For The Record

To put it simply, court forms can be complicated. That was one of the problems identified in surveys of clerks and judges by the Self-Represented Litigant Committee of the Virginia Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission.

“They’re standardized, free on the internet, and have detailed instructions,” said Roger Skalbeck, Richmond Law associate dean of library and information services and a member of the committee. “But the process is bad, and people make mistakes.”

The committee investigated how it could make the processes surrounding such issues as landlord-tenant matters or name change petitions — areas Skalbeck called “high-volume, low-complexity” — more intuitive. Now, Richmond Law students are the first in Virginia to get involved in the solution.

A grant from the Legal Services Corporation to the Southwest Virginia Legal Aid Society — with subgrants to the Virginia Poverty Law Center — supports work to automate the statewide court forms. Richmond Law students are developing these tools, guided by experts on the technology and the underlying legal procedures.

“One of the reasons why I chose to study law is because I know there are so many people that need legal help, and they don’t have enough money to pay a lawyer,” said Jingyuan Zhang, L’20.

Richmond Law students have gotten involved in the testing stage of the program, working on issues such as the in forma pauperis — a form for low-income individuals looking for a waiver on filing fees.

“It’s pretty rewarding to do this pioneering work that pretty much no one in Virginia has done before and to know that it’s going to be used probably quite widely once it’s done,” said Andrea DeMott, a visiting student.