SRLs: Take a Look

I’m so happy I have signed up to receive Google Alerts. I set up one for Self-Represented Litigants and it sent me to a post today at Rights & Remedies: Top Ten Tips for Appearing in Civil Chambers. And apparently the blog originates out of British Columbia, Canada, but I’m pleased to note that the Top Ten Tips apply equally well to Self-Represented Litigants in South Carolina.

Quick Recap:

  1. Arrive early.
  2. Address the judge as “Your Honor” and show respect.
  3. When it is your turn, introduce yourself and you may be asked to spell your name for a court reporter.
  4. If you can, prepare a written document outlining your case to hand to the judge. Bring a copy for the judge, the clerk of court and the other side.
  5. If possible, prepare a draft Order of what you would like (your case) and bring with you.
  6. When you start to tell the case, summarize first then provide details.
  7. Do not interrupt the judge or the other party. Take notes of the parts you disagree with and why. When it is your turn to speak, refer to these points.
  8. Try to find a statute or case law that will support your point. Although it is tempting to say because “I’m right” this is not likely to convince the judge to rule in your favor.
  9. Do not argue with the judge if they rule against you. Instead try to find out if you have a right to appeal – and when you need to do so. Many appeals have tight deadlines.
  10. Read the Court rules about how to proceed in court BEFORE going.

I have added Rights & Remedies to the Blogroll. Take a look.


Now for the NEWS

Earlier I listed some of the recent blog posts I enjoyed. Below are some recent newsworthy items from around the state, nation and world:

  1. Out of Knoxville TN: Public meeting to discuss increasing need of legal help for poor
  2. Out of Texas: Opinion Piece –  New OAG Service Helps Parents Address Visitation Concerns.
  3. Out of Vancouver, Canada: High fees that block access to the courts block access to justice.
  4. Out of Colorado: Justice for all – Salt Lake City attorney serves the homeless.
  5. Out of Oregon: Hard Times for Access to Justice – Economic Downturn is Beginning to Take its Toll in Oregon.
  6. Out of the UK: Judge rules CPS wrong to deny victim with mental illness right to fight for justice.
  7. Out of Minneapolis/St. Paul: Court of Appeals testing new mediation process.
  8. From NPR: Immigration Crackdown Overwhelms Judges.
  9. Out of Washington: AGs push for mortgage modifications.
  10. Out of West Virginia – State must submit plan to prevent juvenile racial injustice.
  11. Out of Tulsa, OK: A lawful dosage. A medical-legal partnership fills in some gaps in child health-care issues.
  12. Out of North Carolina: Legal Aid in demand and in a bind.
  13. Out of New Jersey: Agency that gives legal help to poor is in financial crisis.
  14. Out of Florida: Judge John Blue Receives 2009 Chief Justice’s Distinguished Judicial Service Award.
  15. Out of Massachusetts: President of One Laptop Per Child to speak Feb. 10.  (yes this is past, but it’s still worth reading)
  16. From Berkeley: Bringing it all back home – In her new job, Wilda White pursues a lifelong passion for social justice.
  17. Out of Massachussets: Legal services needed for immigrants in Milford.
  18. Also from Massachussetts: Letter From The President Of The Boston Bar Association.
  19. Out of Mississippi: Miss. legal aid grows scarce as economy gets worse – Unlike in the criminal justice system, indigent in civil cases aren’t guaranteed an attorney.
  20. Out of England: Let’s not be too misty eyed about legal aid, but it is at a crossroads.
  21. From Chattanooga: 6 Chattanooga Law Firms Commit To Greater Legal Service For The Poor.
  22. Out of Florida: Judge calls on Lawyers – Supreme Court judge would like to see equal justice.

Oh, there’s more, but I have to stop somewhere.

Besides, this list is just in case you have a few moments . . .


What’s wrong with this picture?


I found the following comment by “Dan” to an article posted by entitled “Canada’s top judge says justice often blockedhere.

I lost the car, the driver licence because I was registered with Family maintenance – no communication from them whatsoever – and the mother leaves the country and I always took care of the kids.
I lost because 

  • I cannot afford a lawyer.

  • I lost jobs also. Very soon I will be on the streets.

  • No laywer – the judges don’t want to listen.

Why did “Dan’s” words hit so hard?

Because the comments by “Dan” from Canada could easily have been written by “Carl” from Cowpens or “Collin” from Columbia. This past year, the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission conducted public hearings around the state to learn of barriers to justice by those living in or just above the federal poverty guidelines.

What did we hear?

  • We heard that transportation to the courthouse is a barrier, especially in rural areas.
  • We heard that many South Carolinians, including many who work, are unable to afford to hire an attorney.
  • We heard that when people lost their jobs or had medical emergencies, it completely depleted their savings and put them into debt.
  • We heard that South Carolina Legal Services attorneys with large caseloads having to decide whether to help a  19 year-old woman  living in a shelter and also a victim of domestic violence, recently beaten and raped by her husband and then sued for child custody OR an 82 year old widow who has been sued with a foreclosure action due to an unscrupulous, illegal predatory loan. (from actual testimony given at the Anderson regional public hearing)
  • And we heard more.

So why did “Dan’s” words hit so hard?

Because as an attorney and officer of the court, I took an oath to “assist the defenseless or oppressed by ensuring that justice is available to all citizens and will not delay any person’s cause for profit or malice” (see Lawyer’s Oath).

So why did “Dan’s” words hit so hard?

Because “Dan’s” words let me know that I need to continue to assist South Carolinians in need of access to legal representation and the courts. His words echo the words of so many South Carolinians who spoke at the hearings and many who did not who continue to believe that justice is simply a theory that has not, does not and will not be reality for him.

It’s time for justice to become real to people in need. It’s time for justice to become active. And it’s time for the legal community to come together to make it happen.

It’s time for “Dan’s” words to become obsolete.


PS – Original Art by RFW/Paint


Oh Canada! Oh yeah.

When lawyers are only for the rich


Self-represented litigants are on the rise, not only here in South Carolina or the United States, but also in Canada according to Macleans special report. Interestingly, law and legal practice in both Canada and the USA are based on English law. So it may not be so far-fetched to share common practices – including a rise in the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs or those previously known as pro se).

The premise of the Macleans article (part 1 of a 5-part series) is that as the economy has faltered, the cost of attorneys has remained and many people are now unable to afford to pay for legal representation. They turn to self-representation. And, what they’re seeing in Toronto is similar to South Carolina.

 As the cost of hiring a lawyer soars out of reach, unrepresented litigants are flooding the courts in unprecedented numbers. While no definitive figures exist, some judges, especially in family law, say it’s over 60 per cent in their courtrooms. Chances are, those numbers are going to rise, as the legal profession is now paving the way for even more people to appear without a lawyer. Self-help centres have sprung up in several provinces, and lawyers are offering limited services to entice clients who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Critics say it’s a cynical way to deal with the problem. Being your own lawyer is “like doing your own dental work or heart surgery,” says Judith McCormack, executive director of Downtown Legal Services, a law clinic for the poor, run by the University of Toronto’s law faculty. “It’s a desperate response.”

Historically in South Carolina we’ve not tracked numbers of SRLs, but we are in the process of doing so. The South Carolina Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission has been working with Court Administration, County Clerks of Court and Judges at all levels to develop protocols for maintaining court efficiency while continuing to meet the needs of the public. Additionally we have been working with these entities to produce court-approved forms that are free to South Carolinians and that are more easily understood than traditional court forms.

The SCATJ Commission will continue to work on improvements for self-represented litigants as well as working with legal service entities and private attorneys to make equal access to justice a reality to all South Carolinians.