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Bar News - September 19, 2008

Attorney Volunteers Sought for Strafford Courthouse

What began as the courtsí help-desk effort has grown into service centers that not only take telephone calls and answer questions from walk-ins, but help pro se litigants get organized before they go to court. Says Kearston Crutchfield, case manager at the service center at Strafford County Superior Court: "We try to send the client in the right direction by finding out the basics, such as what kind of case he or she is pursuing. Most donít really know until they get some guidance."

The majority of both calls and walk-ins, Crutchfield says, are people going to court as pro se litigants. The service centers provide public access computers so that clients can print the necessary forms; they can then fill them out themselves or staff at the center will help them fill out the forms.

However, says Crutchfield, there is a real need for volunteer attorneys to answer legal questions for pre-screened pro se litigants preparing for court appearances. The following is an outline prepared by Crutchfield telling how attorneys can assist:

THE IDEA: To provide a licensed attorney to answer legal questions of pre-screened pro se litigants who are actively navigating their way through the court system.

THE NEED: Pro Se cases in Strafford County are increasing and, in a recent report by the Citizenís Commission, these pro se litigants may need up to 30 to 45 minutes of assistance per visit to the courthouse. In New Hampshire, residents who try cases without lawyers account for 48% of the civil cases in Superior Court alone. While hiring an attorney to represent them would be desirable, the majority of these people cannot afford to do so. The Superior Court has opened a service center to address this rising need. However, the case managers who work in the service centers are not attorneys. They are only able to help people to a certain point. Many pro se litigants are willing and able to do the bulk of the work and research their cases requires. What they are searching for is someone to ask questions of or look over paperwork.

THE CATCH: We need your help and some of your time to make this program work.

THE TIME: One hour per month, at your convenience. Additional time welcome!

HOW THE PROGRAM WOULD WORK: You pick the time per month you could make yourself available and the types of cases you would be willing to work with. The case manager (CM) at the court will set a schedule around you. The CM will pre-screen all pro se litigants. If the CM has someone who fits your case type, he/she will leave with the CM any questions or the general information they are looking for. The CM will schedule appointments at 15 minute intervals and will forward the information and appointment time to you by e-mail prior to your volunteer time. Note: If you would prefer to answer questions by telephone rather than meeting with pro se litigants at the courthouse, that is also a workable option.

THE BONUS: Because this service falls under Rule 6.1 and the people being seen will be screened using the income qualifications of the NH Barís Pro Bono Program, any time you volunteer to this program is time you can apply toward your annual pro bono commitment.

QUESTIONS AND TO OFFER AN HOUR: If you are interested in volunteering your time or you have further questions, I would be happy to discuss this program with you any time Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. Ė 4:30 p.m. My number is 742-3065 x 349. You may also e-mail me or e-mail Clerk of Court Julie W. Howard.

The October issue of Bar News will carry an updated article about the various court service centers around the state.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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