Texas Legal Services Community Tries to Support Rising Numbers of Pro Se Litigants

In a Fort Worth Star- Telegram op-ed several days ago, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the chair of the Texas Access to Justice Commission noted that more and more low-income Texans are representing themselves in civil matters for which they can not afford counsel, which runs the risk of clogging up the court system.  The authors contended that while the longer-term solution to this problem is to adequately fund civil legal services programs, in the short term courts, public interest organizations, and other stakeholders should implement programs and resources to help pro se litigants navigate the justice system.

We will continue aspiring to the ideal that all litigants should be represented by competent counsel. In the meantime, these innovative programs can serve as models for Texas as we strive to address the challenge to give all of our citizens the tools to protect their legal rights.

This week, the Texas Tribune focuses on the growing problem

The vast majority [of pro se litigants in Dallas] have little knowledge of the law or interest in navigating their case through the complex legal system. They simply can’t afford a lawyer, and Legal Aid in Texas only serves those who earn up to a mere 125 percent above the poverty line.

Last week, the Tribune notes, the Texas Forum on Self-Represented Litigants and the Courts took place in Dallas.  Participants highlighted the fact that the terrible state of funding for civil legal services programs is closely tied to the problem of swelling numbers of pro se litigants, some of whom would qualify for legal aid but are turned away because of overwhelming caseloads.

‘Legal aid is able to help two out of seven to eight people who need it — if that,’ says Jonathan Vickery of Texas Access to Justice Foundation, and in most cases what they get is limited to a little advice, not true representation.  ‘So what are people to do when they are facing loss of their children, eviction from their home, where do they go?’

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