In most (some would say all) cases, couples calling it quits benefit from legal representation. But legal representation can be pricey, so the Texas Supreme Court is considering fill-in-the-blank legal forms people can use in divorce cases instead of hiring lawyers.
Texas divorce lawyers, naturally, are opposed to the plan.
The WSJ’s Nathan Koppel reports that the fight is part of a larger trend around the country of people trying to represent themselves when they go to court to dissolve their marriages. While no comprehensive figures exist, surveys in some states and Texas counties indicate that a majority of parties in divorce cases do so, which can cause problems for the couples as well as the courts.
Thirty-six states already offer self-help forms for divorce filings, according to Koppel. The Texas Supreme Court last month finished drafts of its versions.
Unsurprisingly, lawyers are opposed to this change, citing the predictable answer that people need lawyers, or else they’ll mess up:
Divorce forms are already available in libraries, bookstores and on the Internet, but proponents of the Texas measure, including several state judges, say people often use the incorrect ones.
Judge Judy Parker of Lubbock County told Koppel that self-represented couples need good fill-in-the-blank forms. Otherwise, she said, they can contribute to case backlogs since they tend to need much hand-holding.
The State Bar of Texas has asked the court to suspend its initiative, citing insufficient data.
Thomas Ausley, chairman of State Bar of Texas family-law section, pointed out that one of the proposed Texas forms asks people whether they want to waive legal rights without adequately informing them what such a waiver might entail. “People need legal advice,” he said.
Robert Black, the president of the bar association, said such forms are of no use if filled out incorrectly. “The client and the system are far better served by having a lawyer,” he said.
But what if a computer program–much more sophisticated than stupid fill-in-the-blank forms, could obviate a large percentage of errors that pro se people make (say 99%), wouldn’t that be a good thing? I mean, damn, can lawyers get things 99% right?
So part of me wants to say, this is bad! My (future) students may want to go into family law, and if this law goes through, they will have less work. But the (stronger) part of me says, if these jobs will not be there, my (future) students should be cognizant in the change in the legal profession, and act accordingly.