Closing the Justice Gap for Unrepresented Litigants

What happens when a huge number of people in your state have too much income to get pro bono help and too little of it to hire a lawyer? What happens when these and other pro se litigants increase in number?

Such an influx requires practical solutions. The National Center for State Courts, developed a resource guide for self-representation. These types of resources are in abundance but don’t seem to go far enough.

Some might say, “Well that’s just the way things are.” True, that’s the way things are, but that’s not the way they have to be. Luckily, wiser states and municipalities are coming up with ways to help unrepresented litigants in court by adding real people.

The California and Washington State Programs

No solution is ideal or stands out as way better than others. Still, some states are making honest attempts to allow people without law degrees to help self-represented litigants. California and Washington State, for instance, use family law facilitators.

Get a Fair Hearing in Court

No one expects a just outcome when one side has a lawyer and the other doesn’t. Level the playing field with Courtroom5.

In California, facilitators cost litigants nothing. Yet, they can answer questions from family law litigants about issues in their cases. They can also help prepare court forms. Some are attorneys but many others are paralegals and clerks with experience in family law. Likewise, in certain counties in Washington, family law litigants can talk to family law facilitators on a walk-in basis.

Pro Se’s Helping Pro Se’s in New York

Noting the imbalance of litigation outcomes between unrepresented parties and those with lawyers, New York State introduced new plans to better serve pro se litigants.

“Our efforts to find ways for non-lawyers to be of assistance begin in the court-house. As of this month, specially trained and supervised non-lawyers will begin providing ancillary, pro bono assistance to unrepresented litigants in Housing Court cases in Brooklyn and consumer debt cases in the Bronx and Brooklyn. These are courts and case types in which virtually all defendants are unrepresented and are facing serious personal consequences as a result of litigation. It is shocking that in this day and age, over 95 percent of defendants in these critical cases are currently unrepresented.”

Non-lawyers in New York courts offer general legal information and one-on- one assistance. They help pro se litigants assemble documents, complete forms, negotiate settlements, and more.

The full text of the project description is at New York State Announces Innovative Programs to Close the Justice Gap.

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