Self Help: You’ve Come a Long Way!
The Family Law Facilitator often comes to mind when one hears the words “Self Help.” But self-help services have expanded considerably since the first family law facilitator was hired in the late 1990s. No service or operations area is growing faster within California’s trial courts than are self-help services. All of the trial courts recently received a three-year increase in self-help grant funding in order to expand assistance with civil law matters and language access.
Contra Costa Superior Court has used this funding to assemble a Civil self-help team to work alongside the Family Law Facilitators and our Small Claims-Probate Facilitator. Though these new self-help team members spend some of their time working with family law litigants, they primarily assist self-represented litigants navigating unlawful detainers, civil harassment restraining orders, and name and/or gender changes. Contra Costa is also adding a Limited Conservatorship Workshop and piloting the use of online tools created by the Judicial Council’s Self Help Unit. Our most recently added Civil self-help services include weekly brief information and referral services and drop-in clinics for unlawful detainers at the Richmond, Martinez and Pittsburg Courthouses. These services are particularly needed due to recent decreases in unlawful detainer assistance provided by other organizations in the county. There are also civil harassment and name/gender change services currently available with enforcement of judgment and Unlawful Detainer Complaint workshops on the horizon.
Online services also continue to grow. Our court established the Virtual Self-Help Law Center (VSHLC) in the early 2000s. Each month thousands of users visit this website that provides not only plain language legal information but also step-by-step instructions and instructional videos on how to complete court forms. Our court’s self-help website was the first in the state and is still considered one of the best. A number of courts including Mendocino, Tulare, Yolo, and Solano, link customers searching for online self-help services to our court’s self-help website. The Judicial Council and numerous courts feature our form completion instructional videos on their websites. Self-help digital tools developed here in Contra Costa are now standard among California’s trial courts.
If you have never visited the VSHLC or it’s been a while, please take a look. The more you are familiar with the site, the more readily you can refer court customers who are not represented or who are transitioning to self-representation. When litigants access the court’s website and online self-help services before coming into the courthouse to receive live self-help services, their visit will almost always be significantly shorter and significantly more productive. The site is located at: http://www.cc-courthelp.org/. The instructional videos can be found at http://cc-courthelp.org/videoroom.aspx.
The court will continue to increase the use of technology to deliver self-help services. Last year the court began its first use of online appointment scheduling for the “Start Your Divorce Reviews.” This appointment feature allows litigants to reserve a spot for an attorney-assisted review in order to arrive at the courthouse knowing they will be seen without delay. The court anticipates expanding the use of online scheduled appointments into other areas.
Due to the court’s rapidly growing self-help services and new expectations attached to our increased grant funding, the self-help team is routinely adding to and adjusting service hours and workshop schedules. It is important to check our court’s website before directing a court customer to self-help services. To see current live self-help services schedules, please visit http://www.cc-courts.org/self-help/welcome.aspx.