Over the last few years, several legal organizations in the state of Washington have carried out a plan to remove legalese from family law court forms. In fact, their “Plain Language Initiative” set out to translate more than 200 mandatory family law court forms into layman’s terms.
As a result, beginning July 1st, all divorce and custody forms in the state of Washington will no longer contain complex legal jargon.
The reason? Washington’s number of self-represented litigants is alarmingly high, especially in family law and divorce cases.
In Washington state alone, the Seattle Journal for Social Justice reported that 65% of family law litigants come to court without a lawyer. Another study found that 60% of family law cases in just one of Washington’s counties were handled pro se.
Many believe the removal of legalese from these court forms will reduce the number of errors in court filings, which may eventually reduce the number of hearings a case needs and provide clients with faster resolutions. Removing legalese can also reduce the time, stress, and costs for both the courts and those filing the lawsuits in the first place.
Like the state of Washington, simplifying the court process for those outside of the legal profession also lies at the heart of the mission of Illinois’s Access to Justice Commission.
Founded in 2012, one of the Commission’s central goals was to create standardized forms that provide clear-cut instructions for first-time court goers, taking legalese out of the equation.
According to Justice Mary K. Rochford, Chair of the Access to Justice Commission and Justice of Illinois the Appellate Court in the First District, the Access to Justice Commission has created many standardized forms that cover fifteen different areas of the law.
The Supreme Court’s Commission on Access to Justice, with the assistance of close to 100 volunteers from across the state, has been hard at work developing standardized court forms with instructions which are easy to use and comprehend. These forms are intended to increase access to justice for those without attorneys and improve the overall administration of justice, and we will continue to develop forms in areas of law where there is a high volume of self represented litigants.
As the number of self-represented litigants continues to grow, do you think more states will remove legalese from statewide court forms? Let us know what you think.