HALT studies pro se practices & paralegals in California

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

The legal reform group HALT has released two studies that should be of great interest to the self-help law community.  Both focus on practices in California and offer positive assessments and “best practices” suggestions:

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  • Access to Justice: Self-Represented Divorce Litigants in California: A Best Practices Report” Rachel A. Rubin and Adam Engelhart, UC Hastings College of the Law, Aug. 2006, 75 pp. pdf) focuses on how California’s family court responds to the needs of its pro se litigants and recommends improvements that could be adopted by California and other states. In announcing  the Study, HALT Executive Director James C. Turner states:

    “Courts have a responsibility to serve the people who use them, and our study provides a simple road map for how courts, especially divorce courts, can help the ever increasing number of pro se litigants,” and notes that “Every state court system can learn from California’s example and take the necessary steps to make family court a more accessible and user-friendly place for the self-represented.”

       Those unfamiliar with California’s requirement that each court have a Family Law Facilitator should read about the important role they play assisting the self-represented.  [Also, California Courts Self-Help Center is thorough, user-friendly, and edifying.]

  • According to its announcement and summary, the HALT-sponsored study “Helping Unrepresented Litigants with Legal Documents: Consumer Satisfaction with Legal Document Assistants in California’s Bay Area and an Overview of Relevant Laws in Arizona” (Lisa Charbonneau, Lilian Maher-Escobosa, and Sophea Nop, Hastings College of Law, Aug. 17, 2006, 32 pp. pdf)  

    “shows overwhelming satisfaction with independent paralegals among Californians who have used their services. The study, undertaken by students at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, questioned consumers in the San Francisco Bay area who had used independent paralegals (known in California as “legal document assistants”) about their experience using these non-lawyer service providers. The study found that those surveyed “have voiced a unanimous belief that [legal document assistants] provide an important service for those who cannot afford representation at divorce.”

    HALT Senior Counsel Tom Gordon opines: “This study knocks a huge hole in the legal establishment’s claim that only a lawyer can provide legal services.  The degree of consumer satisfaction with independent paralegals is as great as that with lawyers—even greater.” 

    The summary also states:

    “California and Arizona are the only states to license and regulate independent paralegals. In other states, independent paralegals often operate in a legal gray area, threatened by the possibility of prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law. The licensing and regulation of paralegals was cited by many survey respondents as a reason for feeling more secure about using a legal document assistant. ‘Consumers should not be forced to use the gray market to find legal assistance,’ explained Gordon. ‘This study shows that other states can help consumers by following California’s example and permitting independent paralegals to serve the marketplace for legal services’.”

Don’t forget to check out HALT’s Do-It-Yourself Best Buys list. HALTBestBuyN 

p.s.  Speaking of best practices in California, we send our warmest thanks to Denise Howell of the pioneering lawyer weblog Bag & Baggage, for featuring shlep as its New Blawg yesterday (Sept. 26, 2006).   Denise highlighted our search for additional contributors here at shlep, and HALT’s studies increase our hope that a Calfornia pro se practitioner or two will be interesting in joining the shlep Team. 

If you’re interested in making a significant contribution to shlep is urged to contact David Giacalone at “shlep AT localnet dot com” [no spaces in the address].

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