Serving Self-Represented Litigants Remotely A Resource Guide Is a Must Read

Serving Self-Represented Litigants Remotely A Resource Guide, prepared by a team led by John Greacen and including SRLN members from across the country, has just been published by SRLN.  It is a “Must Read,” to use a much over-used word.  Anyone considering integrating remote services into their access delivery system, anyone convinced that they should not do, anyone involved in thinking about how to respond to the Conference of Chief Justices 100% access resolution, and indeed anyone already delivering any such services, and interested in expanding needs to read it fully very soon.

The SJI Newsletter (SJI provided funding) summarizes the Guide and Executive Summary as follows:

Delivery of services using telephone and internet-based technologies is an effective and efficient means of providing information and assistance to self-represented litigants, and should be a part of the service delivery strategy of every entity interacting with this customer group.

Use of multiple remote services (e.g., telephone, e-mail, live chat, videoconferencing and text messaging) is advantageous to the service provider and the user.

Service providers save resources in these ways: 1) remote services delivery staffing can be centralized; 2) staff/customer interaction time is shorter using most remote methods than face-to-face communications; 3) it easier for staff to establish boundaries for a re- mote conversation; 4) staff are better able to control the pace and demands of their work; 5) facilities costs are reduced; 6) security issues and costs are minimized, but not eliminated; and, 7) how merging technologies used in limited jurisdiction courts, such as those identified in Nebraska and Orange County, California, continue to maximize underutilized staff resources.

Benefits to customers and the ways in which remote services are exceeding internal and external expectations are described. The SRLN, conducted extensive in-person interviews, observational analysis, focus groups, and assisted each contributing state partner in completing a program characteristics spreadsheet. The Guide contains information from state-level programs in Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, and Utah ,and county-level programs in Butte, Lake, Tehama, and Orange Counties in California.

While the Report is careful to emphasize that there is no one size fits all approach, the practical reality is that the Report effectively answers most if not all of the worries and reluctance about these ways of providing services.

The Report includes detailed findings, comparisons, and descriptions of the programs studied, and any summary will fail to do it justice.  It has to be read.
However, perhaps most dramatic to me is the following chart, which shows the views of surveyed users about alternatives to the remote systems they were using.  While some people, from 10% to 47 % depending on location, would have preferred a different service than the one they received, even among that number, many more would have preferred a different non face to face service than a face to face service.  Indeed, almost half as many again.  So much for the idea that remote services are seen as second best.

The following chart is perhaps even more dramatic in terms of the potential breadth and impact of these programs.  It shows the percentage of state residents served each year by the four statewide programs.


Now, these numbers are indeed somewhat inflated because some people will be double counted.  But, remember that the base is not poor people, not middle income people, not the self-represented, not all litigants.  No, it is the entire adult population.  In other words, these programs are having a statewide impact, measured not just in terms of the legal system, but in terms of the whole population.

What about cost?

Well, on average, close to 4,000 people a year are served by each full time equivalent.


That is an astonishing number, and underlines that these services have huge potential to make the difference in getting to 100%, perhaps in a shorter term than many of us have feared.

Finally, the efficacy results, based on two programs, are impressive, and will be the subject of a future blog post.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is all very highly relevant to the leveraging of the triage idea, and to strategic choices to be made in Justice for all strategic planning processes, pursuant to the Chiefs Resolution.

SRLN, whose coordinator Katherine Alteneder is arguably the leading national expert on delivering remote services for self-help services, is available for consulting.  Katherine played the major role in setting up the remote self-help services system in Alaska.


Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Budget Issues, Court Management, Forms, Metrics, Remote Services, Research and Evalation, Self-Help Services, SRLN, Systematic Change, Technology, Triage | Leave a comment

Harder and Harder to Separate Access to Justice and Election Politics

It is getting harder and harder to separate access to justice and politics.  So I feel that it is not inappropriate to share a link to my politics and humor blog, in which I ask those Republics who might, in the event of a Trump victory, consider joining the administration to think through very carefully, given Trump’s unpredictability, what their red lines would be.

Of course, such thoughts are relevant to anyone considering any job about which they have doubts of any kind, but they are just particularly important here, both for the person and the country.

Please share with anyone these thoughts might become relevant to.

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Judicial Ethics, White House | Leave a comment

More Dramatic Statistics on Representation Imbalance for Collection, Landlord/Tenant, and Small Claims

Recently, I blogged about some numbers derived from NCSC data for representation status and imbalance.  The numbers are stunning, here, and here.  As I put it then:

We Now Have the Data That shows That The One-Side-Self-Represented Case is the Dominant Case Situation in US Civil State Courts and That We Need a Fundamental Rethink of The State Civil Justice System.

With some additional data generously provided by NCSC, I can now break this out further (methodology here) and show, with this broad urban court national sample, how this imbalance works out in certain case types.  This will surely help prioritize strategic planning priorities.  These three charts are shockingly self-explanatory:


As an aid to strategic planning here is a blunt comparison of the percentage with an unrepresented person going against a represented one:


Case closed as to need for intervention, redesign, etc.

Posted in Bankruptcy, Chasm with Communities, Debt Collction, Evictions, Small Claims, SRL Statistics | 3 Comments

Integrating “Roles Beyond Lawyers” into Court Improvement Strategies

A recent paper by Colleen F. Shanahan, Anna E. Carpenter and Alyx Mark makes a very important point that, as the abstract puts it:

Access to justice interventions that provide a little representation, including nonlawyer representation and various forms of limited legal services, may be valuable solutions for low- and middle-income Americans. However, a thoughtful approach to improving access to justice efforts should recognize that a little representation may have risks. In particular, one potential risk of a little representation is that while it provides assistance with a discrete legal need in a specific moment, the nature of the assistance is incompatible with challenging the law. As a result, individual litigants do not have the benefit of legal challenges in their own cases, and our legal system develops devoid of law reform that reflects the needs of low- and middle-income litigants. (Links added by this blog.)

The core idea, based on detailed analysis of hearings in the Washington DC unemployment insurance system, focuses on the actual evidence techniques used in the hearings, and the costs of lack of strategic judgements.  The more detailed analysis is in this parallel paper from the same authors.

To me, this suggests a two pronged approach to improving courts that thinks about the system as a whole, rather than individual cases.  In the first phase, you make heavy use of experienced counsel who can essentially “clean up” the court’s practices, including where necessary taking up the appeal to change the law or make sure that it is followed in the court.  When that process has been successful, then you move in with nontraditional services, in which those providing them are trained in the skills needed to make sure that facts and law are presented to the court.  You keep traditional legal representation in a small number of cases, and make sure that referral is both available, and known to be available for those having to rely on those without full legal training.

A sophisticated triage system would actually be designed to adjust recommendations based on an analysis of where the court or forum was in this reform and support system.

Similarly, a sophisticated access to justice strategy would be designed to develop such a multi-state approach, test and modify it in a few forums, and then apply it statewide.

Different stakeholders would play different roles, with advocacy organizations providing representation, and the courts providing parallel staff training and perhaps support systems for the new forms of assistance.

Let’s think strategically here.

P.S. I should note that it was reading these papers that also got me going on the analysis and suggestions in my earlier post here about the relationship between triage and court simplification redesign.

Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Counsel, Court Management, Non-Lawyer Practice, Referral Systems, Research and Evalation, Triage, Unbundling | 2 Comments

Data Maps Come to Access to Justice Planning

This is an important step in ensuring that strategic planning is informed by underlying indicia of need.

The Self-Represented Litigation Network has just launched a national, but highly granulated online tool for looking at national county by county level statistics for fourteen critical driving factors in understanding need and developing the strategies for meeting them.

Those factors are:

  1. Population density
  2. Children
  3. Young Adults
  4. Adults (30-44)
  5. Midlife Adults (45-99)
  6. Seniors (60 +)
  7. High school graduates
  8. Rentals
  9. Vehicle access
  10. Active Duty Military
  11. Veterans
  12. Racial Diversity
  13. Foreign Born
  14. Language Other Than English Spoken at Home
  15. Poverty
  16. Where Is Mobile Broadband Available?
  17. How Fast Is Mobile Broadband?
  18. Where Are Homes Connected to High-Speed Internet?

How might this be used?

Think for example, of the rental data.  The extent of rentals is obviously likely to predict the number of evictions and thus of the need for access to justice services.  Here is the national map:


A huge variation.  Lets zoom in on a state.


Now one county.


At the next level, rental units alone are not the only driver of this need.  Poverty, age, etc., are obviously such predictors.  If those together suggest more evictions than are actually occurring in the court systems, then that probably means that more of them are occurring as “informal evictions.

Moreover, evictions are not the only ATJ need that will be impacted by rental levels.  Rentals are usually associated with frequent moves.  That means need for assistance in obtaining the right to education.  More rentals surely mean more need for emergency shelter.  The list and interplays go on for ever.

This is a fine start, and I very much hope that as states move forward on planning for strategic planning, they will make full use of this amazing resource.

Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Justice Generally, Evictions, Housing, Metrics, Poverty, SRL Statistics, SRLN | Leave a comment

Getting ATJ Statistics Into Census Data Collection — The Eviction Example Highlighted on

The wonderful, which many of us obsessively check multiple times a day for its magnificent (and frightening) election projection results, has just put up a very important article on the under-counting of the eviction problem.  The title tells it all: How We Undercounted Evictions By Asking The Wrong Questions.  It has to be great that this is now getting public attention through a website very popular with the policy and political folks.  (Overall, this is the 188th most popular website in the US.  That puts it slightly less visited than American Airlines and T-Mobile, but better than icloud.)

As the post explains:

Millions of Americans are forced to leave their homes every year, and experts see housing instability as a major contributor to a host of other problems that poor households face. But getting more precise than “millions” is impossible because of a lack of good data. The federal government does a poor job of tracking evictions, and the sources that do exist, such as court records, are incomplete and lack detail.

Then the really good news, describing a door to door survey project that aims show how to fill the gap.

But that may be starting to change. The survey that Williams was part of, the Milwaukee Area Renters Study (MARS), may be the first rigorous, detailed look at eviction in a major city. Interviewers like Williams spoke to about 1,100 Milwaukee-area tenants between 2009 and 2011, asking them a battery of questions on their housing history. The survey has already fundamentally changed researchers’ understanding of eviction, revealing the problem to be far larger than previously understood. Now the survey is going national: The Census Bureau recently agreed to add some of the MARS questions to its massive, biennial housing survey.

As to methodology and results:

Informal evictions were twice as common (48 percent of all forced moves). In these off-the-books evictions, a landlord might, for example, give a tenant $200 to move out by Thursday. Or they might take the door off. Regardless, it happens without a legal paper trail. (To round out the other reasons, the MARS survey found that about 23 percent of forced moves were because of landlord foreclosure and 5 percent because of a building condemnation.)

No matter the reason, the MARS researchers found that when people were forced to move, they often didn’t see it as an eviction. So instead of just asking, “Have you ever been evicted?” the MARS survey posed a roster of questions about a tenant’s housing history — when and where they had lived and why they left. This “moving module” was the centerpiece of the MARS study. By asking more than 250 questions, interviewers like Williams gathered data on every place a respondent lived for at least 30 days over the previous two years. Small wording details made a big difference. Rather than “Where do you live?” people were asked, “Where do you spend most nights?”

In the aggregate:

In the two years before being surveyed, more than 1 in 8 Milwaukee renters were forced to move, whether because of a formal or an informal eviction, foreclosure or condemnation. Also, Desmond’s follow-up research using MARS data has found a strong connection between eviction and subsequent residential instability, even after factoring in the tenant’s income and race. Eviction is linked to substandard housing conditions. And eviction also has serious negative health consequences, particularly for children.

As to the involvement of Census and HUD:

“It’s fair to say we have not collected good data in the past on evictions,” said Shawn Bucholtz, the director of the division that runs the biennial survey at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the survey in conjunction with the Census Bureau. The results of the 2015 survey — which will be released next month — won’t contain much data on evictions, but starting with the 2017 survey, things will change. That’s because HUD is adopting the MARS questions “pretty much verbatim,” Bucholtz said. “It was a pretty easy decision to make.”

Its just impossible to overstate the impact act starting to incorporate true access to justice need and other measures into the census and beyond.  I will soon be blogging about an overall analytic model that might measure access to justice using numbers like this as the start of the analysis, and then moving through the process all the way to compliance with orders, and then impact on outcomes such as economic mobility. Looks like we should start with housing security.

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Census Bureau, Court Management, Evictions, Federal Agencies, Foreclosure, Housing, Outcome Measures, Poverty, Research and Evalation | 1 Comment

Article on Incentives in Access to Justice

My paper on incentives in access to justice has now been published in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics.  Here it is.

Here is the full text of the abstract:

Most of the current deregulation discussion focuses on permitting both non-lawyers and lawyers to do more than currently authorized. While such changes would presumably contribute to solving the problem of increasing access to justice while maintaining quality and consumer protection, such discussions alone are unable to offer any realistic hope of achieving the 100 percent access to justice services for all envisioned by the recent Resolution of the Conference of (State Court) Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators. This Article discusses the potential for fully achieving that 100 percent goal by integrating broad regulatory changes with largely positive economic incentives on courts, bar and legal aid designed to increase efficiency and reduce costs, and with politically achievable ways of bringing in additional resources.

The five proposed solutions are:

A.  Releasing non-profit legal-serving entities from almost all regulation, while moving the subsidy system of legal aid to a genuinely competitive model;

B.  Deploying a mix of more limited de-regulation on the bar as a whole, combined with inter-related mandated sliding fees and broad tax incentives, for both litigants and providers;

C.  Maintaining almost all regulation, but placing the obligation of ensuring and providing 100 percent access to justice services on the bar as a whole, while giving the bar the authority to tax its members to fulfill that obligation and modify regulation;

D.  Internalizing all costs of access to justice into the court system, in order to incentivize court simplification and some appropriate deregulation; and

E.  Allowing for broad National Technology Limited Practice Licenses on condition of free services for the poor and reasonable ones for middle income, and with appropriate regulatory relaxations.

This Article proposes and applies a seven question conceptual framework for assessing these approaches and their long-term utility:

  • Does it ensure that everyone with significant legal need would be appropri- ately served, regardless of financial or other barriers?
  • Does it provide the resources to fill the resource gap?
  • Would it meet the political and economic requirements of being highly cost effective
  • Would services be varied, flexible and matched to need?
  • Would the solution incentivize changes in the system as a whole?
  • Would the solution protect the consumer, either through the relevant traditional formal values of the profession or through some other means such as a structuring of market incentives?
  • Could one be sure that any new resource mechanism would not introduce or exacerbate any additional general non-neutrality into the system?

These are pretty controversial ideas.  I very much look forward to your reactions and suggestions.

P.S. The ideas and questions are applied in a grid that is part of the article.  I hope it makes it easier to separate out the ideas.  Go to page 712-13.


Posted in ABA, Access to Counsel, Alternative Business Structures, Anti-Trust, Bar Associations, Medical System Comparision, Middle Income, Mixed Model, Non-Lawyer Practice, Outcome Measures, Planning, Political Support, Poverty, Pro Bono, Referral Systems, Research and Evalation, Rules Reform, Self-Help Services, Simplification, Systematic Change, Tax Policy, Technology | Leave a comment