Rebecca L Sandefur

Section 1


Associate Professor of Sociology

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Contact Information


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.

Specializations / Research Interest(s)

  • Inequality and Social Stratification
  • Work, Occupations and Professions
  • Access to Justice
  • Law and Society
  • Labor Markets, Careers and Social Mobility

Research Description

  • 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 legal professions includes a project exploring "Roles Beyond Lawyers," funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and conducted in collaboration with Thomas M. Clarke, National Center for State Courts. She is also completing work drawing on the After the JD (AJD) surveys that explores how lawyers who take relatively low-paying jobs serving government, public interest causes, or ordinary people are able (or not) to manage high levels of educational debt. She serves on the Executive Coordinating Committee of the AJD.

    Media outlets such as The Washington Post, ABA Journal, and Los Angeles Daily Journal have written about her work. 


  • PhD, University of Chicago, 2001

Distinctions / Awards

  • The Hague Visiting Chair in the Rule of Law 2013
  • Champion of Justice, National Center for Access to Justice, 2015


  • National Science Foundation (2012): “Access to Civil Justice: Re-envisioning and Reinvigorating Research: A Workshop.” (SES- 1237958)
  • National Science Foundation (2011-2013): “Accessing Justice in Contemporary America: The Community Needs and Services Study.” (SES-1123507)
  • National Science Foundation (2012): Research Experience for Undergraduates: “Accessing Justice in Contemporary America: The Community Needs and Service Study.” (SES-1241288)
  • American Bar Foundation (2011-2013): “Accessing Justice in Contemporary America: The Community Needs and Services Study.”
  • Nuffield Foundation (2012): “Paths to Justice: A Past, Present, and Future Roadmap.” Co-principal investigator, with Pascoe Pleasence and Nigel Balmer.
  • Open Society Foundation (2017-2019): “Legally Empowering Technologies”
  • Public Welfare Foundation: “Increasing Access to Justice through Expanded Roles Beyond Lawyers: Developing and Testing an Evaluation Framework.” (with Thomas M. Clarke)


  • Social Stratification and Inequality
  • Law and Society
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Classical Sociological Theory
  • Access to Justice


Book Contributions

  • Sandefur, Rebecca L. "Money Isn’t Everything: Understanding Moderate Income Households’ Use of Lawyers’ Services." Middle Income Access to Justice. . Comp. Lorne Sossin and Michael Trebilcock. Ed. Anthony Duggan. Toronto: University of Tornoto Press, 2012.

Journal Articles

  • Sandefur, Rebecca L. "Elements of Professional Expertise: Understanding Relational and Substantive Expertise through Lawyers’ Impact." American Sociological Review (2015):
  • Cummings, Scott L., and Rebecca L. Sandefur. "Beyond the Numbers: What We Know – and Should Know – About American Pro Bono." Harvard Law and Policy Review (2013):
  • Albiston, Catherine R., and Rebecca L. Sandefur. "Expanding the Empirical Study of Access to Justice." Wisconsin Law Review (2013):
  • Gorman, Elizabeth H., and Rebecca L. Sandefur. "’Golden Age’, Quiescence, and Revival: How the Sociology of Professions Became the Study of Knowledge-Based Work." Work and Occupations (2011):