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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

June 7, 2003

Access/ Self-Help/ Pro Se

Filed under: — David Giacalone @ 7:11 pm

Below are ethicalEsq-f/k/a postings and annotated web resources on this topic. Find our full list of annotated ethics links by clicking the Client Rights & Legal Ethics link on the Navigation Bar

See shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress, which was created by f/k/a‘s editor, and offers news, views and information on self-help law. It was chosen “Best Law Blog In the Public Interest” in the Blawg Review Awards 2006 . [note: Unfortunately, shlep has been mostly inactive since it was handed off to new management in May 2007.]

Self-Help Resources

  • ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has the “mandate to improve the delivery of legal services to the public, with a concentration on those of moderate income.The information on the website is aimed at lawyers and other professionals interested in broadening access to the legal system.
  • The Pro Se Law Center website is designed as a resource center on self-representation in civil legal matters. It provides a collection of materials and resources that can be used to create legal service delivery systems that are based on the concept of “pro se” or “self” representation within federally funded legal services programs, courts, pro bono programs, and other community-based programs. Especially, delve into the links to court pro se sites state by state — to see what other states are already doing to provide meaningful self-help assistance (through computers, personnel, brochures, hot-lines, directories of attorneys who unbundle, and more) and to consider what your state or county can and should be doing.
  • Examples of Court-Based Self-Help Centers: The pioneering self-help centers provided by the courts in Arizona’s Maricopa County (with information and over 400 court forms available online, covering domestic violence, family law, guardianship, estate, dependency, small claims, and tax appeal); and, programs throughout Florida (with comprehensive family law assistance). Also, newer programs at Center for Self-Representation in the Lake County (Illinois) Courthouse (which was ridiculed as a “Lawyer in a Box” in television ads sponsored by the Illinois State Bar Association; see our“JuDee Awards” post), and the Wisconsin Self-Help Center.
  • California Courts Online Self-Help Center is an excellent example of online statewide self-help resources. It  “will help you find assistance and information, work better with an attorney, and represent yourself in some legal matters.”
  • The HALT Legal Information Clearinghouse: “The Legal Information Clearinghouse empowers legal consumers to handle their own affairs by providing free information and resources including self-help books, guides and brochures and links to other Internet sites.” LIC offers many useful self-help books and pamphlets.
  • was a pioneer in the production of useful self-help books and forms. In addition, the Nolo Legal Encyclopedia has useful free information and FAQs, on many substantive subjects of interest to consumers or small businesses.  In addition, the following categories within the legal encyclopedia contain materials of interest to consumers as clients or potential clients of lawyers, or who otherwise have a legal problem and are curious about their options and rights.

    Working With a Lawyer

    Representing Yourself in Court


    Small Claims Court

    If, When & Where to File a Lawsuit

  • SHLEP: The Self-Help Law Express: this website, which was founded and primarily written by f/k/a‘s editor David Giacalone (but is now under different management), offers news, views and lots of information about self-help law for the public and providers.  See the shlep Topics A to A page for a list of subject areas given significant attention.
  • Small Claims Court Reform noloShark
  • HALT’s Small Claims Reform Project HALT believes that one key method of improving citizen access to the civil justice system is through small claims courts — which use simplified procedures, require plain English, provide consumer aids and often prohibit lawyers — because they can help empower ordinary people to take charge of their own routine legal needs. HALT is seeking a number of reforms that would make small claims courts fulfill their promise, including increasing significantly their award limits. See Article: Small Claims Reform – A Means of Expanding Access.

    Supersize Small Claims This article, written by David Giacalone for (August 2000), advocates raising the limit on small claims awards to $20,000, to improve access to justice for the average consumer, saying that would be the most effective way for lawmakers to give “a big chunk of the civil justice system back to The People.”. It notes: “In a nation that loves lawyer-bashing and lawyer jokes, the lack of political support for court reform can be understood only in the context of the immense power of the legal establishment and its mighty efforts to preserve control of our justice system.”

    f/k/a on Small Claims Courts: We’ve written several postings about small claims court reform.  A representative post, with useful links, is “Are lawyers blocking efforts to revitalize small claims courts?” (August 11, 2003).


    Self-help often works best when consumers can use lawyers for discrete tasks — which requires that lawyers “unbundle” their services and offer “limited scope representation.”

    “Unbundled” Legal Services This website offers extensive information on the need for, ethics and mechanics of unbundling services, with relevant materials from many states, papers from conferences, sample retainer agreements, and much more for the court system or law firm interested in tapping into and encouraging the unbundling phenomenon. [Note (August 2010): The UnbundleLaw website is under reconstruction, but it correctly states that you can find much more on unbundling and related issues at the ProSe/Unbundling Resource Center of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, and through three free webcast training programs on limited scope representation from the Practising Law Institute.]

    Handbook on Limited Scope Legal Assistance The Modest Means Task Force of the ABA’s Section of Litigation has released this “Unbundling Handbook” in October, 2003. The 155-page document appears to live up to its billing as a “soup-to-nuts” guide for the practitioner. The Forward by Committee Chair Scott J. Atlas gives a taste of the purpose, scope and utility of the document:

    The Handbook is a practical guide to providing legal services in a way that permits clients, who otherwise could not afford or would not choose to hire a lawyer, to obtain critical legal representation for discrete and important tasks in the course of resolving disputes. The Handbook discusses all aspects of limited-scope representation, including the formation and termination of the relationship, the performance of discrete tasks, and the ethical issues and procedural rules involved in this service method.

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