May 2013 Bar Bulletin
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May 2013 Bar Bulletin

Law Library

The Self-Represented Litigant: Challenges for the Courts and Law Libraries

By Rita Dermody


One of the greatest challenges that the courts and law libraries face today is the increasing number of self-represented individuals. The Washington State Board of Judicial Administration authored the Project 2001 Report, recommending that the court system place a high priority upon accessing and meeting the challenges presented by the self-represented litigant.

The Administrative Office of the Courts studied the data recorded in the Washington State Judicial Information System (JIS) and published An Analysis of Pro Se Litigants in Washington State 1995-2000 as a result. As in many other states, this is clearly an issue that the courts have been following for some time.

In 2011, Richard Zorza published Access to Justice: The Emerging Consensus and Some Questions and Implications - - in which he discusses the development of an emerging consensus of how to solve access-to-justice issues. One area of consensus centers on court simplification and services. Zorza writes:

[C]ourt processes must be made more accessible. This can be done in two broadly interrelated ways. First, the realignment of the court's processes can make them more welcoming and accessible. Secondly, additional informational services provided to the litigants can further open up the system.

[I]nformational services include the provision of plain language paper and automated forms, self-help centers, informational clinics, and the like. Also inherent is far greater use of non-lawyers as information sources and/or finders, both in the courts, and in outside institutions such as public libraries.

The Justice Without Barriers Committee of the Access to Justice Board is working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide plain language, family law forms. The King County Bar Association sponsors the Neighborhood Legal Clinics, Northwest Justice Project sponsors the Debt Collection Defense Clinic and CLEAR, and Columbia Legal Services sponsors the Legal Financial Obligation Clinic. All of these clinics meet in the Law Library, as well as other locations.

In October 2012, the Young Lawyers Division of the King County Bar Association began offering a Walk-In Clinic in the Law Library. The clinic is open to all and assists with civil legal questions from 11:30-1:30 every Wednesday. Attorneys interested in volunteering at the clinic may contact the Young Lawyers Division for more information.

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