As I have previously discussed, more than once, my office is working on a statewide collaboration to advance access to justice for self-represented litigants, and ameliorate their impact on court staff and judges. The statewide work reflects the fact that local court staff and judges, legal service providers and bar associations have been improving their services in this arena for some time; we are just catching up and hoping to provide added value through coordination and spreading promising practices. Here is, no doubt a partial listing of all that is in place that we know of, let me know if you have additions or enhancements (such as web links) for this compilation.
Existing Programs and ResourcesSelf-Help Centers
1. Travis County Self-Help Center – Provides assistance in simple, uncontested family law cases. Provides free forms and free reference attorney appointments.
2. Smith County Self-Help Center – Partnership between County Law Library and local bar. Provides assistance with forms and court processes.
3. Harris County Courthouse Information Booth – Gives SRLs information about their pleadings and court processes. Operated by Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program.
4. Nacogdoches County – Touch-screen Self-Help Kiosk – Provides assistance with creating pleadings and orders. Staffed by LSLA attorney.
5. Fort Bend County – Provides self-help centers in libraries.
6. Lutheran Ministries and Social Services of Waco, Legal Assistance Project – Gets referrals from district and county clerks. Helps with forms and court processes.
7. Hidalgo County Self Help Kiosk – Provides a computer that connects SRLs to www.texaslawhelp.org and a printer.
Assisted Pro Se Programs
1. Dallas Volunteer Attorneys Program – Sponsors four Assisted Divorce Clinics per month. Uses volunteer attorneys to help low-income clients with uncontested family law cases.
2. Texas Legal Services Center: Self Represented Litigants Project – Operates a live chat service on TexasLawHelp.org to provide information, resources, and on a case by case basis legal advice to self-represented litigants. Also, developing an informative video in cooperation with the Lubbock County Bar Association to provide guidance to the legal system for self-represented litigants.
3. Texas Advocacy Project, Assisted Pro Se Program – Provides individualized legal assistance in simple family law matters to victims of domestic violence. Includes recent installation of videoconferencing equipment in Montgomery County law library for meetings between clients in county and attorneys in Austin.
4. Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, Assisted Pro Se Project – Available to clients with uncontested cases.
5. Bell County Assisted Pro Se Program
6. Court Order Parenting Education Project (OAG, LSLA, TEAJF) – Recent pilot project involving clinics attended by litigants prior to hearings in divorce cases.
7. Nacogdoches County Help Desk – Provides assistance to financially-eligible SRLs two days each week at the Nacogdoches Public Library. Staffed by LSLA attorneys.
Limited Scope Representation
1. Lawyer Referral of Central Texas – Recently started limited scope representation program for family law cases.
2. Texas Legal Services Center: Parenting Order Legal Clinic (POLC) – Provides limited scope representation to non-custodial parents in matters involving their parenting orders. Take referrals from LANWT.
1. Protective Order Kit in English and Spanish – Currently, the only forms approved by the Supreme Court of Texas.
2. Texas Legal Services Center: Self-Represented Litigants Project – Automated forms. Making fill-in-the-blank forms and instructions available in user friendly format. Forms are posted on http://www.texaslawhelp.org/. Petition and Decree in uncontested divorce without children are available for use, and other forms are in development.
3. Others – e.g., Bell County District Clerk’s divorce website; Williamson County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 website, Collin County Law Library website.
2. Legal Information vs. Legal Advice: Guidelines and Instructions for Clerks and Court Personnel Who Work with Self-Represented Litigants in Texas State Courts – On OCA website, http://www.courts.state.tx.us/pubs/LegalInformationVSLegalAdviceGuidelines.pdf.
3. Texas SRL Listserv for Court System Stakeholders – Membership is free, but the site requires registration: www.texaslawyershelp.org/civil_law/groups/.
4. SelfHelpSupport.org – A national website with a clearinghouse of information for judges, clerks, administrators, etc. on working with SRLs. Membership is free, but the site requires registration.
5. Supplemental Instructions for Self-Represented Litigants completing new Civil Case Information Sheet – Contains a glossary to explain terms used on Civil Case Information Sheet, which must accompany the filing of an original petition in a civil case and certain post-judgment petitions and motions. Available on OCA’s website: http://www.courts.state.tx.us/tjc/pdf/SupplementalInstructionsForSRLs.pdf.
6. Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Pro Se Information page: http://www.texasatj.org/SRL.
Projects under development
Lubbock County – (1) automated document assembly; (2) informational video; (3) limited scope representation program.
Montgomery County – Self-help center.
Angelina County – (1) Touch-screen Self-Help Kiosk – Provides assistance with creating pleadings and orders. (2) SRL Help Desk two days per week, staffed by LSLA attorney.
Travis County SRL Work Group – Processes related to orders in family law cases.
Hays County SRL Work Group – Organizing.
Williamson County – Just starting to consider whether they want to implement any programs.