Measuring Access for People Without Lawyers

Data Collection

This data was collected through the Justice Index Questionnaire (see “General Methodology”).

Sources of Authority Prompting Research

Research to determine indicators and best practices for self-represented litigants was prompted by consideration of the following sources:

NCAJ also consulted with stakeholders including with certain members of the Self-Represented Litigants Network (“SRLN”) regarding the indicators. Those discussions informed NCAJ’s decision as to what to include in the questionnaire and how to phrase questions. These discussions were valuable to NCAJ, but NCAJ is responsible for the final form of the questions distributed, and the final selection of indicators of best practices set forth in the Justice Index. Stakeholders, including SRLN, are not responsible for the final survey questions, nor were they consulted on how NCAJ interpreted some questions, answers, and citations to sources. NCAJ acknowledges that some stakeholders, including members of consulted organizations such as SRLN, may disagree with some of the indicators that NCAJ has included in the Justice Index. NCAJ is grateful for SRLN’s assistance and for its continued work in this area.

Findings Incorporated from Other Sources

For the following indicators, NCAJ drew its data from other sources and did not make findings based on original research or correspondence with the state courts:

  • Q.28, regarding whether states maintain an ABA-recognized Access to Justice Commission. NCAJ incorporated the ABA’s findings as to whether a jurisdiction has an Access to Justice Commission or “other access to justice entity.”
  • Q.32 & Q.33, regarding right to counsel laws in housing cases and abuse/neglect cases. NCAJ incorporated the findings made by the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (“NCCRC”) which are maintained on the NCCRC’s Status Map. NCAJ only credited a state with a “Yes” finding if the NCCRC’s Status Map identified that state as having a “Categorical Right to Counsel.”

    The NCCRC Status Map does not include Puerto Rico. For Puerto Rico, NCAJ conducted original research in consultation with Puerto Rico court officials and the NCCRC staff.

    Please note the following disclaimer from “No information in the map should be taken as legal advice. Moreover, information in the map is to be taken as-is, with no guarantees of its accuracy. . . . The information in this map is current as of late 2013, and while we add new information as we learn of it, we cannot ensure the information is always to-date.”

  • A note on Q.9, regarding counting self-represented cases as recommended by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). NCAJ takes full responsibility for the findings as to this indicator; they are not endorsed by or based on data provided by the NCSC. The NCSC prescribes a particular method for counting and collecting data on cases involving self-represented litigants. After consultation with NCSC officials, NCAJ decided to apply a broad standard to this indicator, crediting states if they could demonstrate implementation of a statewide program in in the past year that collected quantitative data on cases involving self-represented litigants in a given venue.
Further Information on Selected Indicators

We have identified certain indicators that we believe would benefit from further information as to the question asked and/or standard applied. Because this information is too lengthy to include with the indicators on the Findings pages, we compiled it into one document, which you can access here (Annotated Indicator Guide). The Self-Representation Index indicators included in the document are the ones listed above (Q.9, Q.28, Q.32, and Q.33), plus:

  • 1. DEDICATE A COURT EMPLOYEE TO HELP PEOPLE WITHOUT LAWYERS. Dedicate a court employee or court office to design and advance initiatives to enhance access to courts for self-represented litigants?
  • 2. AUTHORIZE JUDGES TO TAKE SPECIFIED STEPS. Authorize or encourage judges to take specified steps (for example, by providing information to the litigant about evidentiary requirements) to ensure that self-represented litigants are fairly heard?
  • 6. AUTHORIZE UNBUNDLING. Authorize lawyers to perform discrete tasks for parties without first obtaining judicial permission and without incurring an obligation to continue representation that requires judicial permission to withdraw?
  • 8. FUND A SELF-HELP CENTER. Fund a court-based “self-help center” in the past 12 months to help self-represented litigants?
  • 10. REQUIRE PLAIN ENGLISH WRITTEN MATERIALS. Require court written materials intended for the public to be a) in plain English, or b) at a designated reading level?
  • 11. ENCOURAGE PLAIN ENGLISH IN THE COURTROOM. Authorize or encourage judges to use plain English when communicating orally with self-represented litigants?
  • 12. DESIGNATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PLAIN ENGLISH IN COURTROOM. Designate a court employee responsible for encouraging judges to use plain English when communicating with self-represented litigants?
  • 13. PUBLISH A PLAIN ENGLISH STYLE GUIDE. Publish a style guide that provides guidance on how to draft forms and instructions in plain English?
  • 16. MAKE ELECTRONIC FILING ACCESSIBLE. Require that electronic filing systems be accessible to self-represented litigants?
  • 17. WAIVE CIVIL FILING FEES. Permit courts to grant a waiver of civil filing fees for people who meet a designated financial eligibility standard (aka “in forma pauperis” standard)?
  • 24(a-g). LIST ON WEB PAGE FORMS FOR [X CASE TYPE]. List on a single page of the state judiciary website all court forms necessary to fulfill the minimum filing obligations for [X CASE]
  • 25(a-g). LIST ON WEB PAGE MATERIALS FOR [X CASE TYPE]. List on a single page on the state judiciary website all supporting materials necessary for a court to consider the merits of a petition by a [A PARTY IN X CASE TYPE]
  • 26(a-f).REQUIRE COURTS TO ACCEPT COMMON FORM, [X CASE TYPE]. Require that all courts in the state accept common statewide court form(s) from [A PARTY IN X CASE TYPE].
  • 24(g), 25(g), 26(g). These indicators all concern court forms regarding a defendant’s response to a mortgage foreclosure action.
  • 27(a-g). MAINTAIN DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY PROGRAM, [X CASE TYPE]. Maintain a computer-based document assembly self-help program to assist litigants in actions seeking [X REMEDY]