November 10, 2021
Every day, many people face the challenges of going into court without legal representation. According to the Self-Represented Litigant (SRL) Network, an estimated three out of five people in civil cases go to court without a lawyer.
In its most recent meeting, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) approved Resolution Number 3, In Support of Process Simplification. It stresses the need to make legal processes within courts simpler so all people can navigate them without legal assistance. The resolution also urged to change existing procedures that can be “onerous, inefficient, or confusing for self-represented litigants, court staff, judges, or the private bar.”
The state courts of Maryland and Minnesota each developed tools, both called Guide and File. Both tools ask self-represented litigants a series of simple questions and based on their answers the tools produce pleadings for litigants to print and file at the court.
These tools are similar to tax preparation software. Maryland’s Guide and File include resources, explanations, and definitions. There are forms available for divorce cases, custody, child support, and name change petitions among others. Minnesota’s Guide and File is like Maryland’s tool. The tool asks questions and produces completed forms based on the answers given. Self-represented litigants can use it for issues covering evictions, restraining orders, divorces, among others.
Additional states also have SRL tools. Arizona state courts have AZPOINT to file a petition for a protective order. The Self-Help Guide to the California Courts is a website designed to help SRLs navigate their cases. It includes step-by-step guides for following procedures and helps with understanding options. Litigants can get information on legal topics, look up a court case, get help from the court (e.g., find self-help centers, forms, interpreters, disability access), start a court case, and work with an existing case.
Boarding passes are another newer tool state courts have been developing. Traffic Pass was developed by Wyandotte County Courts in Kansas. This web tool asks users about traffic tickets and produces a document with all necessary information in advance of their court date. Fulton County, Georgia, also developed a boarding pass to help SRLs to determine if they are eligible to restrict a conviction or charge. Funding for the tool was obtained from the State Justice Institute and technical assistance from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). The tool is on their website and will produce a document for the people who answers some questions.
What tools does your court utilize to help SRLs? Share your experiences with us at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.