Prior to Legal Aid of Nebraska's Access to Justice Automated Forms Project, no automated forms were available for non-lawyers in the state. Pro se litigants could only hand-write forms, “borrow” from unauthorized form providers, or try to get help from other agencies. This made navigating the justice system particularly difficult for low-income Nebraskans who were unable to find a lawyer.
To address this challenge, Legal Aid of Nebraska partnered with the Nebraska Supreme Court Pro Se Implementation Committee to develop innovative, effective and efficient automated legal documents. The project team took existing form pleadings and automated them using HotDocs; it then applied the Access to Justice Author (A2J Author) guided interface to ensure that the form completion process was interactive and easy for the user. All forms are hosted on LawHelp Interactive, the legal aid community's national automated forms server.
The end result was impressive. Nebraska now offers full sets of automated forms in major areas of civil litigation impacting low income individuals. According to the program’s Final Report, the project’s impact was evident almost immediately after its launch:
In the first few weeks of availability, the forms were accessed nearly 1,500 times. Court personnel, including judges, have reported that the forms are being used and are serving to effectively facilitate the cases of pro se litigants. As a results, we have been told that the average processing time of a case for a pro se litigant has been reduced by 50%. Less people are being delayed because their pleading are incomplete or indecipherable. More people are getting access to justice.
Nebraska was able to produce an impressive collection of forms with a very modest TIG investment ($29,100). In doing so, it raised the bar for cost-effective automated form projects across the country.