Revolutionizing Access to Justice for Litigants Without Lawyers

Guest Post

“Imagine spreading everything you care about on a blanket and then tossing the whole thing up in the air. The process of divorce is about loading that blanket, throwing it up, and watching it all spin, and worrying what stuff will break when it lands.”— Amy Poehler, in an excerpt from her book, “Yes Please”

As a pro se (or self-represented) litigant, imagine being faced with an overwhelming system of protocol, etiquette, deadlines, rules, and legalese. You are expected to navigate this foreign world to keep everything you care about from breaking as it spins to the ground.

This system is one that takes attorneys years to understand. A pro se litigant receives only an instruction brochure—a terribly inadequate means of helping people take care of their homes, children, belongings, and savings. Individual judges will try to assist pro se litigants by explaining basic rules and protocols, but these efforts cannot, alone, meaningfully address their needs, which are only growing.

As a family law attorney, I have long been aware of the inequities created by an adversarial system. This system, by definition, is ill-equipped to help families through their complex transitions. Dedicated for many years to address these inequities, Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis has worked as a member of the bar, the judiciary, and now as Executive Director of IAALS to create better and more meaningful legal access for everyone. Most recently, Justice Kourlis focused on technology as a means of promoting greater access to justice.

A new report from IAALS, A Court Compass for Litigants, describes how technology can make the legal process more navigable, through a holistic, comprehensive online site, and with an “ecosystem” of information and increased access to help level the playing field.

In order to develop and push forward this “Family Law Portal,” IAALS assembled individuals from diverse backgrounds to brainstorm how this ecosystem could be created and how it would function. I was honored to be among the participants.

After the introduction of existing technologies designed to assist family law litigants, and hours of collective brainstorming, what emerged was a concept for a group of modules. Over time, these modules may be added and expanded in order to create an increasingly complex portal for providing alternative dispute resolution, legal services, community services, and court access to pro se litigants.

I have no doubt that the Family Law Portal will revolutionize pro se litigants’ access to the judicial system and provide concrete help, allowing them to address their spinning life transitions in an informed, positive, and dignified way.

Mentioned Content 
Recent IAALS research on self-representation in family courts suggests that litigants would benefit greatly from having assistance navigating the court process. On June 9-10, 2016...