Addressing the Needs of Self Represented Litigants

Supreme Judicial Court

Addressing the Needs of Self Represented Litigants in Our Courts

  • Final Report and Recommendations Report of the SJC Steering Committee on Self-Represented Litigants
  • November 21, 2008

From Intro:

  • Committee on Self Represented Litigants was established in early 2002 in response to the challenges posed by the growing numbers of civil litigants who appear in our courts without counsel.
  • Estimated that currently at least 100,000 litigants represent themselves in civil matters in the Massachusetts state courts each year. Based upon past experience and nationwide trends, we can anticipate that this number will only increase in the future.
  • Greatest impact in the growth in self-representation is felt
    • in the Probate and Family Court, where, depending upon the county, as many as 80% of family law cases involve at least one self-represented party, and
    • in the Housing Court, where self-representation is the general rule among tenants and, increasingly, among landlords. 
  • The Steering Committee targeted six specific areas for investigation and action:
    1. expanding access to legal representation through the use of limited assistance representation;
    2. developing judicial guidelines and training programs that foster active, neutral engagement by judges with self-represented litigants, consistent with both the Canons of Judicial Ethics and the fair administration of justice;
    3. developing a comprehensive resource and referral guide for selfrepresented litigants in civil cases;
    4. creating a handbook written by and for court staff that sets out principles for distinguishing legal information from legal advice and lays out best practices for serving the self-represented in each of our trial and appellate courts;
    5. investigating data collection methods and technological innovations that would help address the challenge of increased self-representation; and  
    6. investigating physical and programmatic improvements that would make our courthouses more "user friendly."