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 October 2001 Newsletter

The following was recently printed as an editorial in the Indpls Star.  My comments follow:

Technology as a Foot in Courthouse Door Our Position: Two online programs are innovative ways to get legal service to poor people.

In a perfect world, anyone needing legal help has access to an attorney. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world, but it may be possible "to make sure that even without a lawyer, people can get in the courthouse door." That's the hole of Colleen Cotter, interim director of the Indiana Justice Center, who has charge of developing an online resource center to help low-income people act as their own attorney.

Some legal matters can be handled without an attorney, she said, and the online service will screen information provided about a complaint to determine whether it can be pursued without hiring an attorney. Online instructions and information will be presented in language readily understood by persons without a college education and those with little English.

In addition, the service homes to build a case management system that will encourage more attorneys to do pro bono work outside their usual field of practice. Pleadings and background relevant to a case will be provided, thus saving time and resources. The project is being funded by a $475,000 federal grant.

Another online program for low-income people is a Family Law Self-Service Legal Center being developed through the Indiana Supreme Court. It al will advise on matters that can be resolved without an attorney. Available will be necessary legal forms and instructions on completing them.

Both services are based on the assumption that a computer is available and the person in need of help knows how to access the Internet. That's not as far-fetched as some believe. Public libraries, various social service organizations and learning centers have computers and personnel willing to offer instruction. Dean Norman Lefstein of the IU School of Law Indianapolis noted that poor people often visit the school's library seeing legal information.

Despite such resources as the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society, Legal Services Corp. and individual lawyers who discount or eliminate their usual fees, many poor people go wanting. Employing technology to reduce that number is logical, and the two online programs are innovative beginnings.

end of article


The meetings of the Indiana Supreme Court committee developing pro se documents and procedures are open to the public. Typically, a committee meets once per month at the National City Center building in downtown Indianapolis. If you would like to monitor the committee's activities, for your own benefit of that of others, please let me know. I have been unable to find someone to do that and provide information on their progress, plans, schedule for completion, and information which may presently be available through their work! Hopefully, the stigma and hurdles thrown up by the judicial system (especially pro tem judges!) to try to discourage pro se litigants and encourage hiring of attorneys, will be dismantled as the court reviews the plight of the pro se litigant. Providing the forms is of little value if the judge requires the pro se litigant to adhere to the same level of courtroom competency, procedure, etc. as the trained attorney, which isoften the situation.

Bob Monday
PACE/CRC of Indiana