Fifty years after the Supreme Court determined in Gideon v. Wainwright that criminal defendants must be provided with counsel, scholars and practitioners from around the country grappled with continued limits on access to justice during an Harvard Law School conference in April titled “Toward a Civil Gideon: The Future of Legal Services.”

The keynote speech, given by Professor Gene Nichol of the University of North Carolina School of Law, explored how the Gideon case came about and what it has meant for access to justice. “Gideon sparks celebration, the way it should, but mainly it mocks us,” he said. “Between its marginalization on the criminal side and its brutal rejection on the civil side, it is at best the glass one-third full. And the two-thirds it leaves unsatisfied says more than any other stark reality about what sort of people we actually have become.”

Watch Gene Nichol’s keynote, “Lessons from Gideon, and The Struggle for Access to Justice (requires QuickTime)

The conference, which included HLS faculty and alumni, also considered the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Turner v. Rogers, in which a narrow majority decided that civil litigants who face incarceration for contempt do not automatically have a right to counsel. Participants also explored the unmet needs of civil litigants, including in foreclosure cases. Another panel addressed the effectiveness of pro bono efforts, both in America and globally, as well as offering an analysis of legal aid cases.

Read more about the event on the Harvard Law School website.

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