A recent guest post on Richard Zorza’s wonderful Access To Justice blog endorsed a strategy for building a legal self help center in every jurisdiction in the country within the next five years. Talk about a social revolution!
Let me get this out of the way: I love Richard Zorza. I’ve never met him, never even corresponded with him. But anyone who’s ever been to court without a lawyer should know and love him. Over his long career, he’s provided much of the intellectual foundation for the way judges and courts should properly treat pro se litigants if they really care about justice. He founded the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) in 2001 to coordinate the efforts of judges, lawyers and court administrators working to support pro se litigants. There isn’t a lawyer in the country more passionate about transforming the courts to be more responsive to pro se litigants, and he deserves our shoutout and public thanks.
So there should be no surprise that his blog would host such an ambitious discussion, authored by Katherine Alteneder, his successor at SRLN:
The Self-Represented Litigation Network, leading advocates for an accessible and integrated justice system, has made a commitment to help facilitate the development of self-help centers in every state by 2020, and to ignite local and regional dialogues on how to connect self-represented litigants with attorneys providing limited scope services. This is a moment of great opportunity and we look forward to the community action and dialogue. We urge that every state begin a discussion about how to introduce or expand self-help services, and to identify the national assistance that would help them do so.
Alteneder discussed the findings of a new census that showed some 500 legal self help centers already operating around the country, serving nearly 4 million people a year, and about 150 law libraries with services dedicated to pro se litigants. As she noted, these services also help judges, clerks and court staff do their jobs more efficiently when dealing with self-represented litigants. Unfortunately, too many centers turn away all but the simplest cases, and some states have no centers at all.
Having a legal self help center in every jurisdiction doesn’t provide access to justice in and of itself. It’s just another tool in the toolbox. But meeting this goal would send a powerful message to anyone considering going to court alone: You can do it and there are resources that can help. This is a goal we should all get behind.