Access to Justice: South Dakota Style

Below is an excerpt from the South Dakota State of the Judiciary delivered by Chief Justice David Gilbertson on January 12, 2011. As with Iowa’s excerpts, this pertains to access to justice for people with low-income or those of modest means. Of note – service to self-represented litigants (SRLs).


A Chief Justice from another state told me that 70% of the divorces in her state are now done by people attempting to represent themselves. We have an increasing number of our citizens who cannot afford to hire an attorney even if one is available in their area. Yet these citizens need and deserve access to our courts. We have worked with the Access to Justice Program of the State Bar to encourage attorneys to provide free legal services to those who need them. Currently there are 275 attorneys who have agreed to do so, an increase of 100 attorneys from last year. This number, while impressive, falls significantly short of the existing need.

Our Unified Judicial System has created many legal forms for those individuals who for various reasons, economic and otherwise, will be representing themselves in a judicial proceeding. At this point the forms deal with domestic relations issues such as divorce, name changes, and child support. Many of these forms are available free on the Internet at the UJS website,, or for a small fee at any Clerk of Court’s office. We hope to expand their scope and availability in the future.


People with Modest Means – Wisconsin Bar offers HELP!

South Carolina is my home, but I also have ties to Wisconsin. My mother and brother were born there. I attended college there and many of my classmates still live there. And a few years ago, my parents moved there. So when I’m perusing the access to justice news, I’m especially pleased to see Wisconsin making inroads in this area.

The title of the piece introducing resources to people with modest means threw me a litte – A Modest Proposal. For Jonathan Swift fans, you understand, right? BUT then I read through the piece and heartily endorse Wisconsin’s initiative in reaching out to help people with modest means through their MODEST MEANS PANEL. Kudos for WI Bar ED George C. Brown for his support of this project.

The Wisconsin Bar offers the benefits to attorneys participating in the program:

The State Bar assists attorneys who serve on the modest means panel. Client representation through the modest means panel qualifies as pro bono legal services within the meaning of SCR 20:6.1, and attorneys are eligible for State Bar pro bono benefits, including first-dollar malpractice insurance through the State Bar for these cases. Participating attorneys are not charged a fee to join the modest means panel, and referrals made through the panel are exempt from LRIS referral fees.