Small Claims Court Clinics Launched
Designed to assist people who have filed, who are considering filing, or who are defending small claims actions, the new clinics—which are free of charge—debuted in January 2011 and reside on the Southwestern Law School campus on the second Thursday of each month.
The clinics begin with a PowerPoint presentation from 6 to 7 p.m. Led by attorneys from Greenberg Glusker, the discussion also includes alternative means to resolving issues, with an overview of mediation and the services that the Center for Civic Mediation provides. After the presentation, participants interested in mediation can meet with the Center’s representative to perform an intake.
Participants who wish to pursue or defend against a small claims action meet one-on-one with trained law students from Southwestern Law School from 7 to 9 p.m. The students answer participants’ questions and provide additional assistance, such as drafting the complaint and fee waiver forms, or identifying the proper defendant in their specific case, and discussing how best to accomplish service of process. Attorneys from Selman Breitman and Locke Lord supervise the law students and also meet with participants during the consultations. Participants receive a disclosure, both orally and in writing, explaining that the clinic provides information only, not specific legal advice on their case, and that no attorney-client relationship is being formed.
Typically, attendees are litigants who have already filed a small claims action or are contemplating doing so. The types of claims they have vary greatly, including unpaid security deposit refunds and other landlord/tenant issues, consumer disputes, unpaid wages, and personal injuries.
"The program averages 20-25 attendees per evening representing a wide range of ages from early 20s to 70s and ethnically diverse," says Aronoff.
In addition, Greenberg Glusker developed numerous handouts for participants who want more information on particular topics—available online—that include filing a small claims action, serving the complaint, preparing for court, judgment and appeal, and collecting the judgment.
Commissioner Robert S. Harrison, who sits in Small Claims Court in downtown Los Angeles, concludes, “I’m seeing better evidence packages than when I started—when I never got them in order—so I think the workshops are starting to make a difference in the quality of the case presentation.”
Members of the public whose legal needs can best be met through Small Claims Court can be referred to the Small Claims Workshop and Clinic page at LACBA.org to find out more about signing up for a clinic and to download information.