“Fifty years after Gideon, the fact of the matter is that people wind up with convictions all across the country without ever talking to a lawyer,” said Jo-Ann Wallace, president of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, which advocates for access to justice in the civil and criminal courts.

Lawyers tend to see the criminal and civil courts as two separate entities, but for people caught up in the legal system, the problems often bleed from one arena into the other. Having a bad lawyer or one who is simply overwhelmed can result in a felony conviction rather than a misdemeanor, or a plea deal rather than a trial. Those missed opportunities can have economic and social effects that ripple far beyond a prison sentence.

“We are talking about employment licenses, employment consequences, immigration consequences, housing,” Wallace said. “Life-changing impacts that don’t only impact the person, the individual, but families and children.” “

Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and...