Rebecca L Sandefur

 Rebecca Sandefur

Contact Information

3080 Lincoln Hall

Office Hours

  • Wednesdays 3-4:30
Associate Professor
View CV


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. In 2018, she was named a MacArthur Fellow for her work on inequality and access to justice.  She is currently Editor of Law & Society Review. 

A native of Oklahoma and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, Professor Sandefur received her BA from the University of Wisconsin and her PhD from the University of Chicago. Before joining the faculty at UIUC, she served for 9 years on the sociology faculty at Stanford University. 

Research Interests

  • Access to Justice
  • Work, Occupations and Professions
  • Law and Society
  • Inequality and Social Stratification
  • 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.  With funding from the Open Society Foundation, she is engaged in a new project exploring legally empowering technologies. 

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

  • MacArthur Fellow, 2018
  • Champion of Justice, National Center for Access to Justice, 2015
  • The Hague Visiting Chair in the Rule of Law 2013


  • 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

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Paying Down the Civil Justice Data Deficit: Leveraging Existing National Data Collection University of South Carolina Law Review 2017.
What We Know and Need to Know about the Legal Needs of the Public University of South Carolina Law Review 2016.
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.


Sandefur, Rebecca L, and Thomas M Clarke REPORT: Roles Beyond Lawyers: Evaluation of the New York City Court Navigators Program 2016.

Book Contributions

Sandefur, Rebecca L Money Isn’t Everything: Understanding Moderate Income Households’ Use of Lawyers’ Services Middle Income Access to Justice edited by Anthony Duggan, compiled by Lorne Sossin, compiled by Michael Trebilcock. Money Isn’t Everything: Understanding Moderate Income Households’ Use of Lawyers’ Services Edited by Anthony Duggan, Compiled by Lorne Sossin, Compiled by Michael Trebilcock, Toronto University of Tornoto Press 2012.

In The News

  • CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Rebecca Sandefur, a professor of sociology and of law at the University of Illinois, has been awarded a 2018 MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as a “genius grant,” from the John D.