Closing the Justice Gap for Pro Se Litigants

The New Hampshire Chief Justice, John T. Broderick Jr., and the California Chief Justice, Ronald M. George, offer a compelling Opinion piece in the New York Times in regards to the growing number of pro se litigants in the legal system:

As the economy has worsened, the ranks of the self-represented poor have expanded. In a recent informal study conducted by the Self-Represented Litigation Network, about half the judges who responded reported a greater number of pro se litigants as a result of the economic crisis. Unrepresented litigants now also include many in the middle class and small-business owners who unexpectedly find themselves in distress and without sufficient resources to pay for the legal assistance they need.

As judges, we believe more needs to be done to meet this growing challenge: an inaccessible, overburdened justice system serves none of us well. California took a major step forward in October when it became the first state to recognize as a goal the right to counsel in certain civil cases. (The state also committed to a pilot project, financed by court fees, to provide lawyers for low-income citizens in cases where basic human needs are at stake.)

But this is only a beginning. It is essential that we promote other efforts to close the “justice gap.”

One such effort involves the “unbundling” of legal services. Forty-one states, including California and New Hampshire, have adopted a model rule drafted by the American Bar Association, or similar provisions, which allow lawyers to unbundle their services and take only part of a case, a cost-saving practice known as “limited-scope representation” that, with proper ethical safeguards, is responsive to new realities.

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