Movement-Shmovement

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[This is a pre-launch posting. We will soon finish construction and “go public.”]       

graphClimbIs there really a Self-Help Law Movement?   Despite the enthusiasm of its supporters, most members of the public (and many lawyers and judges) have no idea what has already been done to make it possible for individuals to use the justice system fairly and effectively without using a lawyer.    The Network of 1700 “pro se practitioners” at SelfHelpSupport.org is one measure of the progress and potential of the Movement. Another yardstick is the growth of court-based programs to aid pro se litigants.  Here is a summary of the findings from The Future of Self-Represented Litigation: A Report from the March 2005 Summit: A Report from the March 2005 Summit (State Justice Institute, 2005, Richard Zorza, Esq., pdf. 146 pages,) (emphases added):

The Summit papers documented that the self-represented litigation movement has a solid intellectual foundation, an established base of effective programs and services as well as strategies for spreading these ideas throughout the country, and the beginnings of a national support infrastructure. As Kate Sampson reported, eleven states now have statewide, integrated programs to assist and support people without lawyers by providing individual assistance through self-help offices, clinics, by telephone and over the Internet, or through unbundled legal services. They provide regular educational programs for judges and staff, and some have written guidelines including formal rules governing unbundled legal services. These states are supported by relatively secure forms of institutionalization including a pro se assistance coordinator who is a full-time employee of the state court administrator’s office and collaboration by high-level, broadly based commissions sponsored by or including a justice or designee of the court of last resort.

Approximately fifteen states have established an intermediate level of institutionalization with an active self-help program, but one that focuses comprehensively on only one issue. In approximately eleven states, characterized as emerging states, experimental programs are underway or, in some cases, are being scaled back. In the remaining states no activity was reported.

The Report notes: “Evaluations of existing programs document the value of these programs. Specifically, they find that self-help programs are heavily used, they contribute to access to justice notwithstanding continuing gaps, they have high customer satisfaction, and they contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts.”  [For more detail, see the Survey Results in Kathleem M. Sampson’s Paper Two: Progress to Date and Future Plans, which is appended to the Report.]

red check  Yes, there clearly is a significant Self-Help Law Movement.  But, don’t get us wrong: there is much more to do to create a fully-functioning system available in every state.  See, for example, Civil Legal Assistance for All Americans: The Report of the Harvard Law School Bellow-Sacks Project on the Future of Access to Civil Legal Services, by Jeanne Charn and Richard Zorza.

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