Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007
Image for Civil Gideon Symposium
Photograph by Tricia Oliver
Hon. Herbert P. Wilkins, retired Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, speaks at the Oct. 4 civil Gideon Symposium.

Civil Gideon Symposium mobilizes Massachusetts Legal Community behind equal justice to law

MBA and BBA team up to discuss ideas about civil Gideon venture

The Oct. 4 Civil Gideon Symposium, held at the MBA and co-sponsored by the BBA, highlighted five panelists who outlined potential program strategies for this new Massachusetts legal venture. The high-energy symposium was a first step in mobilizing members of the Massachusetts legal community behind a program that will ensure that individuals who cannot afford counsel are provided with legal representation in civil cases.


The civil Gideon venture is intended to focus primarily on offering legal representation for the under-privileged in civil cases such as housing, domestic, family law, immigration and consumer disputes.

According to one panelist, currently 70% to 80% of the legal needs of the poor go unmet, and in Massachusetts, the time has come for the legal community to make sure that the civil freedoms of the underprivileged are not compromised.

Professor Russell Engler of the New England School of Law, urged attendees to contemplate how terminology and resources will affect civil Gideon. Funding for civil Gideon has been ardently debated among members of the legal community, many of whom are worried this venture will take money away from other necessary Massachusetts’ programs.

“The most important aspect is consensus on this issue,” said Engler. “It is not appropriate to compare costs of legal services if nothing short of counsel will do the trick,’ he said. “It is irrelevant to talk about lesser forms of service. We can’t allow gross discussion to go forward without looking at the alternative decision’s costs, such as the cost of homelessness.”

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