On July 23, 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced a pathbreaking award to promote access to justice scholarship, naming Rebecca Sandefur principal investigator, with Alyx Mark & David Udell as co-principal investigators. The focus of the project was on growing the field of access to justice scholarship and building an agenda for that research by identifying scholars doing pertinent work in diverse fields, and by bringing the scholars together for a intensive workshop in June 2019. 

NSF explained at the time:

"This project will consist of a census-style survey of academic disciplines engaged in access to justice scholarship and an intensive workshop. It is designed to build a research field and an evidence base by identifying emerging access to justice researchers, coordinating collaboration across academic disciplines, and producing a research agenda and original scholarship to give access to justice research the vigor and definition of a field."

For the original abstract introducing the project, see NSF’s announcement.

In April 2019, 25 scholars from across social science disciplines came together at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago. Another 25 more experienced scholars were matched as mentors to the more junior scholars.

All of the participating scholars engage in scholarship that is important for understanding and improving the justice system. However, virtually none had routinely identified their work as “access to justice scholarship”- because prior to this event, the field had not existed. 

The workshop involved two days of dynamic conversation among the social scientists -- including sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and others -- about how best to draw on differing lines of social science research to expand insight into the justice system. Following the workshop, the project sponsored an additional three online zoom convenings (NCAJ moderated one of these) at the Law and Society Association’s annual conference in 2020. These helped inspire and carry out next-level conversations about the growth of the field and about particular research initiatives. 

The formal part of the NSF project has now been completed, but the project is helping to generate next activities among scholars committed to access to justice research. Most recently, two rounds of awards have been made to scholars through the ABF/JPB Access to Justice Scholars program hosted by Prof. Sandefur at the American Bar Foundation.

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