Judge Kimberly S. Dowling | Delaware Circuit Court 2
In 2021, the Indiana Supreme Court created the Civil Litigation Taskforce as part of the Indiana Innovation Initiative. The Taskforce includes attorneys and judges from around the state and is chaired by attorney Steven Badger of Barnes and Thornburg. The Court directed the Taskforce to focus on improving civil litigation procedures and case management. Subcommittees of the Taskforce include Service of Process, Discovery, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Case Management, and Self-Represented Litigants.
The Taskforce has already met and worked with experts from the National Center for State Courts, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, Indiana judiciary and bar, and others to consider the best course of action for Indiana.
In 2017, the Coalition for Court Access partnered with Indiana University to conduct a statewide legal needs study. Their study found that, over a one-year period, approximately 1.2 million Hoosiers lived in households with family incomes 125% below the federal poverty line and 80% of those families experienced at least one legal problem during that year. Their most common legal problems included consumer and finance issues, employment, and family law matters. The study also found only one in four of those families sought an attorney for help.
In response to those findings, the self-represented litigants subcommittee is considering the following recommendations.
Recommend funding for each Indiana county to have a self-help center. These centers would provide litigants with access to forms (including links to indianalegalhelp.org), a multitude of resources on self-representation, access to devices for use in remote hearings, and access to attorneys working in the centers to facilitate completion of forms.
Online Dispute Resolution
Online Dispute Resolution can provide a way for litigants to communicate with each other from the outset of cases. Parties can work together to try to reach agreement on some or all of the issues. ODR can be used with or without a mediator. The Office of Judicial Administration is preparing to launch pilot ODR programs for small claims cases in several Indiana counties.
Virtual Court Navigator Service
This system would provide litigants with basic information about the location of the courthouse, how to file legal papers, documents that might be necessary for a hearing, and generally how to navigate the legal system. By providing litigants with the necessary information to navigate the system, we hope they believe they have full access to their courts and feel confident when stepping into a courthouse.
Limited Scope Representation
Recommended changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct and Rules of Procedure to advance limited scope representation. Referred to as “unbundling of legal services,” this would permit attorneys to expand their representation of parties who seek only limited counsel and permit litigants to obtain specific help in needed areas that fit their limited budgets. Litigants may have the funds to pay for part, but not all, of their case. Updating Indiana’s rules can assist attorneys, litigants, and the courts with these challenges.
The work of the Civil Litigation Taskforce and subcommittees remains ongoing. The Taskforce invites new ideas through a feedback survey (see below). A final report is due to the Indiana Supreme Court by the end of 2021. Change can be intimidating, but the Taskforce’s goal is to create and embrace the change necessary to meet the needs of the civil court system, attorneys, and litigants.