Empirical research into access to justice is enjoying a renaissance. The new research resonates strongly with the concerns and approaches of the new legal realism. Contemporary access to civil justice research comprises four distinct approaches, each reflecting the intersection of two different dimensions framing scholars’ research questions. One reflects a choice between manifestations of law as the reference point of the research: the “law on the books” or the “law in action.” The other reflects how researchers define access to justice, understanding it as principally about process, or as some kind of substantive experience, result or outcome. More of the new research is moving beyond a narrow focus on the evaluation of specific interventions, and more is appearing in peer-reviewed venues, subject to disciplines’ requirements for scientific rigor and theoretical engagement and engaged in broader scientific conversations. This new activity is the foundation for development of a robust and coherent access to justice research agenda that can enrich understanding of what law is and how it works.
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