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Indianapolis law library closes but self-help center remains open


Librarian Zoya Golban turned off the lights and locked the doors Wednesday at the Marion County Law Library for the last time.

The cozy repository for legal materials and publicly accessible computers on the third floor of the City-County Building will permanently close this year because of city budget cuts.

But the library’s closing, court officials say, won’t be the end of the help the center provided to the roughly 3,000 Marion County residents who represent themselves in civil cases each year.

Go here to read the rest of the article.

Free Bankruptcy Clinic in Minneapolis made permanent


Free bankruptcy clinic made permanent

The need for the legal help offered by volunteer attorneys at the walk-in clinic is strong in this economy.

By KARA McGUIRE, Star Tribune

Bankruptcies Soaring

No one wants to be sitting across from Mary Hoben on a Thursday morning, but they are awfully glad she’s there.

Hoben is one of 16 attorneys who donate their time and expertise to low-income Minnesotans at a free bankruptcy advice clinic. The new clinic, held at the U.S. Courthouses in Minneapolis or St. Paul, was set up on a trial basis this spring to assist people tackling the painful and mind-boggling task of filing for bankruptcy without an attorney’s help. The walk-in clinic was made permanent this fall because demand is strong. In the worst recession since the Great Depression, is that surprising?

Go here for the rest of the story.

Los Angeles Times: Litigants become their own lawyers


Litigants become their own lawyers

Hiring an attorney isn’t cheap, so these days more people are navigating the justice system themselves. But courtrooms can be tough for amateurs.

By John Keilman

August 10, 2009

Reporting from Chicago — When Marsha and Larry Lipsky wanted to evict a troublesome tenant from their home in Arlington Heights, Ill., they consulted a few attorneys but couldn’t afford fees that ran from $500 to $5,000.

So they did what a lot of people with legal trouble are doing these days: They became their own lawyers.

“I was a nervous wreck,” Marsha Lipsky, 67, said after presenting her case to a judge and winning an order for the tenant to leave.

Legal service has never come cheap. But lawyers, judges and other experts say that for many people, the recession has made it a nearly impossible expense. So more litigants are navigating the often-bewildering justice system by themselves.

Advocates and court officials have responded with expanded advice desks, instructional websites, even plans to connect litigants with law students by computer. But the trend still alarms many observers, who say courtrooms weren’t made for amateurs.

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From the Chicago Tribune:

Recession forces more to act as own lawyer

Observers warn that courtrooms aren’t made for amateurs

By John Keilman

Tribune reporter

August 5, 2009

When Marsha and Larry Lipsky wanted to evict a troublesome tenant from their Arlington Heights home, they consulted a few attorneys but couldn’t afford fees that ran from $500 to $5,000.

So they did what a lot of people with legal trouble are doing these days: They became their own lawyers.

“I was a nervous wreck since yesterday,” Marsha Lipsky, 67, said after presenting her case to a Rolling Meadows judge and winning an order for the tenant to leave. “I was so afraid. … But we survived. The judge, she was fair about it.”

Legal service has never come cheap, but lawyers, judges and other experts say that for many people the recession has made it a nearly impossible expense. That has created a surge of litigants who must navigate the often-bewildering justice system by themselves.

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Bankruptcy assistance in Maryland


Article about assistance for pro se bankruptcy filers in Maryland:

DIY bankruptcy — with a little help from the state

By Eileen Ambrose

July 26, 2009

Many financial matters you can easily do on your own without professional help.

Filing for bankruptcy isn’t one of them.

But if you choose to do so, you’re no longer totally left on your own in Maryland to navigate the intricacies of bankruptcy. Thanks to a new Debtors Assistance Project, do-it-yourselfers can get a half-hour of free legal advice from a lawyer, who can answer questions or check paperwork.

“It’s not going to solve everybody’s problem on that day. That’s not what it’s designed to do,” says Jeff Sirody, a Pikesville lawyer who volunteers with the project. “It’s designed to give people an opportunity to speak with an attorney. Is there any easy solution? If not, what’s the next step? Where should they go to get help?”

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Who’s using Missouri’s pro se divorce forms?


Reprinted with the permission of the Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly:

Missouri Lawyers Weekly Copyright 2009 Dolan Media Newswires
July 17, 2009

Who’s using Missouri’s pro se divorce forms ? Most litigants have children, never called a lawyer.

Allison Retka
The litigants without lawyers stroll into the clerk’s office in tiny Dade County, plunk down thick packets of divorce forms and ask, “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

It’s a question Dade County Circuit Clerk Brenda Adams hears more each week, as pro se litigants trickle into her office in Greenfield, near Springfield. The litigants throw up their hands and ask for help, but there’s not much Adams and her clerks can do.

“We don’t have a law degree,” she said. “We’re sticking our necks out and helping them file these, and I don’t think we’re probably supposed to be doing that.”

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“Lawyer in the Library” program in Vallejo, CA


Article from the Vallejo Times-Herald describes the popular “Lawyer in the Library” program to help patrons handle their own legal problems:

The legal system is a baffling process for most, even before they walk through the front courthouse doors.For those with limited finances, resources can be thin locally — which is why attorneys here and nationally have tried to fill the gap between government-funded, legal-aid programs and those in need.

“Legal aid in this country has been emaciated,” Solano County Superior Court Judge Paul Beeman said. “If they don’t have legal aid and they don’t have money, they’re going to lose. It’s a terrible thing when you think about all the wealth and resources in this nation.”

In Vallejo, the Lawyer in the Library program, started by former Vallejo librarian Michael Senturia with help from Beeman, has provided free one-time legal advice and referrals for the past 13 years.

“Everybody thought it was a good idea from the beginning, but once it got started, it knocked your socks off because peoplemassively appreciated the help,” Beeman said. “For most lawyers, it was real simple advice that gave direction … and they were genuinely appreciative.”

__(‘Read the rest of this entry »’)

Pro se bankruptcies drain court resources


And another news item from the Wisconsin Law Journal:

As recession-related bankruptcy filings rise, courts are dealing not only with larger caseloads but also more time-consuming case filings. An increase in pro se litigants leads to a bigger drain on court resources, as well as bigger challenges for trustees.

Since the economic crisis began, Andrew N. Herbach has seen a steady increase in traffic at the Pro Se Help Desk for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

“We’re overwhelmed right now. It used to be that we’d get seven people that came in, and now it’s double-plus every week,” said Herbach, who practices with Howard Solochek & Weber SC in Milwaukee. Herbach was involved in developing the help desk in response to a request from a bankruptcy judge.

Filings are up around the state, although not quite as much as in the Milwaukee area, where records show a 30-percent increase in Eastern District Court bankruptcy filings from last year.

Follow the link for the whole story.

No appointed counsel for Pro Se bankruptcy filer


From the Wisconsin Law Journal:

Pro se bankruptcy filers may be a drain on court resources, but judges won’t be trying to mitigate the problem by appointing attorneys to represent them.

A June 24 opinion by U.S. Bankruptcy Chief Judge Margaret Dee McGarity denied a debtor’s request for appointment of counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915 (e)(1).

While some of the court’s reasoning is limited to the particular debtor, most of it would apply to all pro se debtors.

Follow the link for the whole story.

9th Circuit holds that pro se patron didn’t knowingly waive counsel


On July 6, the 9th Circuit held in United States v. Forrester that Mark Forrester did not knowingly waive his 6th amendment right to counsel where the trial court judge did not adequately explain the charges against Forrester or the possible penalties he faced.

According to the Metropolitan-News Enterprise,  Forrester had been charged with “conspiring to manufacture and distribute” Ecstasy.  A year into the case, Forrester filed a motion to defend himself.  From the Metropolitan-News:

At the hearing on his motion, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan of the Southern District of California repeatedly warned Forrester that defendants who represent themselves rarely succeed.

His remarks included the admonishment, “I want to unequivocally tell you and strongly recommend to you that you don’t do this. In most cases it’s a disaster.” He also told Forrester that “in all cases it is not a good idea for a nonlawyer to oppose a lawyer in a criminal trial.”

Though he did offer caveats, Whelan did not inform the defendant of the charge against him. He also told Forrester incorrectly that he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years to life in prison when, in fact, he faced no minimum sentence and a maximum of 20 years behind bars.

After Forrester gave repeated assurances that he was “coherent,” “literate,” and aware of the consequences of self-representation, Whelan granted his motion to appear pro se at trial as well as at some of the post-trial proceedings.

At a follow-up hearing in March, the judge addressed various concerns pertaining to Forrester’s self-representation, but again did not talk about the charge against him. Nor did he correct his previous error about the potential sentence Forrester faced.

The Court noted the high burden placed on the government in waiver of counsel cases and found the fact that the trial judge did not specify the charges particularly damaging.  The Court also found it irrelevant that the trial judge had actually overstated the possible penalities that Forrester faced. 

Debt collectors and


While trolling the news for useful information to post on shlep, I came across this blog post at  It advises people who are being pursued by debt collectors to make sure that the company who is trying to collect really owns the debt that it’s claiming the person owes.  They also point to this great article offering tips for people being sued by debt collecters over at Alabama Consumer Law Blog

I have heard about Consumerist before, but today was the first time I visited their web-site, and I highly recommend it.  They analyze new products, discuss the customer service of various companies, and as the above article indicates, offer useful tips for consumers who are dealing with various sorts of problems related to buying and selling.  It’s a great web-site for all things related to consumer rights.

A quick perusal of the archives showed pages dealing with debt collection, early termination fees, fraud, and identity theft, and much more.  You can also send them tips when a company treats you unfairly.  Check it out. 

Bank of America kicks off new pro bono initiative

ø is reporting that today Bank of America expanded a pro bono effort it has been working on since 2005 by

partnering with Sanctuary for Families, Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project, Volunteers of Legal Service, New York Family Court, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and several major law firms to help ensure the legal needs of the city’s underserved and vulnerable are met.

The project will be centered in New York City.  In developing the program, Bank of America consulted with its New York Legal Department for information about issues and causes of interest as well as time constraints on the lawyers. 

Of special interest to shlep readers: One project that Bank of America lawyers will be participating in is the Self-Represented Legal Services Project at Brooklyn Family Court, covered by shlep previously here and here


New Legal Self-Help Center in Madison County, IL


The Edwardsville Intelligencer, the main newspaper for Madison County, IL, is reporting that the Madison County Law Library, located in the county courthouse basement, has opened a new self-help center to assist pro se patrons with navigating the court system.


The center will be staffed by court officials as well as Chief Judge Ann Callis for 15 hours a week.  It’s major focus seems to be on helping users to understand the basics of going to court such as how to behave and the roles of various court officials, as opposed to substantive legal matters. 

Although a more substantive program would likely prove more helpful, the new self-help center is certainly a start in a county with a poverty rate of 11.2%.


Debate in Missouri over assisting pro se clients


An article in the June 4th edition of Missouri Lawyer’s Weekly discusses the recent debate in the state legal community over the Missouri Supreme Court’s proposed rules for assisting pro se litigants through the court system.

The proposed rules would allow court clerks to provide information and forms to pro se litigants.  Proponents argue that the help is badly needed, but opponents say the proposed rules are tantamount to allowing the unauthorized practice of law.  Some also argue that the court system is simply too overstrained already to take on this new task:

“The crux of the issue is therefore whether the court system should put itself in a situation of straining its already inadequate resources and modifying its traditional role in the legal system (not by merely judging, but by assisting litigants) so that individuals may accomplish, without a lawyer, a task which is admittedly best performed with a lawyer,” the Clay County association said in the letter.

“‘To hell with poor people’; that’s what that paragraph says to me,” said St. Louis County Circuit Judge Dennis Smith. “‘Courts exist for the rich. ‘ I don’t believe that. If you are poor and can’t afford an attorney, what are you supposed to do? I’m open to suggestion if any other attorney in the state has an idea of how to help these people.

 The comment period for the proposed rules ends July 1.



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