NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Americans Shunning Lawyers

January 22, 1999

Americans are increasingly representing themselves in courts. While the venue may be a small claims court or a federal tax court, mostly they are showing up without counsel in family courts.

  • In California, 67 percent of all domestic-relations cases involve at least one party without a lawyer.
  • In Maricopa County, Ariz., the percentage for domestic cases is 88 percent.
  • In Florida, 60 percent of domestic cases begin with at least one party arguing on his or her own behalf.
  • Experts put the nationwide figure at about 80 percent.

The middle class is especially prone to do its own pleading, say observers. Poor people have free legal aid available to them, and wealthy people can afford to hire lawyers.

Judges have observed that the trend may be due to the proliferation of courtroom shows on television. But people acting on their own behalf often fail to supply the right forms and file the correct documents -- as well as being ignorant of legal procedures. Judges complain that persons without counsel often waste their time and clog dockets.

To break the logjam, courts from California to New Jersey are trying to make it easier for the unskilled by providing instructions about legal procedures and do-it-yourself forms for everything from divorces to adoptions.

Sources: Laura Parker and Gary Fields, "Do-It-Yourself Law Hits Courts," USA Today, January 22, 1999.


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