Home

State & National Updates

Sample Retainer Agreements

Program Profiles

Thinking About  Unbundled Law

Conference Materials

Related Publications

Conference Background and Agenda

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE  MINNESOTA  CONFERENCE OF CHIEF JUDGES 

1.      Each on Minnesota’s ten (10) judicial districts should implement the recommendations of the “Report of the Committee on the Role of Judges in Pro Bono Activity”

In the spring of 1993, the Minnesota Supreme Court established a Committee to consider the ways in which judges in the state court system could assist in meeting the unmet legal needs of the state’s population.  The Committee issued a report in December 1994, making specific recommendations for the recruitment and retention of volunteer attorneys; procedural practices to facilitate pro bono representation; and judicial training and education.   

2.      Attorneys should be encouraged to provide pro bono services to the state court system by providing procedural assistance to pro se litigants

The Minnesota Supreme Court has approved an amendment to Rule 6.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct to provide an inspirational goal of at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services a year for each Minnesota lawyer.  This should result in an expansion in the total number of attorneys providing pro bono representation, the total hours of pro bono legal services provided and the number of individuals provided legal services.  The Committee recommends that attorneys also be solicited to provide pro bono service to the court system through providing procedural advice to pro se litigants.  These attorneys could “coach” pro se litigants by helping them prepare for court hearings and successfully maneuver through the court system. 

Each judicial district should assess the need for pro se procedural advice to pro se litigants within the district.  The judicial district should determine whether, and to what extent, local attorneys should be solicited to provide pro bono procedural assistance to pro se litigants.  Training could be provided on an annual, or more regular basis for attorneys interested in providing pro bono service to the court.  The training would cover procedural requirements in the substantive areas of law of greatest use by pro se litigants, including common procedural questions and pitfalls.  The pro bono attorney procedural training should be provided free of charge with Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit.   

Lawyers completing the pro se procedural assistance training should be listed on a court-maintained roster of attorneys and agree to provide a certain number of hours of procedural advice to pro se litigants on an annual basis.  When a pro se litigant files a cause of action or contacts the court after receiving a Summons and Complaint, they should be informed of self-help information available through the court system or county law library, and provided access to the court-maintained roster of attorneys who have agreed to provide procedural assistance to pro se litigants.  Pro se litigants should be required to sign a disclaimer that such procedural guidance does not establish an attorney-client relationship, that all advice shall be provided by telephone unless the attorney specifically requests an office visit, and that the attorney may decline to speak to the pro se litigant if contacted in a hostile, abusive, or threatening manner. 

In addition to attorneys currently licensed to practice in the State of Minnesota, the Committee recommends that retired attorneys, law students and perhaps even non-attorneys, be solicited to provide procedural advice to pro se litigants. 

Great care should be taken to ensure that these pro bono procedural efforts do not come at the expense of existing pro bono efforts to provide substantive legal assistance to litigants.  The Committee recommends that local legal service providers and volunteer lawyer programs be consulted and included in the creation and evaluation of each district’s pro bono procedural assistance plan. 

Looking to the future, the Committee recommends that the state court system, in cooperation with state and local bar associations and legal malpractice insurers, explore the possibility of providing expanded “unbundled” legal services, where lawyers would engage in partial representation of litigants by providing contractually limited advice or services in connection with specific motions, hearings or issues.    

3.      Continuing Legal Education (CLE) providers and local judicial districts should be encouraged to provide educational seminars on topics of interest to pro se litigants

CLE providers should be encouraged to provide seminars on topics of interest to pro se litigants and on how to help pro se litigants with common procedural and substantive problems in areas such as family law, conciliation court, domestic abuse, probate, and landlord/tenant disputes.  In the event that existing CLE providers do not provide such educational opportunities, these seminars should be presented by each judicial district in cooperation with the State Court Administrator’s Office. 

4.      The conference of Chief Judges should establish a committee to standardize, update and create forms, brochures, and videos relating to those areas of law and issues of interest to pro se litigants

There is a startling lack of uniformity in the information being provided to pro se litigants in Minnesota.  The Committee recommends that a committee be established with the specific charge of determining what basic useful and understandable information should be made available to all pro se litigants.  This information should be uniform, made available to all judicial districts, and should be developed by judges, court administrators and staff, attorneys, and pro se users.  The information should be readily understandable, and also made available in non-English languages.  All information should be distributed in county law libraries.  The Committee also recommends that the pro se forms and brochures committee consider whether the state court system should purchase and distribute educational booklets prepared by the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, many of which deal with areas of law and topics of great interest to pro se litigants.           

The Committee also recommends that the State Court Administrator evaluate whether to publish pro se service materials electronically, utilizing existing projects such as that developed by the Minnesota Government Information Access Council (GIAC).  The North Star technology would allow pro se litigants to receive help in completing necessary forms, print or download forms, and, through hypertext links, access other resource information sites on the Internet such as domestic abuse centers and social service agencies. 

5.      Pro se litigants should be required to acknowledge the responsibilities of being involved in litigation

While there is a great deal the state court system can do to improve the treatment of pro se litigants, pro se litigants also have an obligation to adequately prepare for court and educate themselves regarding court procedures.  The Committee believes that each individual pro se litigant should acknowledge, in advance of a court hearing or trial, basic expectations, including the need to come to court organized and prepared with exhibits and witnesses.  A general acknowledgment should be signed by a pro se litigant prior to accepting a complaint to file.  The acknowledgment form should be developed by the pro se forms and brochures committee and should also be made available to pro se defendants.  The court system should establish clear expectations to warn pro se litigants about the consequences of arriving to court unprepared. 

6.      “Self-help” workbooks should be developed for use by pro se litigants

Given the disproportionate amount of staff time consumed in providing procedural and form completion assistance to pro se litigants, there is a need to develop self-help materials that will assist pro se litigants in filing accurate forms and successfully maneuvering through the court system. 

Dr. James Hogg, former dean of William Mitchell College of Law and currently a Senior Fellow to the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, has developed a demonstration prototype of a computer program designed as a self-help guide for pro se litigants in conciliation court.  This program will provide an intercept at the beginning of the program for litigants who cannot read or understand English and provide appropriate assistance. 

The Committee believes that the “self-help” workbook approach should be actively pursued as a mechanism to assist pro se litigants and save court staff time. 

7.      Libraries should be actively involved in the effort to assist pro se litigants

There is a need to improve communication between the state court system, lawyers, and libraries, particularly law libraries.  The Committee recommends that each law library dedicate a section to pro se users, with information and materials to be developed and provided by the pro se forms and brochure committee.  The Committee further recommends that the Minnesota Association of Law Librarians (MALL) re-energize a standing committee to choose materials that are legally accurate and sufficient for Minnesota pro se litigants. 

The Committee also recommends that librarians be notified and be given an opportunity to participate in staff training for court personnel relating to guidelines for providing advice to pro se litigants that does not violate the unauthorized practice of law statute. 

8.      Court personnel should receive ongoing training relating to the needs of pro se litigants

Pro se litigants desire help and assistance from court staff that are appropriately reluctant to give information that could be construed as legal advice.  The Committee recommends that court staff be given adequate training to answer questions concerning court rules, procedures, and practices. 

Court staff should also receive adequate training to allow them to be familiar with and prepared to make referrals to local legal services organizations and volunteer lawyer programs that can answer substantive legal questions or provide legal representation. 

9.      A pro se service coordinator should be designated in each judicial district

The Committee recommends that each judicial district be required to designate at least one individual as a pro se services coordinator responsible for assisting in the development, implementation and evaluation of a pro se services delivery plan in that district.  The pro se services coordinator(s) should serve as a liaison to the local legal services providers, coordinate pro bono procedural assistance to pro se litigants, coordinate any training sessions for staff, attorneys and litigants relating to pro se issues, service as liaison to the pro se forms and brochures committee and serve as liaison to local libraries concerning pro se issues. 

10. A glossary of basic legal terms should be developed for use by pro se litigants

The Committee recommends that the pro se forms and brochures committee should develop a glossary of basic legal terms commonly used in actions involving pro se litigants.  This information should be made available statewide in written form and on computer to assist pro se litigants. 

11. A standard judicial protocol should be utilized in hearings involving pro se litigants

Chief Judge Edward Lynch of the First Judicial District has developed a protocol for use in hearings involving pro se litigants.  The Committee recommends that this protocol be distributed statewide and that judges be encouraged to use the protocol where appropriate.  The pro se forms and brochures committee should periodically review and update the protocol. 

12. The state court system should examine and utilize emerging technologies that are “user friendly” to pro se litigants

The Committee recommends the State Court Administrator (SCA) explore the feasibility of using computer form completion processes to generate forms and provide more meaningful access to the court system by pro se users.  In addition, the SCA should examine existing and emerging technologies to provide better access to the court system through auto-attendant telephone information systems.  The court system should also accommodate the special needs of people with English language barriers, literacy barriers and physical disabilities. 

13. State statutes and court rules should restrict the ability of pro se litigants to engage in frivolous litigation and abusive behavior

The Committee recommends that state statutes and court rules be modified to allow judges the clear authority to prohibit the filing of new litigation or motions by pro se litigants in certain defined situations. 

Reproduced from: 

REPORT OF THE MINNESOTA CONFERENCE OF CHIEF JUDGES COMMITTEE ON THE TREATMENT OF LITIGANTS AND PRO SE LITIGATION APRIL, 1996

By: Judge Gary Meyer, Mary Berg, Michael Calvert, Brian Dorn, Patricia O’Gorman, Judges Dennis Seitz, Beverly Anderson, Bernard Boland, Gerald Ring, Donald Venne, Tama Hall, Michael Dittberner. 

Convening on July 14-15, 1994, the Minnesota Conference of Chief Judges and Assistant Chief Judges from each of the state’s ten judicial districts set an agenda in its strategic planning session to address the delivery system of a uniform customer services system that would more effectively deal with the increase in pro se litigants in addition to complying with Trial Court Performance Standards. The Committee first adopted proposals dealing with service delivery and the Conference approved the recommendations that a uniform statewide customer service expectation policy be established along with employee recognition awards. Overall the Committee and its three subcommittees which deal with general family law issues; domestic abuse and harassment issues; and a conciliation court, probate, /general civil law issues, recommended a two-prong approach to the emerging problem of pro se litigation. First, they made a number of recommendations that they felt could be immediately implemented at a relatively low cost. Second, they recommended a number of items for further study, all with the hope that the recommendations would “serve as an action guide to avoid a pro se litigant crisis in the state court system and establish the Minnesota court system as a national leader in its fair and creative approach to pro se litigation.”