More than 4 million litigants in California don’t have an attorney, including 90% of tenants in eviction cases. At least one of the parties in 75% of civil cases and 90% of family law cases don’t have an attorney either.

To help address this critical access to justice issue, courts use self-help centers to reach out to unrepresented litigants and help them navigate the legal system. Self-help center staff do not give legal advice or strategy, but rather they provide help with forms, procedures, and legal information to help people make informed decisions about their cases.

And offering these self-help services remotely increases the courts’ reach and the number of people they can help.

SHARP Program Reaches out Via Videoconference
SHARP (Self Help Assistance and Referral Program) is a self-help center that provides assistance in the areas of family law, guardianships, evictions, small claims, name changes, and restraining orders. Started as a pilot program in 2005, the service currently has 4 locations in 3 counties (Butte, Lake, and Tehama) and helps more than 30,000 people each year.

Quotes from SHARP customers:

“[SHARP] showed me how to stand up for myself in a legal and respectable manner.”

“The knowledge shared with me was directly responsible for my success during trial.”

“[SHARP] directly reduces the emotional and financial burden of legal proceedings for individuals, their families and the community.”

One of the program’s most successful remote services is the self-help classes it offers via videoconference three times per week. With the potential to seat 10 participants at each of its locations, one class can reach 40 people at a time. If needed and available, the centers can also provide interpreters for class participants who don’t speak English and otherwise wouldn’t be able to follow the presentation.

In addition to its video classes, the SHARP program uses other methods to reach its users remotely, such as allowing users to ask questions via e-mail and phone. 

To find out what self-help services are available for courts in your county, visit the Find My Court page on the California Courts website.