ABA Journal Discusses Electronic Service/Notice and the Self-Represented

An important article in the ABA Journal discusses the potential for electronic service and notice.  Read the whole thing.

In the article, Glenn Rawdon of LSC is quoted laying down the issues for the poor and self-represented very clearly.

If state or federal legislation to adopt electronic service of process were introduced, say many lawyers, consumer advocacy groups would likely object. However, according to Glenn Rawdon, program counsel for technology with the Legal Services Corp., most legal aid groups see electronic notice in the future. He mentions a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that found 46 percent of Americans earning less than $30,000 per year have some kind of wireless Internet access.

Rawdon says e-filing “was designed to bring in big law firms with big lawsuits. But if you make electronic service available, it has to be available for everyone.”

The biggest concern Rawdon has about electronic service is how it would work for pro se litigants. The courts would need to build a secure e-filing system, he says, where someone could check on case information, docketing and whether their pleadings were served. He would also like to see courthouse hardware for public use. If individuals don’t have Internet access, Rawdon says, public computer banks at libraries may not be all that helpful because usage is often limited to 20 minutes.

“Many of our low-income clients do not have email addresses or home computers,” Rawdon says. “Will we allow e-service via text messaging since most low-income adults have cellphones?”

Also, the system could not require a credit card to verify identification, Rawdon says, because many low-income litigants do not have credit cards.

“And not everyone is proficient enough to navigate the system,” adds Rawdon, who previously served as the managing attorney for Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma. “And what about someone who is limited in English proficiency? Or waivers for filing fees?”

Well put, Glenn.  This article will help make sure that these systems are not put in without careful attention to the low and middle income and self-represented people.  We all need to work on strategies to make sure that such attention is paid.  This is particularly the responsibility of access commissions, with their ability to appeal to a broad range of stakeholders.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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2 Responses to ABA Journal Discusses Electronic Service/Notice and the Self-Represented

  1. I think Glenn is right on point, in saying that new ways need to accomodate those who are traditionally left behind in new tech implementations. Otherwise the promise of technology is lost–b/c it could introduce more barriers/inequalities for the most vulnerable if those needs are not included in the design.

    I am actually not so worried about service, as to what happens after service, if service goes bad. Service rules were created to ensure people had a fair shot in a) knowing a case had been filed against them and b) what they needed to do if they did not respond in court. In the real world, if service is badly done and does not meet the requirements, there are legal remedies (motions) or preliminary answers (demurrers) (not full answers) respondents can ask for based on the error in the service or the pleadings. So, if service is allowed to happen in these new ways that are envisioned in cyber space, what happens to the remedies for when service goes bad? Will the rules also be ammended as the rules slacken on service requirements? Will the rules allow motions to vacate to cover things like “my IP provider got hacked and I did not have internet service for 3 days”, “there was a power outage in my region due to a tropical storm and I did not check facebook for a week and the public library was flooded (recall Irene)”, my laptop got a virus and even when I scanned it w/good virus protection software it took foreever to upload my facebook/twitter/whatevermy favority social media site may be”. These may sound funny, but they are not, particularly when thinking about low income communities who won’t have all the tech know how or support to deal with some of these daily occurances in cyber space. If they don’t get the notice, do they loose their kids? Is the victim’s DV Protective Order vacated? Does the sheriff get to throw them out? I hope as we think of new ways to do service we also aso thinking about the counterbalance based on the harm that could be caused particularly for those without lawyers or a competent tech support line to call. I hope that if rules are changed, they are changed in both ways to keep the balance in the interest of justice for all, including the poor and those withouth lawyers.

  2. Kate Bladow says:

    Glenn is on the right track, but I think that the legal aid community also needs to recognize that another group of legal aid clients may benefit from receiving notices of legal actions through email or via Facebook or Twitter. These clients may not have a regular place to receive mail or a schedule where it makes it easy to find them. Electronic service may help them participate more fully in the the legal process. It’s another piece in the complicated puzzle of communicating with people how they want to be communicated with while still keeping the communication efficient and low cost for an organization.

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