Decades ago it was unusual for anyone to go to court without a lawyer representing them. Our legal system is adversarial. It assumes litigants have expert legal advice.
Nowadays, it’s much more common for people to represent themselves. Some people don’t see the need for a lawyer, especially in straightforward disputes, but most self represented people simply can’t afford the cost of legal advice and representation. Not suprisingly, many Self Represented Litigants (SRLs) find the legal system (not to mention the law!) daunting, confusing and alienating.
The two free legal advice services offered by the Adelaide Law School as part of the Clinical Legal Education program – Magistrates Court Legal Advice Service (MCLAS) and Adelaide Legal Outreach Service (ALOS) – help fill this gap by providing free legal advice and support for people who need help preparing themselves for court. These clinics are staffed by law students under the supervision of solicitors, providing an unrivalled educational experience as well as making an important community contribution.
Law students placed at ALOS in 2016 undertook an “international best practice” survey of ways to support SRLs. They identified the Access 2 Justice self guided online interview program which was already supporting thousands of litigants in the USA.
As part of it’s commitment to community contribution the University provided seed funding to investigate this idea. A project team consisting of myself and Alex Stanley (one of the students involved in the original project, now a solicitor working at planning and environment specialist lawyers Botten Levinson) produced two working models of the program for use in the SA District Court.
We are delighted to announce that we have successfully obtained a $63000 grant from the Law Foundation of SA to take this project to the second stage. Partnering with JusticeNet SA, which already offers a self representation service for SRLs in the District Court, we will implement the A2J software, linking it to face to face and personalised online support for SRLs navigating the court system.
One of the key benefits of this software is that it is designed to be managed by everyday legal services providers, with limited IT and financial resources. Once our trial is complete, other potential users of this program – such as community legal centres and specialist legal advice services – will be able to adapt the program for their own client bases.
Part of the funding will focus on building community capacity – to transfer what we know about this program to JusticeNet and for JusticeNet in turn to be able to transfer that knowledge out into the wider legal services community.
Adelaide Law Students on placement as part of the Clinical Legal Education program will be involved every step of they way as this project unfolds, working on implementation, with A2J clients, and developing educational materials to support future users.
This system is already extensively used in the USA and we are very enthusiastic about its potential in SA.
Here is a link to a short video explaining the project, and links to the organisations mentioned above: