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Giving legal advice how to give legal information without.

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Presentation on theme: "Giving legal advice how to give legal information without."— Presentation transcript:

1 giving legal advice how to give legal information without

2 “We cannot give legal advice.”

3 This session will help judges and court personnel:  Learn the difference between legal information and legal advice  Learn ways to interact with pro se litigants  Find helpful resources

4 The Pro Se Challenge Pro Se litigants can:  Slow down the process  Place unfair burden on courts and staff  Create ethical problems

5 Why can’t judges, clerks, and court personnel give legal advice?

6 Ethical Obligations Remain neutral and impartial

7 Ethical Obligations Canon 3B(5): “A judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice.”

8 Unauthorized Practice of Law Only attorneys licensed by Supreme Court of Texas may give legal advice (§81.101, Tex. Gov’t Code)

9 What happens with a vague standard?  Less information  Inconsistent practices  Unequal treatment

10 What is legal advice?  Interprets law, rules or procedure  Recommends a specific course of action  Applies the law to specific facts

11 What is legal information? Facts about the law and the legal process

12 How can I tell if a question is calling for legal advice? Legal advice Legal information

13 Facts (Information) “Who” “What” “When” “Where” “How” Opinion (Advice) “Should” “Whether”

14 You may:  Provide information and explanation about court process  Recite common laws, rules and procedures  Explain terms used in court process  Give options as to all pleadings that are appropriate at a certain stage

15 You may (cont’d):  Answer questions about deadlines  Act as a “scribe” by writing on forms only a verbatim transcription of litigant’s words (e.g., blind or disabled litigant)  Refer court users to law library or  Review court file and pleadings for completeness and tell litigant what is missing

16 You may NOT:  Recommend a specific pleading to file  Recommend wording for a pleading or form  Recommend claims, parties, damages, or arguments

17 You may NOT (cont’d):  Recommend evidence or objections  Recommend whether to ask for a continuance  Recommend whether parties should try to settle

18 You may NOT (cont’d):  Interpret application of statutes  Perform legal research for a party  Predict the outcome

19 What can you provide? Yes Provide information and explanations about court procedures No Recommend next steps

20 Can you tell me how to file a small claims action? Question

21 Fill out a sworn small claims affidavit and file it with the clerk’s office. The clerk will issue a case number and paperwork called the citation. Tell the clerk where the… Answer

22 … person you are suing can be found because they must be served before the court can grant you relief. The small claims form is on the court’s website.

23 The laundry I sued sent the judge a paper about my lawsuit. I want to tell the judge how they’re wrong. How do I do that? Question

24 I can’t tell you what would be best for your situation, but you have two options. You can talk to the judge at the hearing or put the information in writing, file it in the clerk’s office, and give a copy to the laundry. Answer

25 What can you provide? Yes Cite statutes, court rules and ordinances No Research statutes, court rules and ordinances

26 I want a jury for my case. What should I do? Question

27 Under Rule 544 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, you have to ask for a jury and pay a jury fee of $5.00. Answer

28 What are the laws on eviction? Question

29 I can’t perform legal research for you. You can contact an attorney or do the research yourself. If you want to do the research yourself, check out and go to the Housing section. You will find information on eviction there. Answer

30 What can you provide? Yes General information about court operations No Restricted or confidential information about court operations

31 I need to talk to the judge. Where is his office? Question

32 The judge only talks with all parties to a case at the same time. I can help you schedule a hearing with the judge so both sides can be present. He has court on Monday through Thursday. Answer

33 What can you provide? Yes Explanation of legal terms No Analysis or interpretation of legal terms based on facts of case

34 My neighbors leave their kids at home all day without supervision. Isn’t that neglect? Question

35 I’m not an attorney or a judge and can’t make that legal determination. However, I can refer you to Child Protective Services. If you’re concerned that the children are in danger, contact law enforcement. Answer

36 What is “service of citation”? Question

37 “Service of citation” means giving the other party legal notice that you have filed a case in court. It is not enough to tell them about the case. You must follow the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure in giving notice. Answer

38 What can you provide? Yes Give options as to all pleadings that are appropriate at a certain stage No Recommend a specific pleading to file

39 I just got served with a case filed by my landlord. What should I do? Question

40 You have three options, you can file an answer, you can try to work out an agreement with your landlord, or you can do nothing. Answer

41 What can you provide? Yes Forms and instruction kits and verbatim transcription of litigant’s words No Recommend what information should be put on the forms

42 I loaned a friend some money, and he won’t pay me back. How do I sue him? Question

43 The Texas Law Help website has forms and instructions for small claims lawsuits. Go to and click on “Consumer” and then “Small Claims Court.” Answer

44 My friend won’t pay back a loan, and I’m going to sue. He hasn’t paid back another loan from 2 years ago. Can I add that one to the amount I put on the form? Question

45 I can’t help you decide what to put on the form. You can ask an attorney or visit a legal clinic. Information about legal clinics is on the court’s website. If you have access to a computer, you can use Live Chat on the Texas Law Help website. Answer

46 What can you provide? Yes General referrals No Subjective or biased referrals

47 I asked my landlord to make some repairs, and now he’s trying to evict me. Do you have an attorney you can recommend? Question

48 I can’t recommend a specific attorney. I can give you the numbers for the local lawyer referral service and the State Bar. When you call, be sure to tell them you need an attorney specializing in Landlord-Tenant Law. Answer

49 Ex Parte Communications Judges and court personnel must avoid ex parte communications.

50 Ethical Obligations Canon 3B(8): “…A judge shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications or other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties …”

51 Ex Parte Communications What is it? When only one party appears before or communicates with a judge.

52 Ex Parte Communications What if…? A party asks the clerk to give a paper to the judge A party asks to talk to the judge A party says they have an emergency

53 Strategies  Listen closely and ask questions  Be patient  Explain answers  Give reasons  Give a good referral

54 Resources (forms and instructions) (lawyer referral service) (best practices, etc.)

55 Resources

56 More Resources (OCA’s website) (Access to Justice Commission’s website) (State Law Library)

57 Questions? Contact Katie Bond Office of Court Administration (512) Kristen Levins Texas Access to Justice Commission (512)


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