Extra Extra: Supreme Court of SC approves Self-Help Center Pilot

SPECIAL EDITION:

Earlier today, South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal announced a pilot program for a Self-Help Center for Self-Represented Litigants in Newberry County.

At the end of the 2-year pilot program, the SC Access to Justice Commission will provide a report detailing the program’s effectiveness and making recommendations for further action.

Stay tuned!

-RFW

12/10/09: Desa Ballard

Earlier I mentioned that I attended and spoke at the Lexington County Bar’s Annual Conference last Thursday. Among the presenters were The Honorable James O. Spence, Master-in-Equity; Desa Ballard, Private Attorney; The Honorable Richard C. Collins, Magistrate;  The Honorable Daniel R. Eckstrom, Probate Court; and me.

In a previous post were notes I made from Judge Spence’s presentation. This post will cover notes from Desa Ballard’s presentation.

Now, if you’re an attorney practicing in South Carolina, you’ve probably heard of Desa – via the Advance Sheets. A quick Google search turns up a good many instances in which Desa is counsel in Attorney Discipline cases. Often when Desa speaks, people listen. She offers good advice and ethical guidance.

After Judge Spence offered his words of wisdom, Desa referenced that when working with SRLs, we need only reference familiar material – the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum – specifically PLAY FAIR.

Of particular note, she mentioned that most of her discipline cases begin with a notion of fairness or lack thereof. In most instances, the aggrieved party alleges that they were not treated FAIRLY. And, if the attorney has no objective witness (i.e. court reporter) to substantiate what was said, the case becomes very complicated very quickly.

Desa noted that there are two standards for SRLs – criminal and civil. In criminal courts, there is an absolute right to represent oneself. In some instances, courts will appoint “stand-by” counsel. She noted that these appointments should not be entered into lightly. Point of reference – a 2007 ABA Advisory Opinion directly on point. The attorney owes a duty to the system, with very limited obligations to the “client.” In fact, the attorney is expressly prohibited from interfering with the SRL’s decisions of how to represent himself.

She referenced Rules 4.2 and 4.3; noting that attorneys should refer back to them to make sure we understand our role. Rule 4.2 is especially important when attorneys are representing ourselves or our friends. Rule 4.3 helps us clarify our role when we are representing our clients against self-represented litigants.

When Desa mentioned “ghostwriting,” a popular topic recently, she emphasized that we, the attorneys, are the ones who are supposed to be objective AND professional. Additionally, we can and should refer back to rules to ensure that we are acting appropriately within our ethical guidelines. After all, as attorneys, we are bound by ethics!

-RFW

SRLs – A Start

For those of you interested in learning where to start to learn more about self-represented litigants in South Carolina, here’s my cheat sheet:

Resources

1.         Online

A.  South Carolina:

B.  National:

  • http://www.selfhelpsupport.org/ – Members include judges, clerks, court staff, legal aid advocates, bar association representatives, law school faculty, researchers, and others who work to increase access to justice.
  • http://www.srln.org/ – The Self-Represented Litigation Network brings together courts and access to justice organizations in support of innovations in services for the self represented
  • http://devlegacy.ncsc.org/WC/CourTopics/ResourceGuide.asp?topic=ProSe – The National Center for State Courts’ Self-Representation Resource Guide.
  • http://www.ajs.org/prose/home.asp – The American Judicature Society’s Pro Se Forum.
  • http://www.lri.lsc.gov/prose/prose.asp – The Pro Se Section of the Legal Services Corporation Resource Library focuses on practices to help legal services programs empower low-income clients to help themselves through pro se advocacy.
  • http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/delivery/delunbund.html – The American Bar Association’s Pro Se/Unbundling Resource Center. This site has been developed as a project of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. It is designed as a resource to help lawyers, bar leaders, the judiciary, court administrators, scholars and the media better understand and critically analyze the issues involved in self-representation and unbundled legal services.

C.  Other States:

  • http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/ – The California Courts Online Self-Help Center which helps self-represented litigants find assistance and information, work better with an attorney, and represent themselves in some legal matters.
  • http://www.legalhotlines.org/ – AARP’s Florida senior Legal Helpline Honored by State Coalition.

2.         Attachments

I’m sure there will be more to come, but this should give you a start!

And many thanks to probono.net for supporting many of these platforms.

-RFW

This American Life Features SRLs

Just posted this on Twitter, then realized, why not add to the Blog?

On this site, you’ve read about Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs numerous times. And, last December, SCETV’s The Big Picture featured Access to Justice with a focus on SRLs. This week, NPR’s This American Life features SRLs in their episode #385 entitled “Pro Se.”

Should be interesting. I’ll be tuning in!

-RFW

SRLs: The Good, The Bad and The Reality

Writing about Self-Represented Litigants is not as easy as it appears.

Sure, I wholeheartedly believe that every U.S. citizen has a right to be heard in court. And sometimes there simply isn’t an attorney available or willing to represent everyone. So, the alternative is appearing by oneself, as a Self-Represented Litigant or pro se.

But my training and experience lead me to conclude even though each of us has a right to appear on our own, it isn’t always in our best interest.

Ideally every person would be entitled to representation by an attorney who is familiar with the specific area of law.

Attorneys are trained to review the facts, both subjectively, objectively and as they relate in law. Areas of law differ greatly but all attorneys are skilled in research and reviewing information. By hiring attorneys clients hire an objective fact reviewer as well as a reviewer of existing law and potentially policy-makers.

About this time, you’re thinking, why did she say this topic isn’t easy? Because as an attorney, I’m torn.

As with most legal issues, there are always shades of gray. Most of us view the world in black and white, right and wrong. As attorneys, our training (3 years of law school plus our practice and life experience) reveal the shades of gray. The pieces that may be right for the wrong reasons and wrong for the right reasons.

I recognize that with each legal form that is created, some people will forgo consulting with an attorney. These individuals will not receive the wisdom, many times in the form of questions, from the attorney. This will potentially leave them vulnerable.

Scenario 1: Someone married to someone with a pension MAY have rights to that pension. But they’re so unhappy in the marriage. They sign papers without consulting an attorney. Maybe they’re currently in good health with a good job. But, what happens if they are seriously injured in a car wreck and no longer able to work?

Scenario 2: Same as before except: What happens if they move forward with their lives, without tragedy? Simply pleased to have a failed marriage behind them.

Each U.S. citizen has a right to both scenarios. And it’s the second scenario that allows me to continue to advocate for resources to assist people who want to represent themselves.

But it isn’t always easy because the first scenario is always in the recesses of my mind.

Scenario 1 in the recesses of my mind
Scenario 1 in the recesses of my mind

And I can do my best to ensure that at least the forms and resources provided to them is accurate and complete and not out there to take advantage of them.

-RFW

Fyi, for another perspective on Self-Represented Litigants, check out Rebecca Woodworth Brodie’s opinion piece entitled The Rationing of Justice: LAR, DIY attorneys and pro se.