Civil Justice Data Commons

What Is the Civil Justice Data Commons?

The Civil Justice Data Commons (CJDC) aims to create a secure, robust repository for civil legal data, gathered from courts, legal service providers, and other civil law institutions, that will enable stakeholders, researchers, and the public to better understand the civil legal system in the United States.

Forged from a partnership between the Massive Data Institute and Georgetown University Law Center, the CJDC is laying the foundation for a civil justice data commons, in which civil law institutions are better connected and more effective in addressing civil legal issues. The CJDC aims to determine the standards and common vocabulary that will make this possible, providing tools and applications to help users perform analyses.

The result: a more transparent, just, and efficient civil justice system.

Why Do We Need a Civil Justice Data Commons?

Today, involvement in the civil justice system is more common than ever before. Individuals with low incomes increasingly experience legal problems stemming from unemployment, health needs and medical debt, housing instability, family changes, and credit card debt. Although tens of millions of low-income people appear in civil court each year, many without a lawyer, there is little information to measure the immediate and longer-term effects of court involvement.

One of the reasons for this information gap is the highly fragmented landscape of the civil justice system. From courts to legal services providers to administrative agencies, each institution in the civil justice system has its own data system using different taxonomies and formats for collecting and storing data. As a result, linking data across civil legal institutions–a crucial tool to study the effects of civil justice system involvement–is difficult and rare. Linkages of civil justice system data to other types of data, such as those that measure educational outcomes, financial security, and health, are equally rare.

Currently, the global coronavirus pandemic is driving more and more residents into financial crisis, and by extension into the civil legal system, placing particularly heavy burdens on women and people of color. Understanding the downstream consequences of eviction, collection actions, and other civil justice involvement, especially for people living in poverty and for marginalized communities, becomes paramount for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers today. To tackle this information gap, we need a way to link data across sources–we need a civil justice data commons.

What is the Potential of a Civil Justice Data Commons?

A data commons will enable courts, legal service providers, policymakers, researchers, and the public to answer important questions, like

  • How prevalent are various civil legal problems across jurisdictions?
  • How often do individuals experience multiple civil legal problems simultaneously?
  • Are there particular events, such as a job loss or medical debt, that increase the likelihood of involvement in the civil justice system?
  • Does having a lawyer make a difference in case outcomes? If so, in what ways?
  • Do inequities and inefficiencies exist in court practices? If so, how can they be mitigated?
  • Does adopting uniform court forms increase judicial efficiency?
  • What factors, both internal and external to courts, contribute to litigants appearing or not appearing in court for their court dates?
  • How often are fee waivers granted, and is the grant rate consistent within and across jurisdictions? If not, what accounts for the difference?
  • What impact does the existence of a self-help center in a court have on self-represented litigants, if any? On judicial efficiency?

How Can I Get Involved?

If you’d like more information about the CJDC or if you’re interested in getting involved, we’d love to hear from you! Email us at CJDC@georgetown.edu and we’ll be in touch soon, or connect with us on LinkedIn.