Cast your vote re: ghostwriting

I’ve received the following email 3 times. It’s time for me to share!

Following an article published yesterday, titled Kansas Ethics Opinion Requires Disclosure on Ghostwritten Pleadings, the ABA Journal has created a poll on ghostwriting.  Visit the site at www.abajournal.com to cast your vote in the poll “Is Ghostwriting Legal Documents Ethical?”.

Scroll down the screen to see the poll, which is located on the right side of the home page.  We’re not sure how long the poll will be open, so be sure to vote today.

This issue is particularly relevant for those of us interested in limited scope representation.

Limited scope representation varies state by state, but generally, it allows attorneys to provide a discrete service and is considered by many to increase access to justice – due to reduced costs for legal services.

A litigant or client may pay for someone to write a letter on their behalf or write their court documents, but complete their legal representation at that point.

Ghostwriting is when the attorney writes the documents for the client. In some states, the attorney does not have to sign their name; in others, it is mandatory.

What do you think? Case your vote at www.abajournal.com.

-RFW

SRL Assistance Down Under

 

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A recent article in the Queensland Courier Mail cited Chief Justice Paul de Jersey as saying that while the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in the Australian state of Queensland is down from previous years, they still continue to be a burden on both the civil and criminal court systems. 

Queensland courts are experiencing problems similar to those here in the states when SRLs enter the courtroom:  time-consuming case presentation and unnecessary costs.

Chief Justice de Jersey stated that the percentage of SRLs in civil matters was down from 42.1% in the previous year to 32%. This sharp decrease is partially attributable to the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Inc.’s Self-Representation Civil Law Service (SRCLS) which was established in 2007 to assist SRLs through the judicial process.

The SRCLS solicitors perform a myriad of services including: giving legal advice to SRLs,  drafting documents (e.g., pleadings and affidavits), conducting legal research, and referring appropriate cases for further advice, support, or representation.

SRCLS solicitors also assist SRLs with ancillary litigation-related issues including: understanding the process and procedures, observing courtroom rules and decorum and presenting their cases in the best possible light.

SRCLS will help any SRL, regardless of their means; however, the degree of assistance depends upon an SRL’s income and the extent to which the SRL can afford representation.

Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Inc. also provides a similar service to SRLs in the Court of Appeals.

While efforts exist to introduce qualified immunity for court staff when assisting SRLs and an indemnity policy, these have yet to come to fruition.

Despite the need for qualified immunity and an indemnity policy, the SRCLS is a great first step.  The numbers seem to indicate that the program does  help in furnishing an effective way of handling SRLs’ cases.

While I have yet to come across any programs quite as extensive as this one in the United States, many states have implemented self-help kiosks in their courthouses that provide information and some limited assistance to SRLs.  While these are surely helpful, compared to the SRCLS, they do leave something to be desired.

The SRCLS appears to be a more comprehensive compromise  between providing actual legal representation and not providing any assistance at all.  While SRLs clearly have more work and resonsibilities to take on when representing themselves, they are at least provided with the tools and directions they need to present their cases in a more advantageous manner.

-Alex

Funding Courts during Economic Tough Times – Iowa’s State of the Judiciary

Many South Carolinians may not automatically think of Iowa as a sister-state, but when it comes to access to justice, we may be very much alike.

Sound Familiar?

The Globe Gazette reported on the Iowa Supreme Court’s State of the Judiciary on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 when  Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus addressed Iowa lawmakers and laid out the concerns regarding failure to provide access to courts and access to legal representation for people living in poverty or those of modest means, essentially equal access to justice.

“Administering justice is one of the reasons that government exists,” Ternus said according to prepared remarks. “If we neglect this fundamental obligation to the people, we break trust with them and ultimately, lose their confidence. And for government, public trust and confidence is everything.”

In the current economic conditions, Ternus also expressed concern that more and more people are unable to access the courts or cannot access them effectively because they cannot afford a lawyer.

“We have long recognized that the cost of legal representation is beyond the reach of the poor, but it is now often beyond the reach of the middle class,” Ternus said. “The end result: we have equal justice for some, but certainly not for all.”

The Des Moines Register‘s coverage included Ternus’ proprosals to provide access to justice including:

ACCESS TO LAWYERS: A growing number of Iowans have unmet needs in civil court because they cannot afford a lawyer, Ternus said.  . . .  Ternus asked lawmakers to maintain current funding levels for legal organizations that serve low-income Iowans, which she said are more important than ever as the economy staggers.

COST OF CIVIL CASES: The high cost and complexity of civil lawsuits has led many Iowans to private services such as mediators and arbitrators, Ternus said. She said some citizens and businesses have opted not to pursue legitimate legal claims because of the cost, or settle out of court even if a claim has no merit.  . . .

NEED FOR INTERPRETERS: State courts and other agencies still struggle with a statewide shortage of qualified language interpreters, Ternus said. The need, she said, is greatest in rural pockets of the state and in languages other than Spanish.

Ternus proposed a statewide interpreter center as a solution, which would pool all qualified interpreters into one place for the courts and government agencies to use.

I feel particularly aligned with the conclusion I read at www.essentialestrogen.com (below).

Conclusion

As I have discussed, even before the current economic downturn, our courts were facing many serious challenges, and now the budget problem, and its potential impact on the delivery of justice to Iowans, looms large. But we face two other challenges that are no less daunting: the challenge of change and the challenge of maintaining public trust and confidence.

These days we hear a lot about the need for change. But I have enough experience to know that humans naturally resist change, even when they know it’s good for them. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I recently saw: “Change is good. You go first.”

We stand at a crossroads. Change will come whether we want it or not. We cannot stop the sweeping forces that are transforming our society, but we do have control over our response. We can choose to shape the future or we can wait for the future to shape us and then face the consequences of our inaction.

For our part, the Iowa Judicial Branch is ready to be a catalyst for change. We are fully prepared to prudently change Iowa’s court structure, procedures and services and to reallocate its resources to better meet the demands of our changing society. Because most of our structure and procedures are statutory, we cannot move forward unilaterally; we must have your support. As I have discussed, we propose a number of statutory changes required to bring about the improvements we envision, and we urge you to approve them all. With your approval,

  • we can support the continued delivery of high quality justice in Iowa,

  • we can ensure that a fundamental function of our democratic government stays strong, and

  • we can build and maintain public confidence in our government for generations to  come.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Iowa has faced challenging times before, and the bright points in our history have been when Iowa’s leaders have found the vision, the courage, and the commitment to shape the future.

Let this be such a time.

As we enter the MLK remembrance weekend and as we stand on the bridge to a new American day, I ask each of us, regardless of our economic status, educational level, job or career, please consider that we are affected by those around us. If our family members or our neighbors suffer, we suffer too. For the egocentrics among us, if my neighbor’s home goes into foreclosure, that reduces my property value.

And, our neighbors are sometimes further down the road than we realize but they remain our neighbors. In Iowa our neighbors are working toward access to justice. Let’s support them by supporting access to justice at home, right here in South Carolina.

-RFW

For the full text of Chief Justice Marsha Ternus’ 2009 The State of the Judiciary (Iowa), click here.

Access to Justice: A Principle derived from the Mayflower Compact?

No matter what happens in the elections next Tuesday, on next Wednesday, at 3:00 p.m. on November 5th, people from around the state will converge on the South Carolina Supreme Court steps to hear the much anticipated South Carolina Access to Justice Commission’s final public hearing.

Why should people care about Access to Jusice? Because it affects our freedom. When we deny any person the right to their “day in court” we turn our back on principles of the founding fathers. I recently reviewed “The Mayflower Compact (1620)” – or the text presented in the writings of Pilgrim William Bradford.

Statue of Pilgrim William Bradford
Statue of Pilgrim William Bradford

The words that especially spoke to me were

. . . enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony . . .

Bas Relief of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact
Bas Relief of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact

Although concepts of equal including women and minorities were not de rigueur 388 years ago, the modern United States concept of equality has broadened to encompass all. Today, there are laws prohibiting discrimination based on religion, disability, gender, race, ethnicity, age, and national origin.

Well then, you may ask, why all the fuss about access to justice? And I say, because the one piece that’s missing from this list is income

Income or lack thereof is currently prohibiting hundreds of thousands of people from accessing the civil justice system.

In South Carolina, lack of moneys bars people from resources for:

  • communication – telephone, computer, cellphone, newspapers, magazines.
  • transportation – gas prices, insurance, a working automobile, no public transportation.
  • legal representation – filing fees, attorney fees, court reporter costs.

These are just a few of the ways in which lack of finances affects individuals living in poverty. Many states, including South Carolina, are working to improve access to the civil justice system for all. JUSTICE FOR ALL. Period.

If you want to learn more about the efforts of the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, please join us at the South Carolina Supreme Court next Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. Real South Carolinians will speak out about the barriers they or their clients have faced.

-RFW

Day 1 – Court Solutions Conference: Self-Represented Litigation Solutions Track

Today marked the first day of the Court Solutions Conference re: self-represented litigants (SRLs). All South Carolina delegates made their flights and met up prior to the beginning of the conference.

Early into the conference, we heard terms that will likely be repeated – Change – Innovation – Improvement. Many may be perplexed with these terms used in conjunction with SRLs however as the conference continues, this should turn into an Aha moment (at least that’s the hope).

Although there are 15 modules to choose from, some innovative tracks are:

  • self help centers
  • redesigning courts
  • justice corps
  • ethical guidelines
  • plain language forms
  • case management
  • unbundled services
  • law library collaboration
  • limited English Proficiency
  • compliance issues

From Richard Zorza, when building our team plan, we should be:

  • visionary not ideological
  • practical and concrete not obsessive

Chief Judge Bell welcomed us to Baltimore, providing an overview of the rich history within Baltimore. He reminded us that the “the judiciary’s only power is to use its own good judgment, the good judgment built by the trust and confidence of the people it serves.”

Many other speakers shared innovations around the country as they spoke of projects and programs in their respective states or counties. I look forward to sharing the information as we learn it.

Thanks – RFW

(And as soon as I figure out how to upload my photos onto the laptop, I’ll share them with you.)