Research tip: Collecting original data

It can be helpful for advocates and legal service providers to track at least some essential data points on all immigration cases represented through their programs. The specific data gathered may vary depending on the issues that matter most to a local campaign and advocacy strategy, but data collection should adhere to the principles established throughout this module. Legal service providers and advocates should consider the following recommendations when collecting original data about clients who have contact with the program.

  • Track data that shows the program’s immediate practical implications—such as impacts on legal outcomes, time spent in detention, release rates, and related factors.
  • Collect basic demographic information, when applicable, that illustrates clients’ connections to their broader communities and families. Such data highlights how the impacts of representation radiate beyond the legal case and extend to people other than those directly served.
  • Work with clients and directly impacted people to ensure that their stories are shared to help describe the program’s effects. Clients’ stories and qualitative information contextualize the rest of the data and describe impacts that statistics alone cannot convey.
  • Be upfront about the fact that immigration cases can take a while to complete, and therefore the program data generated early on should be considered preliminary. This is one of the many reasons it can be helpful to measure early benchmarks, such as grants of bond or release from detention while cases are otherwise pending.
  • Whenever possible, establish baselines—such as statistics from before and after a program was implemented—as points of comparison.
  • Whenever applicable, be prepared to celebrate the successes of the program, while also describing how the existing level of funding is insufficient to serve all of those who are in need. For example, consider collecting basic information about how many people a program must turn away from representation after capacity has been met. This can be valuable data to demonstrate the need to expand the program.

Advocates may find it useful to reference Vera’s reports on the SAFE Network and its evaluation of NYIFUP as examples of how to use data to measure the impact of universal representation.Vera Institute of Justice, Due Process for All: Evidence from Year 2 of the SAFE Network (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019), 2,; and Jennifer Stave, Peter Markowitz, Karen Berberich, et al., Evaluation of the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project: Assessing the Impact of Legal Representation (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017),