Rebecca L. Sandefur

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Associate Professor, College of Law (by courtesy)


Rebecca L. Sandefur is associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also faculty fellow at the American Bar Foundation, where she founded and leads the Foundation’s access to justice research initiative. In 2013, she was The Hague Visiting Chair in the Rule of Law, affiliated with the Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law. In 2015, she was named Champion of Justice by the National Center for Access to Justice.

Sandefur’s research focuses on inequality, particularly as it relates to law. Her scholarship includes investigations of work and inequality in the legal profession and other professional occupations, lawyers’ pro bono service and its contributions to legal aid, and studies of ordinary people’s experiences with common problems that could bring them into contact with the civil justice system.

Her current research on the public includes the Community Needs and Services Study (CNSS), a community-sited, multi-method study of ordinary people’s experiences with civil justice problems and the resources available to assist them in handling those problems. The CNSS is funded by the National Science Foundation (SES-1123507) and the American Bar Foundation.

Her current research on lawyers and legal services provision includes the Roles Beyond Lawyers project, a study of emerging models that use trained nonlawyers to provide services traditionally available only from lawyers. The Roles Beyond Lawyers project is conducted in collaboration with Thomas Clarke of the National Center for State Courtsfunded by the Public Welfare Foundation.

Media outlets such as The Washington Post, ABA Journal, and Los Angeles Daily Journal have written about her work. She has made presentations on her research to state access to justice commissions, bar association groups, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, at the Department of Justice to the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, and to the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference.

Department of Sociology bio


AM, PhD University of Chicago
BA University of Wisconsin-Madison

Areas of Expertise

Access to justice
Delivery of legal services
Inequality and law
Legal professions

Selected Publications

2015    “Elements of Professional Expertise: Understanding Relational and Substantive Expertise through Lawyers’ Impact.” American Sociological Review 80(5):909-933.

2015  “What We Know and Need to Know about the Legal Needs of the Public.” University of South Carolina Law Review

2015  “Bridging the Gap: Rethinking Outreach for Greater Access to Justice.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review 37(4):721-40.

2013    “Expanding the Empirical Study of Access to Justice.” Wisconsin Law Review 101-120. (with Catherine R. Albiston)