Massachusetts Releases Interim Report on Access to Justice

Just last month, the Massachusetts Court System released its  Interim Report on Access to Justice Initiatives (Massachusetts), specifically initiatives in the Trial Court. This initiative is not to replace the work of their Access to Justice Commission, but to enhance it, as noted in the report itself.

Much of their work mirrors what we in South Carolina are doing.

They are reviewing progress in other states:

  • looking at developing forms and interactive websites for self-represented litigants;
  • reviewing implications and feasibility of limited scope representation aka unbundled legal services;
  • exploring ways to develop court service centers;
  • increasing access to the courts for those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

They are reviewing challenges within their current system:

Their consensus? Action toward providing:

  • services for court users with limited or no English language skills, including staff who can speak and read other languages,
  • instructional materials in other languages, and court forms in other languages;
  • technology, including wireless (internet) access in courthouses, MassCourts public access, and court forms that can be completed on-line;
  • self-help centers and materials; and
  • child care centers.

What’s fascinating? This came about through a survey to court personnel. Often we hear that the government is full of bureaucratic red tape.

What’s encouraging? That this very government is working to make the process easier for us to navigate – during a time of economic crisis.

Kudos Massachusetts! We’ll be watching your progress and wish you well throughout the process.

-RFW

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

Massachusetts: To Bundle or Not To Bundle

To Bundle or Not to Bundle, That is the Question. Or is it?

To Bundle or Not To Bundle

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts recently authorized Limited Assistance Representation a/k/a Unbundled Legal Assistance in all its Trial Court Departments. To view the Order, click here.

The reason? It assists access to justice.

And the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had done their homework. They relied upon information from a 2006 Pilot Project.

To learn more about unbundled legal services, click here.

-RFW