The U.S. Constitution grants no categorical right to counsel in civil cases. Undaunted, the legal profession's renewed effort to improve access to justice for low-income unrepresented civil litigants includes a movement to establish this right. How this right is implemented turns out to be as important as whether such a right exists. To be effective, any new right must be national in scope, adequately funded, and protected from political influence. Lawyers must be available early and often in the legal process, so that they can provide assistance for the full scope of their client's legal problem and prevent further legal troubles. A right to civil counsel should encompass proceedings where basic needs are at stake, and not be influenced by inadequately informed judgments of who is worthy of representation.