Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Impact of Pro Se Litigants

John Roman, The Urban Institute
William D. Turner, The Urban Institute
Mischelle Van Brakle, The Urban Institute

The right to counsel is constitutionally guaranteed in most criminal proceedings. No similar provisions are in place to provide counsel in civil matters. However, the Maryland Constitution contains language that may guarantee counsel in civil trials, and in particular cases involving eviction and child custody. Interpretation of this provision is the subject of current litigation. Regardless of the outcome of the legal proceedings, there may be important policy consequences resulting from pro se litigants in these types of cases. This paper explores these policy consequences, and in particular, investigates the extent to which civil litigants who are not represented by counsel may differentially use court resources and may have differential case outcomes. In addition to developing measures of change in net social welfare, the paper investigates whether the standard model for evaluating these outcomes, cost-benefit analysis, is appropriate for this type of policy problem.

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Updated 05/20/2006