By: John Pollock. Published by: Housing Law Bulletin National Housing Law Project. Published in March 2012.
John Pollock discusses three recent studies comparing full representation to limited assistance in the eviction context.
The question of what role (if any) limited assistance should play in a potential civil right to counsel model is subject to much debate. “Limited assistance” for the purpose of this article refers to aid provided by an attorney in some form, including advice/guidance in a clinic or some scaled-back form of representation. In thinking about limited assistance, a primary issue is whether limited assistance is even capable of providing an acceptable level of justice, and if so, in which situations.
The Three Individual Studies Discussed
- The Limits of Unbundled Legal Assistance: A Randomized Study in a Massachusetts District Court and Prospects for the Future
- How Effective Are Limited Legal Assistance Programs? A Randomized Experiment in a Massachusetts Housing Court
- In Pursuit of Justice? Case Outcomes and the Delivery of Unbundled Legal Services
There is still much to learn regarding the impact of legal representation in housing cases. The studies highlight several issues that need to be addressed by anyone planning a pilot project on right to counsel, such as:
- Clearly defining both the intake/outreach program to be used and the assistance to be provided to the full representation and limited assistance groups;
- Knowing the background of the attorneys involved; and
- Understanding the nature and scope of services provided by the court. But most importantly, these studies demonstrate that if limited assistance is to be included in the right to counsel conversation, there are still many questions to be answered about how and whether it can effectively be used.