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Sorry Sony, but the DualShock and the DualSense controllers don’t hold a candle to the Xbox controller. Microsoft’s controller features a more comfortable offset analog stick layout and proper shoulder triggers instead of clunky bumpers. While it can be argued that the Sony consoles have a significantly better game library than the Xbox and despite both connecting through Bluetooth, there’s no way to use your Xbox One controller on your PlayStation natively. If you’re a PS4/PS5 fan but have always been envious of the Xbox One controller, there are a few third-party controller manufacturers that have answered your prayers.Do Any of these Controllers Work on PlayStation 5?
Yes! In fact, all of the controllers listed here are compatible with the PS5 console. Sony has fully embraced backwards compatibility with the PlayStation 5. While most automatically think “games” when they hear backwards compatibility, this also extends to controllers and accessories as well. Yet, there are some caveats.
Image source: Unsplash
Just like the PS4, your DualShock 4 controllers will pair with a PS5 console via Bluetooth. You can use a DualShock 4 controller to navigate the PS5 menus as well as launch apps and games. However, there are some significant limitations when it comes to games. Your DualShock 4 controller will work on your PS5 with all backward-compatible PS4 games. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to play any PS5-exclusive titles with your PS4 controller. Thankfully, there are heaps of PS4 games playable on the PS5, and you’ll be able to use your DualShock 4 or any of the DualShock 4 alternatives listed below to play those titles.1. Hori ONYX
The Onyx controller by Hori features the offset analog stick layout that Xbox One controllers are known for. Of course, controller layout preference is mostly subjective; however, offset analog sticks are thought to help prevent fatigue and cramping. In addition to the offset analog sticks, the Hori Onyx has a wide body similar to that of the Xbox One controller, helping to alleviate crowding, particularly with players who have larger hands.
Furthermore, the Hori Onyx connects to your PS4 console via Bluetooth and includes a built-in motor for vibration. Despite all the things the Hori Onyx gets right, it’s not exactly perfect. Regrettably, there is no headphone jack. Most egregious, however, is the lack of an internal gyroscope and lightbar. Omitting these means you won’t be playing any VR games with the Hori Onyx. Yet, the Hori Onyx is one of the most affordable PS4 controllers with the Xbox One controller layout.2. Nacon Asymmetric Wireless
For some, Sony’s DualShock 4 controller is a bit on the small side. The Asymmetrical Wireless Controller by accessory specialist Nacon is a chunkier option that takes its cues from the Xbox One controller. Aside from the heftier body, the real selling point of the Asymmetric Wireless is the asymmetric analog stick configuration, hence the name. Furthermore, the face buttons, shoulder buttons and touchpad are all slightly larger compared to the standard DualShock 4. Aesthetically speaking, there’s not all that much to boast about. The Nacon Asymmetric Wireless controller is made from plain matte black plastic.
In addition to the uninspired design, the Nacon Asymmetric Wireless has a few other downsides. Although it can indeed be used wirelessly, it cannot connect to the PS4 without a USB dongle. Additionally, the controller lacks a built-in speaker and motion control capabilities. While motion control is only used in a small number of titles, it’s worth noting.
On the other hand, the Nacon Asymmetric Wireless controller boasts seven hours of battery life – a marked improvement over Sony’s DualShock 4. Furthermore, the Nacon Asymmetric Wireless can also be used with your PC, effectively killing two birds with one stone.3. Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro
The Nacon Asymmetric Wireless controller has causal gaming enthusiasts covered, but what if you’re looking for something competition worthy? If you’re in the market for a tournament-ready controller, Nacon has you covered there as well. The Revolution Unlimited Pro makes a strong argument for the best PS4 controller available – and for good reason. The Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro features a larger, more ergonomic body, designed to fit in most hands comfortably. For fans of the Xbox One controller, the offset analog sticks are also present.
The real draw of the Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro are the many customizations that can be made. The controller ships with various parts that can change the size and shape of the analog sticks. There are even small weights that can be slipped inside the body of the controller to give it more weight if you want a controller with a bit more heft to it.
Furthermore, there are four programmable buttons on the backside of the Revolution Unlimited Pro. These buttons can be mapped to existing inputs, like the face buttons, allowing gamers to execute actions without having to remove their thumbs from the analog sticks. There’s no denying that the Nacon Revolution Unlimited Pro is a fantastic controller; however, all those bells and whistles are going to cost you.4. SCUF Vantage
Another third-party manufacturer that specializes in high-end gaming accessories is SCUF. SCUF has made a name for itself as a producer of high-quality, highly-customizable controllers. The Vantage series ticks off all of those boxes while adopting a similar layout as the Xbox One controller. The most noticeable change is the placement of the analog sticks that adopt the asymmetrical positioning of the Xbox One controller. The SCUF Vantage also has a slightly larger body, helping to alleviate the fatigue associated with smaller controllers.
The SCUF Vantage also features a few additional programmable buttons. There are four paddle switches located on the underside of the controller as well as two additional buttons on either side of the controller near the shoulder buttons. Furthermore, the SCUF Vantage can be used wirelessly via Bluetooth or wired with the included 10-foot cable.
If you don’t like the look of the SCUF Vantage, you can pop off the magnetic faceplate and change it with a variety of colorful options. Additionally, you can pop off the analog sticks, D-pad and L2R2 buttons and replace them with alternatives. That being said, be aware that all of this customization does come at a price. Unfortunately, SCUF has retired the Vantage series, but you can still track them down on resellers like Amazon.Frequently Asked Questions Will any of the controllers listed above work with games exclusive to the PlayStation 5?
Your DualShock 4 controller and its alternatives will definitely work with PS4 games on a PS5. Where it gets tricky is PlayStation 5-exclusive titles. Regrettably, you won’t be able to use your DualShock 4 or DS4 alternative with games explicitly made for PS5 because the PS5’s new DualSense controller has a slew of extra features, like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. Games like Ghostwire: Tokyo and Astro’s Playroom rely on these new features. Therefore, since the DualShock 4 doesn’t have the same capabilities as the DualSense, the DS4 and its alternatives won’t work.
While you can navigate the PS5’s menus and even launch a PS5 exclusive title, you’ll be prompted to switch to a DualSense controller to actually play it. However, if you’re playing a PS4 title on your PS5, you can stick with your DualShock 4 or any of the alternatives listed above.
The SCUF Reflex for the PS5 does not have offset analog sticks like the Xbox controller. Therefore, if you have your heart set on a controller with asymmetrical control sticks, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. There are rumors that Razer is developing a controller explicitly for the PlayStation 5. There’s a chance that this controller might feature offset thumbsticks, but everything is speculation at this point. Although, it’s worth mentioning that Razer’s PS4 controller, the Raiju Ultimate, did not have offset analog sticks.
Additionally, if you want to make your PS5 controller your own, you may want to check out this review of the MegaModz Modded PS5 Controller.Which is the best alternative PlayStation controller for those who prefer the Xbox controller?
This is a bit of a tricky question, as the “best” controller is going to vary from person to person. But if money is no object, the clear winner is the Nacon Revolution Pro. The Revolution Pro has a ton of customization options, including trigger sensitivities, analog stick lengths and programmable controller profiles that can be toggled in real time. Furthermore, the controller’s weight can be augmented by adding or removing small weights! These impressive customization options mean that the Revolution Pro can satisfy the needs and preferences of most players.
If you’re only requirement is that the controller feature offset analog sticks like the Xbox controller, your best bet is the Nacon Asymmetric. It’s a no-frills accessory that doesn’t break the bank but does boast the superior Xbox controller layout.
Image credit: Pexels
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The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller has all the features of the official version for just half the cost—it can be yours for under $30 most days. It even adds some useful extras like programmable buttons and a volume toggle. The cable is the biggest drawback, but the feel and build quality also take a step down compared to Microsoft’s Series X/S controller. If nothing else, the PowerA Controller is a great “little brother controller.”Pros
Much lighter than official controller
Physical volume toggle
Only costs about $30
Uses old microUSB port instead of USB-C
No wireless connectivityOur Verdict
The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller might be a budget option, but it’s no slouch. It comes with tons of functionality both for use with the Xbox and those who need a controller for PC gaming as well. Ultimately, it performs almost as well as the official controller but costs only half as much.Best Prices Today: PowerA Enhanced Xbox controller
View DealPowerA Enhanced controller: Design and build quality
At first glance, you might not realize that the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller is a third-party accessory. It has the typical Xbox shape, a glowing Xbox button in the middle, and all the buttons in the right places. However, it’s a bit chunkier, giving it a hand-feel closer to the previous-gen Xbox One controller. There’s a diamond texture etched into the grips, but it’s far less grippy than the tiny dots on the official controller that ships with the Series X and S.
Even though the chassis is larger, the PowerA controller is surprisingly light at just 208g (7.33 ounces). The stock Series X controller with AA batteries installed is a whopping 300g. Thankfully, the cable is removable, but the port (between the triggers) is an old-fashioned microUSB. Current-gen controllers from Microsoft and Sony use the newer USB-C standard. These cables are reversible and more durable, but microUSB works fine, and the controller comes with a long 10-foot cable.
The bottom edge hosts a 3.5mm headphone jack, and just above that on the face of the controller is the volume toggle. This is the most obvious departure from the stock controller, which doesn’t have any dedicated hardware buttons for volume control. Flip it over, and you’ll see the other hardware tweak—a pair of programmable buttons on the grips and a button in the middle to configure them. The controller also has eight exposed screw holes on the underside, making the PowerA controller look much cheaper than the official controller, which fits together with no visible screws.
The PowerA Enhanced controller shares a lot of design elements with the Xbox Series X/S.
You might also notice that the d-pad is of the traditional plus-shaped variety, whereas the official Series X/S controller has moved to a more precise dish-shaped pad. The PowerA ABXY cluster has more travel (they protrude a bit more from the body) with less tactility than Microsoft’s controller. The other buttons look about the same—PowerA even has the share button introduced with the Series X and S (although, it’s round instead of pill-shaped, and it’s a bit wobbly)
.PowerA Enhance controller: Features and hands-on experience
As we pointed out in the Xbox Wireless Controller review, Microsoft’s latest gamepad is louder than the last one. The PowerA makes that one seem whisper-quiet by comparison. Elements like the triggers and thumbsticks have very hard, loud landings when pressed. The thumbsticks are also stiffer and rougher than the official controller, but the difference is negligible enough that you won’t notice unless you have both of them side-by-side for comparison.
The programmable buttons are placed conveniently on the inside of the grips—perhaps a little too conveniently. It doesn’t take much force to depress them, so they’re easy to hit accidentally if you squeeze the controller too tightly. That said, they can be handy if you don’t like the location of one of the other buttons. Simply long-press the program button in the middle of the rear panel and press the control you want to replicate.
Official Xbox Series X/S (left) and the PowerA Enhanced controller (right).
While the lack of wireless connectivity is a bummer, you’d have to expect that buying a wired controller. The lower controller weight is an appealing consolation, though. As long as you can run the 10-foot cable to your PC or console, the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller is comfortable to use for long periods of time.PowerA Enhanced controller: Compatibility
This controller also works with smartphones but not as easily as the stock controller. Since the official gamepad uses USB-C, you just need a C-to-C cable to connect to an Android phone, and it also supports wireless Bluetooth connectivity. With the PowerA, you need to use the cable (or another micro USB cable) and an adapter that can turn the rectangular USB-A into USB-C. We’ve tested this with Google’s Pixel USB adapter, and everything works despite being clunky.
The PowerA Enhanced controller can work with smartphones given the proper adapter.
Ryan WhitwamFinal thoughts
The official Xbox Series X/S controller is undoubtedly a better device—it’s wireless, looks nicer, and has better build quality. It’s also expensive at $60. The PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller has 90 percent of the functionality at just half the cost. We also appreciate that PowerA offers the controller in so many colors.
The lack of a battery makes the PowerA controller much lighter than wireless ones, and most of the buttons feel almost as responsive and tactile as the official controller. There are a few extra buttons, too, allowing you to replicate any of the standard controls on the programmable grip paddles. We don’t love the old plus-shaped d-pad, which is mushier than the one on the latest Microsoft controllers, and the programmable buttons are a bit too easy to press by accident.
The Xbox comes with one controller, and that’s enough for some people. If you need extra controllers for your console and don’t fancy spending $60 on each of them, the PowerA is a good purchase. For PC gamers, the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller is a reasonable way to get all the Windows Xbox integrations on the cheap. However, anyone looking for a mobile controller should move along. The lack of wireless connectivity or a USB-C port means you’ll have to deal with cables and adapters just to get the PowerA Enhanced Xbox Controller linked to your phone.
At some point while owning a Sony PS4 console, you may come across an unfortunate circumstance where your controller doesn’t work. Although the DualShock 4 controllers are highly revered for their high-quality functioning and durability, things can always go wrong.
There could be situations where the controller becomes unresponsive, one or a few of the buttons aren’t doing what they should, or a number of other issues. In these cases, a good fix to try is to reset your controller.
Table of Contents
There are a couple ways you can reset a PS4 controller, depending on if you have a second controller or not. Both methods are pretty simple to accomplish.Reset the Controller Through the PS4
This method to reset a PS4 controller is basically disconnecting and reconnecting your controller to the PS4. In many cases this can fix DualShock 4 controller issues. The only condition is that you need to have another controller handy to operate the console.
If you don’t have another controller, the next method will still allow you to reset one. If you do, here are the steps you can take:
You will see all controllers that have been or are connected to your PS4. You should see a green dot next to the controller you’re using, and a grey one on the controller that doesn’t work.
Select the inactive controller and press the Options button on the controller you’re using. Then select Forget Device.
Turn off your PS4 by holding down the PS4 button until the Quick Menu appears.
When the PS4 is off, connect the inactive one to the PS4 via USB cable. Then, turn on your PS4 again.
Press the PlayStation button on the USB-connected controller and it should pair to the PS4. You’ll know it’s connected when the light bar turns blue.Reset a PS4 Controller with the Hard Reset Button
Before starting, you’ll want to shut down and unplug your PS4 so it doesn’t accidentally interfere with the controller. Then follow these steps:
You can find the Reset button on the back of your controller, near the L2 shoulder button.
Using your tool, insert it into the small hole and press down the reset button for 3-5 seconds.
Connect the controller to the PS4 via USB cable. Then plug in the console again and turn it back on.
Press the PlayStation button on your controller. The light bar should turn blue, indicating it has paired to the PS4.
If it has paired, you should be able to remove it from the USB and use it normally again. If not, there are still some other options you could try in order to fix your controller’s issue.More Ways to Troubleshoot Your PS4 Controller
If reconnecting or restarting your controller isn’t working, there are still a few more options for you to troubleshoot PS4 issues.USB Cables
Check your USB cable and ports. Plugg the controller in with a different USB cable, or try the other USB port on the console. In order to make sure the PlayStation console itself is not the issue, you should also try connecting it to a different PS4 if you can or connect the PS4 controller to a PC.Make Sure It’s Charged
Check the charge on your controller to be sure it has the battery level to run. To do thato, hold the PlayStation button on the controller to bring up the Quick Menu. At the bottom, you should see a controller icon with the battery level besides it. If the battery level is low, this could cause connectivity issues.
Connect your controller to the PS4 via USB in order to charge it. You should see the light bar turn orange while it’s charging.It Could Be Your Wi-Fi
Sometimes, Wi-Fi can cause controller connectivity issues. To check if this is the problem, turn off your Wi-Fi router by unplugging it from the power source before doing the controller reset with the Reset button.
After you reset the PS4 controller, don’t turn your Wi-Fi back on, but check thet color of your controller’s lights. If it turns blue while the router is off, then you should contact your Internet Service Provider. You can request a different broadcast channel, and once changed you should be able to use your controller with the Wi-Fi on.
If the controller’s light bar is still white, then it’s either an issue with the PS4 or the controller.Is Your PS4 Controller Working Now?
If you’ve tried all these possibilities and the controller still won’t connect, your best shot is to send it to Sony to have them fix it. You can do this if your PlayStation is still covered under the one-year warranty and you still have your PS4’s Proof of Purchase.
If you feel this is the best option for you, go to PlayStation’s Fix & Replace page to enter your information. Then you can send your controller in and they will repair it or replace it for you.
Game controller is the heartbeat of any gamer. The controller brings easier ways to control games. But what can you do when your controller doesn’t work on your PC?
Many users have reported that their Xbox controller doesn’t work on their PC.
Here in this article, we have discussed what you can do when your Xbox controller not working on PC.
Also read: Xbox One Controller Headphone Jack Not Working!
Damaged or loose cable connection. This is the most overlooked but simple reason. USB cables are known to be vulnerable and get easily damaged.
PC doesn’t recognize the controller device when plugged into the USB port. This situation arises when you have a problem with the USB Ports on your PC or you have inserted the controller to USB 3.0, which it may not support.
Outdated drivers can conflict with your system devices and lead to this issue.
Malware or sometimes the installed Antivirus programs can also interfere with device drivers.
The ports you have plugged the Xbox controller can be malfunctioning. Change the ports and see if it fixes the issue.
If you have connected the controller to a USB hub, then try connecting to the motherboard ports at the back of the CPU.
Also, make sure to check the controller cable. There is a chance that cables are malfunctioning. USB cables are vulnerable, so try a new cable and see if it solves the issue.
This issue is mostly caused by outdated or malfunctioning drivers. First try disabling and enabling the gamepad driver, which would reset it.
To disable and enable the gamepad driver, follow the steps given below:
Open Run utility using Windows + R.
Type devmgmt.msc on Run utility and press Enter.
After that, open the Device Manager again.
Now select the Enable Device option.
If still the issue persists then it might be the case of obsolete drivers, then try updating the controller drivers. Here is how you can update the controller drivers:
Open the Device Manager ( as mentioned earlier).
Now select Update driver option.
Follow the instructions on your screen to complete the process.
If this method also doesn’t work, then re-install the driver. To uninstall the driver, follow the steps given below:
Open the Device Manager (as said earlier).
Then expand the Sound, video and game controllers option.
Now, restart your PC after the PC opens System automatically reinstalls the driver on Windows chúng tôi issue persists, try the next solution.
In Windows there is an option that turns off the plugged-in devices automatically. The Xbox controller not working on PC can be due to this feature.
To disable the auto turn off plugged-in devices feature, follow the steps given below:
Open the Device Manager and expand USB Serial Bus Controllers.
Do the above steps for all the USB root hub 3.0 drivers. Once done, check if still your Xbox controllers for PC is not working. If the issue persists, then try the next solution.
If Xbox controller is not connecting to PC wired, then try connecting wirelessly through Bluetooth.
Here are the steps to do it:
Plug-in the adapter into a USB port.
Turn on the controller by press and then hold the Xbox button for few seconds. Release it after the Xbox button will turn-on.
Press the Pairing button after the device turns-on.
You will receive a pop up message on your PC to connect the controller.
After accepting the pairing request the Xbox light will become Steady.
So, when your Xbox One wired controller on PC is not working, then running it wirelessly should fix it as mentioned above.
If your Xbox controller is still not connecting even wirelessly, then try running the Bluetooth troubleshooter:
Press the Windows Key + I to open the Settings app.
Go to Update & Security option.
Select the Troubleshoot option on the left-hand panel.
Expand Bluetooth and select Run the troubleshooter.
Follow the instruction on the running wizard to complete troubleshooting.
It’s official: Motion control sensors are the future of gaming. Microsoft wowed the world this week at E3, with a demonstration of Project Natal, a full-body motion control system for the Xbox 360. Not to be outdone, just one day later at E3, Sony demonstrated its own next-generation motion controller for the PlayStation 3. Sony’s controller is a wireless, microphone-shaped device with several buttons and a glowing sphere on the top. The motion controller’s sphere is tracked by the PS3’s PlayStation Eye camera, and, based on Sony’s demo, the controller looks like it can be used in almost any gaming genre.
But if these motion control systems from Microsoft and Sony end up working in the real world as they were presented at E3, what would that gaming experience be like?Sports: Madden NFL
PS3 Controller: Sony didn’t say anything about voice control, so calling plays and switching them on the fly in Madden NFL will probably be done with buttons and the controller’s directional pointer. But perhaps using the PlayStation Eye, the PS3 will be able drop your image into an NFL uniform as your team gets ready to move the ball forward. Uh-oh, looks like the bad guys are going for a blitz — you change your play on the fly and the sphere at the top of the motion controller changes color to confirm your new play. You hit the “X” button to snap the ball, run back with the controller in your hand, and quickly toss the ball (without letting go of the controller) to your receiver, who catches it as you go down under a pile of defenders.
Theoretical Winner: Project Natal. If Natal works as promised, then the Xbox 360 football experience would be far as close as you can get to the real thing without a holodeck. The downside is you’ll lack the tactile sense of having something in your hands as you throw.Fighting Games: Street Fighter
Project Natal: Here comes Blanka and it looks like he’s ready to shock your Ryu avatar. Before it’s too late, you jump off your living room floor with a whirlwind kick, and then deliver a stinging power punch. You give him a few more good smacks before falling to the living room floor, too tired to continue. Blanka comes at your avatar and you try to punch, but Blanka blocks it with ease and the game is over before you know it.
PS3 Controller: Blanka is coming at you again, and you block his first attack and fight back with two controllers in you hand. You hit a button combination to do a flying kick and that sends Blanka reeling back for a moment. He’s coming again, so you hit another button combination and that really weakens him. You move in for your finishing power punch, but your hands are sweating so much you can’t get your fingers on the right buttons in time. Blanka recovers and comes back at you with a vengeance.
Theoretical Tie: While Natal may give you a more interesting gaming experience, I think there will be some difficulty merging in-game fighting moves with real-world motion. So the Xbox version is likely to be a far more intense workout. The PS3, on the other hand, is able to let you do special moves with controller buttons, but you’ll probably have to grip two controllers to fully control your avatar. Holding two controllers could get tough as you progress through the levels.First Person Shooter: Call of Duty
Project Natal: It’s almost dawn and you have to attack the enemy outpost; it’s now or never. You crouch down and crawl silently along the carpet, but an enemy soldier is up ahead. You reach back and grab your rifle, and from your living room floor you take aim and — how do you fire? There’s no trigger and no buttons. You shake your gun to simulate rifle kick back, but it doesn’t fire; you try again, and this time you get off the perfect shot.
PS3 Controller: You hit the button to crouch and point the controller toward the TV to move forward, creeping through the brush. You stop just in time to see a whole enemy squad heading your way. You grab the grenade launcher, take aim with the motion controller, and press the “X” button to fire. The bad guys are gone, but you sure made one heck of a mess; time to hit that run button and change positions.Role Playing/Adventure Games: A Star Wars Lightsaber Duel
Project Natal: With no physical controller, you probably wouldn’t be able to turn your sword on and off — but you came to battle the Sith anyway, so what does it matter? With full-body motion control you might be able to do any number of moves, including spinning, kicking, and maybe even those Jedi power jumps.
PS3 Controller: Here comes Darth Vader ready to battle again. You quickly tap a button on the controller to turn on your lightsaber, and away you go. With buttons on the controller you can do any number of special moves, and it probably feels better to have a physical object in your hands as you battle the ultimate movie villain.
Theoretical Tie: The gaming experience will probably be fairly similar. The PS3 would win on sword control since you have an actual object in your hands, but Natal could allow for more imaginative moves.Classic Arcade Games: Donkey Kong (Nintendo)
PS3 Controller: There’s no need to actually jump with the PS3, but there would be a lot of one-arm pointing to move your avatar forward and up those ladders. Sony could allow you to jump by jerking the controller up, but that would get tiring pretty quickly for your arm. The PS3 motion controller’s experience could be a little more physical than the original, but it’s likely you would still be using an arcade style jump button.
Project Natal: It’s time to save your damsel in distress, but that gorilla is in a foul mood. Your jumps in the real world get Jumpman over fast moving barrels. You can simulate climbing a ladder to move forward, and jump up to grab the barrel-smashing hammer. It’s more like a 20-minute aerobic routine than a video game, but man, is it fun.Real World Problems
The PS3 motion controller also has a general release timeframe of spring 2010, while Microsoft has not announced a release timeline at all for Natal. However, if Natal proves to be a flexible controller system that works across all gaming genres, then Natal on the Xbox 360 will be light years ahead of what Sony is doing. Let’s just hope the pricing of these devices doesn’t reach as high as each company’s aspirations.
Connect with Ian Paul on Twitter (@ianpaul).
Bringing the Law to Those Who Can’t Afford It Robert Spangenberg brings his legal aid group to LAW
Robert Spangenberg (LAW’61) has spent his career fighting for legal services for the poor across the country and the world. Photo by Vernon Doucette
The day after Robert Spangenberg was named editor-in-chief of Boston University’s Law Review, he got an offer few could refuse. The dean called Spangenberg into his office and told him, as he had all editors before him, that the editing gig would certainly land him a job in a big Boston firm. Which one would he prefer? Spangenberg (LAW’61) thought for a moment. “None,” he said.
The law student had set his sights on a much bigger goal: he wanted to improve legal representation for poor people.
And he did. In the 1960s, Spangenberg worked with the Johnson administration and helped establish the Office of Legal Services, the first federal legal aid program. He later founded and directed Greater Boston Legal Services. In 1985, he started the Spangenberg Group, the only consulting firm in the country dedicated to championing legal representation for the indigent. The group studies the effectiveness of public defender offices and legal aid services around the country and abroad, a practice that has revealed, for example, that the caseload of a public defender in Miami was an impossible 2,000 defendants a year, and that the Pennsylvania court system was so underfunded that poor people were extremely unlikely to find capable legal defense.
Spangenberg, who briefly served as assistant dean at LAW in the mid ’60s, rejoined the faculty this fall. He will recruit BU law students to work with him on some of his firm’s projects such as training public defenders in Mexico.
BU Today spoke with Spangenberg about his career, which naturally led him to work on a number of death penalty cases. As he says, there are no rich people on death row.BU Today: Why did you return to BU?
Spangenberg: I’ve always thought of BU as my home. Also, the dean and faculty are committed to the public interest. Students are doing a huge amount of pro bono work here. There weren’t any opportunities for doing that when I was here as a student.What drew you to legal work for the poor?
After college I was drafted and went to Germany. I had a lot of time on my hands and read a lot. I became fascinated by books about law, specifically, a book by Jacob Lefkowitz, a criminal lawyer who worked with indigents. I decided to study law when I got out. I came here and helped form the Roxbury Defenders Project, one of the first such law student programs in the country.What are some of the dramatic changes you’ve seen in legal help for the poor?
One of the most dramatic improvements is legal counsel in death penalty cases. When I started out there were very few lawyers who could handle a death penalty case. Now there are lawyers in every state who do nothing but that.
Also, when I started out the greatest need was in the South. Half of my work in the past 20 years has been there. But in my opinion, the South has made a lot of progress, particularly Texas, which is doing things that are unbelievable. It’s no longer the sleeping-lawyer, death-valley capital. True, they are still putting people to death, but not nearly as many as they once were.Do poor people have better access to legal representation today than in the past?
There is still an awful long way to go, but it’s clearly better than when I started out. Money is still the main hurdle. It’s hard to convince the general public to put money into lawyers who are representing people who’ve committed crimes and are poor.
And there are still a lot of misconceptions. In Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick, who I hold in high esteem, says having public defenders costs less than using court-appointed private criminal lawyers. That is so wrong. We’re going to end up in a terrible situation in Massachusetts, which has done a good job in providing counsel to the poor, but the system is being taken apart.With someone’s life at stake, it must be hard to work on a death penalty case.
Definitely. There was a death penalty appeal I worked on in Indiana in the early ’90s. I was an expert witness. I testified and then flew home. I came back and had a message from the lawyer in Indiana that said, “Jones lives.” I just wanted to cry.Do you think the recent execution in Georgia will have an effect on people’s opinion of the death penalty?
I think it will have a substantial effect. It was widely covered, even internationally. People are now speaking against the death penalty who haven’t spoken up before.
But in a Republican presidential debate recently, when Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, was asked about the number of people that had been executed there, the audience clapped and cheered. So this is not a good time, but it’s a time we need to redouble our energy. And one thing about me is I have a lot of energy.
Amy Sutherland can be reached at [email protected].
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