California has tried to open the doors for low-cost access to the legal system through various self-help legal services which has given rise to the California Court Self Help Center. Since the early 1990s, the number of people coming to the California courts without lawyers has increased dramatically. Prior to this, California consumers had limited options when it came to handling legal matters in the court system:
- They could hire an attorney;
- They could get blank forms at the court clerk’s office to fill out themselves (at that time there was no one at the courts to help people with any type of instructions);
- They could hire a non-attorney legal document preparation service (at that time there was no regulations governing this type of service).
Because court procedures were designed for lawyers, the growing number of self-represented litigants presented new challenges to the courts.
The Upside: Plan for Self-Represented Litigants
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 adopted in February, 2004 and resulted in the expansion of:
- Establishing a California Self-Help center at all County government branches
- Self-help legal services workshops and clinics
- The establishment of a self-help legal services Family Law Facilitator which provides legal information and guidance regarding child support and parental relationships to self-represented individuals in family law cases
- Online Forms/EZLegalFile – a self-help legal services online system that allows parties to complete and print routine legal forms in limited types of legal matters
- Collaboration with outside agencies to provide other self-help assistance with routine legal proceedings such as guardianship, conservatorship, unlawful detainer proceedings and divorce.
The Downside: An Overwhelmed System
- California Court Self Help Center at County level: The availability of using a county’s self-help legal services center is limited. The centers often have long lines and require people to wait in line several hours before the centers open to get one of the limited available openings for the day. People are seen on a first-come, first serve basis.
- Workshops and Clinics: Services of self-help legal workshops and clinics are also available on an extremely limited basis. Classes are typically offered only once or twice a month at limited locations; and are not available for all types of proceedings.
- Family Law Facilitator: As with the self-help centers, people are seen on a first-come, first serve basis. The facilitator’s schedule is very busy, and the amount of time you get to spend with the facilitator is limited. Their services are very basic.
- Online Forms: Most routine legal proceedings can be handled using California’s Judicial Council forms and the court offers these forms online. Many counties offer forms grouped into sets based on case type. Since every case is uniquely difference, you might not need all the forms in the set or you might need a form that is not in the set. Sometimes the sets provided don’t include required local forms which are forms that are unique to a particular court in certain types of legal proceedings. In order to know exactly which forms are required for the court in your particular case, you probably will end up having to talk to a court facilitator or an attorney.
The Alternative to the California Court Self Help Center
More and more people are seeking out the assistance of Registered Legal Document Assistants that offers a low-cost alternative to having their legal documents prepared. If you are looking to have legal documents prepared and are frustrated with the California Court Self Help center in your county, call A People’s Choice for professional, low-cost assistance.
A People’s Choice is a Registered Legal Document Assistant Service located in Ventura County. A People’s Choice offers both local and online service for legal document preparation and processing in all California courts. 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.