Thursday, October 30, 2008

No Break For Pro se Litigant

The Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed a sanction award against a pro se plaintiff who had sued her former attorney for malpractice. The plaintiff had simply refiled the lawsuit after it had been dismissed on the merits and the dismissal had been affirmed on appeal. The court concluded that pro se litigants who engage in frivolous litigation are not entitled to special benefits because of their non-lawyer status. Although the doctrine of res judicata may be unfamiliar to a layperson, one who proceeds without counsel does so at their own peril. (Mike Frisch)

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I am a California licensed attorney embarking on an effort to provide unbundled legal services. Many pro per litigants are not aware that the decision to represent oneself does not mean doing without professional legal advice. To the contrary, pro per litigants may get useful and cost-effective support from lawyers through a limited representation agreement. Limited scope representation is a relationship between an attorney and a person seeking legal services in which it is agreed that the scope of the legal services will be limited to specific task that the person asks the attorney to perform. This is also called “unbundling” and “discrete task representation.”

Limited scope representation helps self-represented litigants:

• Prepare their documents legibly, completely, and accurately;

• Prepare their cases based on a better understanding of the law and court procedures than they would if left on their own;

• Obtain representation for portions of their cases, such as court hearings, even if they cannot afford full representation; and

• Obtain assistance in preparing, understanding, and enforcing court orders.

This assistance can reduce the number of errors in documents; limit the time wasted by the court, litigants, and opposing attorneys because of the procedural difficulties and mistakes of self-represented litigants; and decrease docket congestion and demands on court personnel. In focus groups on this topic, judges indicated a strong interest in having self-represented litigants obtain as much information and assistance from attorneys as possible. They pointed to the California courts’ positive experience with self-help programs such as the family law facilitator program, which educates litigants and assists them with paperwork.

Posted by: | May 2, 2009 8:10:35 AM

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