Help for The Pro Se Litigant ...
In Brief recently caught up with the Jonathan Rhodes from the LSBA's Access to Justice Program to talk about the Self-Help Resource Center. A training for this program is scheduled for Friday, April 8th beginning at noon in the Board Room on the 48th Floor at Adams & Reese in One Shell Square. REGISTER HERE.
When did the SHRC start, who started it and why?
The number of self-represented litigants in Louisiana creates significant challenges for courts in administering justice and for litigants in their access to justice.
In an effort to address these issues, the LSBA Access to Justice Program, in partnership with Clerk of Court Dale Atkins, Orleans Civil District Court (CDC) Division "A" Judge Tiffany Chase, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, and The Pro Bono Project, implemented a Self-Help Resource Center (SHRC) for pro se litigants at the Orleans Civil District Court (CDC) in September 2010.
How many volunteer lawyers have contributed time and effort to getting it up and running and from where are they coming?
|SHRC Training at Adams & Reese in January 2011. Photo by Tommy Santora.|
Since the inception of the Self Help Resource Center, volunteer lawyers and law students have dedicated more than 400 hours of service.
The Pro Bono Project took the lead in coordinating volunteers with attorneys from Adams & Reese, Phelps Dunbar and Jones Walker. Law students from both Tulane and Loyola volunteer, and the Loyola Family Law Clinic runs the desk on Fridays.
How many people has the SHRC served to date and what types of legal issues are addressed?
The desk is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm, and on Fridays from 10am-12pm. The desk has served more than 100 visitors with a range of legal issues.
The most common issues for which help was sought were domestic issues, including protective orders, domestic violence, custody, visitation, child support and spousal support. While litigants are encouraged to have an attorney represent them, financial limitations prevent many from securing counsel.
Although 50% of visitors reported being self-represented because they cannot afford an attorney, more than 65% of visitors reported being gainfully employed. This data suggests that the visitors to the SHRC are among the city's working poor, whose financial situation makes it difficult or impossible to afford adequate legal services.
Importantly, SHRC volunteers do not give legal advice, but assist visitors by providing them with access to legal information and referrals.
Overall, our data collection indicates that the pilot project was successful in meeting the needs and expectations of self-represented litigants, with 68% of visitors reporting that they were able to find the information they were seeking at the SHRC and 95% of visitors reporting that they were satisfied with the services they received.
What's the best way for someone to get involved if they are interested?
Attorneys should contact The Pro Bono Project to volunteer at: SHRC or 504.581.4043. Law students can sign up for shifts through their school's public interest coordinator.
SHRC: Valuable Experience & More
"I think the self-help desk provided an invaluable learning experience for me, says Adams & Reese associate, Katie Wollfarth.
"It is a good opportunity for a young lawyer to learn how the CDC works, how filing works, and to get to know the judges and their staff from an insider's perspective, rather than from the perspective of a hired advocate. In addition to that advantage, one gets personal fulfillment by being able to help someone less fortunate with simple legal tasks, which may seem confusing to the average layperson."
Young attorneys are not the only ones getting valuable experience. Law students are also getting the benefits of working with clients and at the CDC. As well, they are being trained by private bar attorneys who are volunteering their time to conduct periodic training sessions and who are also on the job at the desk.
"We were really busy yesterday afternoon with a name change and three divorces, including one covenant marriage, which was new for me. I wanted you to know that Mr. Sholes (Ron Sholes, Adams & Reese) was one of the best teachers I've had. He really took the time to teach and wanted me to take the lead on writing petitions and doing the research. It was a pleasure working with him," explains Tulane 3L student, Meredith Bambrick.
The Self-Help Resource Center is a key component in access to justice, benefitting not only the pro se litigants, who rely on this valuable resource but also for the young attorneys, law students and veteran attorneys to gain hands-on experience, from lasting relationships and do something to give back to the community in which they live.
For more information or to volunteer for the SHRC, please contact Rachel Piercey at The Project via email or at 504.581.4043.