Services for the Self-Represented: Every State Needs a Strategy

By Richard Zorza, Self Represented Litigation NetworkIn recent years national access to justice leaders have come to realize that the access problem will never be solved unless we put in place a broad range of services for the self-represented.  In some courts 80 or 90% are self represented, and in some types of courts (such as family and housing) the national number is probably well over 50%.  There are never going to be the resources to pay for lawyers for all these people, particularly since a very significant number are middle income, but still not able to pay for a lawyer.Providing services such as information, online forms software, video help, etc., is critical for solving the access problem.  So is providing judges with the education that lets them create an environment in the courtroom in which litigants get the information before the judge that the judge needs to decide the case fairly.Every state needs a strategy to put such elements in place, to evaluate them, and to continually monitor the needs of the self-represented.Richard Zorza is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the coordinator of the Self Represented Litigation Network. Richard has worked for the past fifteen years on issues of access to justice, technology and legal ethics.

Posted in Self-Help, Uncategorized
One comment on “Services for the Self-Represented: Every State Needs a Strategy
  1. Judy Meadows says:

    In Montana we are collaboratively working to create a continuum of services available for those who cannot afford to pay the full fare for attorneys. We have established a court help program that provides self-help centers in more than a half dozen cities. We work to create forms that are easy to understand and navigate. We have placed self-help kiosks in three relatively rural communities that include live chat features for direct contact with people who can help with the navigation of websites. We have had an intensive effort to train public libraries on how to access forms and legal information, as well as to understand the pressures and confusion that the self-represented face. We have a Vista worker who is preparing Montana Trail Guides on discreet legal topics. Claiming Exempt Funds and Understanding Service of Process are the first two. Recently the Montana Supreme Court adopted new rules for expanding and explaining the ethical underpinnings of limited scope representation, including permissible ghost-writing. We also have full representation through both Montana Legal Services and a vibrant and committed pro bono program. Our judges are almost uniformly committed to providing equal access to the courts, but they need more training on how to accommodate SRLs. It takes a strong commitment from everyone — the State Bar of Montana, Montana Legal Services, the Courts, the State Law Library, and the Commission on Self-Represented Litigants to accomplish so much with so little money. We have a long way to go, but looking back I can see how far we have come!

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