The Boston Bar Association Task Force on the Civil Right to Counsel has just issued its Report on the pilots that it made possible, and that were the subject of, Jim Greiner’s randomization studies. The Report includes survey data and analysis not present in the Greiner papers, and is more of an advocacy document on the need for representation, rather than an academic study. The studies and Report together will surely be of great use. Moreover, the studies together emphasize not just the value of representation but the need for courts and legal aid to be intelligent and focused in how they use triage to focus their resources.
The report is summarized in the Executive Summary as follows:
The findings of both pilot studies confirm that extensive assistance from lawyers is essential to helping tenants preserve their housing and avoid the potential for homelessness, including all of the far-reaching tangible and intangible costs to tenants and society generally that are associated with homelessness. . . . Previous studies, both nationally and in Massachusetts, similarly showed that tenants represented by lawyers obtain significantly better outcomes in court than those who represent themselves because, without counsel, they are unable to present their valid defenses. In interviews and surveys conducted by the Task Force prior to the pilot studies, judges and experienced practitioners expressed the same view of the beneficial impact of counsel and the need for more representation in eviction cases.
Although civil legal aid reaches some indigent clients in eviction cases, the shortage of available counsel for the poor, and the dramatic extent of unmet legal needs, have been widely documented. Massachusetts studies show that landlords are represented by lawyers in more than two-thirds of summary process eviction cases, but only 6 to 10% of tenants are represented. The intervening recession has made the problem worse, increasing the number of potential clients eligible for legal services, at the same time it has led to dramatic budget cuts for legal services programs, ultimately causing a sharp reduction in the programs’ capacity to help at a time of urgent need.
Based on all of the available data, the Task Force concludes that expanding the right to counsel, including full representation as of right, makes an enormous difference in the types of eviction cases identified by the targeted representation model in both the District Courts and the Housing Courts.