California has tried to provide low-cost access to the legal system through California courts self-help centers. With the creation of these centers and other self-help programs in California, the number of people attending courts without lawyers has increased dramatically. Prior to these services, Californians had limited options when it came to handling legal matters in the court system:
- hiring an attorney;
- filling out their own blank forms from the court clerk’s office; or
- hiring a non-attorney legal document preparation service.
Unfortunately, despite the availability of self-help resources, court procedures are designed for lawyers. Therefore, the growing number of self-represented litigants presents new challenges to the courts.
Pros of Self-Help Centers: Courts Plan for Self-Represented Litigants
In 2004, the Judicial Council established a task force to develop an action plan to expand self-help legal services for serving self-represented litigants in California. This plan was officially adopted in February, 2004, and had many positive outcomes for these litigants, such as:
- establishing self-help centers at all California county government branches;
- fleshing out self-help legal services workshops and clinics;
- establishing a self-help legal services family law facilitator which provides legal information and guidance regarding child support and parental relationships;
- creating online forms/EZLegalFile, a self-help legal services online system that allows parties to complete and print routine legal forms for limited matters;
- collaborating with outside agencies to provide other self-help assistance with guardianship, conservatorship, unlawful detainer proceedings, and divorce.
Cons of Self-Help Centers: An Overwhelmed System
Unfortunately, the California courts county-level self-help centers have limited availability. For example, these centers often have hours-long lines that form before the centers even open! Plus, they have limited available openings for each day, and people are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Similarly, self-help legal workshops and clinics, as well as family law facilitators, are also available on an extremely limited basis. In fact, classes are typically offered only once or twice a month at limited locations, and are not available for all types of proceedings.
Finally, you can handle most routine legal proceedings with California’s Judicial Council forms, which the court offers online. However, many counties group these forms into sets based on case type. Since every case is unique, you might not need all the forms in the set, or you might need a form that is not in the set, such as required local forms. Thus, in order to know exactly which forms your particular court and case requires, you will probably have to talk to a court facilitator or an attorney.
Alternatives to the California Courts Self-Help Center
Many people are apprehensive about using the California courts self-help center due to the many downfalls of the system. Instead, these individuals often seek assistance from a registered legal document assistant like A People’s Choice!
A People’s Choice is a registered legal document assistant service located in Ventura County. We offer both local and online service for legal document preparation and processing in all California courts. Furthermore, our innovative online interview process enables us to serve customers worldwide who find themselves dealing with the California court system in a variety of routine legal proceedings.
If you’re looking for help preparing your legal documents and are frustrated with the California courts self-help center in your county, call A People’s Choice for professional, low-cost assistance today.