Justice By Design: Eviction

The Legal Design Lab has taught a series of classes from 2018-2020 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 Map + Reading List, where we are compiling a strategic blueprint and ongoing resources about how to address key dysfunctions of eviction in America. 

The 2019-2020 class, Justice By Design: Eviction

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 into 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 d.school 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.

What we did in the 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