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A Right to Counsel in Civil Cases

Lessons from Gideon v. Wainwright

By Laura K. Abel

In Gideon v. Wainwrignt the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision refusing to recognize a categorical right to counsel in criminal cases. Despite various implementation difficulties that it saw, the Court later continued to expand the scope of the right to counsel in criminal cases. Adequately funded institutional providers of counsel, no tolerance of inadequate representation by the judiciary, and minimum and clear standards for counsel have proven to be key to a successful publicly funded system. To generate support for the right to counsel, advocates must publicize the harmful effects of lack to counsel, litigate, and engage in legislative efforts. Advocates seeking to establish this right in civil cases have much to learn from the indigent defense reform movement.

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