Bridging Distance to Serve Pro Se Litigants and the Courts
When the Colorado Supreme Court’s Commission on the Legal Profession asked CenturyLink, Inc. and Bryan Cave*† in August 2012 to provide pro bono assistance to pro se clients in the Seventeenth Judicial District, they eagerly jumped to the challenge. Together, CenturyLink and Bryan Cave developed and now staff the Adam’s County Self Help Resource Center Support Initiative, an innovative pro bono effort that overcomes the issue of connecting pro se litigants that are located far from volunteers. The result has helped not only thousands of individual pro se litigants in a few months, but the entire local court system.
The Seventeenth Judicial District faced a growing number of unrepresented parties in judicial proceedings. In 2007, the District established a walk-in Self-Help Resource Center, but services were limited due to restrictions on court staff personnel providing legal advice to court litigants. Help from the private bar was needed but difficult to come by as it was so far from the nearest law firms and legal departments.
Once CenturyLink and Bryan Cave were on board, they and the Adams County Justice Center spent significant time addressing challenges and developing solutions. In addition to overcoming distance, the partnership considered approaches to effectively coordinate volunteers and staff, manage cases, engage sufficient volunteers, and provide training. Together, they tailored a program to utilize old and new technology to the benefit of all parties involved and provide a sustainable structure.
Now, in addition to clients walking into the Self-Help Resource Center, where they meet with court personnel who conduct intake, court personnel direct appropriate clients to utilize a hotline that is forwarded to either CenturyLink or Bryan Cave volunteers, depending on who is scheduled at that time. The pro bono volunteers then provide assistance from their desks in downtown Denver where they have access to the resources they use every day plus online training materials created especially for the Initiative. Volunteers sign up for two-hour slots via an online calendar, eliminating the need for a scheduling coordinator. As a result, 10 CenturyLink lawyers, 20 Bryan Cave lawyers, and a number of professional staff support the program six hours daily.
To make sure volunteers have the skills necessary to answer incoming calls, the Initiative limits the kinds of questions it addresses by the pro bono volunteers to family law matters and landlord-tenant issues – the two major types of needs raised by pro se litigants at the Center. It also provides in-depth training in these topic areas to the volunteers from experienced pro bono providers, including resources such as checklists, and flow charts that the volunteers use to provide assistance to the pro se litigants.
The Adams County Self Help Resource Center helps those who cannot afford legal representation by connecting volunteers and clients at a distance. It also makes the Seventeenth Judicial District run more smoothly and effectively for which the Colorado Supreme Court has expressed its gratitude. As volunteers continue to address geographic challenges to service and the judiciary becomes an increasingly prominent player in the fight for access to justice, The PBEye hopes to hear about more projects of this sort.
* denotes Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project