Serving Self-Represented Litigants Remotely A Resource Guide, prepared by a team led by John Greacen and including SRLN members from across the country, has just been published by SRLN. It is a “Must Read,” to use a much over-used word. Anyone considering integrating remote services into their access delivery system, anyone convinced that they should not do, anyone involved in thinking about how to respond to the Conference of Chief Justices 100% access resolution, and indeed anyone already delivering any such services, and interested in expanding needs to read it fully very soon.
Delivery of services using telephone and internet-based technologies is an effective and efficient means of providing information and assistance to self-represented litigants, and should be a part of the service delivery strategy of every entity interacting with this customer group.
Use of multiple remote services (e.g., telephone, e-mail, live chat, videoconferencing and text messaging) is advantageous to the service provider and the user.
Service providers save resources in these ways: 1) remote services delivery staffing can be centralized; 2) staff/customer interaction time is shorter using most remote methods than face-to-face communications; 3) it easier for staff to establish boundaries for a re- mote conversation; 4) staff are better able to control the pace and demands of their work; 5) facilities costs are reduced; 6) security issues and costs are minimized, but not eliminated; and, 7) how merging technologies used in limited jurisdiction courts, such as those identified in Nebraska and Orange County, California, continue to maximize underutilized staff resources.
Benefits to customers and the ways in which remote services are exceeding internal and external expectations are described. The SRLN, conducted extensive in-person interviews, observational analysis, focus groups, and assisted each contributing state partner in completing a program characteristics spreadsheet. The Guide contains information from state-level programs in Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, and Utah ,and county-level programs in Butte, Lake, Tehama, and Orange Counties in California.
While the Report is careful to emphasize that there is no one size fits all approach, the practical reality is that the Report effectively answers most if not all of the worries and reluctance about these ways of providing services.
The following chart is perhaps even more dramatic in terms of the potential breadth and impact of these programs. It shows the percentage of state residents served each year by the four statewide programs.
Now, these numbers are indeed somewhat inflated because some people will be double counted. But, remember that the base is not poor people, not middle income people, not the self-represented, not all litigants. No, it is the entire adult population. In other words, these programs are having a statewide impact, measured not just in terms of the legal system, but in terms of the whole population.
What about cost?
Well, on average, close to 4,000 people a year are served by each full time equivalent.
That is an astonishing number, and underlines that these services have huge potential to make the difference in getting to 100%, perhaps in a shorter term than many of us have feared.
Finally, the efficacy results, based on two programs, are impressive, and will be the subject of a future blog post.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is all very highly relevant to the leveraging of the triage idea, and to strategic choices to be made in Justice for all strategic planning processes, pursuant to the Chiefs Resolution.
SRLN, whose coordinator Katherine Alteneder is arguably the leading national expert on delivering remote services for self-help services, is available for consulting. Katherine played the major role in setting up the remote self-help services system in Alaska.