Oh the Possibilities!

Recently, Kate Bladow, from ProBono.Net, spoke about technology in the courts at Gov 2.0 Expo 2010.

She spoke about barriers to access to justice, and finding innovative ways, through technology, to open the doors to justice. One way? Document Assembly programs that assist self-represented litigants (SRLs). She noted that many SRLs complete the forms incorrectly or leave out vital information when they attempt to complete them. Often, these are individuals who are unable to afford an attorney.

Another point that Kate makes is that attorneys are not guaranteed except in certain actions.

So, you may wonder, what’s the harm?

  • Some people may have to start the entire process all over again. And they lose not only time, but money.
  • By not completing the forms or reading instructions properly, they become increasingly irritated with the court system – and more wary.
  • Sometimes individuals may have a part of their lives on hold while they restart the process.
  • Courts schedule actions, only to have to either dismiss or continue them for another time.
  • Justice is delayed.

Kate did a great job with her presentation. Now we need to pick up where she left off.

Let’s discuss ways to improve access to the courts. Let’s discuss Plain Language. Let’s discuss Self-Help Centers in South Carolina. Then let’s act, together, to make access real.


SC Courts Website: Noteworthy!

In perusing the 2009 Edition of Future Trends published by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), I saw that the South Carolina Courts website was featured prominently as an example of user-friendly design.

This is exciting because it highlights the SC Court’s interest in serving the general public and making information easy to find.  And the following Excerpt indicates why the site is so successful:

The South Carolina Judicial Department’s Web team compiled over
a year’s worth of e-mailed requests from court staff, the legal community,
and the public to help design the site’s e-mail notification system, through
which Web visitors can sign up to receive opinions, orders, rules, forms,
court news, and more.

The report also contains information about the rising number of self-represented litigants within the nation’s court system. While South Carolina has been working to address this area with our access to justice SRL efforts, SRLs are exponentially increasing their presence in the courts.

If you are interested in court trends in SC and around the USA, I would definitely recommend taking a few minutes to check out the recent NCSC report.

Special Thanks to technola for pointing us toward the report.


Friday Resource: Nolo®


Friday Resource
Friday Resource

Do you know Nolo®?

Here’s your chance to learn about a great online resource, Nolo®. As often happens, I have to give props to techno.la for reminding me of this invaluable resource via one of their recent posts.

In addition to the Free Foreclosure Survival Guide, Nolo® offers a wealth of free information in the form of their Nolopedia, podcasts and blogs. Please note that not all their information is free, but it’s well worth your time to explore their site.



Techno.la re: Hawaii ATJ

Island Access
Island Access

If you have a moment or two, check out http://techno.la and read about Hawaii’s Access to Justice Conference yesterday (June 24, 2009).


One Note for Twitterers: You can follow the tweets from the Conference at #AccesstoJustice

Day 2: EJC – so far . . .

Ok, there’s a quick break in between sessions and yes, my last session ended a few minutes early. And before I forget, yes I’m addicted to blogging. SO, here’s the latest update.

Today I have been able to see friends from home – Tom Trent, Andrea Loney, Shannon Scruggs and Pamela Robinson – as well as friends from other places – Louis Rulli, Richard Zorza, my fellow ATJers and others. Some I’ve only met via cyberspace – Claudia Johnson, it was nice to finally meet you in person!

And, here are the photos from the morning.


CIMG4565good crowd at the Plenary

CIMG4566exhibits before the crowd hits . . .

CIMG4567Lawyers and Social Workers Workings Together: Resolving Ethical Dilemmas

CIMG4570ATJ Lunch Roundtable (sans table)

CIMG4572more round (no table)

CIMG4573Fostering Information Sharing and Collaboration to Maximize Successful Team and Partnership Efforts

CIMG4576stay tuned . . .


March in Review

I hope you enjoy the Ms from March. I had fun reviewing the list.

  1. Musings by George
  2. Marbury v. Madison
  3. Much ado about Foreclosures
  4. More Tech Talk
  5. Middleon the Man, Mad about UNEMPLOYMENT, My Thai
  6. Monday? No, Friday
  7. .
  8. .
  9. Monday Topics
  10. Mondale, Mocha, Stimulus, Ask-A-Lawyer
  11. Massive Lay-offs, I-CAN!® E-file
  12. Mock Trial, Modest Means, More Need
  13. .
  14. .
  15. .
  16. Mortgages, mortgages, mortgages
  17. More SRLs, Making History with Mortgage Assistance
  18. March 18, 1963
  19. Magazine Article re: LEP
  20. .
  21. .
  22. .
  23. Me? A Moderator, Marriage Dissolution Packet online
  24. Media Videos
  25. Mid-Coast in Child Homelessness
  26. Mr. Judge: No CDV in MY Court
  27. Mexican Mixe, Justice Z, Maira & More
  28. .
  29. .
  30.  Makin’ Photography
  31. Millions and a Map


Ever wish you had a map for the court system?

Wonder no more!

Thanks to National Center for State Courts (NCSC) for the innovative online interactive map that plainly delineates the structure of each of the state court systems.

To review the South Carolina Court System, click here.

This is good news for pre-law students and any others with an interest in civics, but especially low-income people who want to learn about the court system. Information such as this provides necessary education about the court system and assists access to justice.

And thanks again to Techno.la for pointing this out!


FREE OR LOW COST Online Legal Research Tools


As many of us try to limit our costs, any low cost or free alternatives are appreciated.

Thanks to our friends at Techno.la for pointing SC Access to Justice toward this resource out of Georgetown.

The Georgetown Law Library has put together an online guide for legal research indicating which services offer state court information, which ones offer federal court information, which have case law, which have statutes, etc.


Language + Web Tools = Access

The folks at techno.la have done it again. They have pointed readers to information on the web for LEP people or people with Limited English Proficiency. The specific article is well worth reading if you work with LEP. Check it out here.

If you want to learn more about equal justice ideas and initiatives, read the whole magazine starting here.


South Carolina: 3rd highest unemployment in the USA

South Carolina Ranks 3rd in the Nation in Unemployment

Thanks so much to Technola for their post about this interactive unemployment map entitled “The Geography of a Recession.”

The national unemployment rate average in December 2008 was 7.1%, with a 2.3 increase in one year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina’s rate was 9.5%, the third highest in the nation with Rhode Island with the highest jobless rates, 10.6% followed by Michigan at 10.0%. California was 4th with 9.3%; followed by Nevada, 9.1%; and Oregon at 9.0%.

Indiana and South Carolina recorded the largest over-the-month unemployment rate increases in December (+1.1 percentage points each).

As I looked at South Carolina’s unemployment highs, I noted that they are primarily in the “rural” areas AND they are “manufacturing centers” according to the map.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Manufacturing Sector refers to:

Plants, factories, or mills  engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products. These industries include Food Manufacturing; Beverage and Tobacco Product Manufacturing; Textile Mills; Textile Product Mills; Apparel Manufacturing; Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing; Wood Product Manufacturing; Paper Manufacturing; Printing and Related Support Activities; Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing; Chemical Manufacturing; Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing; and more.

How is this related to Access to Justice?

As unemployment increases, income decreases. People are no longer covered by medical insurance. They can no longer afford their car payments or home mortgages. This may lead to stress in the marriage which leads to divorce. Sometimes (not always) the desperation to provide food and shelter may lead to an increase in crime.

These may seem like social justice issues, but there are legal implications. If people are unaware of their rights, they are more likely to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous business practices.

For instance, two days ago, the New York Times published an article entitled You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector.  In the article, relatives of dead debtors are contacted and asked “if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment. The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.”

In the article, one unemployed man offers to pay $15 per month to settle his late mother-in-law’s credit card debt which he has no legal responsibility to do.

If they’re lucky, they’ll know to turn to attorneys for assistance, whether it’s South Carolina Legal Services or the SC Bar Pro Bono Program. Some may be able to proceed on their own, as self-represented litigants. But they will come in contact with the civil legal system.

That’s how the problem is related to Access to Justice. That’s why unemployment is an issue for all of us. That’s why we all need to help educate consumers and the general public about their civil legal rights.