Access to Justice

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Unlike criminal cases, where poor defendants are appointed an attorney, there is no constitutional right to counsel in civil cases. The alternatives for someone facing the legal system without counsel are stark: go it alone or forgo legal claims, sometimes with dire consequences. A place to live, unemployment or disability benefits, parental rights, necessary medical treatments, protection from domestic violence, safeguards against predatory lending--these can all vanish without the guidance of an attorney.

The Poverty Center is actively involved in statewide efforts to expand access to counsel in civil cases and to assist pro se (self-represented) litigants.

the economic impact of civil legal services in north carolina

In conjunction with the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission, the Poverty Center released a report on the economic benefits the state of NC enjoys through furnishing civil legal services to low-income citizens. These services are provided through three organizations: Legal Aid of North Carolina, Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont, and Pisgah Legal Services.

Some key findings of the report:

  • Nearly $23 million of federal benefits were obtained through legal services in 2012
  • Over $8.5 million of housing-related awards were won by clients of legal services in 2012
  • Nearly $17 million in cost-savings - through eviction prevention, foreclosure prevention, and domestic violence advocacy - were earned by legal services in 2012
  • The total economic impact of legal aid services in 2012 was $48,775,276, or a 108% return on the money invested into these services.

To more fully understand the impact of civil legal services, read the entire report (PDF). If you are in a hurry, you can also read the executive summary (PDF).

Past Events

On September 16, 2010, the Poverty Center in conjunction with the UNC Law Pro Bono program presented a panel discussion entitled "Poor People's Justice: Denying Acess in Civil Cases".

On October 30, 2009, the Poverty Center gathered state and national leaders for its Access to Justice: A Right to Counsel in Civil Cases conference.

The conference was subsequently featured in the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly article, Could There Be a Right to Counsel in Civil Cases? (PDF)


Articles and editorials by Gene Nichol:

Articles of Interest

John R. Wester, The President's Perspective: Will Adoption of Rule 6.1 Make a Difference in North Carolina? (PDF), North Carolina Lawyer, November/December 2009

Student pieces

UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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