A procedure for utilizing a powerful program in the Florida court systems statewide e-filing portal for providing do-it-yourself legal forms for pro se litigants has been approved by the Supreme Court.
The court’s action sets the path for getting the forms — sometimes referred to as document assembly packages — online but it will likely be a while before the first packages are available.
The court recently reviewed recommendations from the Florida Courts Technology Commission about how DIY interviews would be posted on the portal using its Access to Justice, or A2J, software. Work is ongoing regarding questions and forms for landlord/tenant evictions, small claims court for money lent, and marriage dissolution with no minor children or property.
The FCTC, which oversees technology issues for the court system, the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers, the Supreme Court Judicial Management Council, the court’s Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court, some relevant Bar rules committees, and the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which manages the portal, have been involved in the A2J/DIY program. That process takes users through a step-by-step “TurboTax” series of questions that assembles a finished form ready for filing through the portal or printing and filing at the local clerk’s office.
The FCTC had made three recommendations to the court: putting complaint forms for landlord/tenant evictions online as soon as possible, having the FCTC recommend to the court when new DIY questions and forms are ready, and setting a 60-day comment period on the portal’s test site when new forms and questions are ready for review.
The court in a February action set out a detailed process for approving DIY questions and forms, including setting a 90-day review time, according to Blan Teagle, deputy state courts administrator.
Among those decisions was not to make the eviction complaint form available online until there is also a form for tenants to use to respond to an eviction notice. Likewise, the small claims questions and forms won’t go online until response questions and forms are ready — a process that is likely to take several months.
Teagle said the court created a 12-step processes for getting the landlord/tenant and small claims questions and forms drafted, reviewed, and approved. That will be used for other future non-family case types. For the family law forms, the court set a 14-step process.
While the complaint forms for landlord/tenant and small claims are mostly completed, the response forms are still early in the process and all the interview questions will require the 90-day review, Teagle said. The dissolution forms are about halfway through their 14-step process with the finishing touches being put on the interview questions for the A2J. After some more review and refinement, those questions will go online for the 90-day review.
One key question addressed by the court, he said, is whether the DIY process can only use forms already approved by the Supreme Court for use by non-lawyers. The court decided that the DIY system would not be limited to those forms.
“Case types that lend themselves to the DIY process might be the same kind of cases for which pre-approved forms already exist, but they might not,” Teagle said.
The court’s action settles some uncertainty about when DIY questions and forms will be posted. Some members of the FCTC and the FCCC had advocated making the eviction and the small claims forms available fairly soon. But the court’s action means those won’t “go live” until response forms are ready; all the questions go through the 90-day online review and are recommended to the court by the FCTC.
This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2016 edition of The Florida Bar News