New IAALS Guides Help Courts Create Effective Self-Help Materials, Expand ADR, and Better Manage Trials with Self-Represented Litigants

November 14, 2019

Our state courts are the frontlines of justice in the United States. With state trial courts handling 83 million cases in 2017 (95 percent of all U.S. cases), most people’s experience with our justice system is in state courts. It is imperative, then, that these systems serve the needs of those people.

There is, however, much room for improvement. Many state civil justice systems are mired in runaway cost, delays, and complexity. People navigating family courts encounter a similar landscape, where the adversarial court process can exacerbate tensions between separating spouses and can negatively impact children. In both civil and family courts, approximately three-fourths of cases have at least one party who is without an attorney, creating numerous challenges for both litigants and courts. In order to ensure access to justice and a legal system equipped for the 21st Century, it is vital that courts transform the way they do business and how they engage with the public and the legal community.

To that end, IAALS has developed three new guides—in partnership with national experts—to support real change on the ground and to drive momentum around civil and family justice reform in state courts around the country. Each guide is designed to provide the information necessary to help judges, lawyers, court administrators, and others to understand the problems facing our system and the people who use it—and to make improvements that will increase access and bolster public trust and confidence.

  • Guidelines for Creating Effective Self-Help Information, authored by Professor Lois Lupica, details recommendations to help courts increase the effectiveness of existing self-help materials and assist in the development of new materials that empower people with information and an understanding of what to do with that information on their journey through the legal process.
  • Ensuring the Right to Be Heard: Guidance for Trial Judges in Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants, authored by John Greacen and IAALS Manager Michael Houlberg, provides recommendations for helping trial judges better manage cases involving self-represented litigants, with the ultimate goal of better service to court users.
  • Guidance on Developing Problem-Solving Approaches for Families in Court, authored by Julia F. Weber and IAALS Director Natalie Anne Knowlton, details key issues for courts considering expanding ADR offerings beyond the commonly offered mediation. This guide is designed specifically for courts implementing the Family Justice Initiative Principles, which call for a paradigm shift in family courts, centered on a move toward a problem-solving mindset and non-adversarial approach. At the heart of this overarching recommendation is the deployment of non-adversarial dispute resolution processes, which this guide addresses.

The Family Justice Initiative is the sister effort to the Civil Justice Initiative, which was launched in 2016 by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ). Each initiative has developed broad recommendations for improving the civil justice system and the family justice system. IAALS has been a proud and long-time partner in this national effort to provide state courts with guidance for improving our family and civil justice systems based on these recommendations, alongside project partners CCJ, the Conference of State Court Administrators, the National Center for State Courts, and, specific to the Family Justice Initiative project, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

These three guides stem from our work supporting the Civil Justice Initiative and the Family Justice Initiative—and ensuring that states have the resources they need to make their recommendations a reality.

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