So it turns out that the EJC does not have free wireless set up, and it appears that the Hilton doesn't have pay-for wireless available for the conference rooms. Boo. So I must resort to my plan for "semi-live" blogging sessions. Today's post - the Self-Represented Litigant Pre-Conference.
Innovation - The Big Picture (Richard Zorza)
Most people in the room aren't exploring. Increasing access is what they do daily. Because of their work, court leadership feels like they know what they need to know, which is good and bad. Mostly importantly, it means that self-represented litigant innovation has moved to a different phase.
- Programs need to be built out and institutionalized.
- What does the next generation look like? Immigration, foreclosure, and so on.
The core vision - One hundred percent access. The way to get there is by having access-friendly courts that think about the litigant experience and understand that access comes through a wide variety of services.
Good things are happening. There are about 150 self-help centers around the country. Two-thirds of states have trained court staff. Over 5000 judges are going to be trained on self-represented litigant issues based on the Harvard judicial curriculum. Plain language forms and document assembly are spreading quickly. Technology and online sites are being integrated into court programs. National support for self-represented programs exists - The second version of Best Practices is being published and the SRLN, SelfHelpSupport.org, and other networks exist.
New tools are under development.
- Research and tools to show cost/benefits of innovations.
- Curriculum to help train court staff, which will be launched at that NCSC Court Solutions Conference.
- Second version for of the Best Practices. It now includes examples and resources for the best practices
- Tools to help get compliance with orders.
And there is plenty left to be done.
- Simplifying the systems, which will benefit everyone.
- Understand who needs what for access, since not everyone needs a lawyer and not everyone can follow through on self-help information.
- Research the "Three-No Problem."
- Develop a standardized forms and plain language strategy.
- Promote the continuum of service.
- Investigate solutions in the areas of immigration and foreclosure.
Law Libraries and Partnerships
Hon. Edward F. Vlack, St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge, Hudson, Wisconsin
Wisconsin knew that self-help centers could help serve the self-represented but didn't know where to get the funding. Law libraries seemed to be a natural partner, but the state doesn't have many county law libraries, and those that exist are locally funded and don't have many self-represented-litigant-friendly resources. So they turned to Wisconsin's strong public library network. These libraries are conveniently located, have public access computers, and have customer-focused staff. The partnership can be easily replicated. The biggest step is training the library staff across the state.
Marie Darst Rose, Staff Attorney, Central Minnesota Legal Services
Tri-county program in St. Cloud, Minnesota is staffed by a legal aid advocate because of a contract with Central Minnesota Legal Services. Self-help center is located in the law library and has two computer terminals available for public use. Legal aid advocate can provide information but not advice. It is open when the courthouse is open, and people can walk in. Advocate provides help filling out forms. The program had served over 1,400 people since the beginning of 2008. Last year, the judges in Sterns County ordered that self-represented litigants must see the advocate before they file their papers. Program is paid for through parking fines and other fees. The next steps for the program is to increase staff and add a legal advice clinic. The community response has been extremely positive.
Barbara Golden, Librarian, Minnesota State Law Library
Minnesota has 85 law libraries; however, only ten have fulltime staff. These ten cover 63 percent of Minnesota's population. The rest of the libraries are rooms with books. Some have computers, and some don't. The Minnesota State Law Library has tried to fill the gap for the areas where the law libraries aren't staffed - resources, circuit riding librarians, fielding calls from across the state, and so on. In the Fifth Judicial District, a successful project was established out of a partnership between the academic, law, and public libraries. Together they negotiated a WestLaw contract, established work stations, and started helping self-represented litigants. As the program progressed, it was discovered that the partnership saved money, which could be reinvested in the program. This program is now being replicated statewide, although the program does not have all of the features of the Fifth Judicial District's program; they only have circuit riding librarians, favorable pricing on legal databases, and partnerships with local organizations.
Sara Galligan, Law Library Manager, Dakota County Law Library
Dakota County is pretty rural but has some industry. The county seat is on the east end of the county and the population is on the west. In order to support self-represented litigants, they partnered with the public libraries. The public library acts as a "law library" on the opposite end of the county. The court provides the libraries with packets of forms, which the public libraries can sell and keep the profits from. The project moved on to providing volunteer attorney assistance. The law library does much of the coordination, but the local legal aid program handles the recruitment of the pro bono lawyers. This library also applied for a Library Services and Technology Act grant. They asked for a half-time position to create self-represented information and setting up two public workstations - one in West St. Paul and one yet to be determined.
M. Sue Talia, Certified Family Law Specialist
In California, 100 percent of California family law attorneys represent 20 to 30 percent of family law litigants. This means that self-represented litigants aren't just "poor people" with a problem. Unbundling is limited-scope representation. It is high quality representation that is limited in scope. It is not second-class representation. Typically, there is either a limitation on tasks (drafting a petition, representing at a single hearing, or drafting order) or on an issue (supervised parenting order). Most attorneys do more than legal advice but less than representing someone in a hearing. Ethical issues are critical and need to be addressed.
- Limitations in scope must be reasonable. (For example - don't send SRLs into court on their own when they don't speak English.)
- Client must be informed of scope in writing. (Talia doesn't believe in oral limitations in scope because if there is a question, it will always be decided in favor of the client.)
- Changes in scope must always be documented. (If something pops up, make certain to change the written scope.)
- Attorney must advise client of related issues even if the client doesn't ask. (Nichols v. Keller - Attorney is in better place to know if there are related items and has the duty to tell the client.)
Issues raised in limited-scope representation in a court-based program are different than those that show up in private practice. Pro bono attorneys like to do limited-scope representation for volunteer work. The most receptive people are rural bar associations and ethnic bar associations (both rural and urban). Clients like it because they get only what they need. People know that they aren't being charged for work that they don't really need, and they know what it is worth to them. It gives the client more control. Limited scope is not for every court, not for every client, and not for every case. But limited scope can build a sense of good will with clients.
Rochelle Klempner, Principal Court Attorney to Justice Fern A. Fisher, Administrative Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York
Civil Court and New York City Bar Association run a Volunteer Lawyer for a Day (VLFD) program in Housing Court. Lawyer and client meet day of court appearance. They sign a limited retainer agreement. The lawyer represents the client, but no matter what happens the representation begins and end that day.
To establish a program
- Form a partnership.
- Find funding.
- Gain court administration support and/or bench support.
- Build the program (hire staff, develop training, develop forms, recruit, and so on).
- Run your program.
The New York City program was a established as a pilot project of the court and local bar association. Funding came from the state court in order to hire a program coordinator. The program was built quickly because they only had a temporary line of funding. Program is modeled on San Francisco "Volunteer Lawyer for a Day" program. Volunteers were offered CLE in return for participation. Reaction to program was great. Clients loved it; landlord bar had no problem. Only criticism came from tenant advocates.
Because it was a pilot, it was evaluated. Everyone involved felt good about the program. But it also had benefits for the clients, volunteers, and courts. It improved access to justice. Clients were able to raise defenses that they didn't know that they had. The courthouse efficiency improved. It was an attractive pro bono oppportunity because it was finite. And the program improved the perception of fairness and accessibility to justice. City bar eventually approved the report.
Materials from these sessions are available on SelfHelpSupport.org. - K