Standards for the Administration of Assigned Counsel Systems (1989)

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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