Date of this Version
Court Review, Volume 51, Issue 2 (2015)
Access to justice is an important issue for the Missouri judiciary as it is for many other states. The issue fostered several recent national initiatives,1 including a 2010 Department of Justice Access to Justice Initiative.2 Part of the agenda for that initiative involves identifying ways to ensure fair and just outcomes for all parties to a case. Some observers of the judicial system have expressed concern that self-represented litigants may not experience fair and just outcomes. As part of Missouri’s own access-to-justice initiatives, this study was undertaken to understand how self-representation impacts outcomes in civil cases.
About half the cases filed in any given year in circuit (general jurisdiction) courts involve civil matters. To access the courts for resolution of problems with a legal nature, citizens generally need adequate financial resources to pay for legal representation and court costs. The financial crisis of 2007 to 2008 and the ensuing economic downturn created new groups of individuals facing difficult circumstances and reinforced the vulnerabilities of some groups who historically lived in impoverished conditions.3 The challenge for the courts in these times has been to provide access to justice when citizens have inadequate financial resources or, for other reasons, a lack of the legal resources needed to resolve their problems in court.