Developing programs to assist self-represented litigants is a great way to engage CLA members. These programs not only help to address the justice gap, they also help to improve the image of lawyers and fulfil CLA’s mission.
There are 5 main program types to consider:
- Informational only – recorded video, podcast, and/or written resources;
- Informational only – live event;
- Limited Scope Representation; and
- Direct Pro Bono Assistance.
Creating a program from scratch can be complicated. Regardless of the type of program, the following program elements need to be considered in any program design:
- Program Goal(s):
- Why is the program needed?
- What would success look like?
- Can the program start as a pilot project and expand?
- Program Type:
- Where will the program physically take place? Court, law library, general library, law school, local bar association?
- If it is an in-person program, what regions will be served? Single region or multiple locations?
- How will it reach self-represented litigants outside the geographic location(s)?
- Can this program be delivered virtually/remotely via Skpe, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Facetime Live?3
- How often will the program be held? Monthly? Quarterly?
- Program Oversight:
- Who will oversee the effort? Ex comm member(s), special committee?
- Referral Process:
- How will self-represented litigants get to the program or be referred to the program?
- What role will the section have in matching a volunteer to a pro se litigant (if applicable)?
- Role of the Court or Agency4
- Is the court willing to provide information about what self-represented litigants need in their court during the program design phase?
- Is the court able and willing to link information about the program from their website?
- Does the court want to be an official partner to the program?
- Is there a liaison from the court who can work with the planning group?
- At a minimum, is the court is willing to make available resources at the clerk’s office or other environment that provides services to self-represented litigants i.e. small claims advisors, family court facilitators office?
- Volunteer Management Issues:
- What qualifications do volunteers need in order to serve?
- How will you recruit volunteers?
- How will you train volunteers?
- How will you manage and monitor the volunteers?
- What role will you have scheduling volunteers?
- How will you avoid and address volunteer burnout?
- Program Marketing and Outreach:
- If the court is not involved in information dissemination, how will you market the program to self-represented litigants?
- Is there a role for other community partners?
- What else is needed to promote the program? Brochures? Social media content? Press Releases? Community Calendars?
- Will other resources need to be developed to support the program i.e. designated website pages and/or other informational resources?
- Program Tracking and Evaluation:
- What mechanism will be in place to track program utilization?
- Will you ask self-represented litigants for feedback about the program? If so, when? Will you collect contact information so you can follow up post event?
- How will you handle complaints?
- What process will be set up to review the program to ensure it continues to meet goals?
- Risk Assessment and Mitigation:
- What materials will be developed to explain the nature of the program and the extent an attorney-client relationship has or has not formed?
- What waivers or disclaimers need to be included in any program design?
In addition, below are some additional issues to be mindful of:
- Different delivery approaches will have different levels of risk. The more “hands on” our volunteers are (beyond providing general information in a group setting), the greater the need for risk mitigation to protect both the volunteer and CLA5;
- While some programs would benefit from live/in person volunteers, not all programs need to be live;
- Start small with a pilot program. This will help to better assess the program’s impact and builds in opportunities to modify;
- Find opportunities to bring new lawyers into the program. Depending on the requirements to serve, new lawyers may not be able to be on the front lines but can shadow and/or assist a seasoned attorney and learn in the process;
- Is the involved court or agency supportive of this effort? This will be important for program’s long-term success;
- Volunteer Lawyer Programs (VLPs) and other legal services providers6 have their own priorities re: access to justice that are defined by their boards, funding and strategic plans). If you feel an existing legal services program may be a good partner, please contact CLA for further assistance7;
Informational Only – Live
Information only programs involve volunteer lawyers making educational presentations to groups of self-represented litigants to provide basic information about the court of jurisdiction/agency, process and applicable rules. There is no information provided about a specific litigant’s case. Generally, there is no formal referral to this kind of program.
Special issues to consider:
- How will you ensure consistency? Will a script or uniform talking points be prepared for all speakers?
- How will you ensure self-represented litigants don’t reach out to the lawyer volunteer after the session?
- How will you serve self-represented litigants in other areas? As noted at the beginning, virtual options can address this.
- Live programs can also rely on a few volunteers for sustainability. Special attention should be paid to address volunteer burnout.
Coaching programs are where volunteer lawyers help self-represented litigants with more specific education/information as it relates to the facts of their case. This may involve helping self-represented litigants fill out forms or provide basic education. In addition to the program elements noted above, the following issues will also need to be addressed:
- Volunteer qualification will be particularly important for this type of program to ensure a volunteer has the necessary background to be effective.
- The more specific and targeted information is given, special attention needs to be made to risk mitigation. Since coaching is involved, there could be an appearance that an attorney client relationship is being formed. Waivers will be needed for clients to sign clarifying the scope of the program.8 Volunteers will also need to be notified to be sure their Malpractice Insurance coverage would apply.
Limited Scope Representation
Limited Scope Representation programs involve volunteer lawyers forming a limited scope attorney-client relationship with self-represented litigants for a very specific task. A few examples of this type of program are:
Attorneys entering a stay on behalf of an active duty service member under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) in order to avoid a default judgement being entered against the active duty service member;
Drafting a responsive motion for a self-represented litigant;
Appearing with a self-represented litigant in a settlement conference to coach the litigant and/or explain issues;
In addition to the program elements noted above, the following issues will also need to be addressed:
- Given that limited representation is being offered, volunteer management and risk mitigation issues are critical. A special limited scope attorney-client retention form should be used for this program and should define specific limited scope services will be available (and not available) in the program.9
- Volunteers will also need to be notified to be sure their Malpractice Insurance covers this type of activity.
Direct Pro Bono Assistance
At this time, CLA and CLA Sections do not have the capacity to provide direct pro bono assistance to self-represented litigants. Pro Bono Assistance requires a staff attorney to train and supervise a volunteer attorney.
1. It is best to offer videos in multiple languages. It is important for self-represented litigants to attorneys from multiple backgrounds. Given the number of members in sections and our existing partnerships with diversity bar associations, finding attorneys who speak languages other than English should be relatively easy.↩
2. Section Coordinators can assist with ADA issues as all recorded videos or audio podcasts need to be transcribed.↩
3. This could make it easier to find volunteers and eliminate the need for physical space.↩
4. For purposes of this toolkit, the term “court” will be used to describe court, agency or office where matters are heard and decided.↩
5. Please note that CLA does not have malpractice insurance so the program will need to be set up to address this fact to protect the volunteer and CLA. Regardless of the type of program, volunteer lawyers should check with their malpractice insurance provider to ensure their coverage will apply.↩
6. Examples include San Diego Volunteer Lawyers Program, Public Counsel, BASF’s Justice and Diversity Center↩
7. If you feel there is not awareness of the need for this kind of assistance with the legal services community, please contact CLA staff to discuss.↩
8. CLA has a standard waiver that should be used.↩
9. CLA will create a limited scope attorney-client retention form.↩