Triaging Appointed-Counsel Funding and Pro Se Access to Justice

30 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2011 Last revised: 12 Apr 2012

See all articles by Benjamin H. Barton

Benjamin H. Barton

University of Tennessee College of Law

Stephanos Bibas

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: April 11, 2012


For decades, scholars and advocates have lauded Gideon’s guarantee of appointed counsel in criminal cases and sought to extend it into a civil-Gideon right in a range of civil cases. This past Term, the Supreme Court disappointed the civil-Gideon movement in Turner v. Rogers, unanimously rejecting an across-the-board right to counsel while encouraging reforms to make courts more accessible to pro se litigants. Turner is mostly right, we argue, because funding limitations require reserving counsel mostly for criminal cases, where they are needed most. For the first time, the Court recognized that lawyers can make cases not only slower and more complex, but also less fair. The better alternative, as Turner acknowledged, is less-expensive pro se court reform, rather than the impossible dream of giving everyone a lawyer. We offer some concrete suggestions on what legislatures, courts, legal-aid organizations, and others can do to further pro se access to justice.

Keywords: Right to counsel, appointed counsel, civil Gideon, pro se litigants, pro persona, pro per, sustainable court reform, civil procedure, child support proceedings, cost-effective courts, formality and delay, resource constraints

Suggested Citation

Barton, Benjamin H. and Bibas, Stephanos, Triaging Appointed-Counsel Funding and Pro Se Access to Justice (April 11, 2012). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 160, pp. 967, 2012, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-36, University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 157, Available at SSRN: or

Benjamin H. Barton

University of Tennessee College of Law ( email )

1505 West Cumberland Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37996
United States

Stephanos Bibas (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-746-2297 (Phone)


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