Representing Indigent Parties in Civil Cases: An Analysis of State Practices

By: Steven Weller and David A. Price. Published by: Center for Public Policy Studies. Published in November 1994

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This report documents the findings of a two-year study of state efforts to provide indigent representation services in civil cases. A lack of clear federal guidelines has resulted in variations in state provisions including: the range of cases eligible for court-appointed counsel; how eligibility for counsel is defined and verified; how counsel is provided and managed; how indigent representation services are funded; and the quality of representation

The principle goals of the study were to: (1) identify the range of state provisions for indigent representation; and (2) document the wide variety of representation models available to provide services.


  1. All states should support a CASA program with public funding that can provide lay guardians ad litem.
  2. All states should fund full-time salaried attorneys to represent children in dependency and neglect cases who are not provided with a CASA volunteer and parents in termination of parental rights.
  3. The states should not pay private attorneys from public funds to represent parties in dependency and termination of parental rights cases.
  4. All states should assure some minimal level of funding for Legal Aid/Legal Services.
  5. All states should fund a quality pro bono program that focuses on eviction, divorce, government benefits, and immigration, as well as providing some assistance on an emergency basis.
  6. All states should provide court-appointed representation in cases that might result in the loss of shelter or government subsistence benefits.
  7. States should improve data collection on recipients of court-appointed representation.
  8. Providers should improve coordination, preventing gaps in services provided.
  9. All courts should institute special, simplified procedures for pro se litigants.
  10. Courts should provide pre-trial assistance for pro se litigants.
  11. Judges should have the authority and skills to assist pro se litigants in court in any type of case.

Future Research

Studies investigating quality of service through case record surveys to measure case processing time and case outcomes, litigant surveys measuring litigant satisfaction and cataloging problems litigants faced seeking representation and dealing with their attorney, and with more specific representation quality ratings from judges. Studies focusing specifically on court costs. Systemic evaluations of the effectiveness of different approaches to representing children in dependency cases. Assessments of the skills and tasks required of state trial judges engaging in social services roles related to cases involving children and families. Research investigating the ability of pro se parties in divorce cases to use mediation.

Categories: General/Unspecified Clients, Legal Aid Practitioners, Policymakers and Funders, State Comparison

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