Evictions often hide in plain sight—and so does one of the most effective responses. Studies uniformly confirm that represented tenants avoid evictions, and with it associated downstream effects, at appreciably higher rates than unrepresented tenants. Tenant representation is one of the most cost-effective anti-poverty interventions available in our housing system. Lawyers should support its expansion, even if and when it a non-lawyer serves as that intervenor in eviction court.

This paper argues that the legal profession should embrace and expand existing pathways for training eligible and interested individuals, regardless of whether they are licensed attorneys, to assist tenants facing eviction. While much attention has rightfully been paid to reforming existing laws to permit non-attorney participation, existing rules may, and in some jurisdictions do, already permit this approach to expanding access to justice.

However, permission does not equal promotion. That certain rules and regulations allow non-attorney involvement in eviction proceedings does not mean that, like the role of the justice court in displacing tenants, those rules are not hidden from the public. In order to best meet the needs of tenants facing eviction and homelessness, the legal profession needs to encourage the active participation of non-attorney advocates in eviction proceedings. The best efforts of the legal profession to invite pro bono attorney involvement to fill gaps in accessing the justice system simply have not been sufficient to meeting the needs of unrepresented individuals.

The legal profession should look to innovative models emerging across the country for eviction defense—from Delaware to Alaska— as well as to longstanding practices in federal administrative agencies. Further, by adopting accessible accreditation practices used in certain state and federal proceedings, jurisdictions can assure a baseline level of competency among representatives, while also exercising oversight on its practitioners.

In so doing, courts can fulfill their duties to be truly open to the public, while the legal profession can empower tenants and tenant advocates in a manner that will have both procedural and substantive benefits. In so doing, the burgeoning access to justice and right to counsel movements can coalesce around a cost-effective, empowerment-oriented model: one that has the potential to move beyond a triage approach to addressing legal issues towards a more holistic approach to addressing housing justice writ large.