Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SRLs and the Bar Part Two

Here is some valuable additional information that was provided to the State Bar Board by the Access to Justice Commission.
State Responses on Standardized Forms

Commission staff has conducted extensive research on the availability of standardized forms in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This information is a compilation of interviews with representatives from 22 states who were involved in the promulgation of their state’s forms.

1. Is there any evidence that forms have harmed the public?

• No state reported any evidence of harm to the public. Not one person interviewed knew of a litigant who had been hurt by using the standardized forms.

• States reported benefits to self-represented litigants. Many states echoed Kansas, which reported “There already were a wide number of forms being used by the public before we made our forms available. The public was downloading the forms off the internet or purchasing at local stores. Many of these are not Kansas specific and do more harm to the public than the forms we developed.”

2. What has been the impact of state forms on the ability of lawyers to earn a living?

• No state reported any evidence that the forms negatively impacted lawyers’ businesses.

• Many states reported that forms positively impacted attorney businesses.

• Maryland’s observations:

o Attorneys could attract more clients by cutting fees and having clients prepare their initial filings while the attorney focused on the more complex matters involved in the case.

o While forms and self-help centers are good at initiating a case, litigants still have challenges navigating the process, especially in contested trials and complex matters. Lawyers benefit from the state’s efforts with self-represented litigant by referring litigants to the self-help center to complete a portion of the case on their own and then recommend the litigant hire the lawyer to handle other portions.

3. Are the forms restricted to use by the poor?

• No state has restricted the use of state forms to the poor.

• All states report that the majority of litigants accessing various self-represented litigant services are low-income.

• Many states’ access to justice commissions helped develop the state’s forms.

4. What is the impact on judicial efficiency and economy?

• All states report an increase in judicial efficiency and economy.

• Susan Ledray, Senior Pro Se Services Manager, Hennepin County Courts, Minnesota, stated:

o “Forms result in the judge getting the information she needs, instead of struggling to make sense of free-form documents filed by self-represented litigants.

o Staff and judges get used to the forms and where to find the information, and this makes it faster and easier to review forms before and during hearings.

o Form blanks that are not filled in draw attention to the fact that information is missing – while with a customized pleading, the court might not realize at the most opportune time that something is lacking.

o Court staff save a lot of time when able to refer people to written forms and instructions, instead of trying to explain, write notes, or get into an unpleasant conversation with a person who is angry that ‘you won’t do your job and answer my questions.’”

• Every state indicated that pro se litigation is not increased by the promulgation of uniform forms; the forms only make the process more efficient for the courts. Nancy Strauss, Director of Judicial Council of Kansas stated, “They are going to be representing themselves anyway so we might as well give them some tools so it’s not a nightmare for all of us.”

5. How have state bars been involved in their state’s efforts to assist pro se litigants?

• A variety of state bars have been actively involved in efforts to address the problem of pro se litigants. State bars are involved in all levels of pro se programs.

• In Michigan, the self-help website is administered by the state bar.

• In the District of Columbia and Minnesota, the state bar actively promulgates and distributes uniform forms.

• Uniform forms were promulgated by the State Bar of Alabama. In 2005, the state bar appointed a task force to determine if there was a problem with self-represented litigants in the court system. The Task Force studied the issue and arrived at the conclusion that Alabama indeed did have a problem with pro se litigants. The Task Force recommended two courses of action that could be completed without a large expenditure: 1) creating standardized forms and 2) implementing a rule and other tools to further limited scope representation. The Bar approved the Task Force to proceed on creating standardized forms.

• In Oregon, it was the Family Law Section of the state bar that initially recommended that uniform forms be created. The forms were created as a joint effort between the Family Law Council, the State Court Administrator, and the State Court Advisory Committee. There are now over 300 family law forms in existence in that state.

• In addition, the American Bar Association has a pro se resource center located on their website to assist state bar associations with programs aimed at the pro se population.

6. Has the private bar opposed the promulgation of uniform forms in any organized fashion in other states?

• States like Nebraska and South Carolina, which have experienced significant opposition, involved their opponents in the process and in the end came up with better forms. Robin Wheeler, Director of the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission stated that the opponents’ “feedback was incorporated into the forms and ultimately made them better.”

• While some states indicated that there were grumblings here and there by individual attorneys or judges, the Commission’s research did not yield any other states that face organized opposition to uniform forms by the private bar.


  1. Thank you for sharing this, Carl. It is helpful to have the facts to weigh against the fears fanned by those opposing the Uniform Forms Task Force.

  2. The fact is that attorneys, judges and legal aid attorneys from across this great State of Texas showed opposition to these forms because they genuinely believe these forms have, are and will harm people. Examples of real harm was cited over and over again.

    I believe we all agreed that we need to work harder to grant access to justice for the poor. Where we differed was how to do it. Instead of writing blogs that misrepresent our position, a respectful dialogue on this issue would be more productive. We have real solutions. We have presented real solutions.

    Mr. Reynolds has never practiced Family Law. He has only practiced law as a government attorney, and that was over ten years ago. I have practiced Family Law in the State of Texas since 1994. Mr. Reynolds has read reports from other states. I have first hand knowledge of what is happening in Texas right now. As do the judges, legal aid attorneys and members of the private bar that spoke.

    It should be noted more than one legal aid attorney spoke. Some were for the forms, some were against. All the Family Law judges that spoke were against the forms. The vast majority of the private attorneys that spoke were against the forms, but a few supported them. It was a good debate. I hope the minutes of the meeting will be published soon so the full picture of this meeting can be revealed.

  3. True, I have never practiced Family Law.
    Untrue, that I have misrepresented your position. I request that you show how I have.

  4. Perhaps you were talking about studies from other states and were not listening to us when you stated "No state reported any evidence of harm to the public. Not one person interviewed knew of a litigant who had been hurt by using the standardized forms." Judges and attorneys did give examples of harm to litigants in the meeting.

    You stated we acted "arguably in self interest." This ignores that Family Law judges who do not have a self interest. This ignores that some legal aid attorneys spoke against these forms. I do believe that when you did not mention that judges and legal aid attorneys joined in the fight against the forms but simply stated we had self interest, you were not telling the entire story. Leaving out important facts that go against you, does leave out truth.

    Yes, there were also legal aid attorneys for the forms. No judges spoke for the forms at the meeting.

    As for the protective order kits, I am asking an attorney from Safe Haven to let you know of the real harm they do. However, because District Attorneys and Safe Haven have Federal grants to provide actual legal representation for women in these matters, the protective order forms have less of an impact.

    Would you rather have a fill in the blank form or an attorney? If these forms are not just to be used by the poor, why is legal aid money being diverted from legal aid to these forms? Since this money has already been diverted from legal to create those forms, why does Supreme Court need to create new forms? My theory is it is because those forms are so poorly written and misleading that they are creating real problems.

  5. Interesting definition of "misrepresentation." If I don't represent your side I am misrepresenting. Oh well.
    My point has been to push out some more information on this from my viewpoint, because I do not believe your lobbyist or section leadership has fairly characterized the effort. In response to your other points:
    -I was talking about other states by quoting information gathered by the Commission staff(this was quite clear in the original post);
    -I was referring to the Bar as a whole going forward with a study, not the people at the meeting, as "arguably self-interested," although some who spoke were candid about their self-interest;
    -You are incorrect, there was a judge who spoke in favor of the forms, Hon. Lora Livingston, 261st District Court.
    -I would of course prefer to have a lawyer, but if I were using a form I would prefer that it be approved by the Court.
    -The forms are not yet in use so I don't know how you decided they are poorly written and misleading; if you would like to actually review the proposed forms I believe I can provide them to you.
    -I don't buy into the whole "diverted" money argument, and the point is to help those who cannot afford an attorney.