WWL>Topics>>11-20-13 1:10pm Angela: on representing yourself in court

11-20-13 1:10pm Angela: on representing yourself in court

Nov 20, 2013|

Angela discusses whether it's a wise decision to represent yourself in court with Richard Leefe and Michael Schachtman of the Louisiana State Bar Association.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Another spectacular day actually perfect and you look out the blue sky. Great weather pumping up for the game this is a beautiful mid week. Okay let's say you're going through a divorce or being evicted or facing any number of legal issues and you don't have the money to hire lower year what do you do. Well in a growing number of cases you go to court representing yourself. It's called self represented the litigation. According to a recent bar association journal. Fifty to 60% of cases in state courts around the country. Are now handled by non lawyers people like you and me who -- representing themselves. How does that work and more importantly is at work. Were joined by Richard -- who is president will be in a bar association. And Michael shaman. Who runs the cell Brett. -- litigation counsel access to justice program for the Louisiana state bar association. I hope I got those names correct it and thank you very much for joining us. I'm fascinated by this because I knew so little about it and I think like many people. We have seen real life cases of people who have represented themselves in criminal cases. I'm reminded of that the man who run unsuccessfully in my hand. Who killed all the people of the army base and they had been other cases so I think people may have that image in their mind. I don't think they have the image of someone handling perhaps their own divorce or as we mentioned the eviction. So what I'd like to do is first of all askew. Are you surprised by the numbers the fifty to 60%. In state courts that are representing themselves. Fine I'm not surprised at all it's actually -- that. If you. If you really consider all people in need civil services and then they -- distinction this Richard late but yes. Which you first referred to his -- indigent defense in the sense that every criminal defendant. There is potential of being cost -- United States is right through the council. And the state will provide that -- so every criminal defendant who potentially could go to jail. Will be providing a lawyer. That's a whole different system and with -- today with -- -- legal services in the civil sense of civil cases only. So taking an -- defense out of the picture. The ABA is done over the years of numbers statistical studies. And the the actual figure of people who go unrepresented. When you consider. That the civil cases often have contingency fee contracts -- analog -- to pay their own lawyer to reps of them in the civil case. But if you take all that -- consideration all the people who need. Civil legal representation. 80% goes on represented and taken care of the United States that's not the 50% near retirement 50% 60% of people who represent themselves once they get there. Many people just don't go because they don't have a lawyer and don't know how to do. So what we're doing it then and it's not just Louisiana we're doing it. -- part of leading a lot of the way in Louisiana. Have for the country but it's we're not the only ones in the country addressed in this particular problem. That. We have an obligation if we if we said the pledge allegiance United States and ends with. And the liberty and justice for all but we know we don't have -- justice for all that's where we're trying to get. Because people can't if you don't have a lawyer. People don't know how to do it they can't afford to do it I don't know what to do and often just don't. Address and majority of this is in domestic matters -- -- him. And that it's important to note that common civil case as you do have a right to wrap your represent yourself however. Just because you're able to represent yourself doesn't mean that -- afforded any breaks by a judge yourself -- to the same standard. As an attorney so. You know the best legal advice we can give to people is that they should obtain representation that they can and we'll talk about. I'm a number of different ways to do that but as far as representing yourself this is a trend that were seen. It's certainly grown and across the country and that's due to a number of factors. Number one is sort of the economy that their last people who are able to afford an attorney and and also. We sort of attribute this rise to do it yourself culture where we see and in the medical field a lot of people going to -- before they go to a doctor and realistic we see a lot of people trying to southern house is on their own -- and then. Contacting a real answer and I'm an illegal feel this is too as well that they're people who are going online they're able to view. TV shows are there are some resource available we know there are a lot of -- online companies that offer legal forms that and they. Advertise will help you avoid. Higher and turn the none of these services. And provide the same level of representation or success has hiring an attorney or obtain some type of free legal service for low income individuals. Again people do you have that right. Do you have any figures at all on the success of those who represented themselves. I don't have an exact statistic. I can tell you anecdotally from -- with a number of judges that. The -- wealth of personal people can only represent themselves and for certain issues are certain. Legal issues are certainly against themselves based on their own capacity. You know there are only able to. You know bring bring a case so so economy so comprehensive in the case they -- so. As far as as Richard mentioned that a lot of these cases aren't domestic and I'm certainly you're better off with an attorney there are some rights you may be aware of source for for same -- these people more or less successful with or without an attorney. It's -- an Australian number because you know there's some there's you know an infinite infinite number of results to -- occur. You know pending litigation. Separating those from -- literally do not have enough money but need help. From those who as you say are in the do with the self mode or frankly just say I'm I'm gonna do -- because I don't wanna -- an editor. But taking those who literally don't have the funds. And need help. Aren't their pro Bono. Operations within. Legal profession. And makes it. And this is an -- national basis. Only. That many years ago the who is something called legal services corporations and national corporations and non profit and it is funded by congress. And its funding has gone up and down over the years in the economy is certainly hurting right now to Leo that's affected Louisiana. But they the allocation from congress. That is given the legal services then -- out by that corporation to the fifty states to provide. Civil legal services within those states and that corporation and national Legal Services Corp. Does data. Collection and funds it -- your population of pork meaning that they calculate by census figures excimer. How much you -- Population is airing in the and sanctions from the state gives to and have for some unknown reason in Louisiana has been. Found to have dropped it's this poor population is going down. So off funding. And isn't -- -- from wrong Michael but I think the figures for Louisiana's. Portion of that funding from reserves corporation initial days. Is down 42% since 2010. So that the amount that the Legal Services Corp. and corporations. In Louisiana were receiving. From the nation from congress. In 92010 is going down 42% from that so were down almost half of -- funding before. You see what happens in the and we weren't 2010 we were complied. We weren't providing news sufficient serves -- says it's a horrifying situation. And also developed program coli -- Where what the many years ago is to realize that attorneys handle other people's money. -- carries her as a screws and things and they are required to put those funds in legal trust accounts. Well. That money that -- idol. In the course was what would happen because it should earn interest. So something -- I'll open accounts created lawyers are now required to have that trust accounts with banks that are registered as dialed the banks and then those funds do earn income. Do earn interest in -- money is paid to legal service corporation so Louisiana delta which is management Louisiana or foundation. Actually pays that money portion of that money to the league deserves corporations in Louisiana -- the fund. Problem or poorly serves as -- fortunate with interest rates down and earning interest. Interest rates are so low -- not producing nearly enough money -- -- of that -- or. It's a terrible situation. Way. The action on Obama when he proposal last budget. The only line army proposed increase was loses corporation. It did not entries ultimately when he came out and that the entire nations funding is oriented team for the whole country. Minutes. But for Louisiana it's a double hit. He went down before him that opinion I'm pretty sure it's 42%. Wilkes stay with this we're gonna continue this conversation. And we're gonna find out exactly what is available Michael's gonna talk about. What he'd done is to help people. Guide them if they do represent themselves right after this I'm Angela on WL. We are talking about. Your ability or your right rather to. Represent yourself in civil court. We have with this the president of the state bar association Richard -- and -- Michael shock when Michael shocked when is in charge of of an the state department of a program. That's out there to help Anne and Michael one we take from the top -- sort of establish that there's a growing number of people in this country who use this. Who do it themselves. Not recommended by the legal profession because. Sometimes it doesn't work. So what if you are in that position and you just are desperate. What can you do it. Well the Louisiana state bar association has really identify this need people who can get representation from some of the the services available. Or I mean some of them for example you'll service corporations they will only serve people. I'm at or below the poverty level on the a lot of people who are above that threshold that still can afford. To hire an attorney so the bar has recognized this need and tried to. Implement different types of programming and ways of disseminating information to help these individuals. So largely what we've done is to partner with local court swift. Different legal aid organizations law schools also non legal partners I'm as a way of providing information on these people only say. Providing help that means a lot of different things are some people were able to just give them information. For other people I'm referring them to local attorneys. In some cases were able to provide forms which are -- -- -- which will help somebody. I get into court on the service delivery models really vary by. Jurisdiction and by legal issue. Now if people are. You know have a legal issue they can afford an attorney there are -- some different options available the number one. Suggestion I would make is to try and find an attorney and there are ways of obtaining legal advice and legal information I'm with -- and hire an attorney there are a lot of -- legal advice clinics out of there there aren't. Attorneys who will take pro Bono cases. But where do you find. In the phone book is -- on the Internet it it varies by I'm occasion you can always call 180421. Al -- and be a that's 180421. Al SBA. And they will help connect you I'm with local pro Bono programs who may be able to assist you. If they can't necessarily provide you representation for -- case hopefully they can give you. Information about when the next legal advice clinic may be or. Also on the website www. Al SB a that or it. -- you can find information about representing yourself so. There are. You know different programs out there for a presentation here in New Orleans. The New Orleans bar association runs and into beta program -- they will provide. A initial consultation. Which is generally includes thirty minutes with a lawyer for a fee of no more than 25 dollar. -- well that's a deal yet sent to jail you features cut to the -- polygamous to a hypothetical let's say I come to you and saying I need to divorce. And I had him. So -- you would refer me perhaps to one of these attorneys for 25 dollars. And then what would happen. It to. I can't say exactly what happens sometimes they'll be able to take your case and represented to other times they'll provide you. With information sometimes people may think they have a case speak with an attorney and realized they don't necessarily have a case war. -- -- certain requirements for their case for example in divorce I'm for some types of divorced you have to be separated for six months or one year. And they may not qualify for what the relief that they're seeking to vote on the they have to come back and now family -- an interest in issues this is where we see as you mentioned I'm very high percentage of south represented litigants. I think the reason for that is because oftentimes these spamming law cases you know -- Custody divorce at that but things those cases require a resolution. More so than a lot of financial disputes he can. You know you can suffer financial hardship and so -- -- oftentimes you know when it comes -- your family these. Things have to be resolved so people come to court in the don't have money for an attorney so they decide to represent themselves so. This is certainly an area where the bar association has worked with courts to provide. Self help programs and really what this does is this is currently operating in New Orleans. In Shreveport in Baton Rouge and Alexandria. -- hopefully more soon and through these programs. Volunteer lawyers and -- sometimes non lawyers provide people legal information about these issues. Provide forms -- basically it's fill in the blank forms that they can fill out and file with the court and get before the judge though explain to you information about the process now they don't. Provide legal advice seeking comment and say I wanna divorce and these volunteers we'll tell you okay. Here's what you need to qualify for divorce here's what a divorce judgment looks like him will grant you in on them what they want us I tell you. This is what I think you should do you based on the -- of your case. So literally someone with the right papers more we'll show up in court I'm assuming that the other spouse has an attorney or doesn't. And go before a judge and the judge understands this is a non attorney. But if you were saying earlier they still have to adhere to the laws of that courtroom the rules of the courtroom. And how would you even know how to begin. Well as a first step again become the south help senator Tom the other gonna give information and as well as. On the website www. -- B -- at Oregon also mentioned a few other. I'm online resources -- -- -- give you the court forms -- help give you which you're gonna need to get into court and get a judgment but they will. Provide a lot of information on coming to court how to prepare evidence -- should address the judge I'm different the core rom you know things like that. No that's. Are very important that we have brochures we give out on that particular areas and they come up. To try to help the people we just can't give the advice can't tell what to do and you can't do that because you can't be liable as actively resist can't take on the fact that -- attorney. It just we can tell you here here's the law and here's the full immunity to fill out this is are you doing to bring this of the court. And we can't do it for. And and generally the rules of professional conduct state that if you held on one party in a matter. You are restricted from you know speaking with the other party. But in that same manner and there's a lot of other. Related rules with that but through the self help programs is why we don't provide any type of representation it's really just basic legal information in and hand out -- So for the self help let's say somebody goes in and gets all the forms against the guidance goes to the website reads the how to behave in court. And is there ever -- one of these people who might be helping or volunteering. With the self help. Would they be in the back of the courtroom. Sort of are now you're really on your round not what I'm trying to -- Not for the self help programs out there are you on different. Programs individual courts have you know specific programs that may help you to provide some type of when their representation. The Supreme Court has been at Louisiana has been looking at this issue and recently passed a rule change that allows for. Limited scope representation which basically. Allows an attorney to handle only part of a matter rather than represented knew I'm through the -- divorce and that's really. You know sort of what the state bar association is doing it's really an effort you. Provide more representation for people with you know -- moderate incomes and by saying okay you only have to hire an attorney for part of this matter whether that's you know -- -- divorce example. May be just filing initial paperwork -- coming to one court appearance in handling. The divorce but anything that has to do with community property or custody then that person's gonna have to represent themselves are higher and different attorney. OK stay with us -- gonna continue a very interesting conversation but now let's go to the newsroom and Chris Miller. We're talking about representing yourself in civil court and joining us is Richard leaf -- president of the state bar association. And Michael shock and who -- runs the access to justice. -- that Louisiana bar association I think what we're all learning as. One it's much better trident warrior two sometimes they there. Accessed and I love this that if you without funds if you get 25 dollars at least you could talk to lawyer very briefly. To find out one if you have a case I think that's Paramount. And then start the guiding they will not give you legal advice -- -- give you advice on how to go through the process. And that's really what you're saying. Yes well for African does make one sort of smoke when information that. To access the justice program really works on a variety of programs that work court's pro -- pro Bono programs legal services. I'm not -- equal partners and so I am my job as focused mainly on the self represented litigation program but there are certainly you know at some. Much bigger umbrella than just that. I'm so that said you know with with the self help programs the Supreme Court has basically. Left it up to individual jurisdictions to decide how they want to. Help suffer present -- again so we've been. Fortunate to work with the number of judges around the state. To. Work -- some innovative and creative programming to develop some type of assistance 'cause generally now how it works is when people have a legal question they go to the court. They asked the court record a question about their issues they ask somebody in the judge's chambers the judge's staff about the issue and those people. Are restricted by you know the rules of the court from providing any type of and by -- information and that's really designed to uphold the impartiality. -- of the judicial system and that. I mean especially if one party is not there they really can't convey information and judges their staff -- -- they generally -- and understandably so. Air on the side of caution. And failed to provide people with any information about the issue and it's important to note that the this legal information is not privilege is not supposed to be. Hit in from south from -- against not only for lawyers. It's just you know the rules of corporate limit them from providing assistance so. In essence what we've done -- tried to provide a mechanism. Through which those people could just the first these individuals to another location so as somebody who. Wasn't part -- come out of the court staff and therefore bound by those rules of conduct. To provide these -- legal information service triage function essentially I'm directing them Q&A lawyer in certain cases. Providing them with forms in certain instances and -- that has turned on his really. Taken the burden off of the court staff and also it's allowed on some of the legal aid program to see a little bit last. Demand for services has some of these people are able to be helped. Before they get those in fact are overwhelmed. Yet signed and proponent groups. All of us and yesterday's and a half of the people leaving -- they turned away. So even if you make it there you've got a fifty shots. -- and again though the legal service corporations. They generally accept clients were at or below the poverty line and there's certainly a gap that exists above that line -- -- what people still unable to afford an attorney. You know I have to ask is I've got you both in the room but. And this is with all due respect but isn't that we have too much that we need a lawyer for in this country. And other than -- things like divorce and custody but it just. Do understand when -- mesquite. Well you parlay into two tort claims and things like that they usually covered because this contingency fees in our lawyers to do it on the -- to what they recover. So they're not nearly as badly addressed as. Domestic manners is by far away the biggest problem in. And that's what you're saying is bringing me the figure rehab was fifty to 60%. Of those cases in state courts. Are more domestic. On all our -- that the media itself Republicans. Are domestically case. Now after asking. You know -- other too many lawyers are some on the not too many lawyers forced and he has changed -- and that. On many issues. -- -- a thousand years ago on -- show we did a show called are either too many lawyers and remember this figure may change. But there are more lawyers and wheezing and all of Japan. -- But actually we -- Tony 2000 -- is here to do. A lot. In his first -- this. Reform law schools which is a lot of law schools to assess the. Maybe it is the question of issues -- them. That we need to lawyers more and more -- -- and I'm not trying to be nineties but. Let's say couples decide what if they are not fighting each other shouldn't they just went to court saying we want this and let you judge. Go through the motions. Well I think so on and that's the case and in many jurisdictions. Again we've been. I'm operating -- self help -- people can come in get forms generally. An uncontested divorce which is on both parties. Are wanting to get divorced there's no disputes over property over custody it's. They just wanna get through the divorce. You know these courts are operating self help senators. Enable people to do that and it's not uncommon to see. A couple who have been married. But then separated for. But just never went through to get you know -- finalized divorce judgment simply because they didn't know how to get into court. And so we see people who are. Trying you know where these services are available they're trying to get into court so a lot of times they will buy a form on line -- these sites legal zoom. You know and many others but the issue with that is number one these forms costs a lot of money sometimes hundreds of dollars. They don't generally work. -- and I the exact percentage but oftentimes they don't work and especially here in Louisiana where. You know we. Go by the civil code rather than common -- which is where the time and every other state you know people often times and the court with the wrong form and then they're out. You know all the money there's no refund available of course not accepting their form and of course these are people who are. To begin with already you know usually. Having some financial issues at least they can't hire an attorney. We also see people who are there are some statewide forms available for example. The Supreme Court provides a form for protective orders for victims of domestic abuse you know. We're gonna pick it up right there I think that's very important we'll be right back we're talking about the law financial under the anyway. We're talking about representing yourself and civil court and it is a right that you have but I think we're learning it's it's also very difficult. There is help and that's what this whole discussion is about. Let you you were talking about people who have to file protective orders and I think of that as something. -- a lot of people who don't have money and that is a very important thing is that just a matter of filling out a form. Get yes and no I mean that the Supreme Court. And their website as Al ASC. That ORG. The do you have a a form that's available statewide that. Domestic violence victims can fill out and file with the court and that we'll get them in -- court -- I say it's not that easy. Because there are a lot of on other issues that are involved in oftentimes can be very difficult trip present yourself in these matters because. The court may want to rule -- like temporary issues such as custody or use of the property. So these are something that of course is an all issues we recommend that. People seek out representation that possible. I know -- is that easy. I'm but there are several I'm here in new ones we have the Stanley justice and -- project save others. Tulane has domestic balance clicked. Different domestic violence clinic. I'm so there are and and different resources around the state am I encourage everybody if they do have a -- issue related to domestic violence to contact the clerk of court in your parish and again you can find that on our website which is Al SBA dot org. Do you go to public resources. Access to justice and then click on self represented litigants that will give you. The local court information because actually by state statute are the clerk of courts office generally -- was usually the district attorney's office well. We'll provide some type of advocacy for you Marty Fella that petition. You just called accords and here's my problem where it. Well the this for domestic browns were just -- -- yes now if you have on other issues. Again and there's a you know a number of different resources that are available on the most comprehensive. Online resource is Louisiana law help dot org. It's www. Louisiana. Law -- all one word. That ORG. I'm there if you go on click on the tab called the representing yourself you'll see information about forms different guy it's you'll see information for all of the states. Self help senators there's also multimedia presentations. And that site is available in Spanish and English. And that's that's gonna provide a lot of information not only in cases announced to -- Milan where there are some resources to help you represent yourself but also. You know -- probably doesn't broad topic areas so even if it's something that. Is -- is suitable for -- presentation it's very complex we have to do a lot of work just to get into court that's at least can tell you what you need to -- can go. In what cases that you feel people can be successful in representing themselves. In -- isn't this a lot of cases and one thing on -- dome Macon some notes here because of them went. Send a false impression that this is all of largest domestic. And people get sued for debts get sued for services have gotten claimed to have gotten in didn't -- but things went wrong the succession issues it is. Adoption issues as immigration all these issues of the -- areas of the things that. People involved and no reason there Olson was just thrust on him. And they can represent themselves again we don't recommend it but -- those areas where they can. Get this type I open it does tell you. The the rights you have when things you can do an argument she can make in court. Get uniforms by the oil losers for all the sites that Michael's or to have -- you know for so this isn't just domestic. -- domestic is by far and away the most. Of these case. And and that said there are from a lot of services available for specific issues for example if you need an -- man it's an employment issue. I'm it's a civil rights issue elderly issues there are. I'm organizations dedicated to provide -- I'm representation -- not representation. Some type of information and advocacy that's gonna help you I'm decide how to proceed to whether he should proceed. OK stay with this we'll be right back. I -- thank Richard leaf and Michael shock -- for sort of enlightening us on the ability to represent yourself. And the help we need and want to give up those numbers one -- time share. That people are looking for legal information or legal representation there are few places they can turn the first is Louisiana law -- dot org. You can also call a hotline this this the Louisiana civil justice senator. Who can give you legal information and sometimes legal advice they're number is 180310. 7029. And you can also look at our website. Which is Louisiana state bar association which is www. Al SBA that. Org thank you thank you both so much for your time and great information. Now let's go to the newsroom and Chris --