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Contract Counsel: A Different Way to Defend the Poor

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Court Appointed Counsel in Civil Actions

The District of Kansas Local Rule 83.5.3 (f) addresses procedures to be followed by court-appointed counsel who represent indigent parties in civil cases. Counsel must follow these procedures if they wish to seek reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenditures which counsel are reasonably compelled to incur, which the client is not able to pay, and which are not otherwise recoverable in the action (including settlement). 

To qualify for reimbursement, all expenditures must be approved in advance by the court. 

To seek advance approval for expenses  

After the case is closed  

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NLADA - National Legal Aid and Defender Association

Standards for the Administration of Assigned Counsel Systems (1989)

You are here, introduction to the 1989 edition:.

The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) is a private, nonprofit, national membership organization dedicated to the provision of quality legal services to poor people in both criminal and civil cases.

Since 1911, NLADA has worked to ensure that poor people have the same access to quality legal services as those who can afford to retain counsel, and since 1958 has specifically included poor persons accused of crime in that goal.  Yet, access to quality legal assistance is still denied to many persons in our criminal justice system.  While governments have a constitutional duty to provide counsel to poor persons charged with criminal offenses, the poor frequently receive inadequate representation from their government-supplied lawyers.  In other words, there are two systems of justice: one for the poor and one for those who can afford to hire counsel.

Assigned counsel – that is, private attorneys appointed in individual cases – is the primary method for delivery of defense services in about 50% of the counties in the United States.  Defense services are also provided through defender offices and contracts with law firms or private organizations.  While there are national standards governing the delivery of defense services by defender offices and contract systems, the only standards for assigned counsel systems are those contained in general defense services standards or employed in a few local jurisdictions.  In most assigned counsel jurisdictions, the absence of standards has resulted in an absence of structure, quality control, training and support services.  In fact, some assigned counsel “systems” amount to no more than an ad hoc assignment of attorneys by individual judges.

It is to remedy these deficiencies – and thereby improve the quality of representation provided by assigned counsel – that NLADA is promulgating these Standards.

These Standards represent what NLADA believes to be the ideal system for providing representation through assigned counsel.  While financial, administrative and other considerations may prevent some jurisdictions using assigned counsel from immediately achieving this ideal, the Standards provide a model for improving representation of those who cannot afford to retain private counsel, and a goal that assigned counsel systems should work to achieve.

The "black letter" text of these standards is available here for free. NLADA members have access to the full versions of standards, including commentary, related standards, and legal sources. Printed versions of standards are also available in our store.

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Section 1: Scope

Standard 1 Scope          

Section 2: Policies

Standard 2.1   Provision of Quality Representation

Standard 2.2   Independence from Judiciary and Funding Source

Standard 2.3   Financial Eligibility

Standard 2.4   Contribution and Recoupment

Standard 2.5   Early Representation

Standard 2.6   Duration and Continuity of Representation

Standard 2.7   Waiver Safeguards  

Standard 2.8   Standby Counsel

Standard 2.9   Standards for Performance of Counsel

Section 3: Structure

Standard 3.1 Establishment of Legal Representation Plan

Standard 3.1.A  Assigned Counsel in All Eligible Cases

Standard 3.1.B   Mixed Delivery System Including Assigned Counsel  

Standard 3.1.C  Assigned Counsel for Conflicts Only

Standard 3.2.1   Creation of Board

Standard 3.2.2   Functions of Board

Standard 3.3.1   Position of Administrator

Standard 3.3.2   Qualifications of Administrator

Standard 3.3.3   Employment Status and Pay of Administrator  

Standard 3.3.4   Functions of Administrator

Standard 3.4     Budget and Funding

Standard 3.5.1   Insurance for Board and Administrators

Standard 3.5.2   Insurance for Program Attorneys

Standard 3.6      Office Space, Equipment, Supplies 

Section 4: Responsibilities

Standard 4.1   Establishment and General Operation of Assigned Counsel Roster

Standard 4.1.1   Qualifications of Attorneys

Standard 4.1.2   Workloads of Attorneys

Standard 4.1.3   Publicizing the Program

Standard 4.2   Orientation  

Standard 4.3.1   Entry-Level Training

Standard 4.3.2   In-Service Training

Standard 4.4   Supervision of Attorneys  

Standard 4.4.1   Mentoring

Standard 4.4.2   Monitoring

Standard 4.5      Disciplinary Policies and Procedures

Standard 4.5.1   Penalties Less than Removal

Standard 4.5.2   Removal from Program Roster(s) 

Standard 4.5.3   Reinstatement After Removal  

Standard 4.6      Support Services

Standard 4.7.1   Assigned Counsel Fees  

Standard 4.7.2   Method of Compensation

Standard 4.7.3   Payment of Expenses

Standard 4.7.4   Only Authorized Compensation 

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As the costs of providing counsel to poor defendants in criminal cases takes an increasingly heavy toll on public resources, many communities have turned to contract systems to provide a service that has traditionally been offered by ad hoc assigned counsel and public defenders. While contracting, like other forms of privatization, is popularly associated with cost reductions, there have been few rigorous studies that demonstrate the superior efficiency of any particular indigent defense program type including contracting. Moreover, the results of studies of program effectiveness or quality are contradictory and inconclusive. This article draws upon theories of privatization, first, to provide a framework for comparing contract programs with assigned counsel and public defender systems, and, second, to begin to stipulate the conditions under which contracting might prove an acceptable means of providing counsel to the poor.

The Justice System Journal is an interdisciplinary journal that publishes original research articles on all aspects of law, courts, court administration, judicial behavior, and the impact of all of these on public and social policy. Open as to methodological approaches, The Justice System Journal aims to use the latest in advanced social science research and analysis to bridge the gap between practicing and academic law, courts and politics communities.

Building on two centuries' experience, Taylor & Francis has grown rapidlyover the last two decades to become a leading international academic publisher.The Group publishes over 800 journals and over 1,800 new books each year, coveringa wide variety of subject areas and incorporating the journal imprints of Routledge,Carfax, Spon Press, Psychology Press, Martin Dunitz, and Taylor & Francis.Taylor & Francis is fully committed to the publication and dissemination of scholarly information of the highest quality, and today this remains the primary goal.

This item is part of a JSTOR Collection. For terms and use, please refer to our Terms and Conditions The Justice System Journal © 1991 Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Request Permissions

assigned counsel model

Encyclopedia Britannica

assigned counsel

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assigned counsel , a lawyer or lawyers appointed by the state to provide representation for indigent persons. Assigned counsel generally are private lawyers designated by the courts to handle particular cases; in some countries, particularly the United States, public defenders permanently employed by the government perform this function.

The right to counsel varies considerably from country to country. Until the late 19th century, access to counsel was almost entirely predicated upon an individual’s ability to pay. If a person could afford a lawyer, he was entitled to one; if he was poor, he usually went unrepresented, except at times in capital cases. In the late 19th century, bar organizations and social-welfare groups banded together to supply legal aid to the indigent. By the mid-20th century, the governments of most European countries were participating in these programs in some fashion, in either their administration or funding or in both.

Most countries have recognized the right of the indigent to have counsel in criminal cases, particularly for the most serious types of offenses. Although Great Britain provided legal aid earlier (1949) than the United States, the United States was at the forefront in providing assigned counsel. Beginning in 1963 in Gideon v. Wainwright , the United States Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that upheld the rights of indigent persons accused of felonies to have counsel during trial and appeal and even during police interrogation. Although this right was not extended to cover misdemeanours, some jurisdictions and many public defender offices give coverage in such cases. Owing to an increase in prisoners on death row and a diminished emphasis on pro bono work in law firms, at the beginning of the 21st century, many prisoners sentenced to death in the United States lacked lawyers during the appeals process. For example, it was estimated that two-fifths of death-row inmates in Alabama were without counsel as statutory deadlines for filing appeals approached.

In civil-law countries and in England, the provision of assigned counsel has been more limited. For example, in France anyone accused of a crime beyond a minor misdemeanour must have counsel at the preliminary hearing and the trial, but this right has not been extended to cover police interrogation. Japan requires counsel only for cases in which punishment may exceed a three-year prison term. In Russia there must be a defense counsel in any case in which a public prosecutor participates or any case in which the accused is incapable of handling his defense.

Many countries do not remunerate lawyers assigned to defend the poor in criminal cases. In the United States the compensation is often considerably lower than what the attorney could receive from a private client. In consequence, although many public defenders and assigned attorneys are capable lawyers, they are often young and lacking in experience. In England, where the majority of lawyers volunteer to take cases involving indigent defendants, an accused person has a somewhat better chance of obtaining experienced counsel in a criminal proceeding.

In civil cases there is an even greater disparity between countries as far as rights to counsel and the resultant quality of counsel are concerned. In England state aid has been granted in divorce and certain kinds of litigation since 1949. Not until 1966 did the United States begin to deal with the problem of civil litigation, and then it did so only in a limited fashion. The poor were given the right to sue for divorce without paying filing fees and court costs; the right to counsel in such cases was also indicated. Although rights were not originally extended to other areas of civil litigation, legal aid is now provided for some eviction and bankruptcy cases.

In civil-law countries (e.g., France and Italy) the system of providing counsel for the indigent in civil cases is usually well organized but tends to employ young, inexperienced lawyers who usually serve without pay. In Germany , where the Federal Constitutional Court has upheld the right of the poor to counsel in civil actions, the compensation is adequate to be attractive to experienced attorneys. Lawyers are appointed by the court and paid by the government.


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  1. Contract Counsel: A Different Way to Defend the Poor

    The North Dakota Legal Counsel for Indigents Commission prepared a model ... defender services and assigned counsel services, provide a sound model for

  2. Court Appointed Counsel in Civil Actions

    3 (f) addresses procedures to be followed by court-appointed counsel who represent indigent parties in civil cases. Counsel must follow these procedures if they

  3. Standards for the Administration of Assigned Counsel Systems (1989)

    Assigned counsel – that is, private attorneys appointed in individual cases – is ... the Standards provide a model for improving representation of those who

  4. Court Appointed Attorney vs. Public Defender

    Learn about court-appointed attorneys and public defenders. ... An assigned counsel is defined as a lawyer appointed by the court as a

  5. Indigent Defense Systems in the United States

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  6. Right to Counsel Services in the 50 States

    give a first co-defendant a government-employed lawyer but assign the second co-de- ... counsel model to provide the bulk of its representational needs

  7. Issues in the Comparison of Assigned Counsel, Public Defender

    contract programs with assigned counsel and public defender systems, and, second, ... There have been few studies that model the.

  8. Primer on Managed Assigned Counsel Programs

    The assigned counsel model is the most prevalent system that counties use to appoint counsel for indigent criminal defendants in Texas. It involves the.

  9. Assigned counsel

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  10. Who's better at defending criminals? Does type of defense attorney

    assigned counsel systems perform in comparison to public defenders? ... Model results will be explicated and the article will conclude by.