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.
In the Attorney Access Index, NCAJ identified 25 policies every state should adopt to ensure that people who should be able to get help from lawyers, are actually able to. We then looked at every US state to determine how many of these policies they actually have in place. In our findings, we track such key policies as: "civil rights to counsel," laws governing pro bono legal aid, "unbundling laws", and laws directing courts to publish data on the number of people without lawyers in the courts.
NCAJ also maintains a Count of the number of civil legal aid lawyers in each state. In addition to the 25 attorney access benchmarks, this best policy benchmark recognizes that each state should work toward the goal of ensuring that there are at least 10 legal aid attorneys for every 10,000 people living below 200% of the federal poverty line. This goal is in contrast to the higher national average of approximately 40 attorneys per 10,000 people in the general population.
Our Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count findings for each state reflect how far almost all the states are from reaching the Justice Index policy goal. Key findings include:
- 27 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.
- the total number of individual civil legal aid attorneys is 10,479, consisting of 5,629 LSC civil legal aid attorneys and 4,850 non-LSC civil legal aid attorneys.
- the total number of civil legal aid organizations is 705, consisting of 129 LSC civil legal aid organizations and 576 non-LSC civil legal aid organizations.
Based on all of the attorney access research findings, 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.
State Scores and Rankings
Compare State Scores
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|