In 1989, the Maine Commission on Legal Needs was formed to study the civil legal needs of Maine's poor population and to develop a plan for meeting those needs. Similar projects have been undertaken in a number of other states and by the American Bar Association in recent years. Each study has revealed a significant unmet need among the poor for assistance with legal problems. There seems little doubt that the situation is serious and widespread. The difficulty lies in finding a solution. One proposal that has been advanced is mandatory pro bono, a program that would require attorneys to give uncompensated legal assistance to the needy. For years debate over this proposal has focused on whether such a program would violate the constitutional rights of attorneys. The debate has intensified with the recent group of studies highlighting the unmet legal needs of the poor. This Comment will review the civil legal needs of Maine's poor and the currently available resources for meeting those needs. It will then consider the legal issues involved in requiring counsel to undertake representation of people unable to afford an attorney in civil cases. Do courts have the authority to require attorneys to represent those unable to pay? Although neither the United States Supreme Court nor the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has addressed the issue, a review of available case law and legal commentaries suggests that courts very likely do have such authority. This Comment concludes, however, that other approaches should be tried in Maine before requiring attorneys to take pro bono civil cases.

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