Self-Representation

Resource Guide

The Fourteenth and Sixteenth Amendments of the constitution guarantee the right of the accused to refuse legal representation and act without a lawyer by proceeding pro se, which is a Latin term meaning “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf.” With the number of self-represented litigants increasing, especially within domestic relation cases, courts are responding by improving access to justice and making courts more user-friendly by simplifying court forms, providing one-on-one assistance, developing guides, handbooks, and instructions on how to proceed pro se, offering court-sponsored legal advice, developing court-based self-help centers, collaborating with libraries and legal services, and using Internet technologies to increase access. This has not only empowered people to solve their own problems and improve the public’s trust and confidence in the courts, but has likewise benefited the courts through smoother caseflow and increased quality of information presented to judges.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.


Featured Links

Developing Standardized Definitions and Counting Rules for Cases with Self-Represented Litigants. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) recommends that state courts adopt a set of standard definitions, counting rules, and reporting guidelines for cases involving self-represented litigants.
Center on Court Access to Justice for All.

The Center helps judges and courts advance access to civil justice, especially for poor and low-income individuals, by offering resources on 15 strategies and technical assistance. It works closely with the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators and other national court organizations to implement access-to-justice solutions.

Clarke, Tom, Richard Zorza, and Katherine Alteneder Triage Protocols for Litigant Portals: A Coordinated Strategy Between Courts and Service Providers. (December 2013). State Justice Institute. This report provides a framework of protocols based on the concept of web portals to improve court access and efficiency.
Zorza, Richard. Turner v. Rogers: Improving Due Process for the Self-Represented. (2012). Future Trends in State Courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Turner v. Rogers (2011) stresses the due process rights of self-represented litigants.  Courts should see this decision as an opportunity to improve their services and programs for such litigants.
Bladow, Katherine and Joyce Raby. Using Social Media to Support Self-Represented Litigants and Increase Access to Justice. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. In their 2010 report “New Media and the Courts,” the Conference of the Court Public Information Officers documented social media’s impact on the public’s trust and confidence in courts. In this article, we expand on their work, looking at how courts are using social media to increase access to justice and listing steps courts can follow to implement a social-media initiative.
Clarke, John A. and Bryan D. Borys. Usability Is Free: Improving Efficiency by Making the Court More User Friendly. (2011). Future Trends in State Courts. Court managers will need a broader array of service-delivery strategies as courts face increasing demands and fewer resources. The standard solution, to hire more staff as intermediaries, is becoming increasingly infeasible, and the user-friendly court, relying more on court users to participate in service delivery, will become a more important strategy.
Broderick, Jr., Hon. John T. The Changing Face of Justice in a New Century: The Challenges It Poses to State Courts and Court Manager. (2010). Future Trends in State Courts. The world around us is changing rapidly, and so must the courts. By fighting against change and not embracing it, the courts risk becoming irrelevant in the 21st century.
Zorza, Richard. Trends in Self-Represented Litigation Innovation. (2006). Future Trends in State Courts.

Courts are responding to the increasing demands placed on them by self-represented litigants with an ever-widening variety of services and innovations. These services are now more grounded in a detailed understanding of the demographics and needs of the self-represented. It is becoming clear that these changes benefit judges, court staff, attorneys, and both represented and self-represented litigants and improve public trust and confidence in the courts.

General

Chief Justice Rogers Speech to Connecticut Bar Association. (2012).

On June 11, 2012 Connecticut's Chief Justice Rogers addressed the Connecticut Bar Association regarding the need for more services to assist self represented litigants.  She said, "I can assure you that the Judicial Branch will continue to seek effective solutions, and I know that the Connecticut Bar Association and the American Bar Association have, for some time, been discussing ways to confront this challenge."  The speech contains factual information on the percentage of self represented litigants in specific case types in Connecticut and several other states.

Fein, Honorable Dina E. & Sandra E. Lundy. 2011 Annual Report on the Access to Justice Initiative In the Trial Court . (June 2012). Access to Justice. This annual report summarizes the work of five major Task Forces in Massachusetts working under the Access to Justice Initiative, and discusses related developments.
William C. Vickrey, Nicole Claro-Quinn and Martha Wright. Courts and Universities Partner to Improve Access to Justice for All Californians. (2011). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2011.

The California Justice Corps Program is a unique partnership between trial courts and academic institutions that leverages national service initiatives, such as Americorps, to expand court resources, improve service to self-represented litigants, and provide a unique learning opportunity for future legal professionals.

Richard Zorza. Public Libraries and Access to Justice. (2010). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2010.

Courts are working with public libraries to provide court-related information to self-represented litigants.  The Internet is a key component of this effort.

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

This article addresses questions posed on how the economic crisis is impacting the need for access to justice, the self-represented, the courts, and programs that respond to the need and what courts can do to ensure that self-represented litigants get the help they need.

Expanding Access to Justice in New York State: A 10 Year Report. (March 2009). This report summarizes the major initiatives of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives over the past 10 years.
Debt Weight. (October 2007). This research describes debt collection practices against consumers in New York City.  The vast majority of claims result in default judgments but a few consumers appear and are self represented.
Committee On Resources for Self-Represented Parties: Strategic Plannning Initiative. (July 2006). This is a detailed report done for the Utah Judicial Council on the needs of self represented litigants and the burden they have on the system.  There are some statistics on the percentage of self represented litigants in the report.
O`Leary, Kathleen E. Lawyerless, But Not Alone. (Fall 2005). California Courts Review Article describes efforts in California to meet the needs of pro se litigants through self-help centers. Includes a discussion on how these efforts benefit the entire community.
Talia, M. Sue. Roadmap for Implementing a Successful Unbundling Program. (2005). American Judicature Society

This roadmap provides essential and nonessential but desirable components of a successful limited-scope representation program, utilizing successful existing models.

Hannaford-Agor, Paula. Helping the Pro Se Litigant: A Changing Landscape. (Winter 2003). Court Review 39, no. 4: 8 Article discusses the scarcity of affordable legal resources, the legal information vs. legal advice dilemma, what courts and lawyers can do, and collaborations to improve access to justice.
Greacen, John. Self Represented Litigants and Court and Legal Services Responses to their Needs: What We Know. (2003). Center for Families, Children, and the Courts, California Administrative Office of the Courts This article provides a review of what we know about self-represented litigants to date, and how the courts and legal services are responding to their needs. Statistics are provided from various jurisdictions.
Building State Justice Communities: A State Planning Report. (2001). Legal Services Corporation This report examines state planning in 18 states. It reports on changes in legal services delivery that each state has made since the Legal Services Corporation issued its call for state planning six years ago.
Greacen, John M. Legal Information vs. Legal Advice--Developments During the Last Five Years. (January 2001). Judicature 84, no. 4 This article updates the author's Winter 1995 article in Judges' Journal and discusses what court staff can and cannot do when assisting self-represented litigants.  
Sampson, Kate. Meeting the Pro Se Challenge: An Update. (2001). American Judicature Society Web site This Web document updates Jona Goldschmidt's 1998 guidebook for judges and court managers, including action plans, progress reports, and trends for looking ahead.
Goldschmidt, Jona Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers. (1998). American Judicature Society and the State Justice Institute A report and guidebook for Judges and Court Managers based on a study designed to gather information that would be useful in helping court leaders meet the challenges of pro se litigation.
Your Day in Court. This is a video clip from King County, Washington featuring Judge Mary Yu and Stephen Gonzalez.  Judge Yu explains the basic layout of the courthouse and Judge Gonzalez talks about courtroom procedure.  The information in this video is designed for pro se users of the King County court system but it is general enough that court users in any state can benefit from viewing it.

Clearinghouses Organizations

AARP Pro Se Legal Hotlines Archive. Provides links to various legal hotlines for the elderly.
American Judicature Society Pro Se Forum.  A host of AJS resources on pro se, including links to pro se state programs.
Courtroom Advice. CourtroomAdvice contains over 80 articles written by experts to help litigants navigate the court system in the United Kingdom.
LawHelp.org. This national Web site, hosted by Pro Bono Net, provides links to LawHelp Web sites in all 50 states. These Web sites provide links to legal service organizations as well as legal assistance on a variety of topics by state.
Legal Services Corporation Resource Library. Links to various pro se projects and articles, as well as information on funding through the LSC Technology Initiative Grants for pro se programs.
Pro Se/Unbundling Resource Center. ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services This resource center provides an extensive list of both print and online publications on unbundling legal services.
Self Help Practitioners Clearinghouse or Selfhelpsupport.org. This (free) membership Web site serves as a national clearinghouse for materials on self-representation for self-help practitioners in the courts and legal services. Over 2,000 publications and resources from all over the country help pro se, legal service, and library programs that assist the self-represented.

CCJ and COSCA

Tribe, Lawrence. Access to Justice Resources. (2010).

This document is a listing of resources for implementation of access to justice recommendations made to the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.

COSCA Resolution 31 . (August 2002). COSCA/CCJ Task Force on Pro Se Litigation In Support of a Leadership Role for CCJ and COSCA in the Development, Implementation and Coordination of Assistance Programs for Self-Represented Litigants.  This COSCA/CCJ resolution was adopted as proposed on August 1, 2002 in Rockport, Maine.
State and National Initiatives to Improve Access for Self-Represented Litigants: A Progress Report. CCJ/COSCA Annual Meeting (July 26, 2004)

This report discusses the progress made in the area of self-represented litigation since the joint task force of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and COSCA at the 2002 Annual Meeting.

Final Report on the Joint Task Force on Pro Se Litigation. (July 2002). Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators The Task Force found that recent increases in the number of self-represented litigants – although limited primarily to family law, small claims, and misdemeanor cases – make significant demands on both court resources and on the ability of judicial officers and court staff to provide an opportunity for a fair hearing while maintaining ethical requirements of judicial neutrality and objectivity.
Position Paper on Self-Represented Litigants. (August 2000). Conference of State Court Administrators In this position paper, issues regarding self-representation and its impact on the courts are discussed. Eleven recommendations are then outlined.

Court Based Self Help

Best Practices in Court-Based Programs for the Self-Represented: Concepts, Attributes and Issues for Exploration. (2008). 118 pages. Self-Represented Litigation Network.

Forty-one best practices for court-based programs for the self-represented.

Richard Zorza. New Curriculum Helps Improve Access for the Self-Represented. (2008). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2008.

A judicial curriculum developed by the Self-Represented Litigation Network is changing the way judges around the country communicate with the self-represented. A similar leadership package provides state and local court leaders with 15 different solution modules for improving access for self-represented litigants.

Herman, Madelynn. Starting a Court-Based Self Help Center: 12 Core Resources. (May 2007). Selfhelpsupport.org This document provides resources for starting a self-help center, such as checklists, assessment tools, best practices, and directories of programs.
Model Self-Help Pilot Programs--A Report to the Legislature, March 2005. (March 2005). Center for Children Families and Courts; Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts This report evaluates five different self-help models used in California: the regional collaboration model, the Spanish-speaking model, the multilingual model, the technology model, and the urban coordination model. Lessons learned and recommendations are also provided.
Zorza, Richard. Self-Help Friendly Courts. (October 2002).

This report offers preliminary thoughts on a fundamental redesign of courts, including every aspect of the entire institution, from building design to judicial training, from technology to the clerk’s role.

Voelker, John. Meeting the Challenge of Self-Represented Litigants in Wisconsin. (2000). Wisconsin Supreme Court, Pro Se Working Group Court systems, including Wisconsin’s, are not designed to serve self-represented litigants. As a result, clerks of circuit court, attorneys, and judges find themselves challenged in knowing how to effectively deal with them. The litigant on the other hand is frustrated by the lack of assistance provided by “the system".
Legal Document Preparer Program. Supreme Court of Arizona This program certifies legal-document preparers who help pro se litigants fill out legal forms.
Selfhelpsupport.org.

A national clearinghouse for materials on self representation. NCSC is considered the "host organization" for this project.

Court Rules

Florida Rule 12.750 Family Self-Help Programs. This Florida court rule provides the authority to establish a family self-help program in Florida courts.  
Minnesota Rule 110: Self-Help Programs. This court rule provides the authority for self-help programs in Minnesota. The rule defines staffing; the role of self-help personnel; permitted, but not required acts, etc.
New Hampshire Limited Representation Rules. New court rules and procedures for unbundling legal services throughout the state of New Hampshire were adopted in this order, effective July 1, 2006. 
Washington Limited Practice Rule. With a goal of making legal help more accessible to the public, the Washington Supreme Court has adopted APR 28, entitled “Limited Practice Rule for Limited License Technicians”. The rule will allow non-lawyers with certain levels of training to provide technical help on simple legal matters effective September 1, 2012.

Judges and Pro Se Litigants

Jona Goldschmidt Judicial Ethics and Assistance to Self-Represented Litigants. (2007). Justice System Journal 28, no.3.

This article examines the course of progression courts have made in attempt to increase the access to justice for pro se litigants, arguing that the increase in the self-represented litigant population in the courts is a widespread and continuing trend and one that is reflected in rule changes enacted in the last decades.

Handling Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A Benchguide for Judicial Officers. (January 2007). Center for Families, Children, and the Courts. California Administrative Office of the Courts This comprehensive bench guide, the first of its kind, was designed to help judicial officers handle the increase in cases involving self-represented litigants. Twelve chapters of helpful suggestions are provided, along with sample scripts and checklists.
Hannaford-Agor, Paula. The Future of Self-Represented Litigation. (March 2005). 230 pages.

This report summarizes the proceedings and recommendations of the Summit on the future of Self-Represented Litigation, which was held in Chicago in March 2005.

Albrecht, Rebecca A. et al. Judicial Techniques for Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants. (Winter 2003). Judges` Journal 42, no. 1 Judicial neutrality is discussed, along with a proposed protocol for judicial officers and case law.
Access to Justice: Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants. NCSC et al. (2002)

A project that looks at the complexity of access to justice for self represented litigants and ways to improve or eliminate the barriers that litigants are confronted with in the court systems.

Technology

Katherine Bladow and Claudia Johnson. Online Document Assembly. (2008). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2008.

Courts must serve an increasing number of self-represented litigants—and deal with the problems such inexperienced litigants present. Online document assembly is one way that courts can make life easier for not only self-represented litigants, but also court staff.

Madelynn Herman. Increasing Access to Justice for the Self-Represented Through Web Technologies. (2007). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2007.

Courts' use of Web technologies to aid self-represented litigants is evolving and includes second-generation Web sites geared toward their specific needs, interactive Web sites, online document-assembly programs, e-filing and e-delivery mechanisms, and live-chat features.  In the future, the use of both RSS feeds to bring up-to-date content and news to court customers and Wikis to allow justice organizations to collaborate on access-to-justice projects will become more commonplace.

Richard Zorza and Donald J. Horowitz. The Washington State Access to Justice Technology Principles. (2007). Justice System Journal 27, no.3.

This article presents the experience of Washington's efforts to create a set of principles that would create a balance between the benefits of technology and any effects such benefits would have on access to justice.

Moore, Wayne et al. Opening Technology-Supported Help Centers for the Self-Represented in Courts and Communities. (May 2006). Selfhelpsupport.org and the Self-Represented Litigation Network Provides a host of valuable advice and information for jurisdictions wanting to open a self-help center to assist pro se litigants. The nine appendices provide sample intake forms, a list of different court-based models, an instruction manual for volunteers, noteworthy publications and Web sites, etc.