California Daily Journal on Costs of Cutting Self-Help Programs

The (California) Daily Journal, a legal publication, has a good story on the risk that cutting back on self-help services may end up costing more than it saves.  A good article to cite to.

Just a few years ago, California courts were on the
cutting edge of providing services to help litigants without lawyers navigate
the civil court system. In 2008, California became one of the first states to offer self-help centers in every county.
Now the budget crisis threatens to derail that progress. The state Judicial
Council has frozen funding for self-help centers, and some counties have been
forced to cut the amount of money they’re putting into such programs.
Ironically, the cuts could end up costing the judicial branch more money in the
long run. Studies have shown that judges have to spend more time in court to resolve
cases when litigants show up unprepared.
“The data is sort of consistent with common sense,” said Richard Zorza, a national
expert on self-represented litigants. “If people know what they’re doing, they’ll spend
less time interacting with the institution they’re trying to negotiate.”
A 2009 study of five San Joaquin Valley counties, including Fresno, San Joaquin
and Stanislaus, measured the savings for the judicial branch, as well as for the
litigants themselves. The court saved $1 for every 23 cents spent on workshops. Oneon-one support was slightly more costly but still saved money.

The article goes on to describe cuts and their impact, as well as the reactions of judges, and quotes me for the suggestion that Turner v. Rogers, has constitutionalized the analysis.

Here is the link to the newspaper (subscription)

Here is a link to the full study from the San Joaquin Valley.  It was written by John Greacen.  I hope we will be able to follow up more in this research direction.  Here is the relevant part of the Executive Summary:

The findings suggest that:
•    Courts that provide services through a workshop reduce the number of court hearings and the time of staff at the public counter and that the costs of the workshops amount to $.23 for every $1.00 saved. Taking into account the savings accruing to litigants in not having to attend the eliminated court hearings, the costs drop to $.13 for every dollar of savings.
•    Courts that provide one-on-one support and information services to litigants are saving: at least one hearing per case, 5 to 15 minutes of hearing time for every hearing held in the case, and 1 to 1.5 hours of court staff time related to providing assistance to self-represented litigants at the front counter and to reviewing and rejecting proposed judgments. The services required to produce these court savings range from a high of $.55 to a low of $.36 for every $1.00 saved. Adding the savings accruing to the litigants reduces the costs to a range of $.33 to $.26 for every $1.00 of savings.
•    Courts that provide assistance to self-represented litigants to resolve cases at the first court appearance save future court hearings. The cost of the self help services are roughly $.45 for every $1.00 saved. When the costs to the litigants of attending the eliminated hearings are included, the cost of the services falls to $.14 for every $1.00 saved.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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