Course Topics and Modules

5 Professional Skills and Knowledge

Learning Objectives

This unit is designed to cover the professional skills needed for competent and ethical participation as a member of the legal profession.

Sub-Topic: Understanding Self-Represented Litigants and Legal Aid Clients

Charles L. Owen, Ronald W. Staudt, and Edward B. Pedwell, Access to Justice: Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants, Institute of Design and Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology (2002).

In 2000-2001, the IIT Institute of Design and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law teamed up to conduct a two-year study of state court systems throughout the country to identify barriers and redesign court processes to provide self-represented litigants with efficient and effective access. It is suggested that students read pages 1-33 and skim pages 34-207.

Helen Gunnarsson, A Judge’s Perspective on Pro Se Litigants, Ill. Bar J. Vol. 18(6), 280 (June 2011).

This short article presents a judge’s difficulties in balancing the pro se litigant’s interest in effective self-representation against the public’s interest in procedural consistency and fairness. While the pro se litigant deserves an opportunity to present their claim, formal and procedural inadequacies can undermine their efforts. Accordingly, judges must determine how to accommodate pro se litigants’ lack of expertise without granting an unfair advantage.

Legal Services Corporation, Documenting the Justice Gap in America, (September 2009).

With this report, the LSC documents the current unmet legal needs of low-income Americans. Careful research exposes the proportion of Americans unable to gain sufficient access to our legal system, who these individuals tend to be, and what barriers prevent these individuals from accessing the courts. Completed in 2009, this report demonstrates an ongoing, vast, and urgent need for enhanced access to the American legal system.

Richard Zorza, Self-Represented Litigants and the Access to Justice Revolution in the State Courts: Cross-Pollinating Perspectives Toward a Dialogue for Innovation in the Courts and the Administrative System, 29 J. Nat’l Ass’n Admin. L. Judiciary, 1 (2009).

Richard Zorza discusses various responses to the “tidal wave” of pro se litigants that has broken across the U.S. court system over the past 15 years. Zorza examines courts’ intake procedures, case management systems, and party compliance enforcement in the face of the recent surge in pro se litigation. Further, Zorza presents the findings of the Self-Represented Litigation network, a national network of groups working for access to justice for pro se litigants, which has identified a list of “Best Practices” for dealing with the increase in pro se litigation. This presentation of information is meant to lay the groundwork for a greater discussion amongst courts and administrative agencies regarding how to increase access to our justice system.

Natural Allies: Philanthropy and Civil Legal Aid, Public Welfare Foundation (2013).

This article promotes civil legal aid as a wise investment for philanthropists seeking to make real, positive differences with their contributions. The authors discuss how philanthropic efforts have had positive effects already, whom those efforts have benefited, and future opportunities to be explored.

Jona Goldschmidt, The Pro Se Litigant’s Struggle For Access To Justice, Fam. Ct. Rev., Vol. 40(1), 36-62 (Jan. 2002).

This paper addresses and contextualizes the resistance by the bench and bar to develop meaningful pro se assistance programs to increase access to justice. Goldschmidt notes how judges are often conflicted by litigants’ justice rights and their ethical duty as judges to remain impartial. This balancing act often tips in favor of the ethical duty of impartiality and pro se litigants often lose to represented adversaries. This paper makes suggestions for reforms that could lead to pro se litigants having greater access to legal information, better preparedness in pro se cases, and a more active role for judges to ensure access to justice.

Sub-Topic: Ethics of Using Technology in Legal Practice

Will Hornsby, Staff Counsel ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, to Ronald Staudt: The Ethics of Client Development Through Technology, (8/16/2010).

Will Hornsby comments on the effects the internet has had on lawyers’ development of client relationships. Lawyers must comply with evolving rules and standards of ethical client development, many of which differ from state to state. Hornsby offers some guidance on the propriety of some emerging client-development techniques, and concludes with a discussion of the cross-state obligations that arise from employing the internet.

Catherine Lanctot, Attorney-Client Relationships in Cyberspace: The Peril and The Promise, 49 Duke L. J. 147 (1999).

Catherine Lanctot examines the issue of “lawyer/layperson communications in cyberspace.” Existing case law indicates that online communications of specific legal advice are likely to be viewed as creating attorney-client relationships, despite any purported disclaimers. Lanctot’s survey of case law and prior research elucidates the bar’s penchant for viewing most particularized communications as creating attorney-client relationships, as well as the bar’s distaste for nontraditional legal advisement. Finally, Lanctot concludes that lawyers should exercise great caution when attempting to provide legal advice by novel means.

Danielle Citron, Technological Due Process, 85 Wash. U. L. Rev. 1249 (2007).

Danielle Citron notes that, in light of the embrace of the internet, document automation, and other modern technologies, traditional notions of due process require an update. Some formerly necessary procedural protections have become ineffective, redundant, or unnecessary in the face of modern technologies. At the same time, new problems have arisen with the embrace of modern technology, which require innovative solutions in the pursuit of procedural justice. This paper proposes a new, “carefully structured inquisitorial model of quality control” as an appropriate modernization of procedural regulations.

Will Hornsby, Professional Responsibility When Lawyering in a Virtual World, Prepared for the 2008 ABA Tech Show.

Will Hornsby notes that regulation of lawyering services can rarely keep pace with changes in the profession. Particularly when lawyers embrace the use of new technology in their practices, states struggle to update regulations in accord with the evolving expectations of lawyers and clients. This paper examines many of the problems faced by regulators and lawyers that arise from this asynchronicity.


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