Vicki Lens

Associate Professor of Social Work
PhD, Yeshiva University
JD, New York Law School

Room 732
T: 212-851-2236

Focus: welfare reform and administrative justice; socio-legal studies of court systems.

Research:  Author of Poor Justice: How the Poor Fare in the Courts, the first empirical study of administrative fair hearings for welfare recipients, along with over two dozen journal articles on administrative justice and welfare reform. 

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Vicki Lens

Vicki Lens is an associate professor of social work at the Columbia School of Social Work. She works in the fields of welfare reform implementation, administrative justice in public welfare bureaucracies, and socio-legal studies and uses ethnographic and other qualitative methods to study court systems.

Professor Lens is the author of Poor Justice: How the Poor Fare in the Courts (Oxford University Press, 2015), on how poor people fare in the American legal system—from street level justice where individual disputes are litigated, to mid-level justice where courts shape social policy, to the high justice of the Supreme Court. She is also the Principal Investigator on a project funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, entitled, “Why Don’t Some New Yorkers Seek Help? An In-Depth Examination of Service Non-Use in New York City”. She recently served as an expert witness in a federal class action lawsuit against the New York City Human Resources Administration, for which she presented evidence on administrative procedures that have prevented disabled recipients from receiving public assistance.

Her past projects include an ethnographic study of child abuse and neglect cases in family court, and a study of the welfare fair hearing system. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Fahs-Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation, the Lois and Samuel Silberman Fund of the New York Community Trust, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Professor Lens has authored over fifty articles in peer-reviewed journals, books, encyclopedias and law reviews, and has trained administrative law judges and family court judges.

Professor Lens has a law degree and a Masters and Ph.D. in social work. Prior to her academic appointments, she worked as a public interest lawyer. As a legal aid lawyer, she brought several class action lawsuits on behalf of welfare recipients and homeless families, establishing a right to shelter and expanding entitlements to public assistance. As an assistant attorney general under New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams, Professor Lens established the Suffolk County Public Advocacy Unit, where she prosecuted businesses for civil fraud and protected the public from economic exploitation.