Geography and the Law -- Data Mapping to Improve Access to Justice

Today marks the last day of Geography Awareness Week, an annual event sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the National Council for Geography Education, and the American Association of Geographers. The purpose of this week is to call attention to the importance of geography as a discipline and as a field of inquiry. It is also a good opportunity to discuss the role that geography can play in the access to justice movement.

The Self-Represented Litigants Network created a geospatial story map called America's Civil Courts: Whom Do We Serve?. This analysis of publicly-available datasets from the 2014 American Community Survey, the Esri Racial Diversity Index, and the FCC Form 77 County Data on Internet Access Services examines the potential impact of social, economic, and demographic factors on access to justice in communities across the nation. Depicting the data geographically helps identify problems that contribute to the justice gap and provides insights about the need for improved access to the legal system. Those who serve low-income, self-represented litigants, can predict the prevalence of various legal problems, identify high-value collaborations, evaluate the responsiveness of providers, and assess the impact of various interventions.

Using geographic information software to examine the variables that affect diffusion of legal services to low-income litigants is just one example of how geography plays a role in law. Another dataset, The National Registry of Exonerations, has been mapped to reveal trends in the number of exonerations by state and the factors that contribute to false convictions. Several other datasets are just waiting to be mapped, including the legal data from and the Datasets for Empirical Legal Research at Yale Law School.  The White House open data initiatives are continually generating data that can be mapped to reveal trends over time in various areas of the law and legal system. The possibilities are endless!