The Catholic University of America


Brynne Bisig (2D) and and Erin Hughes (2D) helped to distribute a survey that measures the need for pro bono representation within the D.C. court system.


Clinic Students Measure Whether Self-Representation
is Working in D.C. Courts 

Anyone who has read a newspaper over the past year knows that claims filed for unemployment have risen drastically nationwide.
The Washington, D.C. area is no exception. The D.C. government is struggling to keep up with the enormous surge in unemployment insurance cases, a demand upon the system made even more difficult by the number of petitioners who represent themselves.
Due to language difficulties or confusion about the legal system, some people appear unequipped to make their case effectively. Many of the administrative law judges have stated their belief that petitioning parties need more help before and during the hearings. But what kind of help is necessary?
Students from the Columbus School of Law’s general practice clinic have developed a survey to quantify the need.
Working with Dr. Enrique Pumar of Catholic University’s department of sociology, five law students produced a set of questions that help assess the need for pro bono representation. They interviewed parties in cases, wrote questions based on the responses, pre-tested the survey, and are administering the questionnaire at  D.C.'s Office of Administrative Hearings in November.
“So many policy decisions about the allocation of resources are data driven,” said Clinical Professor Faith Mullen, who is supervising the project. “This work has made the students better consumers of data. They have a much better understanding of whether the right questions were asked and whether the sample size was sufficient.” 
The survey answers will be analyzed by students and faculty from the law school and will be kept anonymous.
Sample questions assessed the English proficiency of those appearing in court, and whether they understood the purpose of the hearing and how to achieve their goals. One of the most important questions asked them to agree or disagree with this statement: I would have used a free lawyer if I could have one.