The Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the National Consumer Law Center are offering a webinar on debt collection and arbitration resources for pro se and pro bono cases on Friday, February 11, 2011 at 12 pm Eastern. The resources presented during this webinar will include “brochures and videos designed for consumers and pleadings and case development materials designed for attorneys, particularly pro bono attorneys who may not have experience in debt collection or arbitration cases.” Developed under a Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation, the presenters for this webinar include Kristin Verrill of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Arielle Cohen of the National Consumer Law Center. Registration for this free webinar is available here. -M
Anyone interested in the transformative power of technology to increase access to justice should take a few minutes to watch this video. Please also consider supporting Pro Bono Net. -M
The National Center for State Courts publishes a yearly journal called “Future Trends in State Courts.” Among the topics explored in the 2010 issue is the role of social media/networking in the courts, including “The New Media Project of the Conference of Court Public Information Officers,” by Chris Davey ; “The Role of Social-Networking Tools in Judicial Systems,” by Travis Olson and Christine O’Clock; and “The Changing Media and Its Impact on the Courts,” by Hon. Tom Hodson. Also included in the 2010 issue is an article by Richard Zorza, “Public Libraries and Access to Justice,” and an article by Justice O’Connor that highlights www.ourcourts.org, an educational project that incorporates online games and other interactive media to teach young people about the rule of law. -M [Thanks, Claudia!]
The Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project recently released the report, “Listening to Ontarians,” which examines the barriers that Ontarians face in accessing the civil justice system. A collaboration between the Law Society of Upper Canada, Legal Aid Ontario and Pro Bono Law Ontario, the report does a nice job of identifying and exploring both the promise and challenges of using technology to increase access to justice for low and moderate-income Ontarians (see, in particular, page 58 of the report). The survey also found that “84 per cent of low and middle-income Ontarians are connected to the Internet.” The full report is available for download here (PDF). -M
Update: Only after publishing this post did I come across this great post on the Clicklaw Blog, which covers technology and access to justice issues in this report as well as another recent report, Moving Forward on Legal Aid: Research on Needs and Innovative Approaches.
Yesterday Kate spoke at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, DC about courts' use of technology to help self-represented litigants. The Gov 2.0 Expo brings together speakers on using the Web as a platform for government and citizen participation. You can watch Kate's terrific presentation below. Not only does she highlight the amazing work being done in our community, she also gives voice to those for whom justice is out of reach because they cannot afford a lawyer. - M
For over 10 years, the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada and the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas have partnered to teach community education classes covering several areas of law for the public. In order to extend their reach, the law school and legal aid program collaborated with their local PBS affiliate Vegas PBS to record one of their bankruptcy classes. Now this class is available to everyone on YouTube in seven short segments. - K
The January 2010 ABA Young Lawyer magazine features an article on LiveHelp by Liz Keith, LawHelp program manager at Pro Bono Net. In addition to explaining how LiveHelp works, Liz showcases innovative LiveHelp projects and staffing models that are being implemented by legal services organizations across the country. -M
The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program recently launched six interactive online court forms for use by pro se tenants and landlords. The forms include an answer in a residential landlord-tenant case, an application to proceed in forma pauperis, a motion to modify a protective order, a motion to vacate default judgment and quash writ, a motion to vacate dismissal, and a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent. Using guided A2J Author interviews and Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive service, pro se users answer a series of questions that are used to populate an approved court form that can be printed and filed. The project was done with cooperation from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, support from the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers, and funding from the D.C. Bar Foundation. -M
As part of their year-end fundraising campaign, Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO) has created a video that does a fantastic job of highlighting the potential of technology to help increase access to justice for low and moderate-income individuals. It focuses on LiveHelp, a project funded by the Legal Services Corporation, supported by Pro Bono Net, and originally piloted by Montana Legal Services Association and Iowa Legal Aid, which was recently launched in Illinois to assist those in need of legal help find quality free legal information, forms, and referrals. As the video portrays, in less than a month ILAO and their remote law student volunteers assisted over 1,300 users. It’s an excellent example how the innovative use of technology can help to mobilize volunteers, increase access to services, and ultimately address the unmet legal needs facing so many low and moderate-income Americans. Please consider donating to justice innovators like Illinois Legal Aid Online and Pro Bono Net this holiday season. Without them, projects like LiveHelp wouldn’t exist. -M
The National Center for State Courts, the Self-Represented Litigation Network, and the Legal Services Corporation are hosting a two-day conference on how public libraries can improve access to online legal information. The training takes place on January 11th and 12th in Austin, TX. Participants will learn how to access legal information online and how to develop effective partnerships between libraries and legal services organizations, among other topics. Conference organizers will select between 10 and 15 teams from around the country to participate. More information about the training is available here. -M
After a fairly uneventful hurricane season, Hurricane Ida is headed toward the United States. Ida is expected to land somewhere between Louisiana and Florida as early as Tuesday, and communities in these areas are preparing for the storm.
However, a more dispersed group is also getting ready. Earlier today, Andy Carvin called for online volunteers to help update The Hurricane Information Center, a hurricane information portal that Technola highlighted in 2008. Volunteers are needed to help with several tasks, but Andy says:
Most importantly, we need to update the wiki: http://hurricanewiki.org. We need volunteers to review the wiki section by section and make sure that there are resources collected for Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Much of this was done last year but it can't hurt to be sure it's up to date. If you plan to work on a section of the wiki, please let us know which one.
On a related note, anyone looking for disaster legal information should check out Matthew's previous post "Online Disaster Legal Resources." - K
Students in Penn Law School’s Program on Documentaries and the Law have created a series of videos on legal issues impacting immigrants, including notario fraud and the process of hiring and working with a lawyer. The videos are presented in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Fuzhou. –M [Thanks, Will!]
Yesterday Illinois Legal Aid Online, the organization that oversees client, advocate and pro bono websites and other access to justice technology projects in Illinois, launched its LiveHelp project, which allows individuals to use a web-based chat service to communicate with a “navigator” to help them find legal information on their client website, IllinoisLegalAid.org. The LiveHelp project, which was funded by LSC’s TIG program, supported by Pro Bono Net, and originally spearheaded by legal aid organizations in Montana and Iowa, has now been successfully replicated in several states. For more information about LiveHelp, contact Liz Keith at lkeith (at) probono.net. -M
The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition has launched SomaliLawHelp.org, a new legal resource for the Minnesota Somali community. Somali-language resources on the site include “know your rights” materials on topics ranging from family law to immigration, a legal glossary, and links to courts and government agencies. The site is built using technology developed by Pro Bono Net and supplements resources available on LawHelpMN.org, which includes a Spanish site and resources in 14 other languages. Local coverage of the new site is available here. –M [Thanks, Jessica!]
I've come across several interesting stories about innovative uses for technology recently, and instead of letting the links gather dust, waiting for me to write a post about each of them, I'm collecting them here in one post and getting the ideas out to you.
- Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe released a Start-Up Tool Kit, which includes a Term Sheet Creator to help draft start-up and venture financing documents. Fans of the National Document Assembly Project (NPADO) will recognize that they've used LexisNexis' HotDocs Server to run the site. The ABA Journal covered this release: Orrick’s Free Term Sheet Generator and Forms Library Aimed at Entrepreneurs.
- Avvo, a site where the public can rate lawyers, has a forum where people can ask lawyers for legal advice and answers. While not new, it is new to me, and it's the first time that I've seen a site advertise that they are offering advice and not legal information, and actually give advice. KGO-TV San Francisco has a brief story on the Avvo site: Web site offers free legal advice.
- The Huffington Post profiled Holla Back DC in When Hollered At, HollaBack! Victims of street harassment (cat calls, groping, indecent exposure, and so on) can document incidents that range from inappropriate and sexist to terrifying. The site tracks and maps the location of the reported incidents, identifying where dangerous areas might be. Holla Back sites also exist for several other locations.
- In Minnesota, Day One Services is using software to track where open domestic violence shelter beds are. In one call, a victim can find an open bed and arrange transportation, if necessary. Day One hopes to take the program national, according to Software connects domestic violence victims with open shelter beds, an article in the Minnesota Post.
I can't be the only one finding these interesting stories. Any great stories about using technology that you've found lately? Go ahead and share them in the comments. - K
Last Friday, Justice Served announced the Top Ten Court Websites Awards for 2009. This year's winners:
- Superior Court of California, County of Orange
- Colorado State Judicial Branch
- State Court of Chatham County Georgia
- Singapore Subordinate Courts
- Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara
- Courts Service of Ireland
- Iowa Judicial Branch
- Spokane County District Court
- US District Court, District of Maryland
- Alabama's Legal Information Network
The announcement on the Justice Served blog explains more about the competition, the judging criteria and what makes each of these sites outstanding. - K
Nolo is making its “Foreclosure Survival Guide,” written by Stephen Elias, available for free online. In addition to a wealth of information on bankruptcy and foreclosure, the Guide also contains tips on nonprofit housing counselors, finding a lawyer, bankruptcy petition preparers and researching the law. -M
A recent episode of This American Life (7/10/09; 385) investigates the trials and tribulations of "pro se." Beginning in a self-help center at a Manhattan housing court, the episode explores the challenges of defending oneself, both legally and otherwise. -M
In April, I asked legal aid programs if they were using Craigslist for outreach. A couple of people responded, reporting mixed results but expressing interest in trying again. (If either of you are reading this, please let us know if you have additional results to report.)
If you have or are thinking about including Craigslist in your outreach plans, "Lawyers Advertising on Craigslist," a recent Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcast, is worth listening to. This episode features Will Hornsby, counsel at the ABA's Division for Legal Services, who provides an overview of several ethical issues that you need to consider. - K
A recently aired ABC story (above) on the growth of self-help centers and websites as alternative sources of legal information for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Featured sites include LawHelp.org, the American Bar Association and Illinois Legal Aid Online, as well as a few commercial legal websites. -M [Thanks Eve and Allison!]
One of the Equal Justice Conference sessions that I was involved in, Making Recovery From Disasters Easier Through Technology, addressed various ways that technology is being used by legal services organizations and others in the wake of natural disasters. Below is a list of online resources on disaster law that were covered during the session, as well as a few others I came across while researching this post:
- DisasterLegalAid.org – A national disaster law resource for both lawyers and the public by the American Bar Association, Legal Services Corporation, National Legal Aid and Defender Association and Pro Bono Net. (See also KatrinaLegalAid.org for Katrina-specific resources.)
- ABA Disaster Law Resources – Legal information for victims and lawyers about disaster preparedness, resources and recovery by the American Bar Association, including the ABA’s Principles for Rule of Law in Times of Major Disaster (PDF) and the State Implementation of ABA Model Court Rule on Provision of Legal Services Following Determination of Major Disaster (PDF).
- Disasters & the Law Database – An excellent database of disaster law resources by the UC Berkeley School of Law.
- Immigrants and Disaster Assistance – Fact sheets, issue briefs, advocacy resources, articles, reports, and community education materials by the National Immigration Law Center, as well as links to disaster resources from other nonprofits and government agencies.
Additionally, many statewide advocate websites have disaster law resources, including the Georgia Online Justice Community, probono.net/iowa, probono.net/la, and FloridaAdvocate.org. If you're aware of other online disaster law resources, please include them in the comments. -M
The annual ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference will take place next week (May 14-16) in Orlando, FL, and as always there will be lots of innovative technology sessions to choose from. Below are a few sessions that I'll be a panelist on:
Making Recovery From Disasters Easier Through Technology
(Thursday, May 14th 9:45am-11:15am) Presenters: Matthew Burnett, Mike Monahan, Eve Ricaurte and Juliet Choi
The Future Is Here Now: What Emerging Technologies Can Do For Your Mission
(Friday, May 15th 8:45am-10:15am) Presenters: Shirley Williams, Joyce Raby, Matthew Burnett and Liz Keith
50 New Tech Tips To Survive Hard Economic Times
(Friday, May 15th 10:30am-Noon) Presenters: Rachel Medina, David Bonebrake, Glenn Rawdon and Matthew Burnett
Other technology sessions that you should consider attending include:
Not Just A Pretty Interface: A2j Author® Is Changing How We Achieve Justice Through Technology
(Thursday, May 14th 1:30 - 3:30 pm) Presenters: John Mayer, Rachel R. Medina, Eve Ricaurte, Ronald W. Staudt
Creative Uses of Technology in Addressing the Foreclosure Crisis
(Friday, May 15th 2 pm-3:30 pm) Presenters: David Bonebrake, Jason Vail and Liz Keith
Statewide Websites: A Showcase Of Outstanding Client, Pro Bono And Advocate Features
(Friday, May 15th 2 pm-3:30 pm) Lisa Colpoys, Michael Genz, Vince Morris, Ken Perri, Glenn Rawdon
Technology-Enabled Self Help Centers
(Friday, May 15th 3:45pm-5:15pm) Presenters: Carol Austin, Michelle Hopkins, Claudia Johnson and Liz Keith
For the full agenda, visit the EJC website. If you plan to attend, be sure to join us for a session or stop by the Pro Bono Net booth in the exhibitor area and say hi! -M
The ABA Journal is asking its readers if they've advertised for clients on Craigslist, an online classifieds site. My immediate reaction: "Hmmm, I wonder if any legal aid programs have done any outreach on Craigslist?"
From Quantcast's report on Craigslist's demographics, about 20 percent of Craigslist visitors make less than $30,000 a year. But scammers use Craigslist, too. (See Beware of Craigslist Scams, Avoid Craigslist Job Scams, and A Craigslist Scam You Might Fall For.) And, at least in Baltimore, Craigslist has a legal forum, where people are asking legal questions.
So while the demographics aren't perfect, about 8.5 million low-income people are using Craigslist. Are legal aid programs missing an opportunity? Could they tell potential clients how to spot a scam or show them where to find help after being scammed? Or maybe legal aid programs could point out legal information that Craigslist visitors could use instead of the opinions of an unknown forum member?
I don't know. What do you think? Has your program talked about this or done any outreach on Craigslist? - K
The Chicago Lawyer recently published a nice article on the work of Professor Ron Staudt, director of Chicago-Kent’s Center for Access to Justice & Technology. Among its other projects, the Center for Access to Justice and Technology is behind A2J Author, which allows advocates to easily build guided online interviews for pro-se users to generate court forms or find answers to their legal problems. -M
I don't enjoy reading legalese, so when I found Wayne Schiess' article, "Legal Writing Isn't What It Should Be," in the Fall 2008 MIE Journal, I was intrigued. Perhaps Schiess, the Director of Legal Writing at the University of Texas, could tell me why lawyers cling to such confusing language. (A note--for those who don't subscribe to the MIE Journal, you can find posts on Schiess' UT website that cover similar topics.) The article does explain some of the reasons why lawyers write like they do, and I now understand more about what causes them to develop their bad habits. However, reading the article convinced me that public interest lawyers need to kick these habits and write plainly all of the time, not just when they are drafting client legal education materials. Two of the quotes that Schiess used in his article made this point clear to me.
We cannot in justice to our job expect the client to employ us to interpret our own documents nor should we require him to consult our professional brethren for this purpose. -Sidney F. Parham, Jr., The Fundamentals of Legal Writing 72 (Michie Co. 1967).
If the clients can read the contract more easily and resolve contract questions themselves, doesn't that mean fewer billable hours for the lawyer? My experience is that clients--on both sides of the negotiation--respect the lawyer's ability to express ideas clearly. When they see good writing, they are less likely to try to do it themselves. While most business people can fake "legalese," writing in plain English takes practice. It takes real talent to express complicated legal, technical, financial, and commercial ideas in a straightforward way. -David T. Daly, Why Bother to Write Contracts in Plain English?, 78 Michigan Bar Journal 850 (1999).
Interested in learning how to write plainly? Check out these resources.
- SelfHelpSupport.org Plain Language Resources (Membership required.)
- Plain Language: Legal Examples
- Scribes--The American Society of Legal Writers
Whether you're a lawyer or not, I'd encourage you to try to write plainly. I know that it isn't easy, and, at least at first, it takes more time. But by expending a little effort, your writing style overall will improve. Two tips for how to get started and not become overwhelmed:
- Focus on one thing at a time. Start with a simple concept, like using bullet points for lists or avoiding Latin words, and once it has become second nature, add a few more.
- Find an editor. For me, feedback from others has been key to improving my writing. Often, another person can help me see what I've missed. (You know--like the person who sees instantly where the puzzle piece that you've been staring at forever goes.)
So try it. What do you have to lose? Perhaps it will save your writing from being one of Schiess' examples. - K
It’s time again for the Webby Awards, but this year there’s a twist. Of the five legal websites nominated for Best Law Site, three focus on public interest topics: the Immigration Advocates Network, WomensLaw.org and Workplace Fairness. They are joined by last year’s nominee, JURIST, and a newcomer commercial law site, GetLegal.com. Hailed as the "Internet's highest honor" by the New York Times, The Webby Awards is the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet. From now until April 30th, you can cast your vote in the Law category (and 70 others) in The Webby People's Voice Awards at http://pv.webbyawards.com. Winners will be announced on May 5th, 2009 and honored at a ceremony in New York City on June 8th. –M
Jim Luce, who writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens, authored a really nice piece at Huffington Post on Pro Bono Net, the wonderful, innovative nonprofit that Kate and I call home. -M
The Georgetown University Law Library has published an online guide to free and low cost legal research. The Guide includes links to online resources for case law, constitutions, statutes and codes, legislative history, administrative regulations, and low-cost legal databases. Thanks to @shrivercenter for pointing this out. -M
Carol Ebbinghouse reviews the online lawyer directory landscape in her recent article, The Latest in Lawyer Directories--You Won't Believe the Information You Can Get Now!", including our own community's portal for state-based legal information and referrals, LawHelp.org. Ebbinghouse concludes her article by suggesting that "consumers are getting more and better information to determine the best attorney for them based on financial, philosophical, and public-spirited karma, as well as geographical proximity and competence in the particular legal field." Let's hope that public-spirited karma in the profession continues to be valued, particularly as we face difficult economic times. -M
If you've read comments on Slashdot, Digg, or almost any news site, you know that a lot of people think that they understand basic legal concepts but don't. The Freedom to Tinker blog, hosted by Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, launched a feature called "Your Are Not A Lawyer" that aims to explain some basic concepts and challenge common misconceptions. Their first topic: Being Acquitted Versus Being Searched. - K
Last week, I-CAN! E-File launched. One of my favorite projects, this site walks you through filling out your tax forms and then files your federal return. (It also files your state return if you are filing in Alaska, California, Michigan, Montana, New York, or Pennsylvania.)
This project helps to ensure that low-income households claim their Earned Income Tax Credit, an important component of the United States' anti-poverty program. The Earned Income Tax Credit makes a significant difference for low-income households. Last year, I-CAN! E-File put $33 million in refunds and credits in the pockets of low-income workers in 45 states. One woman that I talked with about the EITC informed me that her refund would be used as a security deposit for the apartment she wanted to rent. This apartment would let her to move her children out of their rented trailer, which was warmed with only a space heater.
If your legal aid or pro bono program isn't educating clients about the Earned Income Tax Credit, an amazing opportunity is being overlooked. Encourage your program to start. Legal Aid Society of Orange County has made the I-CAN! E-File system available, and outreach materials are available from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, so your program just needs to use them to get the message about the Earned Income Tax Credit out.
And a special shout out to AJ Tavares, whom I saw at the TIG Conference last week. AJ is the technical mind behind I-CAN! projects. As is typical for this time of year, he looked exhausted. Turns out that he loves going to the TIG Conference, but it usually happens at the same time that he is trying to launch I-CAN! E-File, so he ends up working day and night to do both. AJ, I hope that you get to sleep soon! - K
The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission today announced the official launch of EqualJusticeWatch.org:
The goal of the new Arkansas Equal Justice Watch website is to encourage action by state leaders to support equal access to justice for all Arkansans. The Watch is a project of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission created by the state Supreme Court to expand civil legal justice. This website is designed to provide legislative decision makers with the latest information about civil legal aid in their districts as well as enable constituents to easily research civil justice issues in their communities. Data for each of the 75 counties in the state include population demographics on poverty, education, disability, divorce, foreclosure, bankruptcy in addition to the 2008 numbers and types of cases handled by civil legal aid. Through this website visitors can easily locate and contact their Senator and Representative to express support for justice legislation.
Congratulations to the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, Center for Arkansas Legal Services, and Legal Aid of Arkansas on launching this innovative initiative to help ensure access to justice for all Arkansans! -M
The website WhoCanISue.com, which aims to assist "people with potential legal claims find an attorney to answer questions and assist with bringing a claim," announced its official launch today. Although the site has received some media attention, it's unclear what real value it brings to the field -- with generic legal information and lawyer referrals -- among established sites like FindLaw, Avvo, and LawHelp.org. -M
A timely AP article on the growing number of self-represented litigants in U.S. courts, which includes a nod to the role that statewide websites play in providing legal information and forms. -M
"A new Web site launched by four national legal organizations will help victims of disasters find valuable information and assistance to speed recovery from hurricanes, fires, floods or other disasters. The site is sponsored by the American Bar Association, Legal Services Corporation, National Legal Aid & Defender Association and Pro Bono Net." You can read the full press release here and visit the new site here. -M
The last time that I wrote about Common Craft I suggested that they start creating materials on "evictions, name changes, and orders of protection." Perhaps they saw that post and took my advice, because their most recent video is about phishing, a topic that states are beginning to cover on their public legal information websites. For example, check out the LawHelp/NY site, which has an entire section on Internet Fraud and includes a feed from Internet Crime Complaint Center that lists the latest Internet scams. - K
Texas legal aid organizations and the Houston Bar Association are using LiveHelp to assist Texans affected by Hurricane Ike in obtaining free legal information:
The new service ... is available now and enables Hurricane Ike victims to conduct a live online chat with attorneys recruited by the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program. Attorneys will answer questions and also refer those seeking help to legal resources specific to FEMA appeals and other disaster-related issues.
Funding for this project was provided by the Texas Access to Justice Foundation. The LiveHelp project was funded by the Legal Services Corporation and developed by Pro Bono Net. For more information about this project, read the full press release here. For more information about LiveHelp, contact Liz Keith (lkeith at probono.net). -M
The State Bar of California and the Public Interest Clearinghouse (PIC) have just launched a new website that offers mortgage foreclosure information for the public. Funded by the California Bar Foundation, the site provides information for both homeowners and renters, including Spanish language resources. An article in today's Sacramento Business Journal offers more details. -M
The Northwest Justice Project just announced new online interactive court forms for pro se users to file a divorce petition with no minor children of the marriage. Future forms available on WashingtonLawHelp.org will include interviews for finishing your divorce, a domestic violence protection order and a demand letter for return of a rental security deposit. This work is funded by a grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). They use A2J Author, developed by the Center for Access to Justice & Technology (CAJT) at Chicago-Kent College of Law and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), LexisNexis's HotDocs Professional, and the LSC-funded national document assembly server (NPADO), a project of Pro Bono Net. -M
If you are going to vote in the upcoming election and haven't registered yet, get going! In a lot of states, today is the last day to register. Check out your state's deadline at Rock the Vote if you don't know it already. (And for all of the North Dakotans out there--be thankful that you don't have to participate in this ridiculousness!) - K
Today the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty launched a new wiki called "Street Lawyer: Legal Tools for Economic Justice," which provides fact sheets, Q&A, statutory materials, litigation documents, model programs, policies, legislation, and articles. Topics include the criminalization of homelessness, domestic violence, hate crimes against homeless persons, education for homeless children, right to housing, voting rights and many others. -M
Yesterday, I promised you more about the final panel discussion of the Court Leadership and Self-Represented Litigation track at the Court Solutions Conference: "Agenda for the Future." This panel featured Robert Baldwin, Executive Vice-President and General Counsel of the National Center for State Courts; Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. of the New Hampshire Supreme Court; and Justice Laurie D. Zelon, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal and was moderated by Richard Zorza.
The panel made some interesting points. First, they suggested that the community needs to broaden the conversation and make the public and politicians aware of the issue. This issue is one that affects the middle class and small businesses as well as low-income households. When speaking to attorneys on access-to-justice issues, Chief Justice Broderick frequently ask lawyers if they could afford to hire themselves and for how long. He usually gets knowing smiles. Without broadening support and making this a recognizable issue, courts are not going to get the support that they need to make the necessary changes.
Second, Chief Justice Broderick said that no issue should be more important to a chief justice than access to justice; instead, judges have been the "principle stumbling block." Self-represented litigants aren't going anywhere, and judges need to "get over it." Chief justices should be speaking out about the issue, and courts needs to be making changes before they start asking politicians for more money. (I suspect that this thought goes along with my theory of "If you don't care enough to put some money towards it, why should anyone else?")
Lastly, the panel encouraged the participants to focus the discussion on access for all and to refine the definition of the 100 percent access to justice. Chief Justice Broderick reminded the participants that not every problem needs a lawyer and not every problem will find a lawyer. And Robert Baldwin asked the group to remember to make the conversation about more than lawyers and money. - K
As I mentioned in my previous post, the Court Leadership Package was launched at the Court Solutions Conference. By my count, around 180 people from across the United States and Canada as well as several other countries attended the Court Leadership and Self-Represented Litigation track. This was a great conference with ample time for networking and learning. For me, highlights from the conference included the following:
- Being reminded by Joseph Abbate, Senior Management Analyst at the New York Office of Court Administration, that plain language isn't just used or needed in the legal world. Plenty of other jargon needs to be made readable. He used Google's promotional materials for their new browser, Chrome, as an example.
- Listening to Jeanette Fedorak, Senior Policy Counsel for the Government of Alberta, assert that most Canadians, low-income and otherwise, can't afford to hire an attorney. Her argument: In Alberta the cost for a divorce ranges between $16,000 and $128,000 with the average being $44,000. The average income for the lowest 40 percent of Canadians is less than $44,000, and as expected, this group doesn't have a lot socked away in case of emergencies. The next 20 percent of Canadians aren't much better off. They make only $54,200 per year, and while their net worth is higher, most of their savings are invested in their house. Her statistics paint a dismal picture.
- Supping with a group of document assembly enthusiasts at the Rusty Scupper.
- Attending a panel called "Agenda for the Future," which featured Robert Baldwin, Executive Vice-President and General Counsel of the National Center for State Courts; Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. of the New Hampshire Supreme Court; and Justice Laurie D. Zelon, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. It was an inspiring session that I'll talk more about in another post.
- Lunching post-conference with Richard Zorza, Justice Zelon, and Bonnie Hough, Supervising Attorney for the Center for Families, Children & the Courts for the Judicial Council of California. All three are amazing access-to-justice advocates. Our conversation reminded me that no significant change happens overnight. It takes work and patience.
For those of you who weren't able to attend, the materials are now posted on SelfHelpSupport.org. Each of the modules includes slides with speaker's notes, project profiles, video clips, and activity and resource books. Also, thanks to Vince Morris, who kindly took on the role of videographer, all of the plenary sessions were filmed and, I hope, will be made available shortly to those who couldn't attend. If you only have a little bit of time, I recommend checking out the document assembly module - Deploying Automated Forms for Access. Granted, I might be biased considering my role in pulling the module together, but I think that one is the best. - K
I've always been a big fan of librarians. When I was younger, they would let me wander aimlessly through the stacks at Mayville State University, and they never said a word when I checked out a huge pile of books at the end of the day. However, I never necessarily thought of them as hip. (Note: I blame this on general librarian stereotypes, and the fact that to children of a certain age, adults are never hip.)
Last week at the Court Solutions Conference, I met a librarian that you couldn't help but call hip. Laureen Adams, from the Dougherty County Law Library, has taken the time to podcast so that the public has access to understandable legal information. Given the fact that she is the only staff person and is responsible for everything from watering the plants to reshelving books to helping patrons, this shows how dedicated she is and that she's thinking about how to incorporate new methods for providing the public with library services. Go, Laureen! - K
If anyone is interested in or needs assistance with hurricane-related issues, they should check out The Hurricane Information Center. Put together by Andy Carvin from National Public Radio and a mess of people that he convinced to help, this website is a portal for all of the information that is flying around about this year's hurricanes. More information about this site is available here on the FastCompany site and here on the NPR site. And as Matthew mentioned last week, free legal assistance is being offered by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. You can stay up-to-date with their efforts either through their blog or by following them on Twitter. - K
A press release from the Texas Legal Services Center on legal resources available for victims of Hurricane Ike. Also, be sure to check out the recently launched National Disaster Legal Aid website, a partnership of the ABA, NLADA, LSC, and Pro Bono Net. -M
Last month, Illinois Legal Aid Online, in partnership with the Public Interest Law Initiative's Pro Bono Initiative launched a series of web pages aimed at encouraging law students, federal government attorneys, retired attorneys, and paralegals to perform pro bono work. These pages contain content that is tailored to each of these groups, including a video showcasing other group members' pro bono experiences, articles that explain the issues around pro bono work, and a list of available volunteer opportunities. - K
Within the self-help community, it is widely known that Tina Rasnow, the Coordinator of the Self-Help Legal Access Center at the Superior Court, County of Ventura, is passionate about increasing access to justice. In fact, this summer, the ABA recognized her with their 2008 Lawyer As Problem Solver Award.
What is not as widely known is that Tina is an author and has written a book to help increase access to justice in California - Norton Gets a Ticket. This short story is easy to understand and a cute way to help educate the public about traffic violations. - K
Today is the official launch of the Self-Represented Litigation Network Court Leadership Package, a set of tools that judges, court administrators, self-help facilitators, and others can use to educate their court and state about innovations in self-represented litigation. Topics that are covered include
- Court Self-Diagnosis and Strategies for Getting a Court Moving (Including Funding Issues)
- Establishing and Operating Self Help Centers
- Designing and Modifying Physical Space for Access
- Establishing Justice Corps and Volunteer Programs
- Training and Supporting Clerks for Access
- Developing and Deploying Forms and Instructions
- Deploying Automated Forms for Access
- Setting Up Case Management for the Self-Represented
- Working with Judicial Leadership
- Courtroom Staffing and Services for Access
- The Court Role in Establishing and Supporting Discrete Task Representation
- Supporting and Integrating Law Library Services
- Distance Service Technology
- The Limited English Proficiency Challenge
- Developing Systems to Facilitate and Ensure Compliance with Court Orders
These tools are being launched at the National Center for State Courts' Court Solutions Conference. People who are attending the Self-Represented Litigation Track will be trained to use these tools and have the opportunity to interact with experts and learn more about each of the areas.
For those of you who won't be in Baltimore at the conference, the materials will be posted on the SelfHelpSupport.org website in the next couple of months. If you will be at the conference, find me. I'll be there and helping out in a variety of roles. - K
If you heard about the recent ruling that said that open source licensors are entitled to copyright infringement relief and want to learn more, The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU had a short segment that explained this ruling's importance. - K
The Legal Services Corporation and LexisNexis have announced the launch of the HotDocs® software donation program:
The new donation program will strengthen the important national online document assembly project that LexisNexis, LSC and the State Justice Institute have nurtured to provide access to justice for low-income Americans. LSC initiated that program, known as National Public Automated Documents Online (NPADO), in 2001 with a grant to the Ohio State Legal Services Association that developed a system in which legal aid programs use HotDocs® Professional Edition to create easy-to-use guided document assembly interviews from existing forms. Interviews are then uploaded to a national server, allowing users to assemble professional-looking legal documents.
Any LSC or state IOLTA funded legal services organization can request a donation using the program's website. -M
As was mentioned on technola in April, the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services is holding hearings on technology and delivery of legal services. The next hearing will be held during the ABA Annual Meeting on August 8, 2008.
For those of you who weren't able to attend the hearing that took place at the 2008 Equal Justice Conference, you can now listen to the testimony online. - K
The Citizen Media Law Project at the Berkman Center just launched a legal guide for citizen media creators. The CMLP guide covers a range of legal issues, including forming a business online, newsgathering and privacy, intellectual property and risks associated with publishing online. The site also has an nice search feature and a state map that allows you to filter content for your state. -M [Thanks, Allison.]
Bexar County self-represented litigants will now have one less place to turn when looking for legal information to help them represent themselves. On Tuesday, July 22, 2008, the County Commissioners voted to close the county self-help center, bowing to pressure from opponents that included many private attorneys and judges. The whole story is available from the San Antonio Express-News, which has a second article here, as well as op-eds for and against the center.
And a note for self-represented litigants from Texas who end up reading this article while searching the Internet for legal information, check out TexasLawHelp.org, which provides legal information and referrals. - K
An interesting AP article on the rise in use of downloadable divorce/dissolution forms and how Ohio courts are coping with large increases in self-represented litigants. -M
The Brennan Center for Justice Legal Services E-Lert, one of my favorite e-newsletters, brought to my attention a great example of a legal aid blog: Foreclosure Buzz. Robert Doggett, a Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney, writes about foreclosure news and attempts to dispel common myths about what you should do if you are facing a foreclosure. Robert, great job! Keep it up! - K
An interesting article from Law Technology News today on how IT is transforming legal services, which makes a great point (and one that certainly applies to our clients):
Technology will create the most change for people who have been shut out of legal information sources and services -- small business and individuals. These clients don't offer enough scale to be of interest to existing legal services providers, but technology-based information and service providers are in a position to begin serving that "long tail" of the legal market.
Callers in desperate need of a lawyer in Wales will now be able to seek free legal advice by text message. An operator will return calls when mobile phone users text their name followed by the word 'legalaid' to 80010. Specialist advice on problems such as debt, inability to pay bills, or bailiff collection orders are offered through the service. ... The new scheme has been launched by Community Legal Advice, a free, confidential advice service paid for by government legal aid money.
For more information on text messaging in the legal services context (including ideas on how to implement projects like the one described above), be sure to check out Liz Keith's presentation on "Mobile Technology, Social Media,and Serving Low Income Communities" (PDF) from this year's Equal Justice Conference. -M
Georgia Legal Services Program recently launched several podcasts for low and moderate-income Georgians in collaboration with the Dougherty County Law Library Law Information Center. Structured as a FAQ resource, the current podcasts cover divorce and landlord/tenant issues. -M
"LiveHelp has been chosen as a subject of a case study by LivePerson, Inc., a provider of online engagement solutions that facilitate real-time assistance and expert advice. LivePerson's technology is helping legal aid advocates assist underserved communities as part of a joint project with Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice."
Check out the case study. - K
Finding good pro se immigration resources on the web in languages other than English and Spanish is no easy task. Helping to address this need, the Vera Institute recently posted new translations of their Legal Orientation Program materials, which include information on asylum/withholding of removal, immigration fraud, bonds, voluntary departure, and T and U visas. There are also MP3 audio presentations of their Legal Rights Presentation in Arabic, French, Chinese and Vietnamese. Other online sources of pro se immigration materials (with Spanish translations) include the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network websites. Many of the statewide legal aid websites also have pro se materials on immigration. One noteworthy example is LawHelp.org/NY. -M
Last week, I brought you the first installment of the SRL Pre-Conference "semi-live blogging" articles. Well, now, a week after the sessions, I bring you the second installment.
Distance Services and Technology
Katrina Zabinski, Supervising Attorney, Minnesota Judicial Branch
There are two self-help center walk-in locations in Hennepin County, Minnesota. Outside of the urban area, the Minnesota Courts have begun to use virtual self-help centers (a computer, desk, and VOIP phone) with centralized phone and e-mail support that is provided by Ms. Zabinski's department. When setting the stations up, the organization focused on the experience of the self-represented litigants. The phone dials directly into the call center; the computer desktop has been simplified so that the litigant knows where to go for information first; and the website focuses on the questions that litigants often have. These workstations have been paid for by one-time funding that was included in a legislative bill that modified Minnesota's child support laws. Currently, the program is looking for additional funding. Challenges in establishing these centers have included
- finding the right staff to create content;
- establishing a permanent funding base; and
- justifying the time investment.
The public's appreciation has been amazing. Most are incredibly happy to get a real person and not a phone tree.
Glenn Rawdon, Program Counsel, Legal Services Corporation
Technology can be used to bridge gaps, whether in the urban or rural areas. You don't have to be in one of the big square states in the middle to be interested in distance services. LSC grantees turn down over 1 million cases each year. One-fifth of those who need lawyers get lawyers. The other four-fifths go without. LSC has encouraged programs to look at innovative technology-based solutions to help legal aid programs be more efficient as well as to help self-represented litigants. Many of those solutions have been funded by the Technology Initiative Grant program. To date, the program has provided $27 million to 343 initiatives. To do this, partnerships have been key. There aren't enough resources to solve the problem once, let alone three times (legal aid, bar, and courts). The State Justice Institute has been an essential partner. Examples of funded projects include
- Idaho Legal Aid Services and the Idaho Supreme Courts have worked together to develop automated court forms, which help self-represented litigants fill out court forms correctly.
- The Internet Representation Project, developed by Legal Services of Northern Michigan (LSNM), allows pro bono attorneys to anonymously give advice to anonymous clients in their service area. So far, 754 questions have been answered, and clients have included people from each of the 36 counties in LSNM's service area. The Minnesota legal aid programs are hoping to replicate this project.
- Alaska Legal Services Corporation has produced CD/DVD material that contain legal workshop materials. The first DVD replaced 9 hours of divorce classes. Their next project will be to create a DVD to help parents help their children during child custody disputes.
- LawHelp/NY and PALawHelp.org have partnered with courts to see that court information is available on their websites.
Judy Meadows, Director and State Law Librarian of Montana
Montana is a big state with not so many people. Still, nearly 300,000 people qualify for legal aid. Because resources are scarce, the access-to-justice stakeholders are forced to work together. Legislative funding for a court-based self-help program was established in 2007. The one-time funding - $500,000 - may not seem like much, but on a per capita basis, it is as much as California receives. From a technology perspective, they have a lot: websites, WestLaw and LexisNexis, video conferencing in every courthouse, LiveHelp, Ask a Librarian, document assembly, and streaming videos. Lessons learned have included
- collect good baseline data to help sell your story;
- a little bit of money can go a long way;
- technology is key; and
- leverage your resources.
Materials from this presentation are available on SelfHelpSupport.org. - K
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
TexasFreeFile.org is a new website launched just in time to file those tax returns before April 15th. TexasFreeFile.org works with I-CAN E-File to provide on-line tools that allow most Texans to file federal income taxes online. The online filing is free and is designed to be simple using a question and answer format to prepare the return. The website allows persons to prepare returns in either English or Spanish. The need for many Texans to employ costly tax preparation services is avoided. Working Texans will and retirees will appreciate the fact that the online service is designed to simplify claiming tax refunds for families that are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
AARP and the National Council on Aging (NCOA) launched an online tool to simplify the economic stimulus payment application process for Americans who are not otherwise required to file tax returns. More information is available here. -M [Thanks, Allison.]
The Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas have a history of using technology to deliver legal services. They have implemented a statewide legal information Web site that uses LiveHelp to help visitors find online legal information and resources; I-CAN E-File; online document assembly; and resources to support legal aid staff and pro bono volunteers, including a poverty law wiki.
And, on top of all that, they have a new innovative project -- posting instructional and access-to-justice videos on YouTube. Below is "Filing a Pro Se Answer to a Lawsuit." It's a great, short introduction to the process.
I also highly recommend checking out the music from the "Domestic Violence: You Are Not Alone" video, which is from Stumbling Home. You might recognize Vince Morris, the Associate Director of the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, as the lead singer and guitarist. - K
From Shelia Fisher at North Penn Legal Services:
Anyone who wants to check whether they qualify for Food Stamps can now do so over the Internet. Friendly, cartoon-like characters ask questions about income, expenses and other household information. After a few quick questions, you know the answer to whether you are entitled to Food Stamps! (Answers are estimates only.) This computer program, written by Sheila Fisher, of the Lehigh Valley Office of NPLS, is available to the public.
To view the Food Stamp Estimator, go here and click on "Food Stamp Estimator." -M