The Center on Court Access to Justice for All, with which I am affiliated, has just released its second Access Brief, on Forms and Document assembly.
Given that this Brief has the imprimatur of the National Center for State Courts, it is particularly useful as a tool for persuading courts of the value of forms initiatives, which might include expanding the number of forms, working to make existing forms easier to use, or converting them into document assembly tools.
This introductory text gives a flavor of the document (footnotes omitted.)
Any program to assist the self-represented litigant must begin with the provision of court forms.1The courthouse can be a confusing and intimidating place for someone who is unfamiliar with its rules and procedures, technical language, layout, and deadlines. Terminology that is understandable to those who use the court on a regular basis can be incomprehensible to the self-represented litigant. Making information and forms clear and easily accessible can be an important part of breaking down these barriers. When forms and information are presented in an understandable format, both court users and court staff experience less frustration and delay. Many issues arise when forms are translated into other languages; these will be addressed in a separate Access Brief. Nearly every state has some type of court form online; and many, such as Alaska, California, Connecticut, and Idaho offer self-help Web assistance as well.
The conclusing section may be particulalry helpful.
Leadership from the justices of the court of last resort is an important component in
beginning a forms development program. Before beginning a forms or document
assembly program, it is important to collect data on the number of self-represented
litigants filing different types of cases and the effects of these cases on caseflow
management and access to justice for all litigants. This information should be
disseminated prior to the start of the forms development project. Although at least one state met some resistance to the development of forms by the practicing bar,
other states have found the bar receptive because attorneys like the easy accessibility of the online forms. California, for example, has used forms for over 30 years, has over 1400 approved forms, and at least half are mandatory.
More Access Briefs are in the process of preparation.