Vicki Lens

Associate Professor of Social Work


Dr. Lens worked as a public interest lawyer for fifteen years, combining her social work and legal skills. As a legal aid lawyer she provided legal services to the poor in the areas of public assistance, Social Security disability benefits, SSI, and Medicaid. Dr. Lens 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 she established the Suffolk County Public Advocacy Unit, which was responsible for prosecuting businesses for civil fraud and protecting the public from economic exploitation. Dr. Lens has also served in various administrative positions, including as Director of Investigations and Complaints at the Suffolk County Executive's Office of Consumer Affairs.

Research Interests:

  • Administrative justice in public welfare bureaucracies
  • Welfare reform
  • Socio-legal studies

Current Grants & Projects:

  • Ethnographic study of administrative fair hearings, funded by the National Science Foundation  
  • Family Court Project using ethnographic and other methods to study juvenile delinquency and child welfare proceedings

Selected Publications:

Lens, V. (in press). Contesting the Bureaucracy: Examining Administrative Appeals. Social & Legal Studies.

Lens, V. (in press) “Administrative Justice in Public Welfare Bureaucracies” in Work and the Welfare State: The Making of Workfare and Active Labor Market Reforms from Public Policy to Street-Level Practice. Eds. Evelyn Brodkin ad Gregory Marston. Washington, D C: Georgetown University Press.

Lens, V. (in press). “Advocacy” in Columbia Guide to Writing in 21st Century Social Work. Eds. Barbara Simon and Warren Green. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lens, V. & Cary, C. (2010). Negotiating the discourse of race within the United States welfare system. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33(6), 1032-1048.  

Lens, V. (2010). R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The missing policy tool in welfare reform. Social Work, 55(3), 281-282.

Lens, V. (2009). Confronting government after welfare reform: Moralists, reformers, and narratives of (ir)responsibility at administrative Fair Hearings. Law & Society Review, 43(3), 563-592.

Lens, V. (2009). Seeking Justice: Citizens use of Fair Hearings to correct errors in public welfare bureaucracies Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory, 19, 817-837.

Lens, V. (2009). Implementing full and partial work sanctions: The case of Texas. American Review of Public Administration. 39(3), 286-303.