Easy-to-Understand Court Orders Improve Outcomes and Save Money

An evaluation of a test project in Texas and California has shown that plain language court forms can save money in court costs and increase protections for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, particularly among low-income and Spanish-dominant individuals.

The evaluation, done by NPC Research, reviewed pilot projects in Travis County, Texas and Sonoma County, California and found that the use of easy-to-understand legal documents reduces the number of no-shows at important court hearings and contempt filings in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. In Texas, this resulted in an estimated savings of $4,600 per case and saved both court and county resources.

“No one should have their security and safety threatened because complex court orders are difficult to understand. The innovations driven by this project are proven to help protect the most vulnerable.” said David Hall, Executive Director at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), one of the leaders of the project.

For victims of violent crime, going to court without an attorney and navigating the justice system can be daunting. Court documents can be difficult to understand for native English speakers, but for those with low English language literacy and Limited-English Proficient (LEP) litigants, the roadblocks intensify.

In 2010, partners at nine different legal service agencies and non-profit organizations began a pilot project to produce plain language court order packages in both English and Spanish. Led by Pro Bono Net/LawHelp Interactive and TRLA, the project provided low-income and limited-English court litigants in Travis County, Texas and Sonoma County, California – both counties with significant Spanish-speaking populations – with court orders that were easy to understand and follow, thereby providing victims and their families with a better level of protection. The forms were used in courthouses and by victims’ advocates.

The partners involved in the project were Pro Bono Net/LHI, TRLA, the Travis County Law Library, the Travis County Attorney’s Office, Sonoma County court staff, Transcend, and the Self Represented Litigants Network forms group. Funding was provided by a Technology Innovation Grant from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). Documents were automated for use in courts through Law Help Interactive, (LHI), an award-winning national online document assembly platform.

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