Archive for the 'Resources-Practitioner' Category

holiday hell week at family courts


 Holiday spirits are put to the test in mid-December at family courts across the nation, as divorced or separated parents battle over how and where their children spend various portions of the holiday season.  While serving as law guardian for many children caught in the middle of such disputes, I saw how often the parents placed their own emotional/ego needs ahead of the needs of the children — and, how often lawyers made things worse by stoking the yuletide fires.  The South Carolina Family Law Blog has a number of recent postings that might help to avoid court or to bring out the estranged parents’ better spirits.  (via Kansas Family Law Blog)

espMazeN  Their Dec. 15 posting Tips to Help Divorced Parents Avoid Holiday Visitation Issues has some good advice, and is based on this article by Dr. Ruth Peters, which covers keeping it civil, accommodating schedules, coordinating gifts, respecting each others’ religious traditions, and more.  The posting Ten Tips to Minimize Divorce Trauma During the Holidays is also worth reading by parents and, if they have them, their lawyers. [via California Divorce and Family Law weblog]  You can find a link to an article on Holiday Blended Families issues, here.   I suggest you wait until after the holidays to deal with Tax Deductions and Non-Custodial Parents.

Family Advocate magazine, from the ABA’s Family Law Section, often has excellent materials on parenting after divorce and finding alternatives to ugly divorces. Many editions are turned into Client Manuals.  For example, check out:

espMazeG Here are my own Tips on Parenting-Apart, which I used with a course for separated parents.  If you’ve been warring with your “ex” over parenting issues, consider changing your ways in the New Year — for the sake of your children.

Best Practices Guide from SRLN


The Self Represented Litigation Network has released a report that can help anyone working to improve, or wanting to learn more about, the array of services, programs and policies that exist to assist litigants appearing at court without lawyers.  Titled Best Practices in Court-Based Programs for the Self Represented: Concepts, Attributes, and Issues for Exploration (Dec. 4, 2006, 44 pp pdf.), the document states that better services for pro se litigants can greatly enhance both access to justice and effective operation of the judicial system.  It then describes 41 Best Practices that “have been identified by the Self-Represented Litigation Network as likely to be effective and generally worthy of broad replication.”

winnersBUtton  The spotlighted practices are grouped into eight broad categories: 1) self-help centers and services; 2) forms, document assembly, and e-filing; 3) practices in the courtroom; 4) discretee services, pro bono and volunteer programs; 5) judicial ethics and education; 6) post-order practices; 7) court management and evaluation practices; and 8) jurisdiction-wide strategic practices. (via  

The report names each practice, fully describes the Concept, lists Suggested Attributes for a successful model, and outlines Issues for Exploration and Evaluation.  Although advising that “Each jurisdiction should consider its own experiences and needs in developing a strategy or program”, the Best Practices report notes that “the choice as to which innovations should receive the highest priority may best be driven by an analysis of the most urgent areas of need, and of which stakeholders are most ready to move forward.”  It then suggests that 

“As a strategic matter, the creation of self-help centers, of standardized forms, and the establishment of rules clarification and training for judges, court staff and attorneys are viewed as having early broad enabling impact.”

The SRLN Best Practices report offers clear and concise information, if you’re wondering what functions a Courthouse Concierge Station might perform (and how to this useful service even more effective); what elements are needed for a successful Self-Help Center or Website; the Attributes of “Simple, easy to use and self-help friendly forms and documents”; the types of training needed for judges and court staffs; or the changes that are required in ethics rules for the system to effectively and fairly serve the self-represented.  Many additional topics are covered, including Rules in Support of Form and Process Standardization, Volunteer Attorney Involvement in Self-help Centers, Law Library as Resource Center, Rules or Clarifications in Support of Discrete Services, and court Rule and Procedure Simplification.

Our advice: bookmark this excellent report. GuidedSupportN

And, see our post What Have They Done for Me Lately?


Guardianship Oversight


My local paper, the Seattle Times has been investigating courts’ practices in sealing records in a series called “Your Courts, Their Secrets.” The latest focus of investigation is the guardianship system. Articles this week have discussed some horribly frustrating interactions when family members (often unrepresented) have tried to monitor the care professional guardians are providing their disabled loved ones. (See my post on Trial Ad Notes.)

That led me to look for some more information about guardianship (of adults, not children)…

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Foster’s savors “a la carte lawyering” in NH


 waiterTrayG An editorial in Sunday’s Foster’s Daily (Dover, NH) gives a good review to the new “limited litigation” rules for New Hampshire lawyers, which took effect on July 1. (“À la carte lawyering an important step toward affordable justice,” Dec. 3, 2006)  Noting that the Supreme Court decided to allow “a la carte lawyering” in response to “a sharp rise in do-it-yourself lawyering” and “the enormous hourly rates charged by many lawyers,” the piece summarizes the advantages and potential pitfalls of unbundled litigation.   It also describes a report done for the judiciary that calls for making courts “more user-friendly,” and changing the attitudes of some judges and court staffs, who seem to “resent civilians.”   This excellent editorial concludes:

“At least now litigants have the option of working with their lawyer to save money and learn more about the judicial system while they are at it.  That should, in the long run, serve well the judicial system and the general public by demystifying the process and lowering costs.”

Note: Rule 1.2 (f) of the N.H. Rules of Professional Conduct sets forth the lawyer’s obligations when engaging in Limited Representation in Litigation, and (g) offers a Sample Form “Consent to Limited Represenation,” as a guide for client and lawyer.

waiterTray As discussed at f/k/a, the New Hampshire judiciary published a first-rate report on the needs of pro se litigants in January, 2004. Called Challenge to Justice (Jan. 2004), it is notable for both its positive tone and thorough approach to helping the pro se litigant.  A key concept is summarized in two sentences: “All of the suggestions within this report however, are grounded on the single principle that meaningful access to justice in today’s world means a clear recognition by those involved in the system that many of our constituents want to go it alone when they come to court. Our obligation is to give these citizens the help they want, need and deserve. ” (emphasis added)



Self-Represented litigants often find it difficult to sift through the copious and confusing amounts of information on legal websites. As such, Montana and Iowa have launched a new feature called ‘LiveHelp’, where users can chat with a live trained operator to address their concerns or questions regarding legal information. The chat button is located in the upper right hand corner of both websites, Montana’s here and Iowa’s recently published an article about the feature.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: Easier to Read?


Everybody handling a lawsuit needs to work within the court rules — for instance, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Alas, court rules are sometimes written in a rather dense style. But there’s hope! For over a decade a group within the Civil Rules Advisory Committee has been working on a revision of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to make them clearer and easier to understand.

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State of pro se in Montana


Hello, all, my name is Orijit and this is my first post on the site. I am currently working as an Americorps VISTA volunteer with Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) on self-help law in Montana. As the only provider of civil legal services statewide, MLSA must turn down many clients that are income-eligible for services because of resources and other constraints. Therefore, MLSA has made an effort to promote self-help law practices such as pro se clinics, self-help workstations and a comprehensive website to provide assistance to those who cannot be directly represented.

On page 11 of this month’s ‘Montana Lawyer’, you will find an article I authored which summarizes the state of pro se activities in Montana, along with a rough outline of what we hope to provide in the future. Please check back for updates on new resources and legislative activity that I hope to provide as soon as they are available.

Letting the Worldcat out of the bag


There are lots of legal information reources out there at a library near you…from  Nolo’s book on Music Law to the in-depth treatises on Copyright Law.  The trick is finding out which library has what.  Fortunately, Worldcat has a search engine for library catalogs.  You can enter in your zip and find out which libraries near you have the books you are looking for.  For instance, a search for Nolo’s Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business gives me a list of libraries in my neighborhood that have the book.  It even gives me libraries around the world that have it on their shelves (you will be glad to know the University of Hong Kong has a copy!).

Good Practices in Court and Government Websites


More and more legal and government information is available online. But how well is it organized? Can you find it easily, or do you have to wade through menu after menu? Is it presented in a way that newcomers can figure out or does the organization only make sense to insiders? Two organizations offer criteria for best practices and give examples of courts and agencies that have really good websites.

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dear solo: it’s “self-help” not “help yourself”


Are lawyers confusing Abbie Hoffman’s yippie advice book  HoffmanSteal
with Jay Foonberg’s classic How to Start and Build a Law PracticeFoonbergBook 
Here’s what Laura O. at the Oregon Legal Research weblog told her readers on Nov. 1, 2006:
Book Thieves: Among other books in my law library, our latest Foonberg has been stolen (and people wonder why library staff keep (or itch to keep) books “behind the desk”). I’ve heard that Foonberg’s, “How to Start and Build a Law Practice,” is among the most commonly stolen books in law libraries. What does this say about certain lawyers? . . . . “
Starting your own law practice is indeed a good topic for self-helpers, and we hope Foonberg’s $70 volume is widely available at public and academic libraries.  But, helping yourself to Foonberg, or any other library book, is not fair to other users (and is almost certainly illegal in most states).   Rather than risking prison, embarrassment or disbarassment, we suggest that the penurious potential shingle-hanger take advantage of the comprehensive Online Guide to Creating a Law Practice assembled by Shingler-in-Chief Carolyn Elefant.

new MA pro se guides for judges and parties


 Two major pro se guides are now available at the website of the Massachusetts Court System, one for judges and one for litigants. (via, Nov. 6, 2006) 
ScalesRichPoor  The Judicial Guidelines for Civil Hearings Involving Self-Represented Litigants were approved by the Justices of the Supreme Judicial Court in April, 2006.
“While the legal and ethical constraints upon the courts and the judiciary, such as those contained in the Code of Judicial Conduct, apply with equal force to cases involving self-represented litigants, judges have broad discretion within these boundaries. These guidelines have been developed to assist judges in recognizing the areas in which they have discretion and to assist them in the exercise of that discretion.”
These guidelines include sections on 1) general practices; 2) guidelines for pre-hearing interaction; 3) guidelines for conducting hearings; and 4) guidelines for post-hearing interactions.  There is a basic Guidelines document and a separate version containing useful Commentary.  A footnote declares: “The term ‘should’ is used throughout the Guidelines to indicate that the conduct referenced is recommended but not mandatory.”

This segment on providing information to the self-represented demonstrates a very laudable attitude:
1.5 Materials and services for self-represented litigants. Judges should encourage the provision of information and services to better enable self-represented litigants to use the courts. Judges also should encourage self-represented litigants to use these resources.

Commentary While, at first glance, this role seems more appropriately assigned to court staff, it is important that judges support this function. Many courts have informational handouts that can be made available in the courtroom, as well as in the Clerk’s Office, Registry of Probate, and Probation Office. Judges should encourage the use of such materials. These handouts may include the phone numbers of lawyer referral services and may contain language that explains the advisability of retaining counsel. They also may include frequently asked questions and court specific information, such as information on alternative dispute resolution services, lawyer-for-a-day programs, housing specialists, and crisis centers. 

         It is important that judges support the provision of services,as well as information, to self-represented litigants. Judges should encourage and work with bar associations, law schools, legal services providers, and other organizations on programs that will provide in-person assistance to self-represented litigants in their courts. These may include, for example, lawyer-for-a-day programs and programs in which attorneys and those working under their supervision meet with litigants in the court and provide advice, assistance, and appropriate referrals. Judges also should endeavor to manage cases involving self-represented litigants in coordination with other services that may be used by or provided to litigants (e.g., mental health and substance abuse services).

fence painter   Representing Yourself in a Civil Case: Things to Consider When Going to Court (MA)  This comprehensive 81-page guide has ten topics for self-represented litigants to consider and utilize when going to court: 1) Access and fariness; 2) Deciding whether to represent yourself; 3) If you decide to hire a lawyer..; 4) Who’s who in the courthouse; 5) Getting ready for your day in court; 6) Starting a civil case; 7) Proceeding with a civil case; 8) Going to trial in a civil case; 9) After the court’s decision; and 10) Settling your case. 

California expands unbundling to all civil cases


announcerR At its October 20, 2006 business meeting, the California Judicial Council (policy-making body for the California court system) accepted Item A11, the proposal before it to extend limited scope representation to all civil cases, adopting the necessary court rules and model forms. The Report on Limited Scope Representation in Civil Cases of the Civil and Small Claims Advisory Committee (Oct. 6, 2006, 39 pp. pdf), includes the proposals, with explanations, and samples of the now-adopted forms.  The Judicial Council adopted Cal. Rules of Court, rules 3.35, 3.36, and 3.37, and form MC-950 [Notice Of Limited Scope Representation]; and it approved forms MC-955 [Application To Be Relieved As Attorney On Completion Of Limited Scope Representation], and two related forms. The new rules and forms are effective Jan. 1, 2007.  (hat tip to M. Sue Talia, California unbundling pioneer)

The Advisory Committee’s Statement to the Council notes that the adoption of the new rules and forms “will make it easier for attorneys to provide limited scope representation to parties in civil cases. Previously adopted rules and forms had made such representation easier in family law proceedings. The new rules and forms will expand the provisions regarding limited scope representation to all types of civil cases.”  Pages 2 to 3 of the Report give a good summary of benefits to parties and the court system from the increased use of limited scope representation.  One new rule allows attorneys to assist with document preparation (ghostwriting) without disclosing their identity. We heartily agree with the Advisory Committee that these milestone changes are “advantageous to members of the public and the State bar.” 


identity theft, security freezes, fraud alerts, and more


An identity thief “co-opts some piece of your personal information and appropriates it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. An all-too-common example is when an identity thief uses your personal information to open a credit card account in your name.” (USAFedCU brochure)  There are many resources available online to help you deter, detect and defend against Identity Fraud, and much legislative and regulatory activity aimed at those goals, and consumer advocacy for additional protection.


For example, as of today (Nov. 1, 2006), New York State residents have the power to place a “security freeeze” on their credit files which can help in “thwarting someone from opening credit cards or lines of credit in another persons name.”   (CPB press releaseWestchester Journal article)  Twenty other states have so-called Security Freeeze or Fraud Alert laws of various sorts, and Consumers Union lists the states, with brief descriptions of their laws and links. 

Consumers Union is also engaged right now in an election season campaign to send messages to federal candidates asking for more financial privacy protection, including giving consumers in every state the right to place security freezes on their credit files.   You can find more CU information on Identity Theft protection here, and its Financial Privacy Now weblog here.  

Here are two other comprehensive sources of information to help you prevent or battle identity theft:

AvoidIDTheftN  Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Website.  The FTC has compiled easy to understand guides for those who think they are already victims of identity theft and for those who want to do all they can to prevent ID theft.  E.g., hey have guidance on dealing with local police in filing complaints, as well as an ID Theft Affidavit (with instructions) to use to inform credit bureaus of your fraudulent credit activity taking p lace in your name.

AvoidIDTheft   Consumer, on Oct. 26, 2006, added several ID Theft documents to its Library.  One is ID Theft & Account Fraud Prevention and Clean Up, which “can help you take steps to prevent ID theft, or if you are a victim, to clear up the problems created by ID theft and to lessen its impact on your life.” (Spanish version)  Another is a 24-page Leader’s Guide Strategies for Prevention and Clean Up, which is “written in question-and-answer format to help you anticipate frequently asked questions about ID theft and account fraud” and prepare for in-service or train-the-trainer presentations.  

Best Practices to Find the Best Legal Information


Law librarians, while they can’t give advice, are great sources of information on legal information.  They can evaluate or find ways to evaluate resources to determine when they are helpful and when they are not.  So here is a librarian’s tip on how to evaluate legal sites on the Internet.  The American Bar Association has published “Best Practice Guidelines for Legal Information Site Providers.”  These are for providers but they also show what you should expect from a legal information site.  With these in hand, you will be able to better evaluate legal information web sites and separate the wheat from the chaff…

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