In May 2001, EDNY began one of the country’s more dramatic pro se reform programs, elevating a magistrate judge to a newly created pro se office focused entirely on overseeing pro se litigation and assigning her broad responsibilities for overseeing pro se litigation.117 These reforms were implemented with the intent to help “facilitate access to the courts” for pro se litigants.118
Moreover, this Comment assesses the effects of reforms in federal district courts aimed at helping pro se litigants. It suggests that, despite widespread optimism from numerous stakeholders in the American legal community, reforms to federal district courts intended to improve the pro se litigation process have thus far had a negligible impact on the outcomes of pro se litigation. If the goal is to improve case outcomes for pro se litigants, or to replace the potential positive impact of increased access to counsel at a lower cost, the types of reforms undertaken thus far appear to have been unsuccessful.
Why are the courts so unfriendly to the self-represented? They weren't always that way; in the first 100 years of our history, the courts dealt equally with all comers. But in the late 19th and early 20th century, the courts came to serve the needs and interests of the legal profession, which took control of them and built a monopoly over who can appear before them as advocates.
Pro se representation presents unique but not insurmountable challenges for claimants and the legal system. In Louisiana, for instance, the Louisiana Court of Appeals tracks the results of pro se appeals against represented appeals. In 2000, 7% of writs in civil appeals submitted to the court pro se were granted, compared to 46% of writs submitted by counsel. In criminal cases the ratio is closer - 34% of pro se writs were granted, compared with 45% of writs submitted by counsel. According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law,:
Shauna Strickland. Virginia Self-Represented Litigant Study: Summary of SRL-Related Management Reports for General District Court, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, and Circuit Court. (December 2017). This report describes case management reports that OES should consider producing on a regular schedule in an effort to better understand cases with self-represented litigants.
If you go by calls and emails Jurisdictionary receives, there's good reason for this! Lawyers who bail at the last minute. Lawyers who don't know what they're doing. And, worst of all, lawyers wishing to curry favor with judges, afraid to stand up to the buffalo in the black robe and demand their clients' rights by making timely objections and threatening appeal.
Accept all complaints, petitions and responses filed, in whatever form, and create user-friendly forms. Among the most obvious of barriers to equal access are rules governing the form of the papers people need to start a lawsuit or defend themselves if they are sued. Complicated pleading rules definitely operate to deny equal access. In fact, a simple plain-English statement of claim (as is used in many small claims courts) or a fill-in-the-blanks, check the boxes type of complaint form used in California courts is all that's needed in most common kinds of cases. Later, the legal and factual issues can be sorted out by a mediator or judge. The Superior Court of Maricopa County has created a number of easy-to-use forms for its Family Court, and by all accounts, people are able to handle them with little help from court personnel.
attorney-client relationship—whereas approximately two-thirds retained their units after receiving both unbundled legal assistance and representation by counsel.58 Overall, though the body of evidence is still limited, the empirical evidence suggests that providing lawyers for pro se litigants substantially improves case outcomes for those litigants. Critically, this implies that providing adequate access to counsel may substantially improve case outcomes for a meaningful percentage of pro se litigants.59
Beyond the difficulties specific to civil Gideon, there is also empirical uncertainty regarding the value of access to counsel. Dozens of experimental studies have attempted to shed light on the effectiveness of attorneys in various settings in aiding litigants who would otherwise be proceeding pro se.52 One 2010 meta-study conducted on a selection of prior studies suggested that representation by counsel improved a party’s odds of winning a suit by a factor between 1.19 and 13.79.53 While those numbers suggest that access to counsel probably increases a litigant’s odds of winning a case by at least some margin, the size of the range limits the value of these studies to policymakers.54 There is also debate concerning the quality of most of these studies. A 2012 article by Professor D. James Greiner and Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak looked at dozens of previous studies to quantify the added value of access to counsel and found almost all of those studies were unable to accurately measure the effect of access to counsel.55
49. See, for example, Barton and Bibas, 160 U Pa L Rev at 980 (cited in note 5) (identifying flaws in the arguments of civil Gideon advocates); Barton, 62 Fla L Rev at 1249 (cited in note 36) (describing it as “quite unlikely that the current Court would even take a civil Gideon case”). See also generally Laura K. Abel, A Right to Counsel in Civil Cases: Lessons from Gideon v. Wainwright, 15 Temple Political & CR L Rev 527 (2006).
In order to be eligible for lawsuit funding from Legalist, you must have an attorney representing your case. A case where a plaintiff represents themselves is considered pro se representation. We do not fund "pro se" cases. To be considered for legal funding, you will usually need a retainer agreement with the attorney that is on a contingency basis. However, at Legalist, we do offer a free Find an Attorney service, whereby you can find a lawyer for your case.
Additional studies that help determine the extent to which differences in access to counsel are responsible for the gaps in case outcomes between pro se and represented litigants, especially across a broader range of types of cases, would also be useful. If differences in access to counsel explain differences in case outcomes, the legal community should be more fearful that those without adequate resources are being deprived of meaningful access to the legal system. Moreover, if communities that lack the means to gain access to counsel lack effective legal recourse, despite sometimes having meritorious claims, then the legal community should also worry that bad actors can gain by depriving those communities of legal rights without facing the deterrent effects of litigation. Concerns about exploitative employers may be heightened if more than 2 percent of pro se plaintiffs have fully meritorious claims but only 2 percent of those plaintiffs can effectively seek relief due to difficulties navigating the legal system. Conversely, if lack of access to counsel does not explain poor case outcomes for pro se litigants, perhaps the legal community should focus on other considerations, such as making pro se litigants feel that they have received a fair chance in court and had their grievances heard, rather than trying to narrow the gaps in case outcomes or provide lawyers for more pro se litigants.
Pitting pro se litigants against lawyers as if lawyers are enemies does far more disservice to your clients. I looked at your website, and I see that you toe a fine line between practicing without a license and simply giving pro se litigants enough rope to hang themselves. I understand that it’s a gimmick to make money for yourselves, but the nobler thing to do would be to direct these people to pro bono services instead of guiding them to shooting themselves in the foot by acting like the opposing party’s lawyer is out to get them and that what they don’t understand about the practice of law is somehow a trick or deception.
The Connecticut Supreme Court narrowed criminal defendant's right to self representation, stating that "we are free to adopt for mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendants who wish to represent themselves at trial a competency standard that differs from the standard for determining whether such a defendant is competent to stand trial". A Senior Assistant State's Attorney explained that the new standard essentially allows judges to consider whether the defendants are competent enough to perform the skills needed to defend themselves, including composing questions for voir dire and witnesses.