On Demand Audio

The Price of Equal Justice: The Right to Counsel in Evictions and other Civil Legal Matters

(508 reviews)

Produced on May 13, 2016

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Course Information

Time 1h 3m
Difficulty Intermediate

Course Description

In 1963, the United States Supreme Court held, in Gideon v. Wainwright, that there was a constitutional right to the appointment of counsel for indigent defendants in criminal proceedings. Many scholars and advocates hoped and anticipated that the right to counsel would soon be extended to civil legal matters in which fundamental human needs are at stake, including family, housing, health, safety and income. In 1981, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services, Durham County, that there was no right to counsel under the federal constitution in a proceeding in which an incarcerated mother faced losing permanent custody of her child. In spite of Lassiter, most states have established a right to counsel in child custody proceedings, and the right to counsel has been established at the state and local level in other civil matters as well. In addition, a movement to secure a right to counsel in civil matters has been active and growing in recent years and the ABA and state and local bar associations have been centrally involved.


This program, led by attorney Andrew Scherer, addresses the legal and policy arguments surrounding the right to counsel in civil legal matters and the current and recent efforts to secure the right. The program addresses the status of the civil right to counsel and efforts to secure the right around the country, with a particular emphasis on the effort to secure a right to counsel for low-income tenants who face eviction in New York City.


Learning Objectives:

I.     Recognize the history and the constitutional and statutory underpinnings of the existing right to counsel in certain civil matters

II.    Understand the legal and policy arguments related to expanding the right to counsel in civil matters

III.   Become familiar with the current state-by-state status of the right to counsel in civil matters and of efforts to expand the right

IV.   Identify principles of international law that protect and advance rights related to access to justice

V.    Grasp the current effort to secure a right to counsel in eviction cases in New York City and the legal and policy arguments that are being made in favor of the right

Credit Information

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Andrew Scherer

New York Law School

Andrew Scherer is the Policy Director of the Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School and a Distinguished Adjunct Professor at the law school, where he teaches Land Use Regulation. He also directs the Impact Center’s Right to Counsel Project. 


Professor Scherer is the author of the treatise, Residential Landlord-Tenant Law in New York (Thomson Reuters), originally published in 1994 and updated annually, and of numerous law review articles and other published works.

For many years, Professor Scherer has played a prominent role in access to justice, housing policy and other public interest issues, locally, nationally and internationally. Professor Scherer has been an advocate for the right to counsel in civil matters, particularly eviction proceedings, for over thirty years. He has written law review articles on the topic for the Harvard Civil Liberties Civil Rights Law Review, NYU Review of Law and Social Change and Cardozo Public Law, Policy and Ethics Journal, among others. He was lead counsel in Donaldson v. State of New York, a class action that sought to establish a right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction. (While the case was ultimately dismissed by an appellate court, it led to significant funding for eviction-prevention legal services by New York City.) Under Professor Scherer’s direction, the Impact Center’s Right to Counsel Project currently focuses on working with the NYC Coalition for a Right to Counsel in Housing Court and others advocating for NYC legislation establishing a right to counsel in housing cases.


In 2010, Professor Scherer stepped down after nine years as Executive Director of Legal Services NYC, the largest nonprofit exclusively devoted to civil legal services in the United States, where he had worked in a variety of capacities since 1978. At the time he stepped down, LS-NYC served approximately 25,000 low-income clients annually with legal matters involving housing, government benefits, family law, employment, education, immigration, community development, consumer and civil rights. As Executive Director, Professor Scherer had overall responsibility for all aspects of the organization, including implementation of Board policy; management, administration and legal work supervision; fundraising; maintenance of positive relations with external entities; strategic planning; and program development. Accomplishments during his tenure as Executive Director included: significantly improved quality and impact of legal work; significantly increased funding, staffing and participation of pro bono attorneys; new offices and many new service programs. Prior to becoming Executive Director of LS-NYC, Professor Scherer had been a staff attorney, the Coordinating Attorney for Housing Law and the Director of the Legal Support Unit at the organization.


Among his many affiliations, Professor Scherer is an active member of the New York City Bar Association and a former chair of its Executive Committee, an active member of the New York State Bar Association and the current chair of the Civil Gideon subcommittee of the President’s Committee on Access to Justice, a founding member of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and a former co-chair of the NYS Legal Services Project Director Association.


Professor Scherer is also a consultant to nonprofit, governmental and private clients around matters of access to justice and the rule of law; delivery of legal aid services; housing, property and land rights; social, economic and civil rights; and poverty law. Recent clients have included the New York Immigration Coalition, the Open Society Foundations, the Pennsylvania Civil Legal Justice Coalition, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the Legal Services Corporation, the Yangon (Myanmar) Heritage Trust and the African Center for International Legal and Policy Research. 


Professor Scherer is also an Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and has taught at CUNY Law School, NYU Law School (in the Root-Tilden public interest scholars program), Yangon University in Myanmar, and Bennington College. He has lectured widely in the U.S. and in Latin America, Africa and Asia. He received his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his J.D. from NYU Law School. He is fluent in Spanish.


Mark W.

Wonderful presentation; good listing of additional resources.

Craig B.

Great Course; I enjoyed it thoroughly. Very pertinent and relevant

Rogelio P.

excellent review to right to counsel and future needs to counsel

Osvaldo C.

I enjoyed the subject matter

John K.

A nationally distinguished expert on civil rights, access for all, discusses the call for a guarantee of civil justice for every American.

Douglas N.


MIchael G.

Excellent speaker. Well done.

Ronna H.

Inspiring, even to me, working for low-income and disadvantaged clients. Wish more of our colleagues would take even 1 or 2 such cases each year.

Ruth G.

Very compelling. I appreciate the passion of the presenter for the subject.

Michael T.

Very interesting. Passion for the issue came through, while also being informative.

Joanna S.

He is amazing and his treatise was like gold for a young housing attorney in NYC. So glad it passed!

Richard m.

Definitely an issue that needs to be better addressed.

Lawrence F.

Great course and great speaker

James M.

Well explained details that related to the discussed theme.

Brian O.

Well done

Rufus B.

Scherer is amazing! His treatise has been essential to my work at legal aid and later ensuring I properly go forward with evictions in my private practice. I thinks he's right about the right to representation in civil matters like evictions. Please bring him back!

Isabella D.

Educational and inspirational.

Andrew P.

Interesting. Very nice historical perspective.

Katrina M.

Very passionate speaker! Great CLE.

William H.

Great and dedicated instructor!!


By far, the best presenter I've seen in over a year! Fascinating topic, especially for those of us in "red" states (I'm a TX solo atty in general practice!), where the disparity between due-process & RTC is much more vast between rich & poor than in other jurisdictions! INSPIRING!

Frank T.

excellent program well worth my time. inspiring

Angela C.

Great information, very knowledgeable and inspiring presenter.

Kathleen D.

very smart guy

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