address and mitigate these psychological factors that are hindering student success with passing the bar exam. We partnered with the State Bar of California to offer this online program to all applicants for their state bar exam. It includes an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity, in which participants share insights and strategies that may be useful to them and to future test takers. After six years of the program, the data and results are clear. 

The program:

    • increased total bar scores by approximately 18 points on average
    • lifted total bar scores by approximately 21 points on average for first-generation students and applicants of color
    • combined with our recommendation to lower the bar passage score to 1390 from 1440, improved passage rates by 20 percentage points overall

Click here to read the full report: Evaluating a Productive Mindset and Structural Intervention that Promotes Achievement on California’s Bar Exam.

ACCESS TO MORE EQUITABLE AND PEOPLE-CENTERED JUSTICE SYSTEMS

The global COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented disruptions to court proceedings and forced our civil justice system to rapidly navigate shifting to remote proceedings and adoption of platforms, such as Zoom and Webex. These shifts presented new technology and adoption challenges, but also created the opportunity to study the experiences and outcomes of unrepresented individuals and vulnerable populations who participate remotely. Each year, millions of self-represented or unrepresented litigants encounter the U.S. civil justice systems, many of whom are members of racially and socially disadvantaged groups.

Can offering remote access to court proceedings contribute towards a more equitable and people-centered justice system?


EA in partnership with Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law formed a collaboration between an interdisciplinary team of researchers and a statewide network of Indiana court partners to developed a first-of-its-kind online digital experience sampling platform to gather, analyze and understand the experiences of unrepresented litigants in state courts. We recruited 58 Indiana judges, across 40 courts and 12 counties, to field the experience sampling platform in their civil courts, allowing us to reach over 20,000 litigants, and ultimately collecting data from over 2,000 respondents, largely unrepresented litigants from high volume civil dockets.

Our research not only provides necessary empirical research that has been missing on the impact of remote technologies on vulnerable and unrepresented individuals, but also gives a voice to this population’s lived experiences.

Some highlights of our research findings:

    • Online civil courts enhance access to justice for unrepresented litigants
    • Unrepresented persons who accessed court remotely wished to do so in the future
    • Remote proceedings improved their experiences of procedural justice, outcome satisfaction, and reduced litigants’ stress
    • Remote proceedings removed structural barriers including employment, childcare, transportation

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