Millions of Californians go to court each year to fight evictions, gain custody of their children, or seek divorces—without the help of an attorney.

Facing growing numbers of civil and family law litigants representing themselves, courts are expanding services offered through “self-help” centers. Attorneys and other court staff in these centers do not give legal advice, but can help litigants stay on track with their cases by helping fill out forms, hosting in-person workshops, and providing referrals to other services, such as mediation.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget would give a significant boost to these services, more than doubling the amount of funding from $11 million to $30 million this upcoming fiscal year.

The budget increase, along with funding from other sources, would allow courts to increase the number of Californians they serve from 1.2 million to nearly 2 million each year, according to the Judicial Council.

"More and more Californians each year are coming to court in civil cases without legal help, so it's become essential for courts to help litigants navigate the process," said Martin Hoshino, the Judicial Council's administrative director. "The Governor's proposed budget will go a long way toward meeting our goal of having robust civil self-help services in every California courthouse."

Court Staff Talk About the Growing Numbers Seeking Help
In this audio story, first published in 2017, you will hear firsthand from those on the front lines of self-help centers across the state—including Sasha Morgan, an attorney who manages Santa Cruz Superior Court's self-help center.

“Middle America can’t afford an attorney,” Morgan said. “You never know who is going to walk in your door—and it’s everyone.”


Music in audio story: "Path of No Return," "Lonesome Desperate," and "Flying Winter Birds" by Lobo Loco.