This summer, I have the pleasure to be interning at the Court Service Center (CSC) in Greenfield, Massachusetts. The Greenfield CSC is located in the beautiful Greenfield District Court (pictured at left). People either come in person or contact the CSC remotely, and we provide pro bono assistance to people who do not have lawyers while they navigate the court system. I chose to work in this field because I wanted to gain real-life experience and knowledge about the justice system and to see how people in society are directly impacted by the court system.
Something I have noticed that comes up a lot in every space I have been present in so far is how complicated the court system is. The reason why people in the community come to us at the CSC is because they do not have a lawyer to help them figure out which forms to fill out, how to fill out those forms, or the possible options of what to do next. Starting out, many people do not know the processes of the court system and do not have the money to afford a lawyer. When someone has more money and resources, they typically have an easier time getting through their case. In our society, not everyone is fortunate enough to have their own lawyer and can be left in the dust, figuring things out for themselves.
The CSC addresses these injustices by being a free resource for legal information, referrals, pamphlets, guides and much more. Unfortunately, there can be many filing or publication fees, which under certain circumstances can be waived, but many people are unaware that there even is a fee waiver available. A second injustice that I have seen is for those who do not speak English very well. They have a more difficult time understanding what they need or could do and how to fill out paperwork correctly. A woman I work with speaks Spanish and English, and she told me how scared some people are just being in the court building and feeling lost about what to do, especially for someone who does not speak English or is an immigrant.
One of my main tasks is doing initial intakes to figure out what services a litigant is in need of or interested in. Once they meet with one of my supervisors, I may be asked to help litigants fill out forms correctly or contact them for more information if the person is contacting us remotely. Another one of my tasks includes updating guides and pamphlets to make sure they are accurate and written in a way that is easy to understand. Lastly, I attend meetings in the community and in other areas of the Greenfield District Court to learn about upcoming events or to gain knowledge on other topics relating to the court system.
In a larger, direct way, I will be helping by just being another person to guide people through the complicated court system. This lightens up the work for my supervisors so they are able to help more people. There are so many people who interact with the court service center every day, so the more hands on deck, the quicker litigants get what they need. In a smaller sense, keeping guides up to date and written in plain terms so everyone can understand them is very important because they can be essential resources.
From a basic standpoint, making people more aware that the CSC exists and is an important resource will be a first step towards progress. Having pamphlets, forms, and guides in different languages would make the CSC more accessible for non-native English speakers. Through the community meetings, I have seen how many community organizations have come together to try and find or workshop possible solutions to problems in the community. The court system has been very concrete for a while, but the biggest changes that could be made are finding ways to make the system easier to navigate for someone who does not have a lawyer. I am excited to see what I will learn and experience the rest of this summer in the complicated court system.