Pro se litigants are becoming increasingly common and while some self-represented parties do a pretty respectable job, others do not. Maybe they show up unprepared for their hearing. Or maybe their complaint is hand written. Perhaps they have ... unique views on admiralty law and the federal legal system.
But hey, what can you expect? These litigants don't have years of legal training and much of their legal know-how comes from a Google search -- if that. Thankfully, there's now a simple way for pro se parties to get prepped for court. An online video game developed by law professors at Northeastern University walks the self-represented through the basics of the courtroom -- helping them out long before they show up in their pajamas.
Thankfully, It's Not a First Person Shooter
Pro se litigants are becoming increasingly common in all parts of the justice system. We're not talking about jailhouse lawyers filing dozens of appeals, either. Individuals are representing themselves in personal injury suits, child custody disputes, foreclosure proceedings -- you name it.
There are three main trends driving the increase, according to Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood. First, lawyers are expensive and the cost of litigation is growing. Second, the availability of legal information online leads more people to take a "do-it-yourself" attitude towards the law. And finally, funding for low-cost legal services is declining, leaving some people with no other option but to represent themselves.
Whatever drives the pro se litigant to court, though, Northeastern University's NuLawLab wants to help them perform better. NuLawLab is an "interdisciplinary innovation laboratory" that seeks to "implement pioneering approaches to legal empowerment."
Like King's Quest, but for Small Contract Disputes
One of those approaches is RePresent, an online game for pro se litigants. RePresent uses gaming technology to give self-represented parties "some foundational advocacy experience before doing it for real." It's currently focused on Connecticut courts, but the game's lessons seem broadly applicable.
So, how's it play? If you were a fan of PC games circa 1994, RePresent will seem familiar. It has a flat, 2-D interface featuring the pro se party, "Mr. Player" and a decision tree that walks you through basic courtroom info and decisions. Where should you go to file paperwork? How do you introduce evidence? What should you call the judge? Etc. The better you prepare, the higher your confidence meter rises.
We don't expect it to be a bestseller (it's free) or ported to the Xbox anytime soon. But, it does seem to do a good job conveying the basics to those who've never been in a courtroom before.
If you want to check it out, or pass the info on to the next pro se party you encounter, you can try out RePresent here.