It is now several months since the California Shriver Pilot Report was issued. The findings and recommendations concerning benefits of counsel have been widely disseminated. (Report announcement summary here)
So, I want to here highlight some of the findings that have gotten less attention and may be of use in 100% system design. I would urge that these are of equal value.
Triage (at page 7)
Limited attorney resources are used most effectively with well-designed triage systems. Such systems are critical to the smooth functioning of the continuum of service. In order to use limited attorney resources most effectively, referral mechanisms were established to try to ensure that litigants received the appropriate level of assistance, consistent with individual need. The range of services comprising the “continuum of service” included self- help assistance for those who would remain self-represented, limited-scope legal assistance for those who would receive legal assistance for a part of their case (“unbundling”), and full legal representation. The continuum of service involved all key stakeholders—the court, legal aid programs, and other nonprofits and government entities.
Self-Help Centers (at page 8)
Expanded court-based self-help centers are a critical piece of the continuum of service. They provide self-help assistance for those who will be self-represented and also can help in the triage process of getting litigants to the level of help they need, whether it is limited- scope legal assistance or full legal representation. A key example of an effective court-based self-help service is the probate facilitator, who provided an effective service, enabling parties to navigate the complex guardianship process in a timely, cost-effective way, benefitting families and the court.
E-Filling (at page 8)
The improved use of technology, including the expansion of e-filing, can help facilitate the efficient handling of cases when accommodations are made for those without access to technology. Particularly in landlord-tenant cases, where e-filing had previously only been available to landlords at one site, the expansion of e-filing to tenants helped facilitate the efficient handling of these cases. The increased use of document assembly software programs that make it easier to prepare court documents is more efficient and enables self- represented litigants to better represent themselves.
The project team are to be praised for remembering that access to justice is a complex ecosystem in which improvement in one part of the system leverages and enhances those in others.
One of the interesting questions is how the role of the self help center changes if and when there is greater counsel funding.
Another is how the triage rules change.