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Testing Unbundled Legal Services in Housing Court: A Pilot RCT
Last registered on December 09, 2020

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Testing Unbundled Legal Services in Housing Court: A Pilot RCT
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0006813
Initial registration date
December 09, 2020
Last updated
December 09, 2020 10:53 AM EST
Location(s)
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Harvard Law School
Additional Trial Information
Status
In development
Start date
2021-03-03
End date
2021-09-17
Secondary IDs
Abstract
New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) currently (before the COVID-19 pandemic) provides one staff attorney each week at the Albuquerque-based, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse for eviction-related legal services. This offering, also known as a lawyer-for-the-day program (LFTD), allows tenants facing eviction to receive full representation or legal advice before their eviction hearings. In 2019, NMLA served about 275 tenants through the LFTD program. Most of them received little education or introduction to their civil legal rights, and they otherwise would not have been able to access legal help while facing the loss of their homes. There were more eligible tenants than the LFTD service could provide assistance, i.e., there was scarcity in the intervention.

Through this pilot study, NMLA will expand its LFTD offerings through and offer: (1) the same full representation; (2) brief legal advice before the hearing; and (3) basic, written information about tenants’ legal rights in eviction on a randomized basis. NMLA will partner with University of New Mexico School of Law (UNMSOL) faculty and students to increase LFTD staffing. The current scheme only involves on-demand assistance without any lawyer preparation on an eviction matter. In the interest of maximizing case volume—and statistical power—the LFTD team will pull each Monday the docket for the upcoming Wednesday to facilitate intake and identification of as many study-eligible participants as possible. Simple algorithmic randomization performed on-site my service providers will then assign participants to one of the three treatment arms.

After randomization, participants will be invited to respond to up to three surveys every six weeks asking about their housing security status. Although the responses will not be analyzed, the study team will use them to determine the most likely sources of response attrition and whether the responses can be aggregated into a useable index of housing security.

We note here that this incubator proposal is for a pilot version of the full evaluation we hope to implement in 2021 or later. Data of direct relevance to power calculations will be easier to obtain if NMLA (with UNMSOL partners) increases its LFTD attorney presence and beta-tests the complete study operation over 26 weeks (including randomization and follow-up surveys).
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Greiner, James and Christopher Griffin. 2020. "Testing Unbundled Legal Services in Housing Court: A Pilot RCT." AEA RCT Registry. December 09. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.6813-1.0.
Sponsors & Partners
Sponsor(s)
Partner(s)
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
Each weekday from approximately 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM, three judges at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse (BCMC) each hear twenty summary eviction cases. In most situations, plaintiff landlords (or, just as likely, their attorneys) are present. Defendant tenants, if they are able to appear, rarely contest the amount of back rent owed or other grounds listed in the eviction filing. Even if they know their rights, tenants can expect their hearings to last about 5 minutes; they have neither the time nor the experience to present a valid defense. As a result, almost all cases result in an eviction judgment for landlords.

Since June 2018, New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) has responded to the status quo by providing lawyer-for-the-day (LFTD) services at a physical table at BCMC. Although the organization may serve any person meeting the office’s conflicts, income, and legal residency/citizenship criteria, NMLA has only provided legal assistance to tenants. Those services take on multiple “tiers,” ranging from 5- to 10-minute conversations about the litigant’s case up to appearances as counsel during hearings.

At present, at least one staff attorney handles LFTD services on Wednesday mornings. In addition to standard in-court representation, they provide information, advice, and help completing paperwork. In 2019, NMLA served about 275 tenants through this program. Most of them have received little education or introduction to their civil legal rights, and they otherwise would not have been able to access legal help as they faced the loss of their homes. There were more eligible tenants than the LFTD service could provide assistance, i.e., there was scarcity in the intervention.
Intervention Start Date
2021-03-03
Intervention End Date
2021-04-28
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Total number of study-eligible individuals recruited but not necessarily enrolled; total number of enrolled participants within 8 weeks of providing the intervention; total number of surveys completed (out of a maximum of 3) by each participant; and total number of questions completed by each participant per survey.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Housing security--measured by subjective well-being (based on Stephen Hicks et al. Measuring Subjective Well-Being and its Potential Role in Policy: Perspectives from the UK Office for National Statistics. 114 Social Indicators Research 1, 77 (2013)); income; current housing and cost; housing quality; and the incidence of involuntary moves.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
The secondary outcomes represent the five survey types that would be administered during the a more complete, future RCT. Only up to three of the secondary outcomes will be measured for each participant in this pilot.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
NMLA will expand its LFTD offerings through this pilot evaluation through: (1) brief advice and (2) full representation, against a minimal-intervention control condition in the form of (3) basic, written information about tenants’ legal rights in eviction. NMLA will partner with University of New Mexico School of Law (UNMSOL) faculty and students and increase the staffing presence at the LFTD table. The current scheme only involves on-demand assistance without any lawyer preparation on an eviction matter. In the interest of maximizing case volume—and statistical power—the LFTD team will pull on each Monday the docket for the upcoming Wednesday to facilitate intake and identification of as many study-eligible participants as possible. We will then proceed with the three interventions described above, distributed according to random assignment. The randomizer will be an app-based algorithm created by the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School and made available to staff attorneys in Albuquerque.

After randomization, participants will be invited to respond to up to three surveys every six weeks asking about their housing security status. Although the responses will not be analyzed, the study team will use them to determine the most likely sources of response attrition and whether the responses can be aggregated into a useable index of housing security.

We note here that this incubator proposal is for a pilot version of the full evaluation we hope to implement in 2021 or later. Data of direct relevance to power calculations will be easier to obtain if NMLA (with UNMSOL partners) increases its LFTD attorney presence and beta-tests the complete study operation over 26 weeks (including randomization and follow-up surveys).
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization will be conducted via a simple, app-based algorithm using the month and year (MMYYYY) of the participant as the input data. The algorithm will use that input to generate an assignment to one of the three treatments arms.
Randomization Unit
Individual housing court defendants.
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
The pilot RCT will conclude after 50 participants have been enrolled, or after the passage of 8 weeks, whichever comes first.
Sample size: planned number of observations
50 individual housing court defendants.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
We expect an approximately equal distribution: 17 full representation, 17 brief advice, and 16 written brochure assignments.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
N/A. This evaluation will generate data for use in later power calculations.
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
University of Arizona Human Subjects Protection Program
IRB Approval Date
2020-03-06
IRB Approval Number
IRB 2001344817