Wisdom from Richard Zorza: Goals for Serving the Self-Represented

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:00 PM
March 2, 2015

Richard Zorza is one of the legal system’s most profound thinkers about how we can provide better service to self-represented people.  He may well have had more impact than anyone else in this field. He recently wrote that he had “discovered that Volvo Cars has set a zero death goal for its new cars by 2020″:

Our vision is that no one is killed or injured in a new Volvo by 2020,” the chief of governmental affairs is reported to have sad.  Whether or not they actually achieve the specifics of that goal is less important than the fact that by setting such a goal, and doing so publicly, they change their whole system from thinking day to day, or year to year, to where they really want to be. Interestingly, it turns out that a bit less than 20 years ago Sweden set as a goal that “Nobody should be killed or seriously injured within the road transport system” so this is also an example of corporate culture following governmental policy.

So the obvious question is this:  What similar realistic, but challenging goals could we set for access to justice — goals that would require long term strategic thinking, and that recognize that system problems require systemic solutions.  Different organizations should set such component goals for themselves.

Indeed, Katherine Alteneder of SRLN has already promised here, that:  “The Self-Represented Litigation Network, leading advocates for an accessible and integrated justice system, has made a commitment to help facilitate the development of self-help centers in every state by 2020, and to ignite local and regional dialogues on how to connect self-represented litigants with attorneys providing limited scope services.”

More generally, how about these as such goals:

- No unintentional defaults in our court — no one abandons a case without making an informed decision

- Every case and situation with significant non-lawyer caseload has a plain English and easy to use free online form system

- All judges have been fully trained in handling self-represented cases, including having the opportunity to see themselves on video

- All states have an Access to Justice Commission or Equivalent

- Every jurisdiction has an accessible and functioning referral system for unbundling cases

- Every court has self-help services

- Every state has a funding system for when judges find a right to counsel not covered by existing funding mechanisms

- Every Rules Committee has an expert on self-represented cases.

In the short term, the Justice Index can help us establish, and monitor movement towards, such goals.  But establishment of such goals is clearly in part a national leadership and state partnership function.

I have deliberately avoided listed what should be really the overall goal — no cases wrongly decided because of lack of access help — because that seems too huge — but then Volvo’s goal seems pretty massive from here.

 

Like I said, Richard Zorza is a profound thinker.


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