When litigants come to federal court without a lawyer, they are at a
disadvantage. Even if their case is strong, they can easily get lost in
a maze of procedural rules and arcane terminology. A single error can
doom their chances, long before a trial date is set.
In the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, that is changing. Since late
March, an innovative program has provided critical legal help to more
than 150 low-income pro se litigants, who file or must defend civil
lawsuits without a lawyer.
In Brooklyn, and in similar programs in a half-dozen federal courts,
clerk’s staff and judges refer pro se litigants to on-site centers,
where lawyers hired by bar associations and nonprofits assist with
strategizing, document drafting and procedural guidance, but do not
directly represent litigants in court. In most courts, pro se assistance
is given by clerk’s staff, who can answer technical and process
questions, but must not give legal advice.
“The goal of this program is to provide much needed legal assistance to
our pro se community,” said Chief Judge Carol B. Amon, Eastern District
of New York, at a recent ribbon-cutting. “Pro se cases represent a very
significant part of our docket. The program is showing early promise of