New research finds voters overwhelmingly believe equal justice under law is a right, not a privilege

July 31, 2017 - 11:49 am
On July 19, at a national Communications & Media Training, Voices unveiled the results of new messaging research conducted by Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio. The findings are good news for advocates looking to increase awareness of and support for civil legal aid.

– Overwhelming majorities of voters believe it is important to ensure that everyone has access to the civil justice system. 

– Voters believe equal justice under the law is a right, not a privilege.

– Voters want civil justice reform, and they strongly support a wide range of services to enable everyone to get access to the information and effective assistance they need when they need it and in a form they can use.


The above statements are a few of the encouraging findings of Voices’ latest opinion research, which we unveiled this month at our national Communications & Media training. Now we are excited to share the findings with you.

This latest round of research was conducted in June by Celinda Lake / Lake Research Partners, made possible by generous support from the Public Welfare Foundation as part of its civil justice reform initiative.  The results comprise responses from 800 likely November 2018 voters (i.e., engaged citizens), plus 278 “activists” – advocates and supporters of civil legal aid. Cognitive linguist Anat Shenker-Osorio (ASO Communications) contributed to crafting the messages we tested.


  • 84 percent of voters believe it is important for our democracy to ensure everyone has access to the civil justice system – an enormous level of support, indicating this is a core value on which to build support for civil justice reform and civil legal aid.
  • 82 percent of voters agree that “equal justice under the law is a right, not a privilege.” Again, this level of support signifies a core value and an opportunity.
  • Voters believe low-income individuals – especially those living in rural areas – and people struggling to make ends meet, face the most difficulty in obtaining legal help.
  • Voters strongly favor reform of the civil justice system, with half saying it needs to be rebuilt completely or fundamentally changed.
  • Strong majorities of voters support increasing state funding to build a more accessible civil justice system, and surprisingly that support remains robust even when tied to the notion of raising taxes to do so.
  • Voters overwhelmingly support the most traditional and familiar form of service to ensure access to the civil justice system – namely, having a lawyer. They also strongly support a wide range of services that comprise a holistic approach to ensuring justice for all.

This is a strong foundation on which, together, we can continue to build and intensify support for civil justice reform and civil legal aid.  The key findings from Lake Research Partners and ASO Communications are presented in “Building a Civil Justice System that Delivers Justice for All.”

We also recommend listening to this audio recording of Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio sharing the survey results with attendees at the Voices’ Communications & Media training on July 19.


The key research findings, combined with guidance from cognitive linguist Anat Shenker-Osorio, point us to messages that emphasize shared values, are rooted in lived experience, provide tangible solutions, and end with a clear call to action.

Here are a few messaging tips based on the new research:

  • The value of equal justice under the law is widely held. Voters strongly support enhancing access to the civil justice system, whether it’s framed as “legal representation” or “legal help.” “Legal assistance” does not test as strongly as “representation” or “help.”
  • Language rooted in real-life experiences your audience can relate to is more engaging and persuasive. Instead of saying “veterans,” say “a veteran denied hard-earned benefits.” Say “a family facing the loss of a home due to job layoff or medical catastrophe.” And instead of “low-income people,” say “people struggling to make ends meet.”
  • People respond to solutions; they don’t want more problems. They strongly support a holistic approach with an array of services in a system that enables everyone to get access to the information and effective assistance they need when they need it and in a form they can use. Talk about the services that enhance access to the civil justice system. Popular services included simplifying court processes, allowing trained non-lawyers to provide some forms of legal help, offering online tools and other self-help services, and providing screening to guide people to the type of help they need.

Read “Words to Embrace, Words to Replace” for more messaging guidance.

The survey included dial testing of several messages. In dial testing, survey participants listen to audio recordings of messages while continually adjusting a dial to reflect how they react to specific words and phrases. The report includes detailed analysis of the three most effective messages we tested. In the audio recording, Celinda discusses the dial test results.

We look forward to sharing more analysis and guidance based on the research results soon. Until then, we hope you enjoy viewing the report and listening to the presentation.  If you can, we recommend doing both together, as each enhances the other.

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