Access to Justice Challenges and Some Solutions in the Sooner State

The Access to Justice theme issue of the Oklahoma Bar Journal is out. If you are interested in Access to Justice, you will find some interesting reading here. Most features are of interest to everyone in the legal community and a few are Oklahoma specific.

Do you know of the work of your Access to Justice Commission? Almost every state has one. When the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission was formed, Oklahoma had been ranked 50th among the states in the Justice Index prepared by the National Center for Access to Justice. In The Work of the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission, by M. David Riggs, the first Chair of the Commission, outlined the Commission’s projects and the resulting improvement in our state’s rankings.

Using Online Dispute Resolution to Expand Access to Justice – The Online Multidoor Courthouse is an excellent treatment of a subject that is not familiar to many lawyers. The author Colin Rule is vice president for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. He has worked in the dispute resolution field for more than 25 years as a mediator, trainer and consultant. He previously was director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal. Did you know that British Columbia’s ODR system handled almost 14,000 small claims cases in its first seven months of operation, freeing up court resources for other tasks?

You will not find a more powerful example of how a relatively few lawyers and judges can make an impact on people’s lives than The Oklahoma County Courthouse Access Clinic. Sara Murphy Bondurant, volunteer director of the clinic, outlines the assistance provided in minor and adult guardianships and probates. At one point Oklahoma had more grandparents raising grandchildren than any other state, many without any financial assistance. As the school year begins, we should appreciate that because of this project, many school children will not be forced to miss extracurricular activities because no one is legally authorized and available to execute a permission slip.

My contribution to this issue included Tips on Delivering Limited Scope Legal Services. With our court rule change now providing clear guidance, this is an area where lawyers can better assist pro se litigants.  As a law practice management advisor, I am convinced that for solo and small firm lawyers, particularly in rural areas, this will be a growing area of service delivery. These services may not be the highest profit center in a law practice, but they also allow the lawyer to introduce himself or herself to clients who may return for other services later. While some legal matters drag on for a long time, these files will generally be short term. And the automation tools we see emerging will often apply well in these matters. My department, the OBA Management Assistance Program provides an Oklahoma Limited Scope Legal Services Resources page with downloadable sample forms and other resources.  (As always, lawyers should do their own research before relying on any sample form.)

The Crushing Reality of Why We Need Plain Language Pro Se Court Forms was authored by Elizabeth Govig, a recent University of Tulsa College of Law graduate who just completed taking the Oklahoma Bar Examination. During her time in law school she was involved with the Community Advocacy Clinic where she focused on addressing civil access to justice issues and conducted significant research on this subject. Many courts are examining whether the traditional verbiage required in many legal documents filed in court could be simplified and improved.

A Quick Guide to Oklahoma’s Certified Courtroom Interpreters Program was written by Debra Charles, who is General Counsel for the Administrative Office of the Courts and also directs the Supreme Court’s Language Access/Certified Courtroom Interpreter Program. I recall uncomfortable moments when I was in private practice and had to rely on an untrained interpreter in an interview. It often seemed like the individual said a lot more than I heard from the interpreter. This feature also provides valuable tips for attorneys working with interpreters. Oklahoma’s certified interpreters are also available for lawyers to hire as freelancers for work outside of the courtroom.

Addressing the Court Reporter Crisis in Oklahoma is a story that some may want to share with a friend or relative in Oklahoma looking for a new career. Written by Debra Charles and Shelley Phillips, a court reporter for the Payne County District Court for more than 30 years, notes the large number of court reporters nearing retirement age as one factor causing the crisis, along with neighboring states offering higher pay. But the good news is more training locations are now available in Oklahoma and recent legislation has increased the compensation for Oklahoma’s official district court reporters this year.

A lot has been written and discussed about access to justice challenges nationwide.  As the broad range of topics in this bar journal issue demonstrates, there are a wide variety of challenges and a number of different areas where improvements are being made and should be made.


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Author: Jim Calloway

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