Self-Representation

Resource Guide

One of the biggest challenges in the court system is the increasing number of self-represented litigants.  As the number of self-represented litigants in civil cases continues to grow, courts are responding by improving access to justice and making courts more user-friendly. Innovations include:

  • simplifying court forms, 
  • providing one-on-one assistance, 
  • developing guides, handbooks, and instructions on how to proceed, 
  • 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 improved the public’s trust and confidence in the courts, but has likewise benefited the courts through improved 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

Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Descriptive Analysis of Civil Data in Circuit Court. (April 2017). This report characterizes Circuit Court civil cases by analyzing caseload composition, the presence of legal representation, the level of case contention, and case outcomes.
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Descriptive Analysis of Civil Data in General District Court. (April 2017). This report characterizes General District Court civil cases by analyzing caseload composition, the presence of legal representation, the level of case contention, case outcomes, and claim amounts.
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Outcomes of Civil Cases in General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report characterizes Circuit Court civil cases by analyzing caseload composition, the presence of legal representation, the level of case contention, and case outcomes.
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Descriptive Analysis of Civil Data in Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court. (April 2017). This report characterizes Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court civil cases by analyzing caseload composition, the presence of legal representation, and case outcomes.
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Summary of SRL-Related Management Reports for General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report describes case management reports that OES should consider producing on a regular schedule in an effort to better understand cases with self-represented litigants.
Resource Guide on Serving Self-Represented Litigants Remotely (SRLN 2016). (July 2016). Self-Represented Litigants Network The Resource Guide provides options for courts and other entities interested in providing services to self-represented litigants using means that are not face-to-face, instead of, or in addition to, in-person alternatives such as walk-in services, workshops, and clinics. 
Stacey Marz. Courts Effectively Deliver Remote Self-Help Services. (2017).

Many self-represented litigants are unable to go to the courthouse in person to conduct routine business. Many courts are now providing remote services, which benefit both litigants and court staff.

Jessica K. Steinberg. Local Experimentation and the Evolving Role of the Civil Judge. (2017). L Courts are being challenged by rising numbers of self-represented litigants, who are often not ready to present
Deborah W. Smith Trends: Close Up - Cell Phones and Self-Represented Litigants. (2016). Legal Services Corporation

As our society becomes more dependent on mobile devices, the policy issues on allowing these devices into courtrooms become more complex.

Sandefeur, Rebecca L. Roles Beyond Lawyers : Summary, Recommendations and Research Report . (December 2016).

American Bar Foundation. This report found that tenants facing eviction in New York City were able to get significantly better results under an innovative program that uses “court navigators,” who are not lawyers.

Cases Without Counsel. (2016).

IAALS recently released two new reports focused on the experiences of self-represented litigants in the family court system.  Cases Without Counsel: Research on Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court which explores the issues from the litigants' perspective.  Cases Without Counsel: Our Recommendations after Listening to the Litigants outlines recommendations for courts, legal service providers, and communities to best serve self-represented litigants in family cases.

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.

General

The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans. (June 2017). Legal Services Corporation

This report looks at the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs.

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.
Delivering Cost Effective Legal Services and Information in Challenging Economic Times. (2015).

Report to the Chief Judge and the Chief Administrative Judge of the State of New York. This annual report details continuing efforts to increase equal access to justice for the estimated 1.8 million New York litigants who must navigate the court system each year without the assistance of counsel.

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. 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.
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 Map. Provides links to various legal hotlines for the elderly.
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.
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.

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.

Court Based Self Help

Legal Document Preparer Program. Supreme Court of Arizona This program certifies legal-document preparers who help pro se litigants fill out legal forms.

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

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.

Technology

Rebecca Love Kourlis and Riyaz Samnani Court Compass: Mapping the Future of User Access Through Technology. (May 2017). Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System

This report provides a review of court-offered solutions for self-represented litigants (SRLs), along with maturity models to guide the development of integrated solutions in courts nationwide.