Round-Up: What I’m Reading

Can a dormant proposed constitutional amendment come back to life? from the National Constitution Center

The Law and Police Searches from Et. Seq., the blog of the Harvard Law School Library

Why Prison Libraries Matter for Inmates, Jailers, and Book Donors from ilovelibraries, a publication of the American Library Association

An Academic Librarian-Mother in Six Stories from In the Library with the Lead Pipe

Legal Matters: Landlord may have legal knowledge, but verdict can still go tenant’s way from the Carroll County Times

Dovey Johnson Roundtree, defense lawyer and civil rights warrior, dies at 104 from The Washington Post

How can we fight to reduce bias? 6th circuit judge shares her thoughts (podcast) from the ABA Journal’s Modern Law Library

 

 

 

Round-Up: What I’m Reading

How Do We Engage with Ideas that Make Us Uncomfortable from the RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Digital Divides and Justice Gaps from Ex Libris Juris, a blog publication for the Harris County Law Library

Legal Reference for Public Libraries from the Maryland State Law Library

2013 National Self-Help in Libraries Survey by the Self-Represented Litigation Network’s Library Working Group

Law Libraries Serving Self-Represented Litigants from the 2015 Trends, National Center for State Courts e-Collection

The Sustainable 21st Century Law Library: Vision, Deployment, and Assessment for Access to Justice by Richard Zorza

 

I Need Your Voice!

Are you part of a law library that helps self-represented litigants in unique ways? Innovative assistance can come in the form of programs, events, published materials, protocols, workshops, tutorials, online help, and more.

If you’re interested in sharing these methods, please email me at matthewsa@cua.edu, drop a comment below, or click “Contact” in the header menu and message me with your information. I’m compiling a list of best practices for lawbrarians helping pro se litigants, and the results will be included in an upcoming academic symposium.

The more the merrier. Thank you to everyone who can help!

Paradigm Shift: Focus on what we *can* do as Law Librarians, and not on what we can’t

This post will be quick since I’m swamped (in a good way, I suppose!) with work at the law library, library school finals, group projects, research, and way too many other things.

Found this older article by A2J lawbrarian Shawn Friend on the RIPS Law Librarian blog, and this paragraph jumped out at me:

For dual-degreed law librarians, the concern about the unauthorized practice of law may loom large. But realistically, what is the concern? In the end, all the questions that can’t be answered boil down to two types – “Is this right?” “What should I do?” Those questions cannot be answered with research. But almost anything else can.

As a new law librarian, I usually experience an initial flash of panic whenever I assist pro se patrons. It’s sometimes accompanied with the familiar sting of imposter syndrome, followed by pangs of sympathy (no one likes to tustle with the law, especially non-lawyers). Once this emotional roller coaster is over (usually takes about 10 seconds), I’m left to parse through the issues to see where I can help without closing another door to assistance for the patron.

The concern about legal advice has now run up against a heavily competing interest – access to justice. The two do not necessarily have to be competing – the training of librarians should focus much more heavily on what they can do. AALL’s white paper on this subject perhaps states it best: “[a]nother challenge regards the ongoing need to train librarians, especially public librarians, about the unauthorized practice of law from the perspective of permissiveness rather than restrictiveness.”

I think a lot of my “emotional roller coaster” can be calmed by adopting this attitude. We are often told what we can’t do as non-practicing law librarians, and these restrictions are always looming in my head during my interactions with pro se patrons – so much so that, in the throes of my own existential new-lawbrarian thoughts, it’s hard to focus on what I can do.

Some folks just need basic assistance. They need to understand causes of action, or find statutes, or simply just know where to look for legal info. Guiding patrons to materials doesn’t have to continue into the realm of legal advice, but we are so fearful of crossing that line that we may not start at all.

Lawbrarian Shawn Friend does a great job of reminding us of what we can do to help public patrons, and this was a refreshing read.

Full article

 

“Eliminating Barriers to Justice” Con: Teach pro se litigants to D-I-Y

The “Eliminating Barriers to Justice” conference at Georgia State University School of Law gathered A2J experts together to discuss access to justice for Georgia’s rural population, specifically for those who speak limited English or have a disability.

During the event, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Nels Peterson noted that access to justice means more than having access to a lawyer. From the Daily Report Online:

The lack of lawyers for people who need help with civil matters in underserved areas is about more than law; it’s about economics, transportation, health care and education, the justice said. People in the South Georgia counties with no lawyers, and the many others with only a handful, have more needs than just legal, he said.

I know there’s been a push for public service lawyers to practice holistic legal representation, and for good reason. When I interned with the Georgia Justice Project years ago on their expungement project, I noticed that clients faced a multitude of barriers to employment beyond their criminal records: lack of access to disability or veterans benefits, housing issues, child support issues, etc.

It was not effective to ignore these other problems and focus solely on criminal records, so attorneys would often triage legal issues according to urgency. Clients were sometimes routed to local partners, such as medical-legal partnerships, social workers, or government agencies.

The Daily Report Online article also features A2J lawbrarian Laureen Kelly, who I talked about a couple of weeks ago on this blog. Since that #TBT article was written, it looks like Kelly has received some much-needed support to offer legal “self-help” services to Georgia’s rural pro se litigants:

She created and expanded a law library in the Daugherty County Courthouse, where she works daily providing research and assistance to people who can’t find or can’t afford a lawyer. She serves on the State Bar of Georgia Access to Justice Committee, which has won a grant to address the rural lawyer shortage. The plan is to use the grant to expand Kelly’s library and make it a pilot project for other parts of the state to copy.

If people in Atlanta or other cities don’t fully understand the needs of rural areas, Kelly seeks to be the translator. When people asked why the state can’t simply provide more legal aid lawyers, Kelly explained that often those who come to her for help do not meet the low-income requirements for legal aid help, but they don’t have the money to pay a lawyer either. Or they do meet the guidelines, but they have a need that legal aid lawyers aren’t allowed to handle such as divorce. Or the legal aid lawyers are already overbooked.

When someone asked why people in underserved areas don’t just use their computers and broadband internet to get help online, Kelly explained than many of the people who walk into her second-floor library don’t have laptops and tablets. A significant number of them can’t read or write, she said.

You can read the full article here. Kelly and all the other A2J lawbrarians out there are undoubtedly amazing for walking so many non-attorneys through the clunky and not-user-friendly-at-all legal system.

I’m always hunting for free, ready-made tools and resources that could facilitate the time-consuming process of explaining legal research and issues to law library patrons. With the help of these resources, law librarians may also be better able to hone in on other legal, social, or medical issues pro se litigants are facing.

Legal

 

New Self-Represented Litigation Network Brief on Legal Design

Last week, the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) released a brief on legal design thinking 101. Really interesting, especially since I’m learning about design thinking and human-computer interaction (HCI) in library school.

SRLN Pic

A message from SRLN head Katherine Alteneder noted that the SRLN Brief introduces the commonly-used terms “design thinking,” “legal design,” and “agile development”.

The full brief can be found here.

#TBT: Inspiring 2015 Article on Georgia A2J Lawbrarian Laureen Kelly

I was recently accepted to present research on law librarianship and self-represented litigants at a library and information sciences symposium next year. I’ve already started reading more academic research on legal self-help centers and law libraries, but I also like searching for background info in older news articles and archived web content.

That’s how I stumbled on this older article from The Daily Report highlighting the tireless work of law librarian Laureen Kelly in Albany, Georgia. The article does a great job showing the emotional stress that can come along with being a public law librarian, and the desperation that many self-represented litigants go through while trying to find affordable legal help.

Laureen-Kelly

Lauren Kelly for The Daily Report/Law.com (John Disney/Daily Report)

A snippet:

The family spent about 45 minutes in the library, including most of what would have been Kelly’s half hour off for lunch. She even gave her purple grapes to the little boy, taking time to wash them first.

Kelly said the family was typical of the people served by the law library, one of the busiest of about 10 legal help centers funded by court fees and run by local governments.

Law librarians like Kelly are working to fill the gap between the need for legal services and the lack of access to attorneys, particularly in rural communities like those surrounding Albany in deep South Georgia, according to Michael Monahan, pro bono director for Georgia Legal Services.

Rural communities are hit especially hard by a lack of access to legal assistance, and it seems Kelly’s library in Albany gets visits from neighboring Georgia counties. In addition, the article points out that the local legal aid organizations were already overloaded with cases, so the rejected would-be clients flock to the law library for free help and resources.

My plan is to try and speak with Kelly to see if this need has increased, decreased, or remained stable throughout the years since this article was written. It would also be interesting to find out whether any tools or resources have been developed to ease Kelly’s workload, especially since the article notes that, like many other county employees, she has not received a raise since she started working for the law library.

Read the full article on Law.com.

 

Legal Design Lab’s ‘Law + Design Workbook’

The most interesting part of library school has been learning about all the intersections between law librarianship and human-centered design.

I have been pleasantly surprised to learn that much of librarianship is about customer service, and supporting (or designing!) systems that enable patrons to better search for and discover information. Obviously, this task takes on new dimensions when trying to make the law more accessible.

Margaret Hagan, a good friend and head of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, created a Law + Design Workbook that may be helpful to those trying to address gaps for service providers. Can’t wait to crack it open (figuratively speaking, of course – it’s accessible online) and see how I can apply these concepts to law librarianship + A2J. Click the photo below to check it out:Law-Design-Summit-workbook-even-newer-copy

 

Legal Self-Help Support & the Increased Demand for Legal Tech

Mary Juetten writing for the ABA Journal:

We appear to have created a chasm between done-for-you-by-a-lawyer and DIY solutions. The bridge or answer is mobile technology with appropriate legal support. For years, Thomson Reuters’ FindLaw survey has analyzed client behavior. The most recent figures from 2016 consumer survey respondents demonstrate the need for immediate attention from local legal experts using mobile applications.

  • 71 percent use their smartphones to find a solution to a legal problem.
  • 58 percent look for an attorney within a week of their legal incident.
  • 45 percent consider legal expertise as top selection factor.
  • 78 percent wish to hire a local attorney.

Therefore, clients are demanding mobile applications that provide direct access to a firm. In addition, consumers want education; online questionnaires to gather information rather than in-person consultations; and free legal forms for specific practice areas. Rather than fighting this trend toward creating mobile legal products and services, attorneys can use online information-gathering tools to triage and educate clients and focus on professional judgment for problem-solving.

As Juetten pointed out in a previous ABA Journal article, the wide justice gap for low-income individuals in America is exacerbated by a lack of understanding of their issues. Many don’t even realize their problem is legal in nature and could be helped with an attorney.

Technology, especially mobile apps, can step in and provide a “road map,” as Juetten calls it, to accessing legal help. It seems that a lot of legal tech companies focus on providing services to firms, which is understandable – I assume there’s more of a monetary incentive to go in that direction. But the people who really need help are not inside law firms or even law schools.

Self-represented litigants may not understand the nuance of using self-help resources like websites and apps unless we spell it out for them and make them user-friendly. This is made abundantly clear by the number of frustrated people who go to law libraries in search of answers after they’ve used public Westlaw or Lexis terminals and are somehow more confused than when they started. The tech itself, while admirable, is just the beginning.

 

The Federal Courts Web Archive

The Federal Courts Web Archive launched about two weeks ago, showcasing previous websites for the Supreme Court, federal appellate courts, trial courts, and other tribunals.

From the In Custodia Legis blog:

These sites contain a wide variety of resources prepared by federal courts, such as: slip opinions, transcripts, dockets, court rules, calendars, announcements, judicial biographies, statistics, educational resources, and reference materials. The materials available on the federal court websites were created to support a diverse array of users and needs, including attorneys and their clients, pro se litigants seeking to represent themselves, jurors, visitors to the court, and community outreach programs.

The site could be of great use for researchers, especially those exploring how courts have technologically responded to the access to justice movement.

The Law Library of Congress’s In Custodia Legis blog also has a good overview of the courts and the resources available on their websites.