RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE
MINNESOTA CONFERENCE OF CHIEF JUDGES
Each on Minnesotas ten (10) judicial districts should implement the
recommendations of the Report of the Committee on the Role of Judges in Pro
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 states 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.
Attorneys should be encouraged to provide pro bono services to the state
court system by providing procedural assistance to pro se litigants
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 districts pro
bono procedural assistance plan.
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.
Continuing Legal Education (CLE) providers and local judicial districts
should be encouraged to provide educational seminars on topics of interest to
pro se litigants
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 Administrators Office.
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.
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.
Pro se litigants should be required to acknowledge the responsibilities
of being involved in litigation
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.
Self-help workbooks should be developed for use by pro se litigants
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.
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
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.
Libraries should be actively involved in the effort to assist pro se
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.
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.
Court personnel should receive ongoing training relating to the needs of
pro se litigants
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.
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
A pro se service coordinator should be designated in each judicial
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.
A glossary of basic legal terms should be developed for use by pro se
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
A standard judicial protocol should be utilized in hearings involving pro
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.
The state court system should examine and utilize emerging technologies
that are user friendly to pro se litigants
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.
State statutes and court rules should restrict the ability of pro se
litigants to engage in frivolous litigation and abusive behavior
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.
OF THE MINNESOTA CONFERENCE OF CHIEF JUDGES COMMITTEE ON THE TREATMENT OF
LITIGANTS AND PRO SE LITIGATION APRIL, 1996
Gary Meyer, Mary Berg, Michael Calvert, Brian Dorn, Patricia OGorman, 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 states 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.