Oregon Simplifies Court Processes for Self-Represented Litigants
May 09, 2019 by
The Oregon Judicial Department is among the many court systems experiencing escalating numbers of cases with self-represented litigants (SRLs). Not only can self-represented individuals or groups have difficulty completing paper packets and navigating complex court processes, filings without attorney assistance can come to the court with incomplete, or erroneous documents. This delays justice for all involved.
Meeting Litigants Where They Are
To help SRLs get through the court process easily and accurately, Oregon transitioned to online filing based on existing paper form packets. “We chose to start with simpler forms and filings, launching small claims and eviction forms first to introduce the process to courts and users,” explained James Conlin, Oregon’s deputy CIO. “Once those had been well-integrated, we moved into the more complex and high-demand family law filings.” A subject matter group helped prioritize forms and informed the process. “If that’s where the self-represented litigants are, and that’s the piece they need, then it’s worth making the big lift,” Holly Rudolph, judicial forms manager, noted.
Users adopted the Guide and File™ forms so quickly that Oregon became first in the country in percentage of SRL form completions among courts that use the Odyssey Product. Effective communication with courts across the state, including highly-visible information on websites, and posters and pamphlets in courthouses and law libraries, was key in cultivating resident trust and participation.
Benefits for Courts and Residents
The new forms streamlined processes, particularly in high-volume family court. “Forms are coming to the courts in an easily readable format and complete, and filers seem to have a better understanding of their case processes,” Conlin said. “We’ve also seen significant use of e-filing, which is a major metric for the success of the project from our perspective.”
The ability to complete and store documents online is particularly important, for example, for restraining order applicants. “It puts the survivor at risk to be walking around with a half-completed restraining order or even a fully completed restraining order they haven't filed yet,” Rudolph explained. “Moving information onto a secure cloud puts it online for the person to access and file with the court safely. ”
With access to forms and assistance in one place, residents are also benefitting from the same information wherever and whenever they file. “It lets us be consistently responsive to everyone who needs to access the courts.” Rudolph noted.
One of the biggest benefits of the new forms for the state is their flexibility. “The Guide and File forms give us more control over the way the information is presented to users,” Rudolph said. “The forms give us more capacity to make changes quickly in response to new legislation, user feedback, and other inﬂuences.”
Judicial Forms Manager Holly Rudolph accepts a Tyler Excellence Award for innovation.
A welcome, yet unexpected result of the new forms is their wide use by “professional filers” such as attorneys, property managers, and debt collectors. When self-represented litigants and professional filers both use the same forms, we feel like we really have found a useful tool for everyone.’
Access to Justice
Perhaps most important, Oregon’s innovation has expanded access to justice. Rudolph said. “Access to justice is really a foundational principle in what we do.”