The Legal Design Lab has taught a series of classes from 2018-2022 that have focused on developing new interventions to improve how the eviction system works, particularly for litigants without lawyers who must use the court system to resolve their housing issues.

This page documents these three classes, what we have learned, what we brainstormed, and the projects we are working on taking to pilot.

Want to read more about Eviction System design and improvements? Come visit our Eviction Innovation website + Reading List, where we are compiling a strategic blueprint and ongoing resources about how to address key dysfunctions of eviction in America. 

The 2021-2022 class, Justice By Design: Eviction

During the most recent school year, we offered two versions of the class in Autumn and Winter quarters. Our partner for the class was the NAACP. In Autumn Quarter, the students focused on new ways to recruit housing navigators, scale the navigator program, build stronger relationships with the court, and use best practices in participatory service design and policymaking.

In the Winter Quarter 2022, the students focused on understanding tenants’ needs and barriers. They interviewed tenants across the country that had eviction experiences. The class team synthesized common needs and goals, the problems and barriers that tenants experience, and the ideas they have for improving the eviction system.

Report from Winter 2022 class

“What are the Barriers Tenants Face to Accessing Eviction Prevention Help?”

This report is by the class team Trevor Byrne, Emma Dolan, Jordan Payne, Alexandra Reeves, Amy Zhai — along with the teaching team Nora Al Haider, and Margaret Hagan.

This class report from 2022 summarizes the key findings of our class research into tenants’ experiences of the eviction system.

Autumn 2021 class on housing navigators

In Autumn 2021, our policy lab expanded on our earlier classes with two more policy issues that have arisen out of the NAACP pilot on housing navigators.

This idea emerged during Spring’s class. What if more people — PTA members, church leaders, probation officers, locksmiths, people active on NextDoor, Reddit, and Facebook, or otherwise — could be trained to spot their community members’ legal problems & then connect them with legal aid or rent assistance?

The team working on this challenge area must identify what the legal restrictions are on training people who aren’t lawyers to do legal issue-spotting; what the best practices there are, especially from outside the US, in doing community justice work; and what technology or design work could make it easier to recruit, train, and supervise community navigators. The team will create a proposal and strategy paper for the NAACP to use to determine if it can train community members in legal first aid, and then how to effectively do it at scale.

Challenge 2: How can courts be more involved in mitigating the harms of eviction? And why are some courts reticent to do so?

Especially with COVID, there are many new pilots across the country to mitigate the harm of eviction lawsuits. Receptive, ‘first-mover’ courts have used judicial discretion and their local rule-making to implement pilots like:

  1. Diversion programs that encourage mediation, use of rental assistance, settlements and social services to repair the landlord-tenant relationship — and avoid trials
  2. Emergency Rental Assistance outreach to tenants as soon as they have been sued
  3. Delaying (staying or continuing) eviction cases against tenants who are waiting to hear back on their ERAP application
  4. Making their courtroom more of a ‘collaborative court’ with wraparound social services, transitional housing, rental assistance, etc.
  5. Developing new websites, summons, handouts, and text message strategies to better inform and prepare litigants — so there is higher procedural justice
  6. Having Self-Represented Litigant (SRL) support strategies, with a court self-help center, judicial training on SRL support, etc.

But what about courts that are more ‘reticent’ than ‘receptive’ to new eviction prevention pilots? Why do some courts (including judges, court administrators, clerks, technologists, and others) not embrace these pilots? And what are strategies, insights, and best practices about encouraging more court involvement with eviction prevention and harm mitigation?

This group worked on:

  1. A needs-finding report/deck about why various court stakeholders are reluctant to engage with eviction prevention, what laws and regulations exist on their possible involvement, and what key opportunities and strategies are. This will go to the NAACP and other service-providers and policy-makers interested in court involvement in eviction prevention matters.
  2. A ‘promising practices’ briefing as a slide-deck/report, that outlines concrete actions, training, services, laws, strategies, or technology that could be used to involve more courts in eviction mitigation. This is a high-level overview of the menu of options for local eviction coalitions, legal aid groups, city government agencies, and others interested in involving their court in eviction mitigation.
  3. Detailed intervention proposal: for one of these promising practices, presenting an in-depth proposal for how it could be implemented, on the ground, in the South Carolina context (or in other jurisdictions)

The 2020-2021 classes: Justice By Design: Eviction

In Spring 2021, the class partnered with the NAACP as they launched a new South Carolina (Richland County) pilot to have community navigators & pro bono services for people facing eviction. We helped them create an outreach strategy, including a text message hotline, a website, social media posts, and data-informed community targeting. We also helped them with a scaling plan, to attract and train more legal navigators.

See more about the NAACP housing navigators program.

The 2019-2020 class, Justice By Design: Eviction

How can we make the eviction system more equal, dignified, and fair?

Justice By Design: Evictions is a 4-credit class at Stanford Law School/ 806Y, Autumn and Winter 2019-2020.

Three out of four people with cases in state court have no lawyer, but are often navigating issues with profound importance to their lives. At the same time, the courts are trying to manage a massive volume of cases, with particularly large numbers of cases concerning housing.

How can we make courts that help people resolve their problems, avoid a poverty crisis, and still operate efficiently?

This class partners students directly with a court that is interested in reimagining how the eviction system, and especially court processes around it, could be more human-centered. We are working on-site at court, with observations, interviews, ride-alongs, and workshops to understand how these eviction cases work and what outcomes they result in. And students will map out key user types, opportunities for change, and a vision of what a several-year redesign process might look like.

This class will be part of a multi-year partnership to carry out a human-centered design process in the civil justice system. The students will learn how to do design research, facilitate multi-stakeholder system redesign, and envision a government innovation process. Their work will directly feed into future classes, pilots, and studies on how to make housing and debt court more fair, accessible, and just.

This class builds off of past classes, including Design for Justice: Evictions pop-up class, and the Justice and Poverty Innovation class in 2019.

Proposals for Eviction Innovation Pilots

As of December 2019, please find our four teams’ proposals for possible eviction system pilots. We invite your feedback, additions, and connections. We will be building from these proposals in our Winter 2020 continuation of the class.

Eviction Prevention Toolkit

Eviction Forms Redesigns

Collaborative Housing Courts and Diverstion

Accessory Dwelling Unit Project

Idea Board for Eviction System Interventions

Our class mapped out the process of an eviction, and the opportunities for interventions to improve the system — to make it more fair, navigable, and accessible to litigants. You can explore the ideas + clusters we brainstormed by downloading the high-resolution image above, or by going to the Mural online whiteboard with the embedded board below. Please let us know if you have additional ideas to add.

ENTER THE MURAL whiteboard for eviction system improvement ideas

User Research about the Eviction System Experience

In our observation, research, and interviews, we identified several themes around the types of people in the eviction system, what their needs are, and what kinds of experiences they have.

These drawings cover some of the most common user scenarios of tenants who are sued for eviction, as well as persona documents that describe what kinds of emotional and transactional needs they have.

The 2018 class, Design for Justice: Eviction

In late April 2018, Daniel Bernal and Margaret Hagan taught the first part of the pop-up Design For Justice: Eviction. The class focused on how we might better empower people who have received eviction notices (specifically, in Arizona) to know their rights, their options, and to go to court to fight eviction. Read more about the motivation and background for the class, in Daniel’s November 2018 article in Stanford Lawyer: “Eviction and the Promise of Self-Help Technologies.”

In the class, our 2 teams focused on what intervention we might send in the mail to activate someone right after they have received an eviction notice, and what intervention we might point them to for greater support and guidance.

This class resulted in a number of prototypes moving forward to pilot in Pima County, Arizona, in partnership with local court and legal aid groups. We are running a randomized control trial to see if the interventions are effective at getting more tenants to come to court.

  • We built a self-help website for tenants to learn their rights and prepare for court.
  • We designed and are distributing a new Know Your Rights flyer for those who have received an eviction notice, to encourage them to attend court through behavioral nudges and referrals to legal help.
  • We have a text message reminder system to send coaching and reminder updates to tenants, about their upcoming eviction hearing.

We are now expanding the project beyond Arizona. We are working with the Clerk of Courts in Hamilton County, Ohio — where Cincinnati is. There, we will replicate the suite of interventions we created in Pima County, and we are also working with the court to change the notices it sends to litigants — to make these Eviction Summons and documents more clear, actionable, and likely to get people to come to court.

Class process for 2018 class

We worked in 2 phases. First, we did a recap of key insights, personas, players, and trends regarding the eviction process, user experience, and legal help resources in Arizona. We did this with calls to Arizona legal help leaders, a service designer who has been working on eviction help, and Daniel’s presentations on his research into eviction trends and strategies in Arizona.

Our second phase of work was brainstorming and prototyping. Our 2 teams focused on the different intervention points, to create an Idea Catalogue of possible ways to empower users through a mailer or a digital resource.

From this brainstorm, we critiqued the ideas with some help from our service and system designers from technology companies. We wrote these ideas, formalize them slightly, and invite a panel of legal, sociology, behavior change, technology, and design experts to receive further feedback. From there, we began to develop first versions of several of the concepts that we will test with the public in our second half of the class.

Before part 2 of the class, our Lab’s software developer Metin Eskili, our designer Carolyn, and Daniel Bernal created more refined versions of:

  1. Envelopes that would be sent to people who had received eviction notices
  2. Fliers inside the envelopes that would direct people to the website and encourage attendance at eviction hearings
  3. A web application that would orient people in what to expect, get them text reminders, and help them see what defenses our counterclaims they might have.

Class, part 2: Testing and Co-Design

In our second part of the class, we invited community members to visit us, review our ideas, and help us choose among different envelope, notice, and web app designs. The goal was to have input before finalizing the paper and application design.

This testing then led to final designs for information notice sheets that could be sent to people just sued for eviction, and the website that would have self-help information to prepare that person for court. After more development work, they launched in Pima County, Arizona as a randomized-control trial.

MargaretJustice By Design: Eviction