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Friday, November 21, 2008

Civil right to counsel a hot topic in today's economy

I attended a CLE yesterday where a Hennepin County judicial law clerk discussed the fact that more and more parties are choosing to represent themselves in court proceedings.

I’m sure that at least part of the reason for the increasing numbers of pro se litigants is the economy. Many people simply can’t afford to hire an attorney, which is particularly distressing if they are facing the loss of basic needs like shelter, safety, health care and child custody.

While everyone has the “right” to represent themselves, we in the legal community know that it can be a problem -- for the judges who handle the matters and for the lawyers on the other side who struggle with how much, if any, assistance to provide the pro se party. It’s also a problem for the pro se litigants themselves in that they may not get a fair shake due to their unfamiliarity with court procedures and the law that applies to their case.

To address the growing problem of pro se and unrepresented litigants, the American Bar Association Section of Litigation is holding a two-day symposium on the topic early next month. The seminar will address what the lawyers can do to help overcome the barriers of access to justice, and how the legal community can provide a right to legal counsel in order to assure that people are treated fairly in adversarial proceedings, especially given financial tightening by government.

“Real People, Real Needs, Real Solutions: Access to Legal Representation in Civil Litigation” will be held in Atlanta on Dec. 4-5. For more information on the symposium, click here.

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