Social Media, Social Media Access to Justice?

Did you take the 4 1/2 minutes to watch the video? If so, you’re one of the statistics who participate in Social Media. And if not, simply by stopping by the blog, you’ve become a statistic.

Do you blog?

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Do you Twitter? twitter_logo_header

Do you have a Facebook account?

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LinkedIn?

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If you’re reading this entry, you have decided that online information (either resources or opinion) is of value to you. And that got me thinking – (wait . . .  here it comes . . .  I have a talent for stating the obvious):

THE INTERNET IS POWERFUL

It is easy and quick to exchange information. Sure, the video targets “marketers” but we “professionals” need to stay current too. While the marketer might use hashtags to hawk wares, the professional can use these same hashtags to educate about a specific idea.

And sometimes social media can even bring in customers, clients or people with legal questions. Each day the SC Access to Justice Commission receives more calls from people trying to navigate their way through the South Carolina civil legal system.

When I ask where they heard about the Commission? THE INTERNET.

Some may argue that most South Carolinians who live in poverty cannot afford the internet. And that may be true. But if I can reach just a few more people with an additional point of access aka the internet, shouldn’t I try?

And, if the video is telling/selling the truth, then more than likely the “new” generation will communicate via social media almost  to the exclusion of traditional media.

So, I’ll keep trying to stay “au courant” or Plain English “CURRENT” with the latest trends because the Commission’s purpose is to remove barriers to access within the civil legal system.

In the meantime, in addition to Twitter, Facebook, etc., I’ll keep my phone, fax and email address.

Feel free to contact me via SNAIL MAIL too. 

Snail Mail
Snail Mail

 -RFW

Plain English Guru: Ken Davis

A brief thanks to techno.la for pointing us to Kenneth W. Davis

THANKS!

Once we clicked to his blog, we knew we’d found a gem: a Plain English Guru.

Sure, it’s not a legal writing blog. Ah, much more importanly, it’s a blog about writing. Writing for everyone.

And that’s something many of us attorneys push aside as we start writing. We write to impress the Court. We write to impress the Client. We write to impress anyone who may read our loquacious and eloquent documents.

In essence, as lawyers, we often forget to write  for someone, we write to impress the audience with our hard-earned and years of education. After all, we had to learn to write those Latin phrases in law school, right?

Writing with flourish may be fun and it may be exciting to search for words out of the brain’s recesses that house our grammar school vocabulary tests, but those are endeavors for us, the writers.

When we write for the reader, we should write clearly and with a end in sight – to get our idea across to the reader.

And Mr. Davis is the go-to-guy for plain writing.

-RFW

More SRLs: Are Lawyers too Costly or Simply Sign of Hard Times?

That’s the question coming out of Connecticut this week, see Connecticut Law Tribune article here. Whatever the answer, the numbers of Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs is on the rise. The trend isn’t limited to Connecticut either. Recent conversations with family court judges, clerks of court and masters-in-equity have indicated that South Carolina is also part of the trend.

The challenges faced by other court systems also mirror what is happening in South Carolina. SRLs are not familiar with procedures to meet minimal requirements such as notifying the other party or service of process. Even if they meet procedural requirements they may not understand some of the documents themselves. They may not even complete all the necessary forms.

Additionally, attorneys have a reputation for using their own language, also known as legalese. The phrases in legal documents often are in Latin, not English. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is working with the courts to ensure that court documents are written in Plain English whenever possible.

Clerks of Court in South Carolina have also noted the rise in SRLs. Members of the public often ask for forms, then ask for help completing them. Or they may ask for advice from the clerk of whether to bring the action. Clerks are wary of responding – not because they don’t want to help, but because they don’t want to overstep into the practice of law – the unauthorized practice of law. In South Carolina, there are established laws indicating that only attorneys licensed in South Carolina may practice law in South Carolina. Legal advice is considered the practice of law. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is also working to address this question by developing signage clearly indicating what clerks can and cannot do. And the Commission is working with a clerk of court work group to educate clerks and the general public about the fine line between advice and information.

Judges note that they too have ethical dilemmas. When SRLs appear in their courtrooms and miss relevant pieces of their cases, the judges want to help but they too have boundaries. They may not help one side to the detriment of another.

SRLs have arrived and South Carolina is working to address the issue of increased numbers of SRLs in the courts.

But it may take a little while.

Thanks for your patience.

-RFW

The Move toward Plain English

As you may recall, there have been posts and discussions at the regional public hearings about “legalese” and its exclusivity. While the South Carolina courts are in the process of moving toward Plain English, it’s important to recognize that this is an issue facing many other courts as well.

Well, there is help out there for English speakers and writers – in the form of blogs, articles and other resources – as I was recently reminded by Vickie Britton.

Thanks for bringing this back to our attention. This is an important issue for many South Carolinians.

-RFW

For your reading pleasure, check out:

Why South Carolina Attorneys – I DO DECLARE!

I came across this Declaration of Commitment to Clients while searching for something else this morning. While I’d seen it before and even have a pretty copy of it in my files, it wasn’t and isn’t often that I pull it out to remind myself of my duties. Oh sure, I have every intention of doing so, but you’ve heard about good intentions paving the way to . . . At any rate, I thoughtfully reviewed each commitment. From the number of complaints/information that come into the SC Bar about attorneys not calling or keeping their clients up-to-date, you’d think that attorneys really aren’t serving our clients. But I do realize that for every complaint that comes in, there are 4 or 5 attorneys doing exactly what they’ve committed to do. They keep in regular contact with their clients. They preserve client confidences. In a nutshell, they honor their commitment.

My Declaration of Commitment to Clients
My Declaration of Commitment to Clients
 
So, why the column? Well, it’s the line where atorneys are committed “to make our legal system MORE ACCESSIBLE and RESPONSIVE” to our clients. It’s right there in Black-n-White (and yellow).
Are we doing that? The answer is yes, we are. At least some of us. Within the South Carolina Access to Justice community, there are initiatives regarding court forms -adding them to the website for more accessibility to judges, attorneys and the public as well as make sure that they are written in PLAIN ENGLISH. Initial work is on putting together a Divorce Packet – based on one year separation, no children, no property. The packet will contain not only the forms, but instructions for completing the forms as well. And, more forms and instructional packets are to follow.

You may wonder who has been involved in this process. ATTORNEYS. That’s right, attorneys. Court Administration attorneys. Supreme Court attorneys. Legal Services attorneys. South Carolina Bar attorneys. South Carolina Family Court Judges – all of whom are attorneys.

Congratulations South Carolina! Your attorneys are working to make the law and its many processes easier to follow and understand.
-RFW
 

Plain Language: Moving Away from Legalese

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission was first introduced to the concept of Plain Language at the regional public hearings last spring.  Last week, Court Solutions’ attendees learned more about the Plain Language movement and heard about initiatives around the country.

Plain Language uses words and images that most people can understand. It enables people with low literacy abilities, people with limited English proficiency and/or people with cognitive disabilities to more easily understand the concepts. People with visual impairments benefit from plain language because it is easier for their automated “screen readers.”

There are many online resources about how to draft plain language documents. Here are just a few:

Stay tuned for more information about Plain Language updates from Stephanie A. Nye.

-RFW