Court-Supported Assistance to Litigants

What are Court Based Self-Help Services? A self-help program is a service or coordinated group of services that assist self-represented litigants by providing them with legal resources and information that would otherwise not be available. Court-based self-help programs are an efficient and effective method to assist the self-represented litigant.  Services and resources can be centralized and easily accessible to litigants either on-site or online.  Delivery models include self help websites, courthouse desks or offices, telephone or internet based programs, clinics and workshops, courtroom and caseflow services, collaborations with  law libraries or public libraries, and partnerships with law schools or universities. 

Why Provide Court-Supported Assistance to Litigants? First and foremost, litigants have access to legal information and assistance that makes the promise of “justice for all” more meaningful.  Judges and court staff can do their jobs more effectively and efficiently when they are not bogged down with improperly prepared filings and unprepared litigants, and these benefits impact every aspect of the flow of the case.  Court clerks can avoid some of the ethical quandaries that may arise in trying to adequately assist pro se litigants. Easily accessible self help services can increase customer satisfaction, improve court functioning, and enhance public trust and confidence in the justice system as a whole.

Conference of Chief Justices Resolution 2 In Support of Expanding Rule 2.2 of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct to Reference Cases Involving Self-Representing Litigants Adopted as proposed by the Access, Fairness and Public Trust Committee at the 2012 Annual Meeting on July 25, 2012.

For a state by state list see Self-Help/Information Resources and Centers

The following resources provide additional information:

Illinois House Bill 3111, the Access to Justice Act was signed into law on August 15th, 2013.  It creates two pilot programs including a statewide hotline for veterans and a court-sponsored legal assistance program funded through a special Access to Justice Fund.

The Self-Help Center of the First Judicial District (Gilpin and Jefferson counties), Colorado is providing a chance for people with legal questions regarding probate or elder-law matters to meet with an attorney. Informational sessions are also offered monthly. The center opened in 2013.

Loveless, Christie. Evaluating pro se litigation at the Tarrant County Family Law Center. Institute for Court Management Fellows Program Project. (May 2012).

Family Court Access to Justice Room Opened  More than 50 people attended the December 7 opening ceremony of the Access to Justice Room at the Ronald T. Y. Moon Judiciary Complex in Kapolei, Oahu. The Hawaii State Judiciary now has Access to Justice Rooms or self-help centers in every circuit in the State.

Domingo, Elizabeth. An assessment of Union's volunteer self-help center. Institute for Court Management, Court Executive Development Program Project. (2010).

Suhr, Jacinda Haynes. Ensuring Meaningful Access to Appellate Review in Non-Criminal Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants. Institute for Court Management, Court Executive Development Program Project. (May 2009).

Richard Zorza. Access to Justice: Economic Crisis Challenges, Impacts, and Responses. National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts. (2009).

Greacen, John. The Benefits and Costs of Programs to Assist Self- Represented Litigants California Administrative Office of the Courts, Center for Families, Children & the Courts. (2009).

Broccolina, Frank, and Zorza, Richard. Ensuring Access to Justice in Tough Economic Times, 92, Judicature, 124 (2008).

Best Practices in Court-Based Programs for the Self-Represented: Concepts, Attributes and Issues for Exploration. National Center for State Courts. (2008).

Committee On Resources for Self-Represented Parties: Strategic Plannning Initiative. Utah Judicial Council. (July 2006).

O`Leary, Kathleen E. Lawyerless, But Not Alone. California Courts Review (Fall 2005).

Piazza, Deana. Model self-help pilot program : a report to the legislature Judicial Council of California.(March 2005).

The future of self-represented litigation : report from the March 2005 summit . National Center for State Courts. (2005). This report summarizes the proceedings and recommendations from the 2005 Summit on the Future of Self-Represented Litigation.

Action Plan for Serving Self-Represented Litigants. California Task Force on Self Represented Litigants. (2004).

Access to Justice: Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants. National Center for State Courts et al. (2002)