This article relates the experience of law students from The Catholic University of America providing assistance in the Small Claims Resource Center during the past eight years. During this time, the District of Columbia Bar Pro Bono Program has played a pivotal role in the development and the ongoing success of court-annexed resource centers in the District of Columbia. They have recruited law firms and legal services providers (including law school clinics) to staff the resource centers, sought changes in the rules of professional responsibility, and developed intake forms and model pleadings. Their steady oversight, provided by knowledgeable and resourceful staff, sustains the project. However, even with a solid infrastructure in place, volunteers will confront challenges in court-annexed resource centers.
This article offers some guidance on those issues. It starts with a description of how the Small Claims Court operates and how customers access the Small Claims Resource Center. It describes some typical cases and the training that students receive to handle them. The article then explores some of the rules of professional responsibility that govern court-annexed resource centers and concludes with a discussion of three of the most challenging issues that volunteers face: the scope of help that can be provided, customer service, and dealing with questionable claims. These issues should be considered carefully when starting a courtannexed resource center.
Faith Mullen, Narrowing the Gap Between Rights and Resources: Finding a Role for Law Students in Court-Annexed Resource Center, 16 J.L. SOC’Y 31 (2014).