M-States & SRLs: Montana & Massachusetts

DIY by any other name
DIY by any other name

In Massachusetts they call it Limited Assisted Representation or LAR.

In Montana they call it DIY Legal Assistance.

I call it good job.

From early on at the SC Access to Justice Commission, I’ve been exposed to pros and cons of having people represent themselves in court. For the most part both sides have presented thoughtful, articulate and well-reasoned arguments for their side.  And both sides have their share of passion; both positive and negative.

Some Commissioners and I have been accused of trying to take away business from hard-working attorneys because the Commission is working on self-represented initiatives.

On the other hand, the Commission received information during the public hearings that many people were already representing themselves – without success.

Regardless of which side you favor, the reality is that more people are showing up in court without legal representation.

For many, it’s because they simply cannot afford to hire an attorney or they cannot find an attorney willing to represent them.

For others, it’s simply their choice – for reasons unknown. 

  • Maybe they can afford an attorney but prefer to spend the money on a vacation or a new pair of shoes.
  • Maybe they believe they are as smart as any attorney, so why should they pay.
  • Maybe they had a prior bad experience when they hired an attorney and want to avoid that at all costs.
  • Maybe the issue is straightforward and they can represent themselves.
  • Maybe their neighbor told them that they had a positive SRL experience.

We may never know why.

But we can prepare our court system.

  • We can train judges and court personnel.
  • We can set reasonable expectations.
  • We can develop forms and videos to familiarize the public with the court system.
  • We can ensure that new form development reflects PLAIN LANGUAGE principles.
  • We can work with attorneys to develop innovative and affordable services as well as discuss effective ways to work with a self-represented litigant.

In the meantime, we can look at innovations and practice by other states. Other states such as Massachusetts and Montana.

-RFW

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