Friday, June 25, 2010

Self-Represented Litigants

I first wrote about this topic in July last year, right after starting to blog. Now I am happy to report that the Texas Forum on Self-Represented Litigants and the Courts was held April 8 and 9, 2010 in Dallas at the Belo Mansion. Sponsored by the Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, Texas Legal Services Center, Office of Court Administration, and Legal Services Corporation, the Forum launched a statewide effort to provide Texas courts tools to help them deal with self-represented litigants. Over 120 participants attended, including members of the judiciary, legal services attorneys, court clerks and administrators, law librarians, and access to justice groups.  Panelists from various segments of the Texas court system discussed the challenges posed by the increasing numbers of self-represented litigants as well as some of the strategies that have been developed in Texas to address these challenges. Several speakers highlighted successful programs that have been implemented in other states, including self-help centers, distance services, limited scope representation, and training for court clerks and administrators.

The Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Special Projects Committee, which coordinated the Forum, met after the Forum to evaluate the effort and determine next steps. Based on the Committee’s recommendation, the Commission decided at its May 4 meeting:

  • The Commission will request that the Supreme Court create a statewide Task Force to develop Supreme Court approved pleading and order forms for statewide use. An initial objective will be to determine what other efforts in this regard are currently underway and what is happening on a local level throughout the state, and then to bring all of these efforts under one umbrella.
  • The Commission will establish a committee that is dedicated solely to assisted pro se issues. The committee’s charge will include:
    • Considering legislative proposals that may direct financial resources for assisted self-help programs
    • Engaging in the education of clerks, law librarians, the judiciary, and the private bar, and advising stakeholders of financial and other resources available to assist with their efforts
    • Identifying best practices and communicating those to all interested parties
    • Coordinating/Serving as statewide clearinghouse for available resources
    • Continuing to monitor and assist the development of programs on a local level.
Those interested should monitor the listserv and the Access to Justice Commission’s website for information about self-represented litigant issues and projects.
And most important (I buried the lead again), today the Office of Court Administration, Texas Access to Justice Commission, Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and Texas Legal Services Center published a manual for clerks and court personnel who work with self-represented litigants: "Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: Guidelines and Instructions for Clerks and Court Personnel Who Work with Self-Represented Litigants in Texas State Courts." It is available on our Publications, Forms and Online Information page (which has a ton of material, look under Manuals and Handbooks towards the bottom).  The manual is intended to help clerks and court personnel understand the difference between legal information and legal advice. It explains why clerks and court personnel must not give advice but should give legal information. It also contains examples of permissible and impermissible ways to answer questions from the public and a list of resources and referral information.

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