It’s official – Poster and FAQs online – en español

Good News!  ¡Buenas noticias!

The South Carolina Courts’ Self-Help Page now offers FAQs (General Questions, Circuit Court and Family Court) and an explanation about what court staff can and cannot in Spanish!

And many thanks to student volunteers with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program and the kind folks at HABLA!

-RFW

Focus on Pro Bono: Elliott Tait

Elliott Tait is currently a 2L, taking Wills, Trusts and Estates, Constitutional Law II, Problems in Professional Responsibility, Transnational Law, and Poverty Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is also a member of the Pro Bono Board and the Moot Court Bar.

When asked about his favorite class, Eliott replied “I really enjoy Poverty Law, taught by Professor Patterson.  It’s a class that analyzes the major policies relating to the poor, and it has certainly opened my eyes to the good things that government has been able to facilitate as well as the many things they could improve upon.”

While at the law school, he has checked in from time to time with Pamela DeFanti Robinson, the school’s Pro Bono Program Director. Through this program, he has been able to volunteer in a number of ways, with a memorable volunteer experience teaching a few CHOICES classes at the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).  The curriculum is meant to give the kids in DJJ practical and accessible knowledge of the law.  In particular, Elliott references the day he taught a lesson on law enforcement.  At the beginning of the class the kids were very cynical and even hostile toward anything surrounding the idea of police officers.  By the end of the class, however, a few of the kids were able to really put themselves in the shoes of police officers and begin to understand the reasons behind their conduct.  The simple acknowledgment that “maybe cops aren’t as bad as I think” was a huge victory.

Currently, he is providing Pro Bono assistance by working with the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission’s Self-Represented Litigant Committee under the supervision of Stephanie Nye, Counsel to the Chief Justice. This Committee is working to implement the state’s first self-help centers, which will provide resources to self-represented litigants.  Specifically Elliott is helping to draft and edit self-help centers’ guidelines. Additionally he is also drafting a resource list which contains relevant contact information and links to resources that for self-represented litigants.

When asked whether this particular Pro Bono experience has given him any surprises, he noted “I have been surprised at the level of opposition to self-help centers in some counties.  I understand some feelings of caution about the idea, but outright opposition is surprising.”

He continued “I have learned about the real value in providing services to self-represented litigants.  It’s a shame that South Carolina is many years behind other states in providing such services.”

Elliott also noted that his pro bono experience working with the SC Access to Justice Commission “has simply reaffirmed that the practice of law is a great way to serve others, as there is great need.”

As to his future?

“At this stage I see myself going into some form of public service.”

And what would he tell other law students about his experience?

“Pro Bono work has always been interesting, unique, challenging, and rewarding.  It has really enriched my law school experience, and I plan to make it a significant part of my professional career.”

-RFW

Have you signed up?

If you’re an attorney who wants to know Everything about Everything, then you want to sign up for the SC Bar CLE entitled “Everything You Want To Know About Everything.”

It will be held LIVE in Columbia at the USC School of Law Auditorium, Columbia, South Carolina and via video-CLE Satellite at the following 11 locations around the state:

The speakers will cover topics from Sentencing to DUI to Self-Represented Litigants to Ethics. I hope to see you there!

-RFW

12/10/09: The Honorable Daniel R. Eckstrom

Last Thursday, I attended and spoke at the Lexington County Bar’s Annual Conference. 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.

This post covers the Honorable Daniel R. Eckstrom, Lexington County Probate Judge.

Judge Eckstrom began his presentation with an acknowledgment that the number of self-represented litigants is rising – in all levels of court. He noted that it is especially important for judges to be impartial in perception AND fact. He noted that as judges we should explain more about the process. As attorneys, when the other side is self-represented, we need to make sure that we are very clear about who we represent – especially when there are multiple parties involved.

Good info!

If you want more information about this CLE, watch the SC Bar’s website. The presentation was filmed and will be available for distance learning at a later date!

-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

No paper towels, only legal paper

This may seem like a strange title for a post, but recently I received an email from South Carolina Court Administration indicating that Clerks of Court are having to reject pleadings at a higher rate due to an increase of non-conformance with Rule 10, SCRCP.

For new attorneys and self-represented litigants, it may be a good idea to review Rule 10 of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure which governs Form of Pleadings.

Here is Section (a) of Rule 10. Please note the numbered arrows correspond with bracketed numbers in the text.

(a) Caption, Name of Parties. Every pleading shall contain a caption setting forth the name of the State [1] and County[1], the name of the Court[6], the title of the action[5], the file number [4]and a designation as in Rule 7(a). In the summons and complaint the title of the action shall include the names of all parties[2][3], but in other pleadings it is sufficient to state the name of the first party on each side with an appropriate indication of other parties.

Caption with arrows

Note this entire portion is called the CAPTION.

Please note that there will not be a docket number [4] until the Clerk of Court assigns one. If you do not know your judicial circuit number, you can check the map here on the SC Courts’ website.

Now, let’s skip down to Section (d):

(d) Manner of Preparing Papers. Pleadings and other papers shall be on legal cap paper, eight and one-half by eleven inches in size. They shall be plainly written with adequate spacing between lines or typewritten with not less than one and one-half spacing between lines. Each page shall be numbered consecutively and pages shall be fastened at the top so as to read continuously. Papers in handwriting or typewriting must have a blank margin of an inch and one-half on the left. Plats, photographs, diagrams, documents, and other paper exhibits or copies thereof may be submitted in their actual size; but should be reduced if practicable to eight and one-half by eleven inches if such reduction does not impair legibility and clarity.

What’s of interest here is that even though it clearly states that PLEADINGS AND OTHER PAPERS SHALL BE ON LEGAL CAP PAPER (8 1/2 x 11), the Courts have been receiving pleadings written on paper towels, napkins and even envelopes. And according to Section (e), the Clerks can refuse to file pleadings or papers that are not prepared according to this rule.

Skip down to Section (e):

(e) Filing Refused. The clerk of the court shall not file any pleadings or other papers not prepared in accordance with this rule; except plats, photographs, diagrams, documents, and other paper exhibits as provided in paragraph 10(c).

Please read through the rules before filing documents and make sure you’re in compliance with the rules. If not, the result could be costly to litigants while slowing the efforts of judges to dispense justice.

And if you are a self-represented litigant and are not sure what to do, you may wish to consult an attorney to ensure that you are not giving up your legal rights.

-RFW

SC Courts Website: Noteworthy!

In perusing the 2009 Edition of Future Trends published by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), I saw that the South Carolina Courts website was featured prominently as an example of user-friendly design.

This is exciting because it highlights the SC Court’s interest in serving the general public and making information easy to find.  And the following Excerpt indicates why the site is so successful:

The South Carolina Judicial Department’s Web team compiled over
a year’s worth of e-mailed requests from court staff, the legal community,
and the public to help design the site’s e-mail notification system, through
which Web visitors can sign up to receive opinions, orders, rules, forms,
court news, and more.

The report also contains information about the rising number of self-represented litigants within the nation’s court system. While South Carolina has been working to address this area with our access to justice SRL efforts, SRLs are exponentially increasing their presence in the courts.

If you are interested in court trends in SC and around the USA, I would definitely recommend taking a few minutes to check out the recent NCSC report.

Special Thanks to technola for pointing us toward the report.

-RFW

Listening Matters

This has been an interesting day.

This morning I attended a part of the SC Judicial Conference. The SC Access to Justice Commission’s website was featured along with some special projects with divisions of the SC Courts, especially two projects for Self-Represented Litigants.

Afterward I returned to the office to begin other work, especially that involving increasing pro bono service by the private bar. And if you’re not familiar with Rule 608 which some private bar members attribute as the primary barrier to increased pro bono service in South Carolina, click here.

At any rate, I entered a discussion of pro bono. In the midst of an enthusiastic discussion, one of the three participants advocated a position.  Immediately I (re)entered the discussion and proceeded to reject this concept. At the end of my pontification, I sat back in my chair, feeling satisfied that my response had enlightened both participants. Instead, the person who had originally advocated the position, re-stated the position. I turned to both participants and said “oh, you said [legal term].” Both nodded in agreement. At that, I apologized and agreed with the original position.

Please note:

  • Listening is courteous.

  • Listening is efficient.

  • Listening Matters.

-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