(new-fangled) self-help videoconferencing

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[in pre-launch status, as we search for a shlep team — can you contribute?]

In Part III of its Broken Bench series on New York State’s “justice courts” (see our prior post), the New York Times describes today how old-fashioned parochial politics have prevented reform that would bring better justice to those appearing in town and village courts across the state.   (NYT, “How a Reviled Court System Has Outlasted Critics,” Sept. 27, 2006)

I’m happy to counteract that news by pointing to two states that are using new-fangled* videoconferencing programs to help bring the benefits of self-help assistance to populations in small towns and rural areas that do not yet have, or might never warrant, their own fully-staffed and equipped self-help center.

  • The Montana Self-Help Law Project now offers quarterly classes on preparing and filing your own uncontested divorce and/or parenting plan.  The classes are mainly offered via video conferencing, and are held in Custer, Dawson, Fergus, Flathead, Musselshell, Richland, Stillwater, Treasure, Valley and Wheatland counties.
  • The Self Help Assistance and Referral Program (SHARP) in California serves self-represented litigants in three rural counties via videoconferencing workshops. “The centers offer procedural help with certain legal issues, as well as self-help resources and computers.  SHARP’s managing attorney conducts topical workshops by videoconference so that clients at all of the centers can participate simultaneously.”  In 2003, the Program served 7,000 litigants in Butte (lead court), Glenn, and Tehama counties.  It won the prestigious Kleps technology awards (2003 – 2005). Click here for a video clip on the program.  (via SelfHelpSupport.com)

Why couldn’t your State extend self-help assistance into rural areas with videoconferencing?   It seems like an efficient and low-cost method to reach litigants who deserve pro se help just as much as their metropolitan cousins. 

* fedupskiWhile taking an otherwise pleasant stroll through a nearby park on Sunday, your Editor had a most traumatizing experience: for the first time in my nearly 57 years, I was referred to as “Pops” (repeatedly), by a group of twenty-somethings.  It appears that I’m now fully entitled to use the phrase “new-fangled” occasionally, and I’m trying it out today.

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