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Student Project: Right to Counsel: Effective Assistance of Counsel

This research guide facilitates the analysis of the 6th Amendment, right to assistance of counsel.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Several of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct are particularly relevant to the analysis of the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the effective assistance of counsel:

Rule 1.1

"A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation." 

Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.1 (2012).

Rule 1.3

"A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client." 

Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 1.3 (2012). 


What Constitutes Effective Assistance?

In 1984, the Court in Strickland v. Washington established that the proper standard for attorney performance is that of reasonably effective assistance. Because the Court noted that “[n]o particular set of detailed rules for counsel's conduct can satisfactorily take account of the variety of circumstances faced by defense counsel or the range of legitimate decisions regarding how best to represent a criminal defendant,” Strickland established that there is a presumption in defense counsel’s favor. However, the Court articulated a two-part test for determining what constitutes reasonably effective assistance of counsel, as a means of overcoming this presumption.

A criminal defendant must show:

1) that counsel's performance was deficient; and
2) that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).


In the wake of Strickland, the Supreme Court has since recognized that the right to the effective assistance counsel extends to identification lineups, arraignments, preliminary hearings, plea negotiations and the entry of a guilty plea.

Topics and Key Numbers

The following West Topic and Key Numbers are useful for finding case law and various secondary sources:
110 Criminal Law
110k920 Incompetency or Neglect of Counsel for Defense
110k1822 Choice of Appointed Counsel 

Selected Oral Arguments

Building on the arguments used in prior cases can help to refine your argument. 

Ineffective Assistance Defined

 "A representation in which the defendant is deprived of a fair trial because the lawyer handles the case unreasonably, usu. either by performing incompetently or by not devoting full effort to the defendant, esp. because of a conflict of interest."
Black’s Law Dictionary 139 (9th ed. 2009).