Journal of Law and Family Studies, Vol 14, No 2 (2012)

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DIY IN FAMILY LAW: A CASE STUDY OF A BRIEF ADVICE CLINIC FOR PRO SE LITIGANTS

Linda F. Smith, Barry Stratford

Abstract


Who are the individuals who utilize brief advice clinics? Are they the middle-income educated who take pride in self-advocacy? The moderate-income who, in this age of increasing income inequality, pinch pennies by not hiring private counsel? Or the very poor who do not have access to free legal services after these services have been slashed? And whatever the demographics of the clinic clients, how well does the brief advice clinic meet their needs? This case study of a free brief advice clinic in Salt Lake City, Utah answers these questions and more. What emerges is a portrait of very low-income individuals trying to handle complex, often contested cases on their own. Though highly grateful for the free clinic in the exit interviews, their frustrations rise as the referrals to legal aid prove unhelpful and the challenge of drafting their own court documents proves more substantial than they and their advisers had imagined. This study highlights honorable efforts by volunteer law students and expert family lawyers, but identifies gaps and weaknesses in the public’s access to justice.


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