17 Dec

Access commission looks at several legal access initiatives

first_imgAccess commission looks at several legal access initiatives Legal Services Corporation President James Sandman, center, encouraged the Commission on Access to Civil Justice at its December meeting to look for innovative ways to serve those who cannot afford a lawyer. Projects discussed ranged from online dispute resolution to a proposal for Advanced Florida Registered Paralegals. Also pictured is Justice Jorge Labarga, left, and commission member Greg Coleman.Legal Services Corporation President James Sandman kicked off the December Supreme Court Commission on Access to Civil Justice meeting by encouraging members to explore innovative alternatives for those who cannot afford lawyers.The commission spent much of the remainder of the meeting hearing reports on a multitude of ways that challenge is being addressed; ranging from online dispute resolution to a proposal for Advanced Florida Registered Paralegals.Here’s a look at what the commission discussed that goes beyond traditional legal aid and pro bono assistance:Online Dispute ResolutionAndrew Johns of the Office of the State Courts Administrator reported that the Supreme Court in June authorized a six-month pilot online dispute resolution program. It will begin in February in Miami-Dade, Broward, Columbia, Lake, Orange, and Polk counties, and handle small claims, dissolution of marriage without children, and civil traffic infraction cases.Florida is partnering with the National Center for State Courts and the Pugh Charitable Trust to run the test, Johns said. A report on the pilot is due to the Supreme Court in January 2021.The pilot program was recommended by a joint workgroup of the Supreme Court’s Trial Court Performance and Accountability Commission and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy Committee.Advanced Florida Registered ParalegalsThe commission’s Referral and Assistance Committee voted favorably and forwarded its proposal to create the “Advanced Florida Registered Paralegal” designation as part of the Florida Registered Paralegal Program created by Chapter 20 of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar to the commission’s Executive Committee for review. The Executive Committee chair forwarded the proposal informally to the Bar Board of Governors for input. The proposal is on the Bar Board of Governors January 31 agenda.Advanced paralegals would have extra education and work experience requirements than is currently required for Florida Registered Paralegal status. Advanced paralegals would have to be aware of “lawyer’s protocols” in performing authorized services, and the proposed rule would allow those paralegals to engage in the limited practice of law under a lawyer’s supervision in “family law, landlord tenant law, guardianship law, wills, advance directives, or debt collection defense.”The rule also sets out a licensing and disciplinary process, and provides that duties may not require “independent professional legal judgment” and that the Advanced Florida Registered Paralegals must be supervised by a lawyer who “maintains a direct relationship with the client and maintains control of all client matters.”Business Community OutreachFormer Bar President Greg Coleman, chair of the commission’s executive committee, said progress was slower than expected in presenting information to business-related groups about the importance of access to legal services to their employees. Coleman made some presentations over the summer, as did Broward County Judge Robert Lee.The effort aims to inform business leaders about problems caused by lack of legal access, with an emphasis on loss of productivity and related problems when employees have housing, financial, and family legal problems, and can’t afford a lawyer.Coleman said it was difficult to arrange presentations over the summer, and many groups “are used to people coming to them asking for money. They’re not used to people coming to them offering help. Once you do that and the light goes off in their heads, this becomes much easier.”Lee said he spoke at a local Chamber of Commerce and “Once I was there, it worked out very well. I had a lot of questions” including from members of the Miramar and Pembroke Pines city commissions.“Once we get the ball rolling on these talks, I think interest will grow around the state,” said commission Chair and Justice Jorge Labarga. Sandman, in his speech, also praised efforts to involve the business community in expanding legal access, saying the problem is too large for the legal community to handle alone.Florida Courts Help AppOSCA Public Information Officer Paul Flemming reported the Florida Courts Help App, first released about two years ago to help unrepresented litigants navigate the court system, is getting its first significant upgrade. The app makes available Supreme Court-approved forms, a DIY process for filling out forms (as the questions are developed by OSCA and approved by the court), basic information videos (the commission previewed the second one at the December meeting, which gave simple information about filing a complaint), and other basic assistance.Flemming said OSCA worked with The Florida Bar, The Florida Bar Foundation, and Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers with input from several other organizations. The new version of Florida Courts Help App will be available in early 2020 in the Google and Apple app stores.In its first two years, the app has been downloaded to more than 11,500 mobile devices, Flemming said.“This app is a wonderful product for everyone,” said Coleman, adding the goal is for downloads to hit six figures.Justice for All Grant StudyFrank Digon-Greer, assistant director of the Bar’s Programs Division and who provides staff support for the commission, reported on a study undertaken for the commission to research ways to expand help for self-represented litigants.Funded by a $30,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts, the study is being conducted by Katherine Alteneder, executive director of the Self-Represented Litigation Network. It will focus on user needs and also look at existing programs provided by clerks of court and other local sources.The study takes the approach there is “no wrong door” for people seeking access to the courthouse, Digon-Greer said, and Alteneder and a co-worker have met with court and clerk officials in several counties, legal aid directors, as well as pro se litigants. The report is due in January. Dec 12, 2019 By Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Top Storieslast_img

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