Three partners from Davis Wright participated last year in the creation of a new resource guide intended to help advance the campaign to establish a right to counsel for indigent individuals involved in civil cases.

Fifty years have passed since the U.S. Supreme Court (in Gideon v. Wainwright) determined that criminal defendants facing potential imprisonment who are unable to afford their own lawyer have a constitutional right to be provided counsel. But low-income individuals with civil legal needs are not guaranteed the same right.

Over the years, advocates in a number of states have sought incremental ways to advance the cause. One such approach has been the implementation of local pilot projects that provide counsel to a limited number of people, while gathering critical data on the costs, savings, and impacts.

“There is a strong belief within the legal community that attorneys positively affect outcomes for their clients,” observes DWT partner David Tarshes, a board member and past president of Washington Appleseed, a state-based legal advocacy organization working on equal justice issues. “Pilot projects represent an opportunity to demonstrate this effectiveness and to measure the impact for both individual clients and the greater community. A pilot program, for example, may demonstrate that providing an attorney to defend an individual against eviction is actually less expensive than the services that the government would provide to an evicted individual who becomes homeless.”

DWT partners Steve Ellis (recently retired), Jonathan Lloyd, and Tarshes recently assisted Washington Appleseed with the creation of a new resource guide for designing and implementing effective civil right to counsel pilot programs. In addition to providing an overview of critical components of successful pilot program development, roughly half of the guide was devoted to an analysis of pilot projects that have already occurred in four states. Ellis and Lloyd prepared the analyses of pilot projects in Boston and Washington. Tarshes acted as overall editor.

Lloyd observed:  “It was gratifying to see that the additional resources the Washington pilot program provided to parents in dependency and termination proceedings led to measurable increases in family reunifications, decreases in unnecessary continuances of hearings, and an overall improvement in case preparation, client relationships and presentation at hearings.”

In December, the 64-page manual was released at the National Conference on Civil Right to Counsel Pilot Projects, put on by the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel. The National Coalition has also helped to distribute the manual to state bar associations across the country and other groups focusing on achieving more equitable access to justice.
“We are thrilled that this manual will serve as a resource for the development of successful pilot projects across the country,” says Katie Mosehauer, executive director of Washington Appleseed. “It will help increase knowledge of the costs, benefits, and effects of providing an expanded civil right to counsel, and ultimately help increase access to justice for all individuals, regardless of their economic status.”

Full Winter 2013 Pro Bono Report