Other approaches and innovations

Assistance to self-represented litigants

In addition, there has been a rapid expansion of efforts by courts, legal aid providers, and bar associations to help people who are attempting to represent themselves in courts. Civil legal aid programs are devoting substantial time and resources to address the issue of assistance to pro se litigants. Many legal aid programs throughout the country operate self-help programs independently or in conjunction with courts. Some programs provide only access to information about the law, legal rights, and the legal process in written form, on the internet, on videotape, through seminars, or through in-person assistance. Other programs actually provide individualized legal advice and often provide also legal assistance in drafting documents and advice about how to pursue cases. Often, programs provide both printed and internet-accessible forms for use by persons without legal training, and they may provide also assistance in completing the forms.

Limited legal assistance initiatives (unbundling)

A critical part of expanding access has focused on a range of limited legal assistance initiatives to provide less than extended representation to clients who either do not need such extended representation in order to solve their legal problems or live in areas without direct access to lawyers or entities available to provide extended representation.

Telephone hotlines

Many legal aid programs now operate legal hotlines, which enable low-income persons who believe they have a legal problem to speak by telephone to a skilled attorney or paralegal and receive advice and brief service. Legal hotlines may provide answers to clients’ legal questions, analysis of clients’ legal problems, and advice on solving those problems so that the client can resolve the problem with the information from phone consultation. Hotlines may also perform brief services when those are likely to solve the problem and make referrals if further legal assistance is necessary.

Hotlines now operate in over 92 programs in forty-five states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Some hotlines focus on particular client groups, such as the elderly. Others serve the low-income population in general. Finally, more and more states have a central phone number (or several regional phone numbers) that clients can call to be referred to the appropriate program or to obtain brief advice about their legal problems.