Wisconsin Access Report: pols, courts, bar, schools get to-do lists

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  scalesRichPoorS  A new report from the State Bar of Wisconsin‘s Access to Justice Committee showcases the findings of the State’s “first comprehensive legal needs study of low-income residents,” and makes recommendations for closing the justice gap between the State’s rich and poor. “Bridging the Justice Gap: Wisconsin’s Unmet Legal Needs: Final Report,” Access to Justice Study Committee, State Bar of Wisconsin (March 9, 2007, 26 pp, pdf.; webpage)  The Report’s recommendations cover a broad array of goals and assign tasks for various segments of the legal profession and the government.  (via SelfHelpSupport.org)

Here are the broad recommendations:  NoYabutsT

1. Funding from the State of Wisconsin is necessary to help close the Justice Gap and must be adequate to meet the needs of at least those who are currently turned away due to lack of funding.
2. A permanent Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission should be established.
3. Self-help centers for unrepresented litigants should be established in every courthouse in Wisconsin.
4. Expanded use of nonlawyer advocates before Wisconsin courts and agencies must be explored. [“The Wisconsin Supreme Court should modify ethics rules and procedural rules to permit paralegals to advocate in court and before agencies on a limited basis.]”
5. Client contributions to the cost of services may be an appropriate means of expanding access to justice for residents who can afford to do so.
6. Increasing Wisconsin’s already high court filing fees is not an appropriate means of expanding access to justice.
7. The current $50 assessment on attorneys to help pay for civil legal services to the poor should be retained and the exemption for judges should be removed.
8. Expanded efforts to increase the already substantial pro bono contributions of Wisconsin lawyers should be explored.

don'tForgetR  In addition, the Report sets forth many tasks for the State Bar, the legislature and the courts.  Lawyers, their firms, and law schools have assignments, too, in the campaign to close the justice gap.  Suggestions for increasing the provision of unbundled legal services and volunteer advice programs are outlined. Below the fold, we provide excerpts that flesh out some of the most important recommendations, including the major role suggested for the State’s two law schools.

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Important recommendations and suggestions from the Report are expanded upon in the following excerpts:
 don'tForgetR 3. The Legislature should fund self-help centers connected to every courthouse in Wisconsin. Self-help centers, open during all business hours and staffed by a knowledgeable assistant, enable many unrepresented litigants to accomplish uncomplicated legal objectives by themselves and to get basic guidance in legal procedure, particularly in family court and in small claims court. While these services are not a solution for people who are illiterate or those incapable of representing themselves, there are many who have made successful use of such programs. Ideally, every courthouse in Wisconsin would contain a self-help center. However, videoconference and computer technology may permit access from more remote courthouses to self-help centers in regional locations.

scalesRichPoorS 4. The Wisconsin Supreme Court should modify ethics rules and procedural rules to permit paralegals to advocate in court and before agencies on a limited basis. In an ideal justice system, every client would receive the assistance of an experienced, well-trained lawyer. The reality in Wisconsin, however, is that there are not enough lawyers in Wisconsin to meet the needs of all potential clients. Thus, for decades, lawyers and clients have relied on paralegals.

As discussed previously, the state’s benefit specialist programs demonstrate the potential for trained and supervised nonlawyers to help fill the Justice Gap. Programs such as these will make an even more effective solution if specialists are permitted to advocate for their clients in proceedings in court and before administrative agencies. Lay advocates are used extensively and successfully in tribal courts located within Wisconsin. The available research shows that trained paralegals under the supervision of a lawyer can be effective, efficient advocates in simple proceedings involving, for example, harassment injunctions, public benefit eligibility, benefit coverage and termination, and small claims.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court should adopt new ethics rules that support expanded voluntary pro bono contributions by lawyers. Although the Supreme Court may turn to other matters before revisiting the Code of Professional Conduct again soon, the code deserves amendment in order to encourage and expand pro bono practice. Lawyers who reside in Wisconsin but are licensed and in good standing elsewhere should be permitted to represent pro bono clients in Wisconsin even before being admitted to practice here, and inactive bar members should be permitted to engage in a limited amount of pro bono work without incurring dues. Practice rules like these have been adopted in New York, Colorado, Washington, and elsewhere.

scalesRichPoorSN Lawyers should take advantage of new rules permitting lawyers to provide short-term limited legal services without creating imputed conflicts.

  • The Report notes that the new SCR 20:6.5 will be effective July 1, 2007.  “SCR 20:6.5 permits lawyers, under the auspices of a program sponsored by, for example,a legal service provider, the bar, a law school, or a court, to provide short-termlegal services without continuing representation, and permits such services incircumstances that might otherwise give rise to a conflict of interest. This rule wasdesigned to make the personal and professional rewards of pro bono work availableto a much wider pool of lawyers. Legal service providers, the law schools, other nonprofit organizations, and circuit courts should review their practices to create more of these opportunities.

8. State and federal agencies should permit qualified nonlawyers to appear and advocate on behalf of low-income clients. Many, but not all, government agencies already permit nonlawyers to appear on behalf of applicants and advocate for them. To attain maximum benefit from the legal services that might be provided by paralegals, administrative agencies should revise their rules and processes to permit these nontraditional methods of practice.

9 Lawyers, with the support of their law firms and in-house legal departments, should expand their pro bono contributions of time and money.

a. Lawyers should take advantage of new rules permitting lawyers to provide short-term limited legal services without creating imputed conflicts.. Lawyers, with the support of their law firms and in-house legal departments, should expand their pro bono contributions of time and money.

b. Law firms and in-house legal departments should study and adopt the sophisticated pro bono practices found in other communities around the nation.

10. The State Bar of Wisconsin: don'tForgetR

a. The State Bar of Wisconsin should endorse this report and approve its dissemination to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Legislature.
b. The State Bar of Wisconsin should support a permanent moderate mandatory assessment upon lawyers and judges to fund civil legal services.
c. The State Bar of Wisconsin should help the Supreme Court establish a permanent Access to Justice Commission under the auspices of the Supreme Court to supervise the long-term, coordinated effort needed to accomplish these recommendations.
d. The State Bar of Wisconsin should expand the Lawyer Referral & Information Service to include a panel of attorneys willing to offer limited scope representation and/or reduced fees to clients who qualify based on income.
e. The State Bar of Wisconsin should foster a market for affordable limited legal services by organizing CLE programs on unbundling and by promoting unbundling as a viable means of practice and meeting currently unmet legal needs. Amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct that explicitly permit lawyers to provide “limited representation” legal services go into effect on July 1, 2007. Lawyers currently provide such services, but the changes to the ethics rules, including SCR 20:1.2, might make limited representation more commonplace. Limited representation is a key aspect of an efficient program of improving access to justice for the poor by enabling clients with some ability to pay to purchase only those services they need or can afford.
f. The State Bar of Wisconsin should fund projects that demonstrate the gains to be achieved by these recommendations.

podiumF 12. The University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette Law School should support efforts to close the Justice Gap.   . . . As the two institutions responsible for preparation of lawyers, Wisconsin’s two law schools have an extremely important role in expanding access to justice.
a. Wisconsin’s two law schools should set an example of commitment to equal justice. There are any number of ways that law school administrators and law school faculty members can demonstrate to students – to future lawyers upon whom the profession confers the responsibility to ensure access to justice for all – that access to justice is vital. For example, they can:

• Join students in performing pro bono services and providing legal information;
• Testify before legislative committees in support of access-to-justice initiatives;
• Appear as friends of the court in proceedings affecting legal services to the poor;
• Teach legal service providers and pro bono practitioners the fine points of the law governing transactions that routinely involve the poor, such as consumer law or administrative law;
• Give special recognition to students who perform pro bono service hours;
• Revise tenure criteria to recognize pro bono service; and
• Integrate into course work presentations by practicing attorneys about how lawyers meet their ethical obligation to provide pro bono services.

b. Wisconsin’s two law schools should expand clinical programs to provide more civil legal services.. . .

c. Wisconsin’s two law schools should encourage students to perform pro bono services upon graduation.

don'tForgetR d. Wisconsin’s two law schools should study and teach how the law ensures equal access to justice. The best contribution law schools can make is by doing what law schools do best: studying, reporting, and teaching. The law schools should convene public interest entities and support their work, as Marquette University’s Coalition for Access to Legal Resources initiative has demonstrated. Likewise, the professional responsibilities curriculum should be bolstered to emphasize a lawyer’s ethical duty to perform pro bono services and suggest the many practical ways these duties can be discharged.

1 Comment

  1. Joseph Delgado

    April 12, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

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    To Advocates for the Rights of Pro Se Litigants –

    As someone who has dedicated 18 of his 26 years of paralegal experience assisting Pro Se Litigants with their litigation needs, I am a staunch supporter of the RIGHT TO SELF-REPRESENTATION. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has been interpreted to provide EVERY AMERICAN with a CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to self-representation, if they so choose. That right should be enjoyed without fear of harassment, injustice or judicial prejudice. Furthermore, no law, regulation, or policy should exist to abridge or surreptitiously extinguish that right.

    In support of the foregoing ideals, I founded a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called PEOPLE UNITED FOR LEGAL SYSTEM EQUALITY (PULSE). The mission of PULSE is to preserve the right to self-representation, prevent prejudice and abuse against Pro Se Litigants by the Legal System, and advocate for fair and meaningful reforms that will facilitate a more favorable experience for the self-represented. PULSE intends to accomplish its agenda through grassroots mobilization, community awareness and education, public policy intervention, and providing legal assistance to select, “high impact” cases beneficial to protecting and expanding the rights of all Pro Se Litigants.
    For PULSE to be effective, an active network of like-minded and vocal supporters from every state in the union must be formed. To that end, I submit for your review our PLEDGE OF SOLIDARITY. It can be accessed online at http://www.gopetition.com/online/11773.html or emailed as an attachment (contact me at pulse-for-justice@earthlink.net). I hope you will sign it, and respectfully request that you kindly distribute it to everyone you know who believes in JUSTICE for the self-litigant.

    Contrary to the view of many judges and lawyers, those who opt to litigate their own legal matters without the aid of an attorney are not SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS, deserving of contempt and prejudice. Instead, they are BRAVE AMERICANS with an inalienable right to have their legal cause adjudicated objectively and justly. For many, being a Pro Se Litigant can be a very difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes frightening endeavor; complicated by the pressures of earning a living, tending to a family, and coping with the other day-to-day responsibilities we all have. Those who attempt it should be revered, not scorned.

    Pro Se Litigants have no less of a RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS under the U.S. Constitution as those individuals who utilize an attorney. In fact, nowhere in the Fifth or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution does it specify that the hiring of a lawyer is a prerequisite to exercising ones due process rights. Democracy dictates that we have the right to freely choose between self-representation and hiring an attorney to handle our legal matters without suffering humiliation, prejudice or penalization. After all, once the Legal System completes its adjudication of the subject claim, and the dust settles, the claimant and the respondent are the ones who must live with the results (good or bad), and not the judge, the lawyer or anyone else associated with the System.

    LET’S ORGANIZE AND MOBILIZE TO TAKE BACK OUR COURTS from those certain lawyers, judges and court administrators who, in the interest of protecting the profitable LAWYER MONOPOLY, perpetuate a hostile and often abusive litigation experience calculated to discourage self-representation and make us “consumer slaves” dependent on lawyers to secure justice. STAND UP AND BE COUNTED by signing the Pledge of Solidarity! The more signatures collected, the more credibility the courts, legislatures, and the media will attribute to PULSE, its efforts to expose the injustices suffered by Pro Se Litigants, and its demands for meaningful remedies and reforms.

    THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!

    JOSEPH L. DELGADO
    Founder and Executive Director
    PEOPLE UNITED FOR LEGAL SYSTEM EQUALITY (PULSE)

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