So, this blog has shared information on the debate that ensued in Texas, when the Supreme Court moved to simplified family law forms. https://accesstojustice.net/2012/01/25/texas-supreme-court-moves-forward-on-forms/. The State Bar has tried to change the Court’s decision to move towards simplifing the forms in its role as the administrator of justice. The opposition of the Bar created ripples and was picked up by national media. https://accesstojustice.net/2012/02/24/wall-street-journal-has-video-report-on-texas-forms-fight/; https://accesstojustice.net/2012/02/29/collection-of-srl-data/
Reading this piece by Richard Zitrin, http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/files/tmc-2012—7-on-line—lack-of-court-funding-hampers-access-120413.pdf led me to ponder the differences between these Bar Associations.
In San Francisco, this week 4/18/2012, there was a rally organized by the San Francisco Bar Association, with participation from legal aid leaders, law schools, big firms, prominent plaintiff firms, the State Bar, coming together to support the courts and protest the closing of courts and self help centers and courts due to lack of funding. Here is a report on the rally: http://www.law.com/jsp/ca/PubArticleCA.jsp?id=1202549475928&Rally_for_Court_Funding_Draws_Hundreds_in_San_Francisco
The array of speaker was impressive—a list of who is who in the legal community across the state. http://www.sfbar.org/calendar/eventdetail.aspx?id=X120036/X120036.
Other local Bar Associations also joined the effort, including Contra Costa Bar Association http://www.cccba.org/attorney/news/press-20120315.php and the Santa Clara Bar Association. https://m360.sccba.com/event.aspx?eventID=49135&instance=0 . So this rally cannot be dismissed as a San Francisco event only—San Francisco being well known to take first time positions in many issues. And private firms are also supporting the rally. http://lieffcabraser.com/media/pnc/5/media.1255.pdf and http://rftmlaw.com/?email-campaign=rally-to-support-court-funding-april-18-2012-in-san-francisco
This is orthogonal to the developments in Texas. In CA, the groups that work with this overlapping population are joining together to support the courts and protest the effect the cuts are having on access to justice, signified by the closing of courts and reduction in self help services. As they write in CA, “justice delayed is justice denied”. Joining to support the court and protest the cuts in particular the cuts to self help services, may signify a deeper understanding that in effect all of these groups are affected by the non-abating recession and the initiatives courts take to assist those without lawyers are valuable and have a legitimate place in the administration of justice and in the continuum of legal services.
These are times of change. There is no end in sight for the impact of this recession—it started in 2008 and it will go on for an uncertain number of months if not years. I hope that all of the courts and Access to Justice Commissions that are looking at the developments in Texas, also take a look at this rally in CA —and that they are not chilled in moving away from legal processes and forms rooted in the past. The satire of the British legal system by Charles Dickens “Jarndyce v Jarndyce” in Bleak House (1852) could well apply in 2012 in the US in a majority of jurisdictions. I hope all those who work with the courts can agree that there is no use in preserving a system that is slow, arcane, frustrating to the litigants, and costly to courts and all of those who interact with it. As much as the law is based on precedent, it is time to rethink the processes and tools and come with a more American model—based on fairness, due process, equality for all, and American ideals of fair play and accountability to all of it users, not just expert users. Courts that are being proactive to improve things for those in most need deserve everyone’s support. Let the San Francisco rally be a model for other legal communities .
For those of you going to the Equal Justice Conference in Florida, on Friday am there will be a workshop that may be worth attending:
Not in My State: Self Represented Litigation from the Ground Up in Challenging States
Mary Jane Ciccarello, Utah State Courts Self-Help Center, Salt Lake City, UT.
Hannah Silk Kapasi, Texas Access to Justice Commission, Austin, TX.
Trish McAllister, Texas Access to Justice Commission, Austin, TX.
Robin Wheeler, South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, Columbia, SC.
States dream of model Self-Represented Litigation projects but face so many barriers that they cannot see their projects through. This workshop addresses solutions to some of the most common barriers, including: funding, political opposition, lack of infrastructure and distance. The workshop identifies programs that have addressed these barriers and then holds roundtable discussions on possible solutions for barriers faced by those attending.
The full agenda is here: http://www.americanbar.org/calendar/2012/05/equal_justice_conference/agenda.html
Richard posted this blog–which may be relevant to the issue of Bar Associations getting behind simplification of the system for SRLs. https://accesstojustice.net/2012/02/02/leveraging-forms-unbundled-assistance-and-lawyer-referral-systems/
I think the key here is education. Bar Associations should be looking for opportunities to educate their members on other modalities of practice. PLI just recently did a training with Sue Talia on unbundled forms. All Bar Associations should be creating unbundled referral panels–and providing assistance to members interested in new ways to practice within the quality and ethical boundaries. Also educating members on different technologies that may enable to reduce their costs and keep quality of services high–for example online form software, virtual practice,
Consumer taste is changing dramatically. Even if the economy improved and middle class potential clients came back to having an appetite to pay retainer fees, the “do it yourself” trends we are seeing in all aspects of life (from food, to clothing) along with the expectation that most government and commercial transactions will be on line or mobile are not going to go away. Bar Assocations should be helping their members transitition to these new ways of practicing law in 2012 and beyond.
Interesting news out of Louisiana.
In fulfillment of recommendations from its Access to Justice Committee’s initial pilot project, the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Board has encouraged expansion of Self Help Resource Centers for self-represented litigants in local courts and hired a SRL Counsel to coordinate and support the growing network of help centers. The Louisiana State Bar Association’s Access to Justice Program has helped to coordinate the opening of two new court-based help desks for self-represented litigants in Louisiana’s 19th and 9th Judicial District Courts. In collaboration with the state courts, local pro bono organizations, law schools and legal service programs and pro bono volunteers, each help desk provides access to legal information, referrals to outside services and assistance understanding, completing and filing court forms. Along with the help center in Orleans Parish, these three projects form the foundation for a statewide network of court-based services for self-represented litigants. See Louisiana Bar Briefs at page 9, http://www.lsba.org/documentindex/publications/Briefs-January-2012.pdf.
Bar Associations find themselves between a rock and a hard place sometimes on these issues. Recently the President of the Tennessee Bar Association took a little fire for advocating for the Tennessee Plan for election (merit selection and then retention elections) of appellate judges. It wasn’t significant and many members came to his defense. For some reason there seems to be a sense on the part of the membership that bar associations shouldn’t take “political” stands. Or at least political stands in opposition to their political stand.
I am pleased to see the California Bar associations willingness to take on this issue and interested in any outcomes or suggestions as to how the Memphis Bar can move this issue forward.
Linda Warren Seely