Educating Self-represented Litigants


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One of the many interesting events that I attended in San Francisco at the ABA Dispute Resolution Conference was a session during the Annual Symposium on Dispute Resolution and the Courts devoted to the “Latest Innovations in ADR Programs for Self-Represented Litigants.”  This session talked about a number of approaches to educate self-represented litigants in hopes that they can make more informed use of existing ADR programs.  The Los Angeles Superior Court has an interesting series of brief videos illustrating the differences between settlement conferences, mediation, early neutral evaluation, and arbitration.   The videos are brief and clear and might also be useful in a DR  survey class.  The link to these videos is:  http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/adr/UI/index.aspx

The session also talked about the process of developing written materials.  One of the courts only accepted the final drafts after a group of 5th graders understood them (a version of the game show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?”).

I was impressed with how court administrators are working to help what seems to be an ever increasing number of self represented litigants.  However, the lawyer in me worries about the fact that so many people proceed without legal representation because they cannot afford a lawyer and that, unlike many European countries, we are not likely to provide better access to legal services in the near future.

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Cynthia Alkon
Cynthia Alkon is an Associate Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Prior to joining academia, she was a criminal defense lawyer and worked in rule of law development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia focusing on criminal justice reform issues. She is a contributor of ADR Prof Blog.