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December 01, 2008

Our Work

Systemic: Litigation

The Project recently launched a new initiative to address systemic problems. Working with pro bono counsel across the country, the Project will coordinate systemic litigation to challenge a variety of problems in selected jurisdictions, including:

  • the method for selecting, appointing, and monitoring the performance of defense counsel;
  • compensation for counsel, experts, and mitigation specialists;
  • restrictions on the funding for and selection of experts and mitigation specialists; and
  • the structure, workload, and operation of capital defender offices.

This new initiative is in part a response to the view of many of our volunteer lawyers that the Project should pursue additional approaches to reforming the underlying causes of ineffective representation. Our goal is to ensure that every state with the death penalty as a potential sentence adopts the statutes, rules, and procedures that are consistent with the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.

Generous funding from the ABA Section of Litigation makes this systemic litigation possible.

Partnering with State and Federal Judges to Recruit Volunteers

We partner with state and federal judges in cities around the country to hold informational meetings about how local law firms can participate in our work. Civil lawyers learn about the need for their assistance, how they can be successful despite having no death penalty or criminal law experience, and how rewarding the work can be. Upcoming meetings are planned for Detroit, Chicago, and Boston.

Working Toward Reform

Improving the counsel systems that failed the men and women on our Death Rows is as important as finding competent lawyers. We work with judges, legislators, bar associations, and lawyers in death penalty jurisdictions to champion meaningful reforms that will ensure that all Death Row prisoners have the assistance of effective, well-trained, adequately resourced lawyers. We support legislation and court rules that will eliminate caps on compensation and enforce meaningful qualifications standards. The Project provides decision makers with important information to explain why a competent defense function will reduce the errors that lead to wrongful convictions. Our investment in reforming defense counsel systems is another way we try to ensure justice for all.

Technical Assistance & Resources for Defense Counsel

The Project promises each recruited law firm the assistance of an experienced capital litigator for strategic assistance and local support. We also manage a confidential online practice area for more than 1000 members at, which includes a list of FAQs, case law analysis, topical research, and training announcements.