Lawyers are expensive. Even for those who are comfortably middle class, the cost of a lawsuit can cause serious hardship. For people of more modest means, paid counsel is simply out of reach for matters as important as evictions, mortgage foreclosures, child custody and child support proceedings, and debt collection cases. Nor is there a right to counsel in most categories of civil legal matters.

NCAJ has identified 25 policies every state should adopt to ensure that people who should be able to get help from a lawyer, are actually able to. We then looked at every US state to determine how many of these policies they actually have in place.

One key determinant of attorney access is the availability of legal aid attorneys. So in addition to our 25 policy benchmarks, we set out to count the number of legal aid attorneys in every state. We argue that every state should work towards ensuring that there are at least 10 legal aid attorneys for every 10,000 people living below 200% of the federal poverty line. Our attorney access score for each state reflects how close each state is to achieving that goal. 

In key findings from the count, the data for the United States, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico show 705 total civil legal aid organizations (129 LSC civil legal aid organizations and 576 non-LSC civil legal aid organizations) and 10,479 individual civil legal aid attorneys (5,629 LSC civil legal aid attorneys and 4,850 non-LSC civil legal aid attorneys). We found that 24 states and Puerto Rico had fewer than 1 civil legal aid attorney per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty. Only 6 states (plus Washington, DC) had more than 2 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty. This stands in contrast to the much larger number of all practicing attorneys- the national average there is approximately 40 attorneys per 10,000 people in the general population. 

Based on all of these results, we assign every state a score. Performance is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. See our methodology discussion for more details on how this scoring works and on how we do the work.

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State Scores and Rankings

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Benchmarks: Weights and Trends

Number Sort descending Question Index Weight Issues Number of "Yes" States
2 Recognize a right to counsel for low-income tenants in eviction cases? 10 Right to Counsel 1
3 In the absence of a statewide right to counsel, a political subdivision in the state guarantees the provision of free counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction? 5 Right to Counsel 8
4 Recognize a right to counsel for accused parents in abuse/neglect cases? 10 Right to Counsel 44
5 Recognize a right to counsel in involuntary mental health commitment cases? 10 Right to Counsel 52
6 Recognize a right to counsel for the proposed ward in guardianship cases? 10 Right to Counsel 40
7 Recognize a right to counsel in private termination of parental rights cases for proposed adoption? 10 Right to Counsel 35
8 Recognize a right to counsel for both sides in cases where someone seeks a domestic violence restraining order, or a protective order? 10 Right to Counsel 1
9 Encourage lawyers to perform at least 50 hours of pro bono service annually, consistent with ABA Model Rule 6.1: Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service? 10 Pro Bono 31
10 Adopt Rule 3.7B of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct (or equivalent), permitting judges to encourage lawyers to provide pro bono services? 5 Pro Bono 40
11 Adopt ABA Model Rule 6.5 (or equivalent), relaxing obligations under conflict rules for nonprofit and court-annexed limited legal services programs? 5 Pro Bono 45
12 Require 50 or more hours of pro bono service as a condition of becoming a lawyer, per NY's bar admission requirement? 5 Pro Bono 1
13 Require attorneys to report pro bono hours? 5 Pro Bono 9
14 Authorize out-of-state attorneys to provide pro bono services assisting in disaster relief? 5 Pro Bono 21
15 Provide waiver of license requirements (or other simplified registration) for the following categories of attorneys providing pro bono services: retired or otherwise inactive status attorneys? 1 Pro Bono 44
16 Provide waiver of license requirements (or other simplified registration) for the following categories of attorneys providing pro bono services: in-house attorneys? 1 Pro Bono 30
17 Provide waiver of license requirements (or other simplified registration) for the following categories of attorneys providing pro bono services: law professors? 1 Pro Bono 13
18 Provide CLE credit for pro bono work? 5 Pro Bono 22
19 Provide Court/ATJ Commission sponsored pro bono programs in which interested attorneys can participate through a simple sign-up or show-up procedure (e.g., lawyer for a day)? 5 Pro Bono 29
20 Authorize & simplify entry and exit for discrete task (unbundled) legal serviced without judicial approval? 10 Unbundling 44
21 Provide court forms for discrete task (unbundled) legal services that allow for automatic withdrawal on completion of task? 5 Unbundling 21
22 Count and publish, by case type, the number of cases filed each year? 5 Design & Planning 50
23 Count and publish by case type the number of cases in which, at time of disposition, litigants were unrepresented at any time during the life of the case, from filing to disposition, per NCSC's Guide to Statistical Reporting? 5 Design & Planning 6
24 Make court records available for free or at low cost, upon request, to self-represented litigants? 1 Design & Planning 26
25 Collect data on the number of cases in which counsel is appointed and actually appears in the case on behalf of the client in any categories of civil cases in which there is a statewide right to counsel? 1 Design & Planning 7
26 Collect data on the number of cases in which counsel is appointed and appears in the case at any time on behalf of the client in any categories of civil cases in which the state provides discretion to a decision-maker to decide whether to appoint counsel? 1 Design & Planning 0

Benchmarks by State