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					Access to Justice: Self-Represented Divorce
           Litigants in California
             A Best Practices Report




                     August 2006



                           By
           Rachel A. Rubin and Adam Engelhart
             UC Hastings College of the Law
                                                   Table of Contents
Preface and Summary of Recommendations .................................................................................. 3
Needs Assessment ............................................................................................................................9
Service Delivery ............................................................................................................................ 13
Program Outreach.......................................................................................................................... 30
Access, Language and Literacy ..................................................................................................... 39
Program Staff................................................................................................................................. 43
Quality Assurance.......................................................................................................................... 50
Conclusion and Acknowledgments ............................................................................................... 54
Appendix A: Descriptions of Counties.......................................................................................... 56
Appendix B: Intake Forms .............................................................................................................66
Appendix C: Accessible Documents..............................................................................................71
Annotated Bibliography ................................................................................................................ 73




                                                                        2
                      Preface and Summary of Recommendations
Services for Self-Represented Litigants in California

           Over the past twenty years in California, the number of self-represented litigants has

more than tripled. In 1980, approximately 24 percent of litigants in divorce cases self-

represented.1 In 2005, the courts reported that approximately 80 percent of parties in family law

cases represented themselves.2

           In response to these growing numbers and their major impact on the California courts, the

state enacted the Family Law Facilitator Program in 1997. California Family Code section 10000

requires each of the state’s 58 counties to maintain an office of the Family Law Facilitator that

offers services to help with child and spousal support, health insurance, child custody, visitation

and divorce.3 Each county individually assesses its needs and may provide services beyond the

minimum statutory requirements.4 Family Law Facilitators work with one another, with various

state agencies, and with non-profit organizations to improve access to the courts for self-

represented litigants. The California Courts maintain an online self-help center that also works as

a clearinghouse and a resource to direct litigants to services in their counties.



1 Frances Harrison et al., California’s Family Law Facilitator Program: A New Paradigm for the Courts, J. OF THE
CENTER FOR CHILDREN, FAMILIES & THE COURTS, 2000, at 61 [Hereinafter, Harrison].
 The following terms all refer to litigants who are not represented by legal counsel and who represent themselves;
they are interchangeable: self-represented litigants, pro se litigants, litigants who appear in propria persona.
 For more information on the resources from which this report was compiled, refer to the Annotated Bibliography
infra.
2 JUDICIAL COUNCIL OFCALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM:
A REPORT TO THE LEGISLATURE (2005) 1.
3 Family Law Facilitator Act, CAL. FAM. CODE § 10003 (1997): “This division shall apply to all actions or
proceedings for temporary or permanent child support, spousal support, health insurance, child custody, or visitation
in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, legal separation, or exclusive child custody, or
pursuant to the Uniform Parentage Act (Part 3 (commencing with Section 7600) of Division 12) or the Domestic
Violence Prevention Act (Division 10 (commencing with Section 6200)).”
4   Family Law Facilitator Act, CAL. FAM. CODE §§ 10004-10005 (1997).


                                                           3
           The Judicial Council of California, the Administrative Office of the Courts, Family Law

Facilitators offices and other organizations have published studies on the success of court-based

self help centers and on the best ways to meet the needs of litigants.



Methodology

           Over a period of eight weeks in the summer of 2006, we gathered data from the

California Courts, the Judicial Council of California, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and

multiple Family Law Facilitator programs and court-based self-help service centers regarding

access to justice for self-represented litigants. We examined print, online and other media

resources for self-represented litigants, as well as studies, empirical data, program evaluations,

and reports to the California Legislature about court-based self-help programs. In addition, we

conducted telephone and in-person interviews with California Administrative Office of the

Courts staff, Family Law Facilitators, self-help center staff, and self-represented litigants who

used the self-help centers. We examined existing Family Law Facilitator programs and court-

based self-help centers in San Francisco, Placer, Orange, Los Angeles, Fresno, Butte, Glenn, and

Tehama Counties 5 to identify the best methods of service delivery, office management, and the

related ethical and practical issues. These counties represent the wide variation in demographics

and needs of self-represented litigants in California. This report is not a comprehensive study of

all 58 county programs.

           Though the majority of our research focused on California programs, we also examined

best practice reports and materials from other states and from national conferences.



5   See Appendix A for short descriptions of these counties.


                                                               4
Goals of the Report

           The goal of court-based self-help programs is to provide equal access to justice for all

litigants, regardless of location, socioeconomic status, or education. A successful program

educates litigants about the justice system and gives them the tools and support they need to

achieve a just and fair result. 6 We sought to identify the best practices from some of the most

successful and innovative programs in California. For the purposes of this report, we define

success primarily from the point of view of the self-represented litigant: what are the most

efficient and effective ways to help her understand her options, the judicial process, and to reach

a fair resolution of her case? Second, how can court-based self-help centers ease the burden

placed on the court by the increasing number of self-represented litigants? Because of the broad

variety of needs of self-represented litigants, this report primarily addresses the best practices to

assist and improve access for self-represented litigants in divorce proceedings. However, some

best practices will also apply to parties who seek help with other matters, such as child or spousal

support or child custody issues. This report surveys and evaluates services currently available, as

well as recommends future improvements.

           We modeled this report after the Best Practices for Programs to Assist Self-Represented

Litigants in Family Law Matters from the Circuit Courts of Maryland Family Divisions &

Family Services Programs Pro Se Best Practices Workgroup report.7 The Maryland report

divided best practices into categories, including Needs Assessment, Service Delivery, Program




6   Harrison at 62.
7MARYLAND ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-
REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS (2005).


                                                     5
Outreach, Access, Language and Literacy, Program Staff, and Quality Assurance. We have

adopted these categories for our report.

       We hope that this report will serve as a useful tool for California and other state family

courts to evaluate and implement measures to improve access to justice for pro se litigants.


Recommended Practices

       We discuss recommended practices in each area of pro se assistance in the body of this

report. The following are our principal recommendations by area, along with references to the

pages of the report in which we discuss them:

       Needs Assessment

    • Carefully examine the pro se population to determine which services they use and

       require, and reassess the program regularly to ensure it meets customers’ needs.

    • Meet with litigants one-on-one to address individual concerns and needs.

       Service Delivery

    • Offer a broad range of services, including one-on-one assistance, workshops, printed

       materials and forms, a website, a reference library, and referrals to other organizations.

    • Operate in a functional, well-designed office with sufficient space and resources to

       provide all necessary services.

    • Provide a children’s waiting area or attended childcare at the courthouse.

       Program Outreach

    • Locate the self-help center at or very near the courthouse. If this is not possible, locate the

       center close to major transportation routes and public transit.




                                                  6
• Post information about the program where center users can clearly see it, both in the

   center and in local libraries, social-service centers, and other court offices.

   Access, Language and Literacy

• Create versions of handouts and forms that are accessible to customers with low levels of

   literacy.

• Have a central, statewide program to translate materials to avoid duplication of effort.

• Provide multi- or bi-lingual staff.

• Provide services accessible to persons with disabilities.

   Program Staff

• Conform to statutory guidelines, and act in conformance with state, local, and court codes

   of ethics;

• A licensed attorney with experience in family law oversees the program, manages the

   office and oversees program staff;

• Provide regular training and educational opportunities for attorneys and program staff,

   including

       o Formal training process and regular, mandatory training sessions and conferences;

       o Staff development and continuing education seminars;

       o Access to legal information, studies, and best practice reports about self-help

           service providers.

• Ensure that attorneys and staff have access to all necessary resources, including a law

   library, modern technology, program evaluations, best practices reports, or other studies

   on self-help centers;



                                               7
• Ensure that each program has sufficient funds to support at least one attorney and one full

   time legal assistant. Programs should have sufficient funding to provide all necessary

   services to litigants.

   Quality Assurance

• Establish a data collection regimen to collect basic data on all litigants and more detailed

   data on a randomly selected sample thereof;

• Collect narratives of litigants’ experiences with the system, both in cases where it worked

   well and cases where it did not;

• Ensure all program materials are consistently correct and up to date;

• Establish procedures for dealing with litigants’ complaints.




                                             8
                                            Needs Assessment

          Needs Assessment is the planning and triage component of pro se service. Court-based

self-help programs conduct needs assessment on two scales. On the large scale, planning, they

consider the needs of the community and decide which services will best fill those needs within

their funding and resource limitations. On the small scale, triage, they screen litigants in order to

provide each litigant with all necessary information and services.8



Large-Scale: Needs of the Community

          Self-represented divorce litigants have a broad range of needs, and self-help centers

should provide adequate services to meet these needs. It is up to each program to identify the

needs of its customers,9 and to continually, meaningfully evaluate the services it provides. The

California Administrative Office of the Courts points out that

            although the legal paradigms for family law are based on a divorce model for the
            dissolution of a traditional marriage, many families in today’s family court no longer fit
            this description. Family relationships are far more varied and complex . . .10

          Court-based self-help centers respond to these needs and provide service in various ways,

including one-on-one assistance (either in person or over the phone), printed materials like forms

packets, help with completing forms, assistance via video- or teleconferencing equipment,

workshops, and clinics.




8   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS (2005) 8.
9 Self-help service centers refer to those who use their services as “customers” and not “clients” to emphasize that
they are not in an attorney-client relationship and are still pro se litigants. We follow this terminology.
10
 GREACEN ASSOCIATES, LLC, DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE PRACTICES IN FAMILY LAW CASEFLOW MANAGEMENT: A
MANUAL PREPARED FOR THE CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS CENTER FOR FAMILIES,
CHILDREN, AND THE COURTS (2005) 5.


                                                           9
          Large-scale needs assessment begins even before the programs are established, to

determine which services the community requires and the most common types of cases in which

litigants self-represent.11 The majority of self-represented litigants need:

           • Help with forms: Self-help staff can explain how to complete all necessary forms,

                  including what specific information is necessary and how to present it to the court;

           • One-on-one services;

           • Explanation of legal processes: stages of the case, filing deadlines, waiting periods,

                  how to arrange for service of process, courtroom procedures, etc. 12

            In Los Angeles, Sutter, and Fresno counties, data from the 2001-2002 fiscal year

regarding the family law self-help centers showed: 13

            • 70% of customers needed help with a divorce, legal separation, or nullity

            • about 70% had at least a high-school education14

            • about 30% had documents reviewed in the center

            • 33% of customers received telephone assistance, and 65% one-on-one assistance

          Courts that have not established pro se assistance programs can use data gathered from the

general pro se population to plan the services they will offer. In this case, the data indicate that

the population is mostly fairly well-educated and requires mostly brief consultations about forms

and procedures.


11 JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF
                     CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, EQUAL ACCESS FUND: A REPORT TO
THE CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE (2005) 55.

12   Id. at 56.
13 JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF   CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, FAMILY LAW INFORMATION CENTERS:
AN EVALUATION OF THREE PILOT PROGRAMS (2003) 55. For similar data from 1999-2000 regarding the Family Law
Facilitator program, see Harrison at 89-97.
14 This   data was not available for Los Angeles county.


                                                           10
         Programs should also consider the needs of litigants with limited literacy or language

skills.15

Small-Scale: Individual Litigants (Triage)

         Litigants who visit self-help centers generally want to talk with someone one-on-one who

can explain the process, rather than read documents or use interactive technology.16 At the San

Francisco self-help center, an attorney or staff member screens each customer. Customers

eligible for assistance fill out an intake form (possibly with volunteer assistance) with their basic

data and information about their case, and sign a disclosure form that informs them they are only

receiving legal information, not advice or representation.17 Volunteers and staff then provide

appropriate assistance based on the type of case. If the self-help center cannot help the customer,

they provide appropriate referrals.18




15 We   address this in the Access, Language and Literacy section infra.
16   FAMILY LAW INFORMATION CENTERS: AN EVALUATION OF THREE PILOT PROGRAMS at 55.
17Please see the Program Staff section infra for further discussion of the customer-center relationship and related
ethical issues.
18   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM 120. We discuss referrals in the Service Delivery section infra.


                                                             11
Recommendations

  •    Carefully examine the pro se population to determine which services they use and

      require.

  •    Reassess the program regularly to ensure it meets customers’ needs.

  •    Hold one-on-one meetings with litigants to address individual concerns and needs.

  •    Establish efficient and consistent processes to screen incoming customers.

  •    Have sound knowledge of other programs and services, whether court-based or

      independent agencies, to which self-help centers can refer litigants.




                                                12
                                           Service Delivery

        The means of service delivery necessarily vary between centers based on community

needs, staff, space, and funding limitations. Geographic, transportation, and language barriers

impede access to justice, but technology and creative solutions can successfully overcome these

obstacles.



Services Provided

One-on-one Services

      The primary mode of service delivery in most centers is one-on-one assistance, though the

type and extent of one-on-one interaction with customers varies. Data collected through

customer satisfaction surveys, anecdotal information, and interviews shows that the

overwhelming majority of customers are most satisfied with service if they receive one-on-one

instruction from an individual staff member rather than a computer or a form. 19 Divorce cases

can be complex and emotional, and a one-on-one interaction is often the most comfortable mode

of service for a litigant. However, the volume of customers makes it extremely difficult for a

center to operate strictly on a one-on-one basis. A center must use a combination of services in

order to meet customer needs. Some of those additional services follow.




19Interviews with Diane Bras, Placer County Family Law Facilitator, and Placer County clinic participants, in
Auburn, Cal. (June 23, 2006) [hereinafter, Diane Bras interview]. MODEL SELF HELP PILOT PROGRAM includes
charts and discussions of customer satisfaction statistics for many county programs. FAMILY LAW INFORMATION
CENTERS: AN EVALUATION OF THREE PILOT PROGRAMS 55.


                                                         13
Clinics

           Many self-help centers offer regularly-scheduled clinics. Some operate on a drop-in basis

and others by appointment only. Clinics offer general assistance for all types of family law

cases, though some centers offer clinics for divorce litigants only.

           In a drop-in clinic model, customers arrive at the Family Law Facilitator’s office in the

morning and sign onto a list.20 The staff or volunteers then meet with customers one by one and

asks each to explain why they came to the clinic and where they are in the divorce process. The

staff member then reviews the facts of the case, explains the divorce process and discusses the

customer’s options. Then the staff member helps the customer fill out the forms, then explains

the filing process and the next steps in the case. If the customer’s case is more complex or

requires follow-up, the staff member may refer the customer to the Family Law Facilitator

herself or may arrange for an appointment at a later time.

           Staff members should be sure to explain other options to the customer, such as mediation,

alternative dispute resolution (ADR), or other social services that are available.

           Diane Bras, the Family Law Facilitator for Placer County, notes that it is important to

choose a set time to offer clinics and to stick with it.21 In Placer County, drop-in clinics were

offered certain days of the week in the morning. That schedule changed, and over a year later

litigants would still appear for the originally scheduled clinics. The center would not always be

able to help them, and the litigant would have to return at a later date.




20It is important that this list is easy to find, and that customers understand the clinic process. See Program Outreach
infra for more on signage.
21   Diane Bras interview.


                                                            14
Workshops

            Workshops educate litigants on the legal process and help them prepare case materials.

Many self-help centers provide workshops on various aspects of family law cases such as form

completion, understanding community property, or an overview of the divorce process. Some

hold workshops in the evenings for litigant convenience. Others are available on video or DVD

for purchase or viewing in a center. Los Angeles County offers the Divorce Workshop Series,

which “consists of three separate workshops, each lasting about four to five hours, covering all

pleadings required to start and complete a dissolution of marriage.”22 In Butte County, an

attorney will hold a workshop that, through the use of real-time videoconferencing, enables self-

represented litigants in Tehama and Glenn Counties to receive simultaneous assistance. However,

a staff member should be available at all locations to which the workshop is broadcast in order to

answer questions in person.

            Most workshops include a lecture format and a question and answer period. Participants

in Los Angeles and other counties report that these workshops are most effective when

conducted in small group formats.23 Some centers ask litigants to meet with staff members

before the workshop to fill in as much basic personal information on their forms as possible. In

others, litigants prepare forms as part of the workshop and meet with staff members afterwards to

review their work. This varies depending on the topic of the workshop and needs of the litigant.

            Centers can hold workshops on site or at rotating locations around the county. Some

centers hold workshops at other community agencies, which is a good way to coordinate services

with that agency and to reach out to the community it serves.

22   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 180.
23   Id. at 76.


                                                     15
            Centers should consistently evaluate workshop offerings and curricula to ensure they

continue to meet customer needs.



Videoconferencing

            Centers should also take advantage of technology to improve one-on-one assistance.

Videoconferencing workshops is a good way to make efficient use of attorney time and limited

staff resources. This way, one attorney can conduct a videocast workshop that serves groups of

customers in multiple locations at once. Butte, Glenn, and Tehama Counties have used

videoconferencing equipment, which is normally used to broadcast workshops, to conduct one-

on-one sessions as well. If a volunteer at one location is unable to answer a question, she can

reach the staff attorney at the other location who “can then use the videoconferencing equipment

to help the customer face-to-face.”24



Forms, Instructions, and Other Written Information

            Forms and step-by-step instructions allow customers who do not need one-on-one

assistance to find necessary information and to fill out their forms with minimal staff

involvement. It is important that customers are able to take home instructional information,

worksheets, court procedures, and handouts on other services. Litigants should have easy access

to all forms needed to complete any type of divorce, including child or spousal support materials,

as well as checklists and instructional materials that explain how to fill out the forms, where and

how to file the forms, and other basic information. The court in Riverside County includes the

checklist used by court staff to review a litigant’s materials in the forms packet it provides to


24   Id. at 42.


                                                     16
self-represented litigants. Centers should have hard copies of all necessary forms and all

instructional materials that are available online.

           Because California divorce law is driven by standardized forms, “instructional materials,

document assembly packages and other methods of assisting litigants can be completed

economically.”25 The Judicial Council of California and other organizations have developed

instructional materials, though many of these materials were initially designed for attorneys and

judges, and so were not particularly understandable to the average litigant. The Judicial Council,

as well as many court-based self-help centers, continues to work to simplify these forms. They

have adopted plain-language, larger fonts, more graphics, and simplified instructions so the

forms are understandable on a fourth grade reading level.26 Centers should make efforts to

present all material as clearly and simply as possible for litigants.

           Written program information should also inform litigants of the neutrality of the office,

particularly that there is no attorney-client relationship between the Facilitator and the litigant,

that Family Law Facilitators provide only legal information and not legal advice, that the center

serves both parties, and that the use of the center does not influence the neutrality of the court.27

           Forms, checklists, and instructions should also be available in multiple languages.

           In addition to forms and handouts in languages other than English, some centers produce

materials in a medium common in particular cultures. For example, the Spanish-language Centro




25BONNIE ROSE HOUGH, DESCRIPTION OF CALIFORNIA COURTS’ PROGRAMS FOR SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS
(2003) 46, 49 [hereinafter, Hough].
26See Appendix B for an example. Microsoft Word can calculate a statistic called the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level,
which gives an approximation of the level of education that is necessary to understand a document. Many other
programs can do so as well.
27   Hough at 49.


                                                         17
de Recursos Legales in Los Angeles County produced a foto-novella [sic],28 which is a short

magazine that tells a story with pictures. This one tells the story of a customer getting help from

the center.29

           Some centers also maintain a reference library with legal self-help books or videos for

litigants to use on site. There are some excellent instructional books published by Nolo Press,30

which explain the divorce process and include all necessary forms.



Public Workstations

           Centers should have public workstations available. The customers can use the

workspaces and written materials at the center to fill out forms, and then have the center staff

check their work. Interviews in Butte, Glenn and Tehama Counties show that these stations are

helpful to customers and enhance the efficiency of the office.31



Public Computers

           Access to public computers that are monitored by a staff person, either at the self-help

center or in or near the courthouse, can be very helpful to litigants. Computers provide litigants

with easy access to legal forms and resources and help the centers run more efficiently. A list of

helpful websites, including the California State Courts Self-Help website,32 should be posted at

the computers. Litigants can use the computers to fill out forms using programs such as EZLegal


28   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 79.
29   Id.
30   e.g., ED SHERMAN, HOW TO DO YOUR OWN DIVORCE IN CALIFORNIA (28th ed. 2005).
31   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 43.
32   California Courts Self-Help Center, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp (last visited August 7, 2006).


                                                             18
File, HotDocs, or fillable PDF forms developed by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

These documents can then be printed on site and reviewed by self-help center staff. The

computers should be accessible during all court or center working hours.

          Public access computers can also make a self-help center run more efficiently and may

allow the staff to help more people in one day. Litigants can have their forms prepared by the

time they meet with a staff person, who only needs to review them rather than walk the litigant

through the forms line by line.

          Centers that maintain public computers should always have a staff person or volunteer

available to answer questions or to assist with technical difficulties. This person’s primary

responsibility should be computer aid, particularly if a majority of the populations served are not

experienced computer users. Centro de Recursos Legales, the Spanish-language self-help center

in Fresno County, installed an I-CAN! module33 in its center, but found that it was not a practical

solution because “the amount of staff time required to help customers . . . turned out to be

prohibitive.”34

          Computer workstations and internet sources should not replace one-on-one meetings with

self-help center staff or printed materials available at the center. Though no comprehensive study

regarding self-represented litigants and computer usage has been conducted, anecdotal evidence

shows that many self-represented litigants may not be able to “access information via the Web




33 The I-CAN! program is a kiosk and free web-based service developed by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County
and jointly sponsored by different local, state, and public agencies and organizations. It is designed to provide
convenient access to legal services and information. See ICAN! Legal Self-Help Project, http://lstech.org/projects/
tig_2001_37 (last visited August 7, 2006) and California State Plan Update 2003, http://www.pic.org/StatePlan/
calupdate.pdf.
34   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 78.


                                                          19
site due to low literacy levels, lack of access to computers, or low levels of comfort with using

computers.”35



Electronic Document Filing

            Customer-friendly electronic document filing and preparation can make it easier for

litigants to file court documents. For example, California courts use a program called

EZLegalFile,36 where users enter the necessary personal information onto a web site, which then

prints properly-formatted PDF court forms.37 Self-represented litigants can prepare these forms

on their own and file them with the court, or they can prepare them at the self-help center and

staff can review the information. This can ease the burden on litigants and staff because, at the

very least, the electronic document generation system ensures the parties’ names and basic

information is consistent throughout the forms.38 However, it is extremely important that these

systems are user-friendly and are designed from a user’s perspective, or they may impede, rather

than improve, access to justice. Litigants should be able to access electronic document filing

systems both from the center or the county’s website and from public computers available at the

center or courthouse.




35   Id. at 148.
36   Some courts also use a similar program called HotDocs.
37   http://www.ezlegalfile.org/.
38Interview with Bonnie Hough, California Center for Children, Families, and the Courts, in San Francisco, Cal.
(June 20, 2006) [hereinafter, Bonnie Hough interview].


                                                              20
Kiosks

           Computer-driven kiosks located in courthouses or libraries were a relatively popular

means of service delivery as Family Law Information Centers and Family Law Facilitators

programs developed. Centers would place a standalone kiosk with a computer with Internet

access and a printer in a courthouse, for example, so a litigant could fill out and print his forms.

The problem, however, was that many litigants were uncomfortable using a free-standing

computer to handle a personal legal matter. Others did not know that kiosks were available. If a

kiosk was broken, or if the litigant had a question on a form or on how to use the program, there

was no self-help center staff person available to answer their questions.

           The only location in which the kiosk system is consistently used and has received a

positive response is in Orange County, where one kiosk location has a staff member on hand to

answer questions about kiosk use.39 The vast majority of litigants surveyed who used the

attended I-CAN! kiosks in Orange County found them easy to use. However, courts with

unattended kiosks did not find the system effective.40 Also, if the law or forms change, kiosks

need updating, which can demand a significant cost.

           If a center does use a kiosk system, the best practice is to have an attendant available to

answer litigant questions and to solve technical problems.




39   Bonnie Hough interview.
40   Id.


                                                      21
Web Site

           The Judicial Council of California maintains a comprehensive online self-help center at

www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp, which serves as a resource for litigants and attorneys who wish to

learn more about the self-help process or to find service providers. The website provides step-by-

step instructions for common proceedings, and also simple, concise explanations of areas of law.

All of the information on the site is accessible at a 5th grade level. 41 There are thousands of

links to other resources, and the entire site is available in Spanish. Links are added as web pages

are translated into other languages. A litigant can follow the links on the site to locate the Family

Law Facilitator in their county, and to find other free or low-cost legal help.42

           Each county should maintain a website for self-represented litigants. This website should

include web links and contact information for all self-help service providers, explanations and

comprehensive lists of services provided, eligibility to use the self-help center, limitations on

services, all necessary forms, where to go for more information, mobile service center schedules,

links to EZ Legal File, fee schedules, etc. 43 Family Law Facilitators’ offices and other court-

based self help programs must be sure that the information available on these sites is correct and

up to date. Centers should review and update these websites at least yearly.




41   Hough at 51.
42Family Law Facilitator in Your County, http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/selfhelp/lowcost/flf.htm (last visited August
7, 2006).
43Many local courts have also developed helpful resources for litigants representing themselves. Examples include:
Santa Clara: http://www.scselfservice.org/default.htm; Ventura: http://courts.countyofventura.org/
venturaMasterFrames5.htm; Los Angeles:
http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/familylaw/ and http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/probate/index.asp?selfhelp=1,
Sacramento: http://www.saccourt.com/index/family.asp, http://www.saccourt.com/index/ud.asp, and
http://www.saccourt.com/index/smallclaims.asp; Stanislaus, http://www.stanct.org/courts/familylaw/index.html and
Shasta: http://www.shastacourts.com/familylaw.shtml. Hough at 52.


                                                          22
Telephone Assistance

            Telephone hotlines or available telephone assistance can help overcome geographic or

transportation barriers.44 Telephone assistance facilitates efficient case management for

individuals who may not be able to reach the center because of work, lack of childcare, or a

disability.45 Bi-lingual staff members or volunteers available by phone will help litigants who

may come to the center at times when no one is able to provide services in their language.46 A

hotline may also be a way to conduct triage on a case, screen customers, or to provide basic

information such as office hours, location, directions, and services provided.

            Centers can employ the use of volunteers to staff hotlines or to provide telephone

assistance. Some self-help centers provide scripts to handle telephone calls for different legal

issues.47 This ensures consistency and accuracy of service. If a call is too complicated, the

volunteer can arrange for the litigant to come to the center, or can refer the litigant to a trained

staff member.

            A telephone hotline can also serve as a referral service to various local social services

organizations. Los Angeles County maintains InfoLine, which provides litigants with “referrals

to a wide range of social services.”48 The Self-Help Regional Assistance Project (SHARP) in

Butte, Glenn and Tehama Counties serves customers in rural areas who live far from the self-

help centers. The SHARP reports that “over 51 percent of contacts are made over the



44   MODEL SELF HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 9.
45   Id.
46   Id. at 211.
47   Id. at 209.
48   DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE PRACTICES IN FAMILY CASEFLOW MANAGEMENT at 53.


                                                       23
telephone.”49 Courts outside of California have started to take advantage of telephone services

as well. In Alaska, self-help centers provide services exclusively over the phone. 50

            Providing telephone assistance requires adequate staffing and has a greater

              risk of misunderstanding because people do not always accurately describe their
              situation. For example, sometimes people say they received a subpoena when in fact
              they were served with a summons. Without seeing the paperwork, the response of the
              telephone staff would be vastly different, and most likely incorrect.51

            An effective script, good interview techniques, and trained staff can effectively minimize

this problem.



Mobile Access Projects

            In some larger counties, Family Law Facilitator offices or Family Law Information

Clinics maintain Mobile Access Projects, which are vans that travels to shelters, prisons, or

libraries in towns that are far from the courthouse, or where litigants may not have easy access to

public transportation or computers.

              In Yolo County, court staff travel to the Department of Child Support Services office in
              a low income housing area to provide assistance to litigants to save them the long
              commute to the courthouse. In Santa Clara County, the family law facilitator’s office
              takes the court’s CourtMobile [van] to the DCSS office.52




49   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 42.
50 THE    FUTURE OF SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGATION at 25.
51   Id. at 37.
52   DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE PRACTICES IN FAMILY CASEFLOW MANAGEMENT at 116.


                                                         24
Referrals

          Family Law Facilitators’ offices should maintain a strong network of local and state-wide

service providers in order to offer a litigant the full range of services available to her. This range

of options is particularly helpful to those litigants who may have trouble coming into the office

because of work, child care issues, or other reasons. The San Francisco pilot self-help center

referred “about 16 percent” of its customers to other agencies. The most common referral targets

were lawyer referral services and other legal self-help centers.53

          Centers should coordinate a referral system with other court-based programs, non-profits,

bar associations, pro bono or low cost attorney services, unbundled legal service providers,54

legal referral services, and social services providers. 55 Self-help center staff should be familiar

with the referral network and should provide customers with written materials about the service

to which they are referred, including contact information, location, available services, and

eligibility. Los Angeles County, for example, refers customers to InfoLine, a community based

social services referral hotline. San Diego and San Mateo Counties provide customers with a

binder of attorneys who are willing to provide unbundled legal services.

Office Space

          A functional, well-designed office space is an extremely useful tool to improve efficiency,

and ease of use for both staff and litigants, and may improve the quality and volume of services

53   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM 122.
54Unbundled legal services are more affordable, “discrete service” representation for litigants who do not want or
cannot afford an attorney to handle their entire case. Many counties encourage attorneys to provide unbundled legal
services, and encourage self-represented litigants to take advantage of them. For more information on unbundled
legal services, see http://www.unbundledlaw.org/. THE FUTURE OF SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGATION also contains a
good discussion of the pros and cons of unbundled legal services throughout.
55It is important that all other service providers to which court-based self-help centers refer customers are competent
and reliable sources of help. Centers should be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of other local or state-
wide programs and inform their customers.


                                                           25
available. Courts and self-help service programs should work together to ensure that centers have

adequate space and resources to provide all necessary services to litigants.

       The physical space of the office dictates which services a center can provide. For

example, Diane Bras, the Placer County Family Law Facilitator, began with only a desk and a

small office in which she met with customers one on one. As demand increased, she was no

longer able to handle the volume of customers. She soon enlisted two part-time volunteer

paralegals who were able to screen cases and help customers fill out forms at tables in the

hallway. Customers signed up on a list at one end of the hall and waited for their turn with the

paralegals or Ms. Bras. Demand continued to increase, and soon Ms. Bras was given a few

computers that she put to public use. Five or six customers at a time were able to fill out forms

or learn about the judicial process. Ms. Bras was available to help the customers with the

computers, and then would review their documents. She won the Placer County Individual

Public Service Award for her dedicated efforts. However, a small office and a hallway still did

not efficiently serve the needs of the many litigants, and was a challenge to Ms. Bras and her

volunteers as well.

       The Placer County Family Law Facilitator’s office is now in its own office across the hall

from the court clerk’s window. Ms. Bras and two full-time paralegals share one end of the space,

and there are multiple public use computers at the other end. On most days when the office holds

a drop-in clinic in the morning, two part-time paralegals also help customers. There is a small

room down the hall that Ms. Bras uses to hold workshops. The Family Law Facilitator’s office

will soon move to another courthouse that is building a new office space for the program. It will

include a larger waiting area (customers currently wait in a hallway), two larger workshop



                                                  26
rooms, more workspace for the paralegals and Ms. Bras, as well as public computers and

printers. The office will also be equipped with more modern technology and videoconference

equipment so the Placer County Family Law Facilitator customers and staff can view and

broadcast workshops from other locations or counties.



Childcare

           Litigants often must bring their children with them to the courthouse because they are not

able to afford or locate appropriate childcare. It is not feasible for litigants to supervise young

children while at the same time pay attention to the court staff and correctly fill out their

paperwork. Unsupervised children create “frustration for other court users, court staff, and the

parents. Valuable time is wasted, and safety is compromised.”56 Further, children are often not

allowed in courtrooms during a hearing. Without child care, a parent cannot efficiently complete

his or her case. Self-help centers should work with and encourage courts to provide properly

staffed children’s waiting areas in all facilities.57 The San Francisco Family Law Facilitator’s

office is located in the Superior Court courthouse. There are multiple children’s waiting areas,

stocked with books and toys, some of which have an attendant and some of which do not.

           Courts and court-based self-help centers should continue to work together to provide

attended childcare at the courthouse. The California Judicial Council Task Force on Self-

Represented Litigants encourages courts to “to provide funding to staff these [children’s] waiting

rooms.”58 Suzanne Clark Morlock, the Director of the Self-Help Access Program of Butte,

56 JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF
                    CALIFORNIA TASK FORCE ON SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS, STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR
SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS (2003) 26.
57   Id.
58   Id.


                                                    27
Glenn, and Tehama Counties suggests that centers in courthouses that do not offer child care

should “request funding and trained volunteers who could supervise children.”59

            Because not all courthouses or self-help centers are able to provide childcare, it is

important that staff members and volunteers make parents aware that they must find their own

solution.

Recommendations

        • Offer a broad range of services, including

                   o One-on-one assistance, either via drop-in clinics or by appointment, in person or

                       over the telephone;

                   o Workshops designed to educate litigants about the various stages of the divorce

                       process and to help them complete necessary forms;

                   o Information regarding all types of available assistance, including ADR and

                       mediation;

                   o Technological solutions to geographic, transportation, or other barriers, including

                       real-time videoconferencing capabilities, telephone assistance, information online,

                       rotating workshop locations, or Mobile Access vans;

                   o   Hard copies of all necessary forms and step-by-step instructions for form

                       completion, sample completed forms, handouts about the self-help center and

                       other social service providers;

                   o Access to a reference library for litigants;




59   Id. at 192.


                                                         28
      o Websites with links, contact information, and litigant eligibility requirements for

          state and local service providers;

      o Access to public computers with internet access monitored by a staff person;

      o Available electronic document filing, either through the center or court website

      o Public workstations where litigants can fill out forms or read materials; and

      o A strong referral network of local and state-wide self-help service providers,

          attorney referral services, and social service providers.

• Ensure that all forms and printed materials are stored in a conspicuous place and well-

   labeled so litigants can easily pick up all necessary materials at once.

• Offer all services and materials in Spanish or any other non-English language spoken by

   a significant portion of center users.

• Operate in a functional, well-designed office with sufficient space and resources to

   provide all necessary services.

• Provide a children’s waiting area or attended childcare at the courthouse.

• Make continuous efforts to modernize and improve service delivery.




                                               29
                                              Program Outreach

              Even the best programs will not provide optimum access to justice unless the centers and

program materials are accessible and easy to understand. Usability is the key to an effective

center. Programs for self-represented litigants must constantly evaluate the ease with which

litigants learn of the service and the litigants’ ability to access available services.



Written Information about the Program

              Litigants often come to self-help centers in a time of crisis,60 and the centers give them a

large amount of information. Litigants in crisis may forget part of what they heard, and the many

forms and judicial system may be confusing. It is therefore important that centers provide

litigants with written information about the program.61 This information should include the

center’s hours of operation, services provided, limitations on those services, and who is eligible

to participate.62

              These materials should be routinely distributed to all litigants who use the centers. Court

clerks should also routinely distribute the material to self-represented litigants. Self-help center

directors or Family Law Facilitators should work directly with court clerks and other court staff

to be sure they understand and can describe the services provided, and that they consistently refer

litigants to the self-help programs.

              Centers can post flyers at local libraries, shelters, or other centers with basic program

information.


60   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS at 11.
61 All     program outreach materials should be available in multiple languages depending on the needs of the county.
62   Id.


                                                              30
Online Information

           As more litigants turn to the internet for information on self-representation, court-based

self-help service centers must take advantage of the internet as an outreach tool. It is important

that self-help sites are easy to locate on a court, state or county webpage. All court-based self-

help programs should ensure their website is linked to related programs. These websites should

appear in national, state, and local directories for self-help service providers, as well as on family

court websites.



Other Outreach63

           Self-help centers should reach out to litigants through referrals from other self-help

service centers and non-profit organizations. A strong network of local and state-wide self-help

service providers works to the advantage of the providers and the litigants.64 Centers can work

with local colleges, universities, paralegal schools, and vocational schools to recruit volunteers

and conduct outreach. 65




63Outreach to the community is a very important part of the job of self-help service centers. Centers should make all
possible efforts to build relationships with community organizations and to conduct outreach within the confines of
their limited resources. Some centers have expressed concerns that broader outreach programs will further
overburden the staff. This is a legitimate concern, but is more of a funding issue. Centers should continue to engage
in basic outreach efforts. Free and low-cost services for self-represented litigants is clearly a large, unmet need in
California.
64Fresno County points out that coordination with and outreach with other organizations was crucial to the
development of the self-help project. Members of the other organizations could sit on an advisory committee along
with program and court personnel. This established meaningful relationships within the community. Coordination
with other organizations may also bring in more volunteers. MODEL SELF HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 84.
65   Id.


                                                           31
             Self-help centers can work with organizations that serve non-English speaking

populations to help establish trust of the courts and of court-based programs in those

communities.

             In rural counties where there are fewer organizations with which to collaborate, some

centers work with church social services programs, or other programs that coordinate juvenile,

family, or criminal matters within the same family.66

             Center staff can participate in interviews with local television or radio stations to raise

awareness of the program. 67



Location

             Self-help centers should be located at or very near the courthouse. This is more

convenient and efficient for the court, for the self-help center staff, and for litigants. A

centralized location not only makes things simpler for the litigant, but may speed the resolution

of the case. First, litigants will be able to find the center more easily if it is located at the

courthouse than in another part of the county. Second, it is often a burden on litigants to make

multiple trips to multiple locations. This location may also improve the completeness of the

litigant’s materials if she is able to go directly from the self-help center to the filing desk. This

eliminates some possibility of the litigant misplacing documents, and any missing forms can be

obtained easily at the center. Further, if the center is at the courthouse, court personnel will be

more aware of its existence and available services, and may make referrals more easily.68


66   Butte, Glenn and Tehama Counties have been successful with these tactics. Id. at 48.
67   San Francisco County has had some success with this method. Id. at 122.
68   Id. at 9.


                                                             32
            In 2005,

              nearly 60 percent of local action plans reported that self-represented litigants had
              serious problems getting to locations where services are available. Most of the large and
              medium-size courts proposed geographic solutions such as outpost facilities or mobile
              vans. Smaller courts tended to rely more on technological solutions such as telephone
              help lines, videoconferencing, and Web sites.69


            Some counties have had attorneys conduct workshops in one location and broadcast that

workshop simultaneously in other locations.70 Programs also record these workshops and make

DVDs or videos available at area libraries.71 Though more and more litigants take advantage of

online filing tools such as EZ Legal File,72 most still file their documents at the courthouse, so it

remains important that the main office of the self-help center is physically located at the

courthouse.

            Many self-help centers maintain multiple office locations, depending on the size of the

county, funding, and need.73 Other semi-rural counties, such as Butte, Glenn, and Tehama

Counties, work together on a regional service model.74 “The Self-Help Regional Assistance

Program shows how services can be provided to litigants in rural areas through the innovative


69   Id. at 19.
70Id. at 6. For further discussion on overcoming transportation or geographic barriers, please see Service Delivery
above.
71 The  Placer County Family Law Facilitator’s office prepared a DVD for pro se divorce litigants that is available at
local libraries, domestic violence shelters, other legal service organizations, and can also be ordered through the
office itself. It contains the same material a litigant would learn if the litigant attended a basic pro se divorce
workshop. DVD: How to do Your Own Divorce (Placer County Family Law Facilitator n.d.) (on file with authors).
72   See Service Delivery above.
73Multiple locations may raise attorney supervision issues. Often self-help centers have only one attorney on staff,
and additional locations are staffed only by paralegals and volunteers. Family Law Facilitators or managing
attorneys can work particular days of the week at the various locations. In situations where a self-help center does
not have a managing attorney and that center is located next to a Family Law Facilitator’s office, the Family Law
Facilitator may take on a supervisory role or make herself available to the center if need be. MODEL SELF HELP
PILOT PROGRAM at 71.
74   Id. at 22.


                                                           33
use of technology, program coordination, and staff resources.”75 Regardless of the number of

locations, it is best if the primary self-help service offices are located at or very near the

courthouse if there are multiple county courthouse locations. If counties have separate self-help

service centers and Family Law Facilitator’s offices that are both located off-site, it is

advantageous to locate them next to one another. For example, in Fresno County, the Spanish-

language self-help center is located about one mile from the courthouse. It is located across a

courtyard in the same building complex as the Family Law Facilitator’s office. “Litigants can use

the clerk’s office in the family law facilitator’s office to file documents so they do not have to

travel to the courthouse.”76

            In more urban areas such as Contra Costa County where there are five separate self-help

centers, not all services are offered in all centers.77 Though public transportation is quite good in

the San Francisco Bay Area, options are limited outside of major transit corridors, and the

distance between the centers has proven difficult even for litigants with private transportation.78

Limited funds control the availability of services, so it is important that all service centers are

located near a clerk’s office where litigants can file papers, and that each center is aware of

services provided by the others to facilitate referrals. Court web sites should allow litigants to

find the center most convenient for them, and explain which services are offered at each site.


75   Id. at 25.
76 Id. at 61. Fresno county reports that though litigants were initially concerned about the remote location of the
center, the proximity to the Family Law Facilitator’s office and the clerk mitigated this concern, particularly for
repeat visitors. In Fresno, the majority of litigants using the self-help center were handling family court cases, so
may have been familiar with the location already or were still able to handle all of their court business at once. This
situation was advantageous for the Family Law Facilitator’s office and the self-help center, because they could
provide seamless referrals. Id. However, this referral benefit would exist if the centers were located at the courthouse
as well.
77   Id. at 137.
78   Id.


                                                            34
          If the Family Law Facilitator’s office and/or the self-help center are located away from

the courthouse, it is best if they are located close to a highway or major road, and easily

accessible by public transportation.

          As courts modernize, remodel and relocate, it is important that they designate sufficient

office space for a self-help center or a Family Law Facilitator’s office.79



Security

          A benefit to locating court-based self-help centers in the courthouse is security. Divorce

litigants in particular may be in a violent or threatening situation. The peace of mind that comes

with the added security while they fill out forms or get help with their divorces may encourage

more litigants to use centers located in the courthouse. Some litigants who used the Fresno

county remote locations complained about the lack of security for this reason.80


Signs

          Most clinics operate on a walk-in basis. It is thus extremely important that directions and

information are posted in places where clinic users will see them. 81 These signs should be clear

and readable. They should identify the program, where it is located, the hours of operation,

services provided, who is eligible to participate in the program, and directions to clinic sign-in



79Currently, the Family Law Facilitator’s office in Placer County is located in a small office at the Family Court in
the town of Auburn, which is the county seat. The south end of Placer County is currently the fastest developing
section of the country. The family court in Roseville, the major town in south Placer County, is expanding and is
constructing a larger office with workshop space and more modern technology for the Family Law Facilitator. This
coordination of effort to improve access to service and to broaden the scope of available services is a testament to
the success of the program as well as the increasing need and numbers of pro se litigants. Diane Bras interview.
80   MODEL SELF HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 61.
81 Theease with which customers located the center may be a question to include on customer service
questionnaires.


                                                           35
lists, workshop rooms, etc. These signs should be displayed such that litigants can see this

information even when the program is closed.

            Signs that clearly articulate program policies, such as who is eligible to use the services,

should be posted in a visible location. Litigants should be able to understand these policies at the

time they seek assistance. Signs should clearly delineate the scope of services provided and the

center’s policies on major issues. 82

            Programs should also post information and sources litigants can use when the center is

closed or when clinics are full. This information should be posted in a clearly visible place,

preferably near the signs with basic clinic information. 83 This includes telephone hotlines,

websites, lawyer referral services, or other programs within the courthouse to which they can

turn.84

            Signs should also be in Spanish or another non-English language spoken by any major

percentage of clinic users.

            In situations where a self-help center is located in the same building as the Family Law

Facilitator’s office, it is important that there are adequate signs (in multiple languages if

necessary) to direct users between offices. Though the two offices are located across a courtyard

from one another in Fresno County, signs are limited, which makes access more difficult for

litigants.85 This is a problem that is easily solved, and will greatly improve customer experience

at the centers.


82   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS 10.
83   Id. at 11.
84   Id.
85   MODEL SELF HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 61.


                                                       36
          Court personnel, particularly security guards or court clerks, should be aware of and able

to direct litigants to the self-help center but should not be relied upon in lieu of adequate signage.

          There should also be clear signs directing users to shelves, e.g., with forms, information,

pamphlets of other service organizations, etc.


Recommendations

       • Locate the self-help center at or very near the courthouse. If this is not possible, locate the

          center close to major transportation routes and public transit.

       • Post information about the program where center users can clearly see it. Programs

          should

              o Post signs in multiple languages to direct users to the center;

              o Provide signs where the program is located to clearly identify it in a manner that

                   ensures users can identify the program even when it is closed;86

              o Post information about where litigants can turn for assistance if the program is

                   closed or if litigants are not eligible for assistance; and

              o Post signs that clearly articulate program policies, as well as instructional

                   information such as how to sign into a clinic or to sign up for a workshop.

       • Provide flyers or brochures with basic program information (such as hours of operation

          and services provided) to hand out to litigants who may return to the self-help center.

       • Post information about the self-help center in local libraries, domestic violence shelters,

          other self-help organizations, and court-based programs.




86   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS 11.


                                                       37
• Ensure the center or the county’s website appears in local and state, and national

   directories of self-help providers.

• Work with local organizations, church groups, or social service providers to reach out to a

   broader community.




                                            38
                                 Access, Language and Literacy
             Programs that successfully address access, language, and literacy needs will be able to

help all customers who approach them. They will remove barriers to justice for customers with

limited reading skills, who cannot speak English, or who are disabled. Recent trends of growth

in pro se activity and increasing diversity throughout the United States make these needs more

prominent than ever. Pro se litigants are less homogeneous than attorneys; they range from well-

educated to only moderately literate in English. 87, 88



Language and Literacy Needs: Materials

             Spanish is the most common language spoken by customers who do not speak English in

California. 89 Different geographic areas will have different language needs, as will litigants

with different types of cases. Programs should examine their populations carefully and adjust

their offerings as appropriate. If no data specific to customers is available, census or other

demographic data can serve as an approximation. 90

             The Spanish-language self-help program in Fresno County and the multi-lingual program

in San Francisco County found effective ways to address litigant language needs, as well as

possible pitfalls. 91 For example, the Fresno project prepared court materials in simple, accessible

English (approximately a fourth-grade reading level), and then had volunteers translate them into

Spanish. However, the Spanish translations themselves were not prepared in accessible language,

87   Harrison at 77.
88   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM 104-105.
89   Id. at 215.
90   For more on this topic, see Needs Assessment supra.
91   Id. at 2.


                                                           39
and the center had to get new translation.92 The San Francisco center found that many litigants

whose first language is not English nevertheless prefer to receive legal services in English,93 and

that they were best able to reach out to non-English speaking litigants through collaborations

with other community organizations serving non-English-language speakers.94

            A significant portion of the pro se population is not well-educated.95 Therefore, programs

should carefully prepare materials accessible to those with a low level of reading comprehension,

ideally at a fourth- or fifth-grade reading level. 96 Translations appropriate to the community

should be available, as should alternative formats such as Braille for commonly-used materials.

Programs should also periodically reassess whether the existing translations adequately serve the

community.



Languages

            A multi- or bi-lingual staff is essential to provide services to these customers. Each center

can evaluate the language needs of its customers and should provide bi-lingual staff based on

these needs. Though volunteers are extremely helpful to translate conversations or forms, staff

are often better trained and experienced in the legal system and process and so can explain

complexities or cultural differences between legal systems to the customer. A March 2005

Judicial Council of California Report to the Legislature points out that “recruiting bilingual and




92   Id. at 78.
93   Id. at 111.
94   Id. at 133-135.
95 Id.   at 104-105.
96 An    example of such material, from the Placer County Family Law Facilitator’s Office, is in Appendix C.


                                                             40
bicultural staff should be a priority to provide efficient service and build trust in the

community.”97



Language Needs: Interpreters

            While it may note be feasible for all programs to provide interpreters for all litigants, they

should make such interpreters available at the least. Some programs provide interpreters for

hearings, but limited staff availability makes this consistently difficult.98 Nonetheless, court-

provided interpreters are preferable to litigants’ friends or children who may be unaware of court

procedures or unfamiliar with the relevant terminology.99



Disability services

            Programs should ensure that their offices, materials, and personnel are accessible to

people with disabilities. In San Francisco, over thirteen percent of the self-help center’s

customers had some sort of disability.100 Providing this access may involve making telephone

help available (including TDD help for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers), ensuring full ADA

compliance of offices, and providing materials in alternate formats.101




97   Id. at 210.
98   See, e.g., Id. at 118.
99   For more on this, see Program Staff infra.
100   Id. at 103.
101   Id. at 95.


                                                       41
Recommendations

   • Create versions of handouts and forms that are accessible to customers with minimal

      literacy.

   • Have a central, statewide program to translate materials to avoid duplication of effort.

   • Provide multi- or bi-lingual staff.

   • Provide interpretation assistance during hearings if possible.

   • Provide services accessible to persons with disabilities.




                                               42
                                              Program Staff

             Qualified, knowledgeable staff in Family Law Facilitator offices and in Family Law

Information centers is vital to the success of court-provided self-help services. These staff

members must be consistently up to date on current law and court procedures, and must be “able

to convey that information clearly and concisely.”102



Staff Qualifications

             The best programs are run by a licensed attorney who trains and manages the non-

attorney staff. In California, Family Law Facilitators must be licensed attorneys with experience

in family law. Data shows that other programs managed primarily by attorneys have advantages

over those that are not.103 Because of the amount and complexity of legal information given at a

self-help center, an attorney’s ability to understand and explain the law, ability to find relevant

law and understanding of legal rules and ethics are invaluable to the staff.104 “Attorney

supervision also ensures that the information given to the public will be reliable and accurate.”105

             Though volunteers are an integral part of self-help programs, they should not be

exclusively relied upon to perform the central daily operations of the program. Because

volunteers often have high turnover rates, centers will continually need to train new

volunteers.106 It is best that full-time paid staff handle these core operations and volunteers



102   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS at 14.
103   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 208.
104   Id.
105   Id.
106   Id. at 7.


                                                      43
support the paid staff. Volunteers can help with intake, basic form preparation or translation, or

translation services 107 for customers, for example.



Family Law Facilitators

            In 1997, California Family Code section 10002 established an Office of the Family Law

Facilitator in each of California’s 58 counties. Each office should be headed by at least one

attorney licensed in California “with mediation or litigation experience, or both, in the field of

family law.”108

            The Judicial Council has adopted minimum standards for the office of the Family Law

Facilitator.109 All centers should conform to these standards and statutory guidelines.110

            The Facilitator should be covered by malpractice insurance, which is ideally paid for as

part of his or her benefits package. This protection will not only encourage attorneys to become a

part of the Family Law Facilitator program, but will protect those who are already a part of it. It

is another way to make the program a viable career path.

            The Facilitator is also responsible for explaining the ethical and legal limitations on the

role of non-attorney staff.111 In particular, the Facilitator should be sure the staff understands and

conveys to the customers that no attorney-client relationship exists between the center or the staff

and the litigant.

107Often self-help service centers find that though volunteer translation services are helpful, they are not an effective
substitute for bi-lingual center staff. However it is certainly a benefit to the center to have bi-lingual volunteers on
hand. See Id. at 9.
108   CAL. FAM. CODE § 10002 (2006)
109   CAL. FAM. CODE § 10010 (2006), CAL. R. CT. 5.35 (2006)
110   CAL. R. CT. APP. C, DIV. V. (2006).
111   For a more detailed discussion of the issue, see GAY CONROY ET AL., ETHICAL ISSUES FOR ATTORNEYS WORKING
WITH SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS          (2002).


                                                            44
Funding

           A Family Law Facilitator’s office can provide the best help to the most customers when it

has funds to support at minimum one attorney and one full-time legal assistant. These funds must

be adequate for the staff to be able to provide direct assistance to customers with form

preparation, document review, and more in-depth appointments or telephone calls. Programs can

work with local law or paralegal schools to recruit student volunteers to conduct intake, prepare

forms, and screen cases.

           Because pro se services are in such high demand, it is important that service providers

have adequate staff to meet the needs of their customers. Nearly all studies conducted regarding

customer service show that customers are most satisfied with one-on-one assistance with a staff

member.112 For example, the Family Law Facilitator and staff in Los Angeles County would

arrive in the morning to find anywhere from five to 100 people waiting to sign up for an

appointment or to participate in the drop-in clinic.113 The appointment list for the drop-in clinic

in San Francisco often fills up in a matter of minutes. Hence it is critical that a center has the

staff capabilities to meet litigant needs.

           Programs can be creative in their sources of funding. Diane Bras points out that over half

of the customers served have young children under five. 114 Thus any services regarding child

support and child custody are eligible for Proposition 10 funding.115



112   See the various studies conducted in STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS.
113   FAMILY LAW INFORMATION CENTERS.
114   Diane Bras interview
115Proposition 10, passed by California voters in November 1998, added a tax to cigarettes and other tobacco
products. The revenues from this tax support information and services to promote early childhood development.
http://www.ccfc.ca.gov/prop10facts.htm


                                                         45
            Additional funding is available through partnership grants.116

Ethical Issues

            The Facilitator must act within the statutory limitations of the program and must inform

litigants of those limitations. Firstly, Facilitators and litigants do not have an attorney-client

relationship, and Family Code section 10013 requires facilities disclose this fact “in a

conspicuous manner.” Next, Facilitators are required to inform the customer that their assistance

is also available to the other party. This allows facilitators to provide services to the parties

without compromising the neutrality of the court.117

            All court-based self-help programs must ensure that attorney and staff act within ethical

guidelines of the state, county, and court.



Staff Development

            To ensure high quality services, it is important that attorneys and staff remain up to date

on changes in the law, have access to legal resources, are able to communicate with other

programs, and have regular training and continuing education opportunities. The job of the

Family Law Facilitator should be a viable and desirable career path, with continuing education

and development. The Facilitator and all staff should complete a formal training process rather




116“The Equal Access Fund was created by the Budget Act of 1999 and has been continued in the Budget Acts of
2000, 2001, and 2002. Each of these budgets allocated $10 million to the Judicial Council to be distributed in grants
to legal services providers through the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission of the State Bar (the commission).
The budget control language provides for . . . ten percent of the funds remaining after administrative costs are set
aside for Partnership Grants to legal services programs for ‘joint projects of courts and legal services programs to
make legal assistance available to pro per litigants.’” STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED
LITIGANTS at 62. See also EQUAL ACCESS FUND: A REPORT TO THE CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE at 51 for more on
Partnership Grants.
117   See CAL. R. CT. APP. C, DIV. V. (2006).


                                                           46
than a “learn as you go” process. This does not need to be a long process, but should educate

staff in basic rules, ethics, and conduct.


Continuing Education

           Each Family Law Facilitator must attend at least one training session per year provided

by the Judicial Council as required by California Family Code § 10010 and Rule 5.35 of the

2006 California Rules of Court.118 These sessions train facilitators in both “substantive law as

well as practical strategies for serving self-represented litigants.”119 Staff should be encouraged

to “participate in local, state, and national conferences and to meet with representatives from

similar programs to discuss program development, best practices, national trends, changes in law

and procedure, and current issues.”120 There should also be regular technical training on the use

of new technologies. 121

           Because many attorneys come into the Family Law Facilitator’s office with little

background in management, and working in a court is quite different from most other legal

environments, there should be ongoing training in administration and management throughout

the Facilitator’s tenure at the court. Also, staff should be trained in office and clinic management

so as to improve efficiency and effectiveness of services rendered.




118   CAL. FAM. CODE § 10010 (2006), CAL. R. CT. 5.35 (2006)
119   STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS at 51.
120   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS at 14.
121   STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS at 5.


                                                          47
           Family Law Facilitators and their staff should be trained in mediation and alternative

dispute resolution so they are able to provide and/or explain the full range of services available to

their customers.122



Resources

           The best programs will make continuous efforts to modernize their services. This

includes providing staff access to law libraries, best practice reports, program evaluations, and

the latest in research, techniques, and data. All California courts now have the capability to

receive satellite broadcasts, so staff can attend training sessions or meetings without leaving their

court.123 This has been a viable way to provide workshops to customers, and should be included

in the variety of tools available to help staff.124

           Each office should have written manuals, guidelines, videos, websites, computer

programs, and referral sources on hand. The materials should include such information as when

and how to refer customers to other support services, office management materials, ethical

responsibilities, or limitations on service.



Referrals and Collaboration with Local Legal Service Organizations, Lawyers

           Court-based self-help centers that maintain a strong network with local non-profits,

county services, local bar associations, professional associations, mediation programs, other

community services and attorneys are able to provide the most comprehensive services to


122   BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS at 14.
123   BONNIE HOUGH, SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN CALIFORNIA: HELPING LITIGANTS HELP THEMSELVES (2004).
124Refer to the discussion on Service Delivery supra regarding Butte, Tehama, and Glenn Counties’ use of
videoconferencing for workshops.


                                                         48
customers. A strong network with non-profits that serve multi-lingual communities, for example,

is particularly beneficial for a small self-help service office with limited funds.


Recommendations

    • Programs should conform to statutory guidelines, and all program staff should act within

       state, local, and court codes of ethics.

    • A licensed attorney with experience in family law should manage the program and its

       staff.

    • Provide regular training and educational opportunities for attorneys and program staff,

       including

           o Formal training process and regular, mandatory training sessions and conferences;

           o Staff development and continuing education seminars; and

           o Access to legal information, studies, and best practice reports about self-help

                service providers.

    • Ensure that the Family Law Facilitator position is a viable career path.

    • Ensure there are multi- or bi-lingual staff members available to serve non-English

       speaking populations.

    • Ensure attorneys and staff have access to all necessary resources, including a law library,

       modern technology, program evaluations, best practices reports, or other studies on self-

       help centers.

    • Ensure that each program has sufficient funds to support at least one attorney and one full

       time legal assistant. Programs should have sufficient funding to provide all necessary

       services to litigants.


                                                   49
                                         Quality Assurance

           Quality-assurance practices gather data on the use of services, customer satisfaction, and

the changing legal environment then use these data to implement new practices when necessary

and to improve old ones.125 The California Administrative Office of the Courts, as well as all of

the court-based self-help services centers studied here, recognize the importance of such

practices:

            When self-represented litigants have improved access to the assistance they need, learn
            how to navigate the court system, and are better prepared to present their cases, the
            system can respond more appropriately to their needs and they will be more satisfied
            with their experiences.126


Data Collection

           It can be difficult for programs to collect client data, especially in busy, high-traffic

offices, but collecting this data pays great dividends in the future. Good usage data allow

programs to focus their efforts on the most effective methods of service delivery and on the

changing needs of litigants. Client data can also help programs evaluate the means by which they

reach out to underserved communities.

           The self-help pilot study in California prepared several data-collection instruments and

required programs to gather client information at intake.127 Other programs have similar

requirements, but there is no unified means of data collection.128 Also, there are problems with




125
  MARYLAND ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO ASSIST SELF-
REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS (2005)
126   DESCRIPTION OF CALIFORNIA COURTS’ PROGRAMS FOR SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS at 62.
127   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 371.
128   STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS at 29.


                                                       50
intake and exit surveys, including the fact that customers do not always accurately self-report.129

Furthermore, response rates can be very low. One study found only 31% of customers filled out

the provided surveys.130

            Family Law Facilitators and the Administrative Office of the Courts continue to improve

means of statistical data collection. The Administrative Office of the Courts and Judicial Council

of California Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants encourages self-help centers to adopt

standardized methodologies to report and evaluate the quality and quantity of services

provided.131

            Other data are not amenable to form-based collection processes, but are still important to

evaluate needs assessment and service delivery. These non-numerical data include:

            • Customer satisfaction

            • Programs’ effects on courts’ burdens

            • Anecdotal data regarding individual users

            It is more difficult to get an accurate idea of these aspects of the program, because they

are more variable and require more involved answers. Nonetheless, programs should regularly

interview clients and other court officers to ensure they are satisfied with the service.

            Though there is not currently a uniform system to collect and report customer statistics,

programs continue to improve their efforts to collect data effectively and consistently.132 Most

programs collect customer information on intake forms, and some have customers fill out


129   e.g., a customer may say they were “Extremely Satisfied” with a particular service, but may not have been.
130   MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM at 239.
131   STATEWIDE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS at 29.
132   See Appendix B for examples of program intake forms.


                                                             51
satisfaction surveys after workshops or one-on-one sessions. Others conduct interviews with

customers.

       Placer and Riverside Counties have videos available to instruct litigants about the divorce

process. Anecdotal information shows that the informational divorce videos are extremely

helpful to litigants, particularly in their explanation of community versus personal property, or

child and spousal support forms. However, for funding and research purposes, the centers need to

collect empirical data. The Placer County Family Law Facilitator’s office asks each divorce

litigant to watch How to do Your Own Divorce before coming into the clinic. In the summer of

2006, the Placer County Family Law Facilitator’s office began to interview divorce litigants who

had watched the video in order to collect hard data on the usefulness of the video, as well as

numbers of litigants who use it.



Information Provided

       It is vital that self-help programs give their clients up-to-date, accurate material.

Misleading legal information can be worse than none at all; missing a deadline or using an

outdated form can have serious consequences for a litigant.

       Programs should date all materials provided, such as forms, handouts, and web pages,

and staff should monitor changes in the law and update materials promptly.

       In states with heavily form-driven litigation processes, such as California, programs

should work with the authority that promulgates the forms (in California, the Judicial Council) to

ensure they have the current versions.




                                                   52
Complaint Process

            Family Law Facilitator offices and Family Law Information Centers should maintain

clear and effective procedures by which the public can complain about inappropriate behavior or

misinformation provided by Facilitators or staff. 133



Recommendations

        • Establish a data collection regimen, collecting basic data on all litigants and more

            detailed data on a randomly selected sample thereof.

        • Collect narratives of litigants’ experiences with the system, both in cases where it worked

            well and cases where it did not.

        • Review program materials regularly to ensure they are correct and up to date.

        • Establish procedures to address litigants’ complaints.




133   Harrison at 73; CAL. R. CT. 5.35 (2006).


                                                     53
                         Conclusion and Acknowledgments

       We hope our readers find this report helpful and illuminating. The efficient and equitable

administration of justice is never easy, but as we prepared this report, we became convinced that

pro se service centers and procedures that accommodate unrepresented litigants result in more

litigant satisfaction with the court system and a lower workload on court personnel. Court-based

self-help centers are overwhelmingly successful and consistently busy, which demonstrates that

they fill an important, previously unmet need for litigants.

        However, courts that provide these centers must give them their full support - in

organization, staff, funding, and resources – in order to reap the benefits. In return, the centers

must constantly re-evaluate themselves and improve their methods of service delivery as the

numbers of pro se litigants and center customers continue to grow.

       We note that much work remains to be done, and propose the following topics for future

research in this area:

    • Gather and analyze more detailed statistics on the pro se litigant population and their

        experience with pro se assistance programs;

    • Analyze a broader range of programs nationwide;

    • Compile detailed information on program costs and funding, and on the overall financial

        impact on courts and communities; and

    • Study the interactions between pro se assistance programs and community legal help

        providers, whether provided by or independent of the courts.




                                                   54
    Finally, we would like to thank the following people and organizations for making this

project possible:

       • James Turner, Theresa Rudy, and Thomas Gordon, HALT

       • Miye Goishi, UC Hastings Civil Justice Clinic

       • Bonnie Hough, Center for Children, Families, and the Courts,

       • California Administrative Office of the Courts

       • Diane Bras, Placer County Family Law Facilitator




                                                55
                       Appendix A: Descriptions of Counties

        The following nine pages are reproduced from MODEL SELF-HELP PILOT PROGRAM: A

REPORT TO THE LEGISLATURE (2005), by California’s Administrative Office of the Courts. For

more information on self-help programs and the areas they serve, see the Annotated Bibliography

at the end of this report.




                                               56
Chapter 2

Butte County: Regional Collaboration Model
                                    PROGRAM SNAPSHOT
             MODEL TYPE: REGIONAL COLLABORATION MODEL

                                 Red Bluff: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (21 hours
                                 per week)
                                 Willows: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (21 hours
                                 per week)
                       Hours:
                                 Oroville: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to
                                 noon (31 hours per week)
                                 Chico: Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to
                                 noon (17 hours per week)
                                 Red Bluff, Tehama County: Court annex building (same block as
                                 courthouse)
                                 Willows, Glenn County: At the courthouse
                    Location:
                                 Oroville, Butte County: Court annex building (two miles from
                                 courthouse)
                                 Chico, Butte County: Court annex building (next to courthouse)
                                 Monthly Average (June 2003 – September 2003): 1,220
 Number of Customers Served:     (approximately 50% served in person and
                                 50% by telephone)
                                 Managing attorney (.5 FTE )
             Number of Staff:
                                 Paralegal (1.0 FTE)
             (As of May 2004)
                                 Three Office Assistants (1.25 FTE)

        Number of Volunteers:    Average 3 at any time
                                 All areas of family law not covered by family law facilitator: dissolution,
                                 summary dissolution, motion for non child or spousal support.
                                 Guardianships including establishing, opposing, obtaining visitation in
                                 and alternatives to probate guardianship. Unlawful detainer (tenant
          Case Types Served:
                                 and landlord), civil harassment, domestic violence restraining orders
                                 (petitions and responses), name changes, civil complaints and
                                 answers, change of venue motions, miscellaneous civil, small claims,
                                 collecting a judgment.
                                 Procedural information, assistance filling out forms, explanation of
                                 court orders, referrals to additional legal assistance, development of
   Types of services rendered:
                                 self-help materials, training and assistance for community
                                 organizations.

                                 One-on-one assistance by staff over the telephone; service to walk-in
                                 customers including forms packets, forms completion, workshop
                                 scheduling and providing additional materials; one-on-one assistance
  Methods of Service Delivery:
                                 by legal staff via teleconferencing equipment; language interpretation
                                 via teleconferencing equipment; teleconferenced workshops focused
                                 on forms completion.




                                                                                                          23
Background
Butte, Glenn, and Tehama are three contiguous counties in the north-central part of
California. Butte County’s population of 203,000 ranks near the midpoint among the 58
California counties. Glenn County at 26,000 and Tehama County at 56,000 are much
smaller. The majority of residents of Glenn and Tehama counties live in rural areas, as do
about 40 percent of Butte County residents. Compared with larger urban areas of the state
and with the central valley region, these counties have proportionately more white non-
Hispanic residents (78 percent) and fewer Hispanic or Latino residents (13 percent),
proportionately fewer people who speak a language other than English at home (14
percent), and proportionately more people older than 65 (15 percent). The three counties’
combined poverty rate is 19 percent, putting them in the poorest quartile of California
counties.10
The Office of the Family Law Facilitator is one of the few sources on the demographics
of the self-represented litigants coming to court. Customers of the family law facilitator
in the three-county region are generally similar to the U.S. census population in ethnicity
and in the language spoken (94 percent spoke English). Compared with the region’s
overall population, many more customers of the family law facilitator appear to be living
in poverty. About 54 percent of customers report an individual monthly income of less
than $1,000.
Rural and semi-rural northern California are characterized by high unemployment,
limited social services, limited public transportation, long distances to population centers,
and an aging population. In providing services to residents, rural courts and local
governments face the problems of extremely small budgets, a limited pool of attorneys
and other professionals, and limited or nonexistent university and community services
available to the public.
As of July 2001, Butte County had 10 judges and 2 commissioners; Glenn county had 2
judges and 1 commissioner, and Tehama County had 4 judges and one commissioner.
Butte County had 122 court employees, with about 20 in Glenn County and 42 in Tehama
County. During the fiscal year 2002–2003, the Administrative Office of the Courts
(AOC) reports case filings for the three counties as detailed in figure 2.1.




10
     U.S. Bureau of the Census. Census 2000.


24
Chapter 3

Fresno County: Spanish-Speaking Model
                                     PROGRAM SNAPSHOT
                   MODEL TYPE: SPANISH-SPEAKING MODEL

                                  Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 4 p.m. (closed
                        Hours:
                                  Friday for workshops/training)
                                  City of Fresno, one mile from court; next to Office of the Family Law
                     Location:
                                  Facilitator
                                  Monthly average (February 2003–April 2004): 194
 Number of Customers Served:
                                  Approximately 160 legal assistance and 34 interpretations per month
                                  Two full-time staff: the community resource manager and the court
              Number of Staff:
                                  examiner

                                  2 part-time clerical
        Number of Volunteers:     24 interpreters
                                  2 interns
                                  Assistance with completion of forms, procedural information,
                                  explanation of court orders, written materials translated into Spanish,
   Types of Services Rendered:
                                  document review, case management, referrals to additional legal
                                  assistance, and interpretation in court and custody mediation

                                  Family law (dissolution; custody/visitation; grandparent visitation; child
                                  support, spousal support, paternity, domestic violence); Probate
           Case Types Served:
                                  (guardianship); Landlord/tenant (unlawful detainer); General Civil (civil
                                  harassment, elder abuse, name change); Immigration
   Methods of Service Delivery:   Individual assistance and workshops, interpreter services at court




Background
Fresno County is located in central California and is the 10th largest county in the state.
It covers about 6,000 square miles, and is the most productive agricultural area in the
nation. The population of Fresno County is 799,407. Slightly more than 50 percent of the
population resides in the city of Fresno, which is the largest urban area in the county and
the location of the main courthouse. The county includes 26 other cities, predominantly
small farming communities heavily populated with Hispanic migrant workers. There are
nine outlying courts that range from Coalinga (65 miles southwest) to Reedly (20 miles
east). In rural areas of Fresno County, the Hispanic population ranges from 65 percent to
98 percent of the total. As of July 2001, Fresno Superior Court had 36 judges, 8
commissioners, and about 461 employees.




                                                                                                          59
Both economic and language barriers have created a critical demand on the court to
provide services to a population of self-represented litigants who require legal
information and education in Spanish.
Currently, Fresno County is experiencing double-digit unemployment. Whereas the
unemployment rate in California is just under 7 percent, Fresno County has peaked at
almost 14 percent.12 The poverty rate in this county (24 percent) is 13 percentage points
higher than the state average and double the national average. About 37 percent of
Fresno’s children live below the poverty line, compared with the statewide average of 18
percent. The median household income for Fresno County ($34,735) is less than that for
the state of California ($47,493). Almost one-third of the population lacks a high school
degree.
Fresno County has one of the highest concentrations of Latino and Spanish-speaking
people in California, with a 44 percent Latino population.13 About 41 percent speak a
language other than English at home, and 77 percent of those speak Spanish. During the
last six months of 2001, the Fresno Superior Court provided interpreter services for
19,051 mandated cases; 90 percent involved Spanish-speaking litigants. No interpreter
services are mandated for most family law, probate, small claims, or other civil cases.
During the fiscal year of 2001–2002, cases filings in these categories were as follows:
     !   Family law: 4,673
     !   Probate: 910
     !   Small claims: 5,051
     !   Limited civil: 11,27514
In 2001, about 40 percent of the Spanish-speaking litigants in these cases required
language assistance. As they attempt to navigate the process successfully, these
individuals face huge challenges, which affect both their ability to seek justice and the
court’s ability to serve them efficiently. Prior to the establishment of the model self-help
project Centro de Recursos Legales, the Fresno court had two assistance programs for
self-represented litigants: the family law facilitator and Family Law Information Center.
Combined, they provided a wide array of services in the area of family law. However,
neither dealt with other civil issues, and neither offered services in Spanish. Furthermore,
the Fresno Court responded to budget cuts by withdrawing funds from the Family Law
Information Center, and it was closed at about the same time Centro de Recursos Legales
was opened. This left the family law facilitator as the only family law self-help program



12
   California Department of Finance, “California Statistical Abstract 2004. Table c-2 Civilian
Unemployment Rate by County (2003)”.
13
   U.S. Census Bureau, “Fresno County, CA, Table (1), American Community Survey Office,”
http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Profiles/Single/2003/ACS/CA.htm (accessed January 28, 2005).
14
   Administrative Office of the Courts, “2003 Court Statistics Report (2004)”.


60
for non-Spanish-speaking litigants, and the facilitator program is basically limited to
working on issues of child support.
Some community legal services are available in Fresno County. Central California Legal
Services provides assistance to individuals who meet the income guidelines on cases
involving housing and other civil matters as well as domestic violence. Centro La
Familia Advocacy provides assistance to income-qualified individuals in the family law
area. Neither program is able to meet the demand for representation, particularly in
family law. In addition, no services are available for those litigants who fall outside the
income restrictions, yet cannot afford counsel.
The goal of the Centro de Recursos Legales was to fill the gap in services to Spanish-
speaking litigants and minimize the barriers they face by providing assistance in
completing forms, education about the court process, workshops on various case types,
and interpreter services at the court.

Description of Model

Goals of Program
Centro de Recursos Legales was designed to provide court-operated, self-help legal
assistance to Fresno County’s large Spanish-speaking population. The central goals of
the project were as follows:
   !   Increase access to justice and education by establishing a Spanish-language self-
       help center that would include instructional materials and workshops in Spanish,
       and Spanish-speaking staff and volunteers. These services should extend to
       potential litigants in outlying courts as well as in the main court in the city of
       Fresno;
   !   Increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the court system by providing
       Spanish-language document review of pro per forms and by building a volunteer
       interpreters’ bureau through extensive community collaborations; and
   !   Increase user satisfaction with the court process by making assistance available
       through the self-help center and volunteer interpreters’ bureau.

Focus Areas of Law
Originally, the primary focus of Fresno County’s pilot program was to help Spanish-
speaking self-represented litigants in guardianship, unlawful detainer, civil harassment,
and family law cases. The program expected about half of its customers to need
assistance with family law; the Office of the Family Law Facilitator and the Family Law
Information Center were expected to continue handling the remaining family law issues,
particularly for English-speaking litigants. Due to the unexpected closure of the Family
Law Information Center (FLIC), however, services for non-Spanish-speaking family law
litigants on issues other than child support were virtually eliminated. The FLIC had been



                                                                                          61
Chapter 4

San Francisco County: Multilingual Model
                                     PROGRAM SNAPSHOT
                       MODEL TYPE: MULTILINGUAL MODEL

                                  Drop-in: Monday and Wednesday, 1:30 to 4 p.m.; Tuesday,
                                  Thursday and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to noon
                                  Civil harassment clinics: Monday through Friday, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
                        Hours:    Unlawful detainer settlement conferences: Wednesday and Thursday,
                                  12:30 to 1 p.m.
                                  Unlawful detainer drop-in: Wednesday and Thursday, 1:30 to
                                  4 p.m.
                                  San Francisco: Civic Center Courthouse
                                  Hall of Justice (2 traffic workshops per month)
                     Location:
                                  La Raza (2 workshops per month)
                                  Cameron House (4 workshops per year)
                                  Monthly average 778 customers for direct service
 Number of Customers Served:      Additional customers served through radio and television broadcasts
                                  and presentations at community agencies
              Number of Staff:    1 full-time attorney (the director), 1 full-time clerk
                                  73 (at time of second site visit): 53 law students, 18 volunteer
        Number of Volunteers:     interpreters and 2 attorneys
                                  Roughly 15 volunteers attend on a consistent basis
                                  Civil Harassment, Guardianship, Conservatorship, Unlawful Detainer,
                                  Name Change, Step-parent Adoptions, Elder Abuse Restraining
           Case Types Served:
                                  Orders, Small Estates, Traffic, Small Claims, Family Law, Other
                                  General Civil
                                  Assistance with completion of forms, procedural information,
                                  preparation of orders after hearings, explanation of orders, referrals to
   Types of Services Rendered:
                                  other providers, written materials, document review, interpretation
                                  services

                                  Individual assistance, workshops, written materials, educational
   Methods of Service Delivery:
                                  broadcasts



Background
San Francisco County is located on the north-central coast of California, on the tip of a
peninsula bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the east by San Francisco
Bay. It is an urban county covering about 231 square miles, with a population of
776,733. The population of San Francisco County is similar in size to the population of
Fresno County, but its land area is only 1/25 that of Fresno County. San Francisco is part
of a cluster of urban counties surrounding San Francisco Bay, with a combined
population of more than 7 million. As of July 2001, the San Francisco Superior Court had
50 judges, 14 commissioners, and 524 employees.


                                                                                                         97
San Francisco County is characterized by its wealth of community service organizations.
Community-based organizations provide assistance help in housing (6), eviction defense
(3), domestic violence (1), family law (2), and immigration (5); services are also
available specifically for seniors (1) and children (1).22 Examples are the Volunteer Legal
Services Program (VLSP) of the Bar Association of San Francisco, Asian Pacific Islander
Legal Outreach, La Raza, Bay Area Legal Aid, Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic,
and Cameron House. The court also has a history of close collaboration with community
social service agencies such as Walden House (adolescent drug treatment), Rally (parent
visitation service), Kid’s Turn (postdivorce counseling), Men Overcoming Violence, and
La Casa de Las Madres.
San Francisco has no ethnic majority. The largest ethnic group is white non-Hispanic (49
percent); the remainder includes Asians, 30 percent; Hispanics, 14 percent; and African
Americans, 8 percent. Slightly more than 45 percent of San Francisco’s citizens speak a
language other than English at home. Among Asians, 35 percent do not speak English
well or at all. This is also true for 25 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of Indo-
European individuals.23
By 2020, an estimated 36 percent of San Francisco’s population will be Asian, and 20
percent will be Hispanic. Surmounting language barriers is thus a critical issue for the
San Francisco Court. Without professional guidance, litigants cannot participate
appropriately in legal processes conducted in a language that is at best unfamiliar and at
worst incomprehensible to them. When judges, clerks, and bailiffs speak of restraining
orders on encumbering property, orders after hearing, abatements, proofs of service, and
other such terminology, they evoke blank stares and perplexing expressions on the faces
of such litigants.
Census data indicate that for both families and individuals, the percentage of San
Francisco residents living below the poverty level is significantly lower than the
comparable proportion in Fresno or in Butte, Glenn, and Tehama counties and in
California as a whole. For example, the poverty rate in Fresno county is about twice San
Francisco’s rate. Nevertheless, the family law facilitator program in San Francisco
reports that more than 80 percent of self-represented litigants seeking services have gross
yearly incomes under $24,000. This is substantially under the median household income
for San Francisco ($55,221) and for California as a whole ($47,493).
About one-third of the facilitator’s customers are Hispanic; 30 percent, African
American; and 13 percent, Asian. In fiscal year 2003–2004, the Office of the Family Law
Facilitator in San Francisco provided services to more than 5,000 litigants who had no
attorneys. Although 46 percent of the family law facilitator’s customers are either Asian
or Hispanic, services are provided in English 78 percent of the time.
In fiscal year 2002-2003, San Francisco’s new case filings were as follows:

22
     Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of organizations providing that type of assistance.
23
     U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census 2000.


98
       !   Family law: 5,496
       !   Probate: 2,978
       !   Small claims: 6,221
       !   Limited civil: 10,78224
The court has provided funding to the family law facilitator to supplement the funding
under Assembly Bill 1058 for child support services. As a result, the facilitator is able to
provide services in all areas of family law. Prior to the implementation of the model self-
help program, the only court-based assistance to self-represented litigants in non-family
law matters was provided by the small claims advisor. Without bilingual legal assistance,
non-English-speaking monolingual self-represented litigants were often sent home to get
a bilingual family member or friend to help them communicate with court staff.
Alternatively, operations staff had to locate an interpreter to communicate with the
litigants and to translate documents. The court estimates that locating interpreters,
translating documents, ordering ongoing continuances, and providing services that are
often misunderstood increase the demand on staff time between 20 percent and 30
percent. Interpretation services are not mandated by statute in most civil matters. The
resulting frustration for both staff and litigants can be intense and lead to negative
interactions.

Description of Model

Goals of Program
The San Francisco ACCESS project (Assisting Court Customers with Education and
Self-Help Services) is designed to provide self-help services to litigants who speak a
wide variety of languages and to develop materials and techniques to address the needs of
a multilingual, multicultural population. The original goals of the project were as follows:
       !   Increase access to justice for non- and limited-English-speaking litigants by
           providing a combination of direct legal information and education at the court,
           and creating connections to services in the community organized through
           collaboration with the many existing legal and social services;
       !   Increase user satisfaction with the court process by increasing non- and limited-
           English-speaking litigants’ ability to exercise a meaningful voice in their
           proceedings and elevate their perception of procedural justice; and
       !   Increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the court system by reducing the time
           required to handle the needs of non- and limited-English-speaking self-
           represented litigants.25


24
     Judicial Branch Statistical Information System (JBSIS).
25
     San Francisco Superior Court Multi-Lingual Self-Help Model Project. Project proposal (2002).


                                                                                                    99
Chapter 6

Los Angeles County: Urban Coordination Model
                                           PROGRAM SNAPSHOT
                       MODEL TYPE: URBAN COORDINATION MODEL

                                        Office in Central courthouse, but services provided to organizations
                           Location:
                                        countywide
                                        Managing attorney: 1.0 FTE
                            Staffing:
                                        Assistant attorney: .5 FTE

                 Target Population:     Self-help service providers in Los Angeles County
                                        Coordination of activities among providers
                                        Communication and information sharing among providers
                 Services Provided:     Dissemination of best practices
                                        Support in the development of new self-help centers
                                        Resource development



Background
Los Angeles County has 9.5 million residents, and it is one of the nation’s largest
counties with 4,084 square miles, an area some 800 square miles larger than the
combined area of the states of Delaware and Rhode Island. There are 58 court locations
in Los Angeles County; 429 judicial officers, 160 commissioners, and 5,566 court
employees48; and hundreds of thousands of self-represented litigants. More than 40
agencies provide some sort of services for self-represented litigants, but there is little or
no coordination among them. As a result, customers often are not referred to appropriate
services. Thousands of self-represented litigants receive assistance from these programs
every month, but the need for services continues to be far greater than the programs can
provide. Furthermore, many self-represented litigants speak limited English, making
access to appropriate services and the court system that much more difficult. Self-
represented litigants face a number of barriers. Navigating the court system can be
difficult for highly educated individuals with ample resources, and it is all the more
difficult for those with limited literacy and a host of poverty-related difficulties.

Description of Model
Unlike the four other self-help pilot projects, the Los Angeles Self-Help Management
Project is not a direct service model. Whereas self-represented litigants are themselves
the customers of the other projects, customers of the Los Angeles Self-Help Management
Project are self-help service providers. The goals of the project are:

48
     Numbers of judicial officers and court staff are reported as of July 2001.


                                                                                                           173
Appendix B: Intake Forms




            66
Appendix C: Accessible Documents




                71
                                Annotated Bibliography

        This is an annotated bibliography of sources used in this report. Not all of these works are
cited; some were merely used for background, and others were found in the course of our
research but not used directly.
        Many of these works are published online. In addition to the Bluebook (18th edition)
citation, summary, and length, we have included the URL for ease of access.

ABA STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE DELIVERY OF LEGAL SERVICES, SELF-REPRESENTATION IN
DIVORCE CASES (1993). An extensive demographic, descriptive, and statistical study of pro se
divorce litigants in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona. 113 pp.

ABA STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE DELIVERY OF LEGAL SERVICES, RESPONDING TO THE NEEDS
OF THE SELF-REPRESENTED DIVORCE LITIGANT (1994). Recommendations to courts for
improving service to pro se divorce litigants. 44 pp. plus appendices.

GAY CONROY ET AL., ETHICAL ISSUES FOR ATTORNEYS WORKING WITH SELF-REPRESENTED
LITIGANTS (2002). http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/cfcc/pdffiles/SH-tab7.pdf. A detailed
examination of the ethical issues that arise in situations where attorneys are providing limited
assistance to pro se litigants, in the unbundled-services and court-based assistance program
contexts. 67 pp.

CALIFORNIA COMMISSION ON ACCESS TO JUSTICE, ANNUAL REPORT (2004). http://calbar.ca.gov/
calbar/pdfs/reports/2004_Access-to-Justice-Report.pdf. Report of a commission responsible for
“improving access to civil justice and removing economic barriers to the judicial system faced by
low to moderate income Californians.” Includes a brief segment on the Equal Access Fund. 8 pp.

(CALIFORNIA) CENTER FOR FAMILIES, CHILDREN, AND THE COURTS, A REPORT AND ANALYSIS OF
ACTION PLANS THROUGHOUT CALIFORNIA: INTEGRATING SERVICES FOR SELF-REPRESENTED
LITIGANTS INTO THE COURT SYSTEM (2003). http://courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/cfcc/pdffiles/
SJIReport.pdf. A study of pro se litigation in California and a set of plans for addressing the
needs of pro se litigants on a per-county basis throughout the state. 89 pp.

BONNIE HOUGH, DESCRIPTION OF CALIFORNIA COURTS’ PROGRAMS FOR SELF-REPRESENTED
LITIGANTS (2003). http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/equalaccess/documents/harvard.pdf.
An overview of self-help programs and practices in California courts, with an emphasis on
family courts. 30 pp.

BONNIE HOUGH, SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN CALIFORNIA: HELPING LITIGANTS HELP
THEMSELVES (2004). http://www.ncsconline.org/WC/Publications/Trends/
ProSeCaliTrends2004.html. A description and survey of the “multifacted approach” California
courts are taking to address the burgeoning growth in pro se litigation.



                                                  73
JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, EQUAL ACCESS
FUND: A REPORT TO THE CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE (2005). http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/
programs/equalaccess/documents/EAF_FullReport.pdf. Extensive report on “the efficiency and
effectiveness of the operations of programs funded from the Equal Access Fund including an
assessment of the program’s success in meeting the unmet needs of unrepresented litigants.” 219
pp.

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, FACT SHEET:
PROGRAMS FOR SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS (2005). http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/reference/
documents/factsheets/proper.pdf. A very brief outline of the services available for pro se litigants
in California. 4 pp.

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, FAMILY LAW
INFORMATION CENTERS: AN EVALUATION OF THREE PILOT PROGRAMS (2003). http://
www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/cfcc/pdffiles/FLIC-full.pdf. Report on the activities and
effectiveness of the activities of the Family Law Information Center pilot programs in Los
Angeles, Fresno, and Sutter counties since their establishment in 1999. 140 pp.

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, MODEL SELF-HELP
PILOT PROGRAM: A REPORT TO THE LEGISLATURE (2005). http://courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/
equalaccess/documents/Self-Help_full.pdf. An extensive report on five pilot programs for
assisting self-represented litigants in Butte, Fresno, San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Los
Angeles counties. 448 pp.

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF CALIFORNIA TASK FORCE ON SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS, STATEWIDE
ACTION PLAN FOR SERVING SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS (2003). http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/
programs/cfcc/pdffiles/Full_Report_comment_chart.pdf. Report on best practices for courts in
serving self-represented litigants, including extensive material on existing programs (starting at
p. 46). 269 pp.

JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF LOUISIANA TASK FORCE ON PRO SE LITIGATION, GUIDELINES FOR BEST
PRACTICES IN PRO SE ASSISTANCE (2004). http://www.lasc.org/la_judicial_entities/
Judicial_Council/Pro_Se_Guidelines.pdf. Contains a brief nationwide survey of pro se statistics
and practices and recommendations for courts in Louisiana. 176 pp.

MARYLAND ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE COURTS, BEST PRACTICES FOR PROGRAMS TO
ASSIST SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN FAMILY LAW MATTERS (2005). http://
www.courts.state.md.us/family/bestpractices_selfrep.pdf. Brief outline of the practice areas used
in Maryland to classify best practices, and the individual practices recommended in each. 15 pp.




                                                  74
MARYLAND JUDICIARY, PERFORMANCE STANDARDS AND MEASURES FOR MARYLAND’S FAMILY
DIVISIONS (2002). http://www.courts.state.md.us/family/performancestandards.pdf. A detailed
outline of standards for family courts in Maryland, with material pertaining to self-represented
litigants throughout. 60 pp.

MARYLAND LEGAL ASSISTANCE NETWORK, HELPING PRO SE LITIGANTS HELP THEMSELVES (n.d).
http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/programs/cfcc/pdffiles/HelpThemselves.pdf. A brief outline of
material on the demographics of pro se litigants and the services provided them by the legal
community and the courts. 5 pp.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR STATE COURTS, THE FUTURE OF SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGATION: REPORT
FROM THE MARCH 2005 SUMMIT (2005). http://www.ncsconline.org/WC/Publications/
Res_ProSe_FutSelfRepLitfinalPub.pdf. The proceedings and recommendations of the National
Center for State Courts’ Summit on the Future of Self-Represented Litigation. 230 pp.

DVD: How to do Your Own Divorce (Placer County Family Law Facilitator n.d.) (on file with
authors). A how-to video from the Placer County Family Law Facilitator’s office on pro se
divorce, used as an orientation for

PLACER COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT, SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS ACTION PLAN (2003). http://
www.placercourts.org/ftp/placersrlap.pdf. An overview of self-help programs and practices in
California courts, with an emphasis on family courts. 32 pp.




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