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March 16, 2008

Wisconsin's State Bar Plans to Cut Access to Affordable Legal Services

[The following is an op-ed piece by James Turner (Executive Director of HALT), published in the Madison Capitol Times on March 13, 2008.]

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is considering a new definition of the practice of law that could force consumers to hire a lawyer to deal with even the most routine legal needs. If the court approves this State Bar proposal, instead of being able to use an affordable legal document assistant, an income tax preparer, or a real estate agent, Wisconsinites would have to shell out the hundreds of dollars an hour that lawyers charge.

HALT (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny), the nation's largest and oldest legal reform organization, is urging the court to reject the lawyers' naked power grab and, instead, encourage the development of innovative ways to expand the availability of affordable legal help. Our view is supported by the U.S. Justice Department, which also opposes the proposed rule. After complaints about their original proposal were filed with the Supreme Court by consumer advocates like HALT and many Wisconsin businesses, the State Bar added an exception for service providers that are licensed by the state.

We agree with the Justice Department that this new exception "would still prohibit non-lawyers from performing services for which legal expertise is unnecessary" and believe that it would only confuse consumers and deter meaningful competition from non-lawyers.

How do the lawyers defend their monopolistic proposal? They say it is really to protect the public from scam artists, particularly "notarios" who falsely claim to be attorneys and prey on the Latino community. But after two years of beating the bushes, the State Bar could produce only six complaints by consumers about non-lawyer legal service providers. During this same time frame, consumers filed over 2,000 complaints against Wisconsin attorneys.

What makes the lawyers' proposal all the more appalling is that it comes in the midst of a legal access crisis in Wisconsin. As a blue-ribbon panel found just last year, more than "half a million Wisconsinites -- people with families, many of whom have jobs, own homes, and pay taxes -- must contend with significant legal troubles without any legal help because they cannot afford the professional legal help they need." Instead of responding to this access crisis, Wisconsin's organized State Bar wants a new rule that would make it all but impossible for consumers to get help when they can't afford to hire a lawyer.

There is a better way to both serve and protect legal consumers. For many years HALT has argued that the unauthorized practice of law is claiming to be a lawyer when you're not. We believe that the defining characteristic of the practice of law is the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. In recent years, the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have endorsed this common-sense view. The Wisconsin Supreme Court should too, by defining the practice of law as only including activities that require specialized legal skills where an attorney-client relationship is present.

James C. Turner is the executive director of HALT (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny),, a nonprofit public interest group dedicated to promoting simple, affordable and accountable justice for all.

March 3, 2008

Government Should Let Property Values Sink Lower to Close the Affordability Gap

Many blogs and articles dealing with the foreclosure crisis advocate that the government should act to prevent a further decline in property values. To the contrary, I think the government should let property values continue their decline so that nonprofit community housing organizations such as Habitat can afford to purchase foreclosed properties, and provide the community housing organizations with grants or low-interest loans to purchase the properties and convert them to affordable housing, whether that be in the form of condos, apartments, or multi-family houses. Robert Shiller, Yale finance professor and author of Irrational Exuberance, a book about asset bubbles, appears to share this viewpoint. In a February 19, 2008 article by Karen Jacobs in Reuters entitled "Habitat says affordability gap persists", Professor Shiller is quoted as saying: "Most of us care about our children and grandchildren, and these people have to buy houses, so why would we want high home prices? We want economic growth, we don't want high home prices."

From the perspective of youth and millions of poor and lower-middle-class families, home prices soared far beyond the affordability level. Home ownership for these people could only be achieved through a number of gimmicks, including co-signers, no income documentation, no down payment, interest-only loans, and so on. Even as home prices continue to sink, homes and apartments in many parts of the country are still unaffordable for the majority of the local population .

As real estate values increased during the boom, so too did rents. Rental housing has long been a cottage industry for small investors, giving them a steady income and a means to retire. But to produce income for the investor, rents must at least cover the ownership costs, and the higher the mortgage, the higher the rents. So, in addition to not being able to afford a house, many people have been priced out of the rental market as well. The stories about people not being able to live close enough to their jobs to commute are legion.

Somewhat paradoxically, plummeting real estate prices are forcing rents higher because of the pressure on the rental market caused by folks leaving their foreclosed houses. And because refinancing has become so difficult, investor/landlords have not been able to reduce their mortgages to the value of their properties -- so they could lower the rents they charge.

There are many suggestions floating around for how the government and housing finance industry should react to the foreclosure crisis. These suggestions range from 1) adjusting the bankruptcy laws to allow modifications of mortgage debt, 2) preventing foreclosures by providing people or communities with low-interest loans, and 3) helping homeowners modify their payments to deal with their arrearages.

For obvious reasons -- tax receipts and profits among them -- local governments and the housing finance industry want to prop up real estate values by any means necessary. And this, of course, is fine with existing homeowners. The higher the real estate values, the better their bottom line will be. As you know from my opening lines, however, I believe prices ought to go in the opposite direction. While I'm all for preventing foreclosures, they are going to happen anyway, in large numbers. Why not take advantage of this opportunity to increase the stock of affordable housing?

Letting property values slide and shoveling money to nonprofit community housing groups will help to reduce the imbalance in affordable housing that the boom in property values caused to happen in the first place. As an important side effect, a policy that will encourage the creation of affordable housing will help prevent the blight caused by thousands of vacant houses resulting from the foreclosure crisis. Finally, a massive conversion of single-family dwellings into affordable dwelling units will stimulate employment opportunities for the thousands of contractors who now are suffering right along with the rest of the real estate industry.

February 20, 2008

Launch of New Website by HALT Featuring Works of Fred Rodell

[Here is the text of an email circulated by HALT, the nation's leading law reform organization, announcing a new website and blog featuring the works of Fred Rodell, a Yale Professor who debunked the legal profession and accompanying myths.]

Sixty-nine years ago, a young Yale law professor rocked the legal establishment with a scathing indictment of the American civil justice system entitled Woe unto You, Lawyers! Almost overnight, Fred Rodell became the nation's leading debunker of legal myths, and the target of untold ire from thin-skinned lawyers. And his provocative observations are as accurate today as they were seven decades ago. Here is just a sampling.

Rodell's 1936 article Goodbye to Law Reviews opens by explaining: "There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content. That, I think, about covers the ground." The article proceeds to take on the entire profession: "[I]t is pretty hard to find a group less concerned with serving society and more concerned with serving themselves than the lawyers."

In Woe, Rodell's critique is cultural: "In TRIBAL TIMES, there were the medicine-men. In the Middle Ages, there were the priests. Today there are the lawyers." But the effect of the mystifying process is to exclude ordinary people from the legal process: "[L]aw deals almost exclusively with the ordinary facts and occurrences of everyday business and government and living. But it deals with them in a jargon which completely baffles and befoozles the ordinary literate man."

Finally, Rodell points out the basic hypocrisy of the Law: "The last thing any court will ever admit, even when it is being quite practical about what it decides, is that practical considerations have anything to do with the decision."

As a leader in the legal realist movement, Fred Rodell stuck to his guns for the next four decades (including a stint on HALT's Advisory Board), arguing that we should simplify, demystify and open up our civil justice system. Rodell was a true pioneer of the legal reform movement, one of the first to identify the structural failures of our civil justice system and to stridently challenge the legal establishment. But since his death in 1980, his thinking has not received the serious consideration that it deserves, and his key writings have disappeared from print.

That is why we at HALT were so excited to begin working with San Francisco legal reform advocate Alex Kline and Fred Rodell's family to revive these visionary legal reform lessons on the Internet. In addition to introducing Rodell to a new generation, we want to provide a meeting place for those who share an appreciation of his ideals, criticisms and reform objectives. We want to provide a forum where they can put their heads together and work to implement his ideas in practical ways. Rodell taught at Yale Law for over forty years, and we hope that his students will find their way to this site and use it as a place to re-connect, brainstorm, and formulate action plans to bring about the changes he advocated.

Today we are launching to make Woe and Goodbye available to all, along with, a forum for renewed critique, debate and thinking.

Let the fun begin.

James C. Turner
Executive Director, HALT, Inc.

January 30, 2008

Abolish Our Discriminatory Bail System

In an article by Adam Liptak, published on January 29, 2008 in The New York Times, I learned that only the United States and the Philippines have legal systems that use for-profit bail companies as a means of assuring that criminal defendants will appear in court.

According to the article, all other developed countries, as well as Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin, provide a way for people presumed innocent to achieve their liberty pending trial without feeding a commercial bonding intermediary. Once again, this country that prides itself on its justice system lags far behind the rest of the civilized world -- as it does, for example, with capital punishment and life imprisonment for minors.

How the bail system works. For those not in the know, here is how the bail system works in most states.: When you are arrested, you can usually avoid spending the night in jail by paying a bail bond company a 10% non-refundable "premium" in exchange for the company posting a bond with the court for the full amount of the bail. The amount of the bail is typically based on a local bail schedule.

For instance, the bail in my county for common misdemeanors is $5000, and between $10,000 and $25,000 for felonies. Most people who are arrested for the first time are shocked at their lack of freedom and will do anything to get out right now. Friends and family are pressured to pay the premium, yesterday.

If you are released on bail, you're typically given an arraignment date (first appearance) a month or two in the future. If you don't "make bail," you'll stay in jail until you're taken before a judge a day or two later (or even three or four days if you're arrested on a Friday). At this first appearance, the judge can raise or lower the bail, or even let you go on your promise to return. All too often, however, the bail is either raised or remains the same, and the defendant remains in jail until trial -- which must be held within a couple of months, unless the defendant "waives time." Often, encouraged by their public defender, who invariably has a heavy caseload, defendants end up waiving time and remain in jail for many months before they get their day in court.

The problem with the system. The shame of this system is highlighted by the fact that people accused of misdemeanors can frequently escape further imprisonment by entering into a plea agreement for probation and a fine. And, it's not uncommon for people who insist on their innocence to languish in jail awaiting trial for crimes that predictably will not involve jail time even if there is a conviction. Keeping someone in jail because they can't make bail on a charge that is highly unlikely to result in imprisonment is nothing less than depriving people of their freedom solely because they are poor.

Allowing private companies to determine whether a defendant goes free pending trial is often tantamount to determining the trial's outcome. Defendants who are free pending trial have a tremendous advantage over defendants who must prepare their defense while behind bars. Justice that depends upon one's ability to pay for a bail bond is injustice at its core.

Even the legal establishment disapproves of the system. According to Adam Liptak, "[m]ost of the legal establishment, including the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association, hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system."

Obviously, I agree. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be further amended to provide that bail be administered solely by the justice system, rather than by the private sector, as it is now.

January 30, 2008

HALT's Fee Arbitration Best Practices

[Note: This post was prepared by HALT, the country's preeminent law reform organization. Fee-gouging by lawyers is systemic in the legal system. These best practices will give legal consumers an affordable and fair remedy to fight back.   -Steve Elias]

HALT's recent Report Card has produced a set of best practices that should be used in every state's fee arbitration system. "Designed to help clients resolve fee disputes with lawyers out of court, fee dispute resolution programs should use fair procedures, maintain clear rules and be visible to consumers," stated HALT Senior Counsel Suzanne M. Blonder. "We have identified a dozen best practices from around the country that should be implemented nationwide so that fee arbitration systems can fulfill their promise to consumers."

  • Require lawyers to participate in fee arbitration at a client's request, so consumers do not have to submit to expensive court proceedings.

  • Make arbitration decisions binding on lawyers to ensure that the process does not drag on indefinitely.

  • Create a statewide system with unified rules so that consumers in neighboring counties are not subjected to different sets of procedures.

  • Maintain a Web site with plain language resources about the state's fee arbitration system, including a downloadable claim form.

  • Provide guidance over the telephone to individuals with questions about the fee arbitration process.

  • Publicize the state's fee arbitration system in local venues, including courthouses and libraries.

  • Allow non-lawyers fair representation on arbitration panels that decide lawyer-client fee disputes.

  • Resolve fee disputes promptly--from start to finish in no more than three months.

  • Provide free legal assistance to clients to enforce and collect an arbitration award that a lawyer refuses to pay.

  • Offer mediation--a process in which a trained mediator does not issue a ruling but helps guide participants toward a resolution--but do not require it before parties may engage in arbitration.

  • Supply a form to apply for participation in the fee arbitration program, that includes plain language instructions.

  • Abolish all gag rules in fee arbitration and allow individuals to speak freely about the nature of the fee dispute, the arbitration process and the result.

For a more detailed explanation of these best practices and why state bars and courts should implement them, go to

January 2, 2008

Independent Paralegals Improve Access to Justice

Paralegals who directly help consumers prepare their own divorce, estate planning, name change, and guardianship papers have been around for a long time. Usually, these paralegals gain their expertise from having worked for lawyers or having attended formal paralegal schools. Yet many lawyers have sought to drive these independent paralegals out of business by charging them with "unauthorized practice of law"--a criminal offense in many states. While some of us believe that a thriving independent paralegal industry would vastly increase access to the justice system for the many millions of people who can't afford lawyers, others--especially many lawyers--believe that only lawyers can be trusted to help people with their legal problems.

In October 2007, a Massachusetts statewide commission examining barriers to access to justice recommended that independent paralegals be allowed to speak on behalf of low-income parties embroiled in certain civil matters. According to the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, the Massachusetts Bar Association predictably shot the concept down, arguing that poor people deserve legal representation just the same as rich people and that non-lawyer paralegals could not be expected to deliver competent representation. Their answer to the access problem? More court-based assistance to self-represented litigants, more lawyers, and more pro-bono legal services.

This reminded me of an experience I had in California some 20 years ago. I was a member of an ad hoc California State Bar committee (called the Public Protection Committee) that was charged with investigating what role California independent paralegals might play in facilitating access to justice for people who couldn't afford lawyers. We held three public hearings in addition to collecting a ton of information from consumer protection agencies, courts, and other entities that could provide us with a factual basis for making recommendations.

At one of the hearings, a lawyer employed by the Los Angeles legal services program testified that under no circumstances should non-lawyers be allowed to help people fill out the paperwork necessary to fight their evictions. She went on to say that her agency turned away 40,000 eviction cases every year because there weren't enough lawyers to help. I asked her why it wouldn't be better to authorize independent paralegals to assist in these cases. With considerable passion she responded that allowing non-lawyers to help the poor would create a two-tier justice system--which was unacceptable to her--and that the only appropriate way to help the Los Angeles poor fight their evictions was to petition Congress to authorize more money to hire more lawyers. I was so shocked that to this day I vividly remember every detail of the encounter.

Our Committee--four lawyers and four non-lawyers--went on some months later to unanimously recommend the repeal of the California unauthorized practice laws and the creation of a system in which independent paralegals could help people with their legal paperwork. Not unexpectedly, the California State Bar president immediately showed up on local TV condemning our report and literally calling us "brain dead" for thinking the Bar association would ever agree to such a "cockamanie" scheme.

He wasn't far off the mark. It took another 10 years before the California legislature (with no help from the Bar Association) authorized independent paralegals to provide the same kind of assistance our committee had recommended earlier. There are now many hundreds of registered independent paralegals in California (called Legal Document Assistants) that help people prepare the forms they need to handle their own legal work. For more information about Legal Document Assistants, visit the California Association of Legal Document Assistants' website. Independent paralegals are also authorized to prepare legal forms in Arizona and Florida (and perhaps a couple of other states)

What's my point? That lawyers fight tooth and nail to maintain their monopoly and that legal consumers in Massachusetts probably will have a long and rocky road ahead before the Massachusetts powers-that-be finally accept the obvious facts: there are lots of legal tasks that don't require a law school education, and access to justice in Massachusetts would be vastly improved by bringing non-lawyers into the mix of legal service providers.

December 10, 2007

HALT Opposes the Wisconsin State Bar's Proposed Regulation of the Unauthorized Practice of Law

This article is posted with permission from HALT, the nation's oldest law reform organization.

HALT Submits Comments Rejecting the Wisconsin State Bar's Proposed Regulation of the Unauthorized Practice of Law

HALT believes that consumers should have access to a continuum of legal services provided by both attorneys and qualified non-lawyers that meet the full range of their legal needs. On behalf of HALT's 50,000 members nationwide and 1,200 members in Wisconsin, HALT urged the Court to reject the State Bar's Proposed Supreme Court Rule Chapter 23, Regulation of Unauthorized Practice of Law.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court should recognize that lawyers alone cannot provide all the legal services consumers need. Study after study has shown that lawyers have priced themselves beyond the reach of average Americans. According to a 1996 ABA study, some 38 million low and moderate income American households simply cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Lawyers' fees of $100 per hour or more mean that the traditional source of legal services is out of the reach for many Americans. Wisconsin's own Access to Justice Study Committee stresses in Bridging the Justice Gap: Wisconsin's Unmet Legal Needs that more than "half a million Wisconsinites ― people with families, many of whom have jobs, own homes and pay taxes ― must contend with significant legal troubles without any legal help... because they cannot afford the professional legal help they need." Access to Justice Commissions around the country are also expressing great concern about this growing accessibility crisis.

Instead of responding to the access crisis, Wisconsin's organized Bar has asked the Court to adopt a new draconian rule that will make it all but impossible for consumers to get help when they can't afford to hire a lawyer. The Bar's sweeping new definition of the practice of law ― "the application of legal principles and judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of another entity or person(s)" ― covers every legal service imaginable. "Giving advice or counsel, ...selection, drafting or completion of legal documents, ...representation of another entity or person(s) in court, ...negotiation of legal rights or responsibilities on behalf of another, ...or any other activity determined to be the practice of law by the Wisconsin Supreme Court" would all become the exclusive domain of licensed Wisconsin attorneys.

Continue reading "HALT Opposes the Wisconsin State Bar's Proposed Regulation of the Unauthorized Practice of Law" »

November 20, 2007

HALT Finds Fee Dispute Programs Not Making the Grade

This article is posted with permission from HALT, the nation's premiere law-reform advocacy organization.

National Study Reveals Few Checks on Skyrocketing Legal Fees

The nation's first comprehensive evaluation of the programs that resolve lawyer-client fee disputes revealed that these programs are mostly empty promises. To shine a light on the out-of-court systems designed to help clients conveniently settle bill conflicts with attorneys, HALT released its 2007 Fee Arbitration Report Card, ranking lawyer-client fee arbitration forums in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

"The most pervasive complaint about lawyers is that their fees are too high for the work done," stated HALT Senior Counsel Suzanne M. Blonder. "But in evaluating the programs established to settle these disputes between clients and lawyers, our Report Card found a system plagued by an appalling pattern of biased procedures, insufficient resources, and little enforcement."

Of the 51 jurisdictions surveyed, 38 received grades below C. Three--New Hampshire, Vermont and West Virginia--flunked. Another eight, including some with large client populations, like Illinois and Ohio, received Incompletes because they do not offer statewide systems to settle lawyer-client bill conflicts. Taking top honors on the Report Card was the District of Columbia, followed closely by arbitration programs in Maine, New Jersey, New York, and California. But even those states only scored a B average.

HALT's Report Card graded fee arbitration systems in six categories: (1) whether lawyers are required to participate in binding arbitration at a client's request; (2) the ease of initiating arbitration; (3) the amount of state bar publicity of fee arbitration; (4) the program's reliance on non-lawyer arbitrators; (5) whether non-binding mediation is offered in addition to arbitration; and (6) how the system enforces awards.

While this is HALT's first report card on fee arbitration, its previous Lawyer Discipline Report Cards conducted studies of the lawyer discipline system that have led states to make critical improvements. When the group ranked Pennsylvania's lawyer discipline system dead last in 2002, the state's disciplinary board collaborated with HALT, raised its budget by 25 percent, and increased its ranking to the fifth best lawyer discipline system in the nation. HALT hopes its Fee Arbitration Report Card will galvanize state bars and courts to take similar strides so that the fee arbitration system lives up to its promise of conveniently and effectively resolving everyday fee disputes between lawyers and clients.

"By allowing lawyers to refuse participation in the fee arbitration process, hiding information from the public, placing roadblocks in front of consumers, and stacking arbitration panels with attorneys, fee arbitration programs across the country are routinely failing to provide a much-needed service to American legal consumers," stated Blonder. "Until there is meaningful reform, the legal profession has only itself to blame for the public consensus that lawyer fees are out of control and going unregulated."

A copy of each state's 2007 Fee Arbitration Report Card, a national comparison, and other consumer resources are available at

For daily information about legal fees, bookmark Rich Stim's amazing blog "What Price Justice?".

November 16, 2007

You Can Fight Your Foreclosure and Win

On November 15, 2007, an article in the New York Times, written by Gretchen Morgenson, reported that an Ohio Federal District Court refused to approve of 14 foreclosures because the company filing the cases couldn't prove that they were the owners of the mortgage. Since the federal courts won't hear cases brought by parties that have no interest in the case, the court dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning the company seeking the foreclosures could take their case to state court.

Mortgages today: Often no papertrail. The reason the company bringing the case couldn't prove ownership arises out of how mortgages are treated these days. After the mortgagor (the borrower) signs the paperwork, the mortgage is frequently sold (assigned) over the computer to a wall street investment firm --which proceeds to divide the mortgage into different "packages" which are resold as "securitized debt" investments. All of these sales and resales occur electronically. As a result, there isn't any papertrail.

Mortgage servicers often cannot prove the right to foreclosure. When the time comes to foreclose on a property, the foreclosure is brought by a "servicing company" (for instance, Countrywide). In roughly 40% of foreclosures, the servicing company is unable to produce a paper trail that ties it to the original mortgage owner. And without an adequate paper trail, the servicing company cannot prove that it has a right to pursue the foreclosure.

What the judge said. In the district court case, the judge pointed out that foreclosures typically go unchallenged. Here are the judge's words (in footnote 3) in response to the argument that the foreclosures should be allowed to continue:

"Plaintiff's, 'Judge, you just don't understand how things work,' argument reveals a condescending mindset and quasi-monopolistic system where financial institutions have traditionally controlled and still control, the foreclosure process. Typically, the homeowner who finds himself/herself in financial straits, fails to make the required mortgage payments and faces a foreclosure suit, and is not interested in testing state or federal jurisdictional requirements, either pro se or through counsel."

Judicial foreclosures: Consider an "inadequate paperwork" challenge. In about half the states (mostly in the Eastern half of the U.S.), foreclosures must proceed through a state court (unlike this district court case, which is unusual). In those state court foreclosures (called "judicial foreclosures"), the homeowner should consider challenging the foreclosure on the basis of inadequate paperwork. Although challenges of this type will benefit from legal representation, it is also possible to assert your rights as a self-represented person and ask the judge to rule on the adequecy of the paperwork.

Non-judicial foreclosures: Tougher to challenge. In the other states--mostly in the West and including California -- foreclosures proceed outside of court ("non-judicial foreclosures"). In these cases, your only option for stopping the foreclosure is to proactively seek an injunction in state court. This typically involves filing a complaint, a motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction, and a temporary restraining order. This is difficult to do without a lawyer unless you can find the requisite forms online or in a law library, and you have the grit to take the law into your own jaw.

Whether you are dealing with a judicial (court) or non-judicial (outside of court) foreclosure, a good place to start if you plan to fight the foreclosure is Represent Yourself in Court, by Paul Bergman and Sara J. Berman-Barrett (Nolo).

November 14, 2007

HALT's Small Claims Court Best Practices

About the same time that Nolo got started in 1971, a couple of libertarians started a legal advocacy organization named Help Abolish Legal Tyranny, or HALT as it is now known. Thirty six years later, this organization continues its original mission of reigning in lawyers and expanding consumer access to the courts. This article about small claims court best practices is reprinted with permission from HALT. Other HALT articles will appear from time to time in this blog

HALT's Small Claims Court Best Practices

Designed to be used by ordinary people, small claims courts should be convenient, quick, accessible and affordable. The best of these courts are consumer friendly, use simplified procedures, require plain language (not legalese), and do not allow lawyers. HALT has identified a dozen best practices from around the country that can help small claims courts serve all of us better.

  • Increase small claims dollar limits, so that more minor disputes can be handled with simplified, inexpensive procedures.

  • Provide small claims mediation services to help people resolve their disputes without going to court at all.

  • Provide trained small claims advisors to guide people through the process.

  • Keep lawyers out of small claims court, so that it is a level playing field for all.

  • Keep collection agencies out of small claims, so these courts are not overwhelmed by institutional litigators but remain available to real people.

  • Limit the number of small claims cases one can file, so these courts are not monopolized and clogged by professional litigators.

  • Require actual service of legal papers to prevent default judgments when individuals don't even know they are being sued.

  • Provide simple legal forms and require plain English in the courtroom, so ordinary people can understand and use small claims procedures.

  • Establish weekend and evening Hours, so working people can use small claims courts.

  • Provide translation services for non-English speaking litigants, so all residents have access to small claims court.

  • Allow small claims judges to issue court orders in cases where money damages are not enough.

  • Establish streamlined small claims collection procedures that cut through the red tape and ensure prompt payment of judgments.

For more information about small claims best practices, pinpointing the benefits each practice has upon the system, and which states already serve their consumers better, visit And for more information about going to small claims court, read Nolo's excellent Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court, by Attorney Ralph Warner.