For more than two centuries, American consumers have been shlepping toward justice — they’ve been manacled to an expensive lawyer in order to solve a legal problem, or to assert or defend their rights. Our courts have become costly, complicated, lawyer-centered bureaucracies, rather than the accessible, client-centered dispute resolution centers they should be. As a result, studies show that 80% or more of the legal needs of the poor and working poor currently are unmet in the United States, while even solid members of the middle class often cannot afford to hire a lawyer when a legal need arises.
shlep [ also “schlep“] – Drag, carry or haul, particularly unnecessary things, parcels or baggage; to go somewhere unwillingly or where you may be unwanted.
The self-help law movement strives to give legal consumers the tools and assistance necessary to solve most of their legal problems themselves — if they choose — including, at times, representing themselves in court as pro se litigants. The movement and process has been led by courts that are being overwhelmed with unrepresented parties, and by consumer advocates who believe that fair and effective access to justice is a universal right that should finally be made a reality in 21st Century America.
As ethicalEsq (Your Editor’s prior alter ego) said in 2003: “The average American is not an illiterate serf who cannot understand and handle — with a little bit of guidance — most of his or her own everyday legal problems.” In other words, we shouldn’t have to shlep around with a lawyer on our backs in order to get justice. The best way to ensure that the non-rich also have access to necessary legal and judicial services is to give them the ability and the option to formulate adequate solutions themselves, including acting as pro se litigants in court.
By combining the existence of a literate public with the power of computer technology, with a judiciary that understands that our court system exists for the public (rather than for judges or the bar), and with lawyers willing and able to “unbundle” their services and perform discrete tasks for clients who want to handle their own legal matters, we can now make it possible for self-help to be a viable option for solving most of the legal problems of most Americans. Of course, those who want to hire a lawyer, or who have issues that can only be adequately handled by a professional trained in the law, should be able to find reasonably-priced, competent legal assistance.
SHLEP‘s goal is to bring the benefits of a daily weblog to the Self-Help Law movement. We have assembled a Team of contributors with diverse expertise, skills and perspectives, to make it happen. Developments and news about self-help will be presented, and viewpoints expressed. In addition to creating or organizing background materials for those who want to find self-help resources, the shlep Team will attempt to keep readers informed of self-help resources available to the public and to professional providers of those services, of studies and reports on self-help law and related issues, of relevant symposia and meetings, and of the people and groups aiding (or obstructing) the movement. Although ethicalEsq was known to pass judgment on the legal profession for failing to assist in the growth of Self-Help Law (and for stifling its progress), this space will attempt a more positive approach — with an occasional suggestion, of course, of ways that the private bar, the judiciary, and law schools can better serve the cause.
Thanks to search engines and the power of weblogging, we hope that SHLEP: the Self-Help Law ExPress will become a useful gateway and repository for materials on Self-Help Law — a place to which consumers and practitioners of self-help law (from frontline providers in libraries, courts and legal aid offices, to judges, administrators, advocacy groups, law professors and students working to assure access to justice, to technology experts helping to create and improve digital tools) will return regularly for information and inspiration.
Disclaimer (yes, we have one, too): Nothing at this website should be considered to be legal advice or to create a lawyer-client relationship with any reader or Commentor. A decision to use self-help resources, rather than to hire a lawyer to handle all or part of a legal problem, should only be made after considering many factors (see, e.g., should you go it alone?) shlep cannot help individual consumers with their legal problems and cannot (beyond the information presented at this weblog) help individuals locate or utilize relevant self-help materia
Let us know what we’re doing right and how we can improve.
s/ David Giacalone, editor