Can Pro Bono Lawyers Satisfy San Fran Right to Civil Counsel?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 08, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

D.C. is known for having the highest concentration of lawyers in nation -- one in every twelve D.C. residents is a lawyer -- but San Francisco's "right to civil counsel" pilot program could turn the City by the Bay into the new lawyer Mecca.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced a proposal that was approved in February to create a one-year pilot program granting parties in need a right to civil counsel, reports the San Francisco Examiner. Chiu claimed that the measure was necessary to fulfill the Pledge of Allegiance promise "that we are 'a country with liberty and justice for all."

(San Francisco is the first city to take that part of the pledge literally.)

The right to civil counsel will cover civil cases in San Francisco, including domestic violence, child-custody, and eviction cases, but will only apply to litigants who cannot afford an attorney. The terms of the ordinance state that the Board is required to vote within six months on making the program permanent.

Under the proposal, local attorneys would meet the new demand for civil counsel pro bono. The attorneys would include members of the city's bar association, as well as private legal-aid groups. The City of San Francisco would only pay for one staff member to coordinate the program.

That expectation, however, may not be realistic. According to Chiu, 95 percent of child-custody cases in 2009 were filed by a party without a lawyer. If all of the city's needy litigants decided to invoke their new, albeit temporary, right to counsel, they would likely find that the supply of pro bono attorneys cannot meet the demand.

Do you support the right to civil counsel? Should San Francisco guarantee such a right without guaranteeing lawyers to provide the right?

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard