A small number of courts across Georgia are proactively managing the wave of pro se filers. While the number is small, the court efforts are interesting and indicative of where the future of pro se management is headed.
Pro se, or “self-help”, filings have been reported to exceed 80% of certain family law filings in Georgia.
The Appalachian Circuit in north Georgia presents a comprehensive model for managing pro se and securing a more efficient court operation. The Appalachian Circuit is comprised of Fannin, Pickens and Gilmer Counties — all rural counties, but within a little more than an hour’s drive from the northern Atlanta suburbs.
The Chief Judge launched the Appalachian Family Law Center in 2007. The Center has evolved. In its early days, the assistance center was housed in a small courthouse room locals called the law library. A former family violence program staffer was brought in to bring the assistance center to life. Her job was to create some structure, some procedures, some order to apply to the frustration that is pro se. Upon that foundation, the chief judge added a lawyer to oversee the program, continue the development of forms, website access and connections among the three courthouses of the Appalachian Circuit.
In the Appalachian Circuit center, the judge, the center’s lawyer and the lay advocate work together to move pro se litigants through the system.
The State Bar Pro Bono Project and the Georgia Legal Services Program helped the center staff develop a website and fillable PDF forms.
The Dougherty County Superior Court Law Library presents a different approach. The court’s law librarian holds a J.D. and is committed to demonstrating that the courts belong to the people. With the imprimatur of the chief judge, she has transformed the law library into an orderly, customer-friendly reading room and computer center. The librarian provides court-approved forms, website resources, referrals and other assistance. In 2007, the center helped over 20,000 users in person or by phone. The center and the local Georgia Legal Services Program office maintain close communication.
The Southern Judicial Circuit is to be applauded for moving to proactively manage pro se filings. The circuit’s website provides access to locally-accepted forms. The circuit’s website, though, lacks links to appropriate legal aid and social service programs.
To learn more about self-help models and resources, visit http://www.SelfHelpSupport.org.