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At the Bairs Foundation, we’re always moved when others in the civil justice space make great strides to improve Americans’ access to justice. That’s why we’re dropping a note to congratulate University of Illinois sociologist Rebecca Sandefur on being named a MacArthur Foundation fellow for her transformational research on access to civil justice. Her recognition comes with a $625,000.00  “genius” grant that Sandefur says could help fund future research.

For more than a decade, Sandefur has been a leader in promoting equal access to justice, pioneering several first-of-their-kind reports on the topic. A Law360 article noted that her Access Across America report in 2011 was the first portrait of legal services available to Americans to help them access justice on a state-by-state basis. The following year, her paper titled Money Isn’t Everything: Understanding Moderate Income Households’ Use of Lawyers’ Services revealed that cost isn’t the primary factor that stops people from hiring a lawyer; rather, many aren’t even aware that their problems are legal issues.

In addition to providing important snapshots and analyses of the civil justice space for citizens and their attorneys, Sandefur’s research has changed the way some judges and other leaders look at best practices. “Her research hugely influenced our work at the Office for Access to Justice to increase federal resources for civil legal aid,” said former California state judge Lisa Foster and co-founder of the Fines and Fees Justice Center and former director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Access to Justice office.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees a jury trial for civil cases. In order for every individual to have a fair shot to stand up against those who have wronged them — no matter how large and powerful the defendant is — access to justice must be paramount. This belief system is deeply ingrained in the mission of the Bairs Foundation, and we are wholly committed to the preservation of this right. In our corner of the civil justice arena, we’re working to change the model of non-recourse funding for plaintiffs. We help people pursue litigation to its fullest extent without having to make major sacrifices to put food on the table.

Congratulations to Sandefur on receiving this prestigious recognition of her important work. When we all act toward this common goal, we can ensure Americans have fair access to justice now and in the future.

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