84 Judicature 326 (2000-2001)
Meeting the Pro se Challenge: An Update

handle is hein.journals/judica84 and id is 328 raw text is: locus

Meeting the pro se challenge: an update
by Kathleen M. Sampson

S elf-representation in court pro-
ceedings-a phenomenon known
as pro se litigation-continues to
grow. But, as AIS pointed out in its
1998 study, Meeting the Challenge of Pro
Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for
Judges and Court Managers, there is of-
ten a lack of consensus among legal
professionals about the best way to ac-
commodate the self-represented.
For example, judges surveyed for
Meeting the Challenge were divided:
some were annoyed by the presence
of pro se litigants, while others be-
lieved judges should help the self-
represented receive a fair hearing by
relaxing procedural rules. And al-
though many respondents expressed
a desire for formal policies to guide
judicial behavior in pro se cases,
more than 90 percent of judges sur-
veyed said their courts had no such
In the three years since the publi-
cation of Meeting the Challenge, how-
ever, much has been done to over-
come the obstacles facing both pro se
litigants and the courts in which they
represent themselves-and the pro
se course is becoming clearer.
Action plans
In 1999, with funding from the State
Justice Institute and Open Society In-
stitute, AIS convened the National
Conference on Pro Se Litigation in
Scottsdale, Arizona, offering court,
bar, pro se assistance program, and
academic representatives from 49
states, the District of Columbia,
American Samoa, Guam, the North-
ern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico
326 Judicature Volume 84, Number 6

the chance to develop action plans to
assist the self-represented.
The state teams identified poten-
tial supporters and obstacles to
implementing their plans, set goals,
and developed detailed task lists and
timelines for implementation. Com-
mon action plan themes included:
9 Establishing task forces to edu-
cate members and build support for
pro se assistance programming-in
most cases to be sponsored by the
chief justice or state supreme court.
* Including judges, court person-
nel, and state and local bar represen-
tatives on implementation commit-
tees. Other frequently mentioned
representatives were librarians (pub-
lic and law); community representa-
tives; academics; social service pro-
viders; legislators; legal services
attorneys; and representatives of bar
disciplinary, ethics, and pro bono
e Targeting programming efforts
at family law cases, in which the ma-
jority of pro se litigants appear.
* Unbundling legal services (also
known as discrete task representa-
a Assessing needs and collecting
e Simplifying and standardizing
forms and procedures.
* Convening statewide conferences
on pro se litigation.
Progress report
AJS recently requested implementa-
tion updates from the state team
leaders, 23 of whom responded.
Many of the states have met initial

goals and are working toward achiev-
ing longer-range goals. A sampling of
progress reports includes:
* Florida conducted a statewide
pro se litigation conference in May
2000, New Mexico in January 2001,
and Massachusetts in March 2001.
California held regional conferences
in March and April 2001, and New
York will hold its statewide confer-
ence in September.
* California, Florida, and Maine
are working to develop court rules on
unbundled legal services, and seven
states are conducting needs assess-
ments or gathering statistics about
pro se litigation. Results of these
studies will be used to convince
policy makers of the need for assis-
tance programs and to justify fund-
ing requests.
* Eleven states are reaching out to
build broad support for pro se assis-
tance programs. Representatives in
these states are meeting with law li-
brarians; speaking to state confer-
ences of bar members, judges, and
court clerks; joining existing court
reform groups; and educating stake-
holder groups about the impact of
pro se litigation.
* California, New York, Ohio,
Utah, and Wisconsin are planning or
have conducted training for judges
and/or court personnel on dealing
with pro se litigation.
* Utah also developed guidelines
for court clerks and opened an online
court assistance program for prepar-
ing documents ready for filing in land-
lord-tenant cases and uncontested di-
vorces (http://courtlink.utcourts.
e Delaware opened a Family Court
Resource Center and a website for in-
formation about the court, divorce/
annulment packets, etc. (http://
& Oregon has standardized the
forms for family-law cases, which
now are available on the state court
website (www.ojd.state.or.us; use
link to family law forms). Use of the
standardized forms is optional.
- In March, New Jersey launched
the first of a new series of packets for
use by the self-represented. The
packets provide uniform forms for

May-June 2001

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