From the Abstract:
In Los Angeles, a new model seeks to better meet the needs of both indigent pro se appellate litigants and the courts, by providing a staffed self-help clinic on site at a court of appeal. This successful program, now three years old, is a unique collaboration between pro bono public interest firm Public Counsel, the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District), and the Appellate Courts Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. It is the first formal drop-in clinic for pro se appellate litigants housed in any state or federal court, and to our knowledge, no other public interest or legal aid organization in the country currently provides general in-person, self-help technical assistance to indigent pro se individuals involved in civil appeals. In tandem with managing the self-help clinic, which is staffed three days a week by an experienced appellate attorney, the Public Counsel Appellate Law Program also identifies and evaluates cases for pro bono representation and works with the Appellate Courts Committee to refer appropriate cases to pro bono counsel.
One particularly interesting aspect of the program is that it both provides self-help services and screening for possible pro bono representation. This later includes a merits screening.
As a general matter, making sure that self-represented cases get a proper hearing is really important in getting some better law on self-representation issues. We have to get appellate courts beyond the endless repetition of the mantra that those without lawyers are held to the same rules as those with lawyers.
I would urge appellate courts to remember that there is all the difference in the world between repeating that law alone, and combining it with a reminder that how a judge exercises his or her discretion within the rules is very much dependent on the circumstances as a whole — including the representation status of the parties and the needs of access. In other words, holding parties to the rules does not mean pretending that an attorney is there when that is not true. If appellate courts started saying that, then maybe trial judges would be more confident in their use of discretion in favor of access