Lawrence County Courts Announce the Opening of New Legal Self-Help Center

Lawrence County Courts Announce the Opening of New Legal Self-Help Center

 At a press conference today at the Lawrence Public Library, Judge Robert M. Hopkins and Circuit Clerk Peggy Frederick announced the opening of a new online Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Center. The legal self-help center is a collaborative project between the courts and the Lawrence Public Library District. Start-up funding is being provided by The Illinois Bar Foundation.

The online center was developed to provide accurate information on Illinois law to the growing number of people who cannot afford an attorney or find a pro bono or legal aid attorney to represent them. People who do not have access to an internet-enabled computer can use the public access computers at the Lawrence Public Library to use the materials on the website. Individuals using the self-help center from any computer will be able to access legal information on a wide variety of civil legal issues. The information is available in a number of formats including videos, articles, court pleadings both automated and fill-in documents. There is also information on non-court matters such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Unemployment Compensation and other matters.

“We want everyone to have an attorney to represent them in court, if at all possible. In a number of instances, people are not able to afford an attorney but our local legal aid, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance, simply does not have enough staff or pro bono attorneys to meet the need for representation” said Judge Hopkins. “Going to court on your own can be a daunting experience. In those situations where people must come to court on their own, the legal self-help center will provide them with useful information and pleadings for a number of simpler civil legal problems,” he said. “All too often, unrepresented people show up in court with no idea of how the court system works or what they need to do. For those people who are willing to take the time, the Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Center will provide helpful information and guidance, including legal forms,” Judge Hopkins said.

The Circuit Clerk’s office will also begin handing out a sheet to unrepresented litigants which identifies possible sources to obtain legal help. “The clerks in my office meet people each day who need legal information and until now, we did not have a place to refer them,” said Peggy Frederick, Circuit Clerk. “Because we are not lawyers and because we are a part of the court system, we cannot provide assistance to these people,” she said. “The new legal self-help center should be a great help to many people,” Frederick said.

For those people who do not have access to a computer, public access computers will be available at the Lawrence Public Library during regular business hours. For those people who have access to a computer with an internet connection, the center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Lawrence.IllinoisLegalAid.org.

“The Lawrence Public Library District is happy to be a part of this new collaborative
project. Our role as a library is to be a source for information to our patrons in a wide variety of areas. Having the Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Center located in our library provides us with a new resource for our patrons, especially those people who have a legal problem or who may just need to know more about the law,” said Theresa M. Tucker, Director of the Lawrence Public Library. “Our board and staff are very pleased to work with the Lawrence County Circuit Court in making this new resource available,” she said.

The center is a result of the collaboration of a number of people and organizations in the county including the Lawrence County Circuit Court and the Circuit Clerk’s Office, the Lawrence Public Library District board and staff and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice provided technical support and assistance in setting up the center to the Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Planning Committee.

The Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Center will feature a welcoming video from the Chief Judge Stephen Sawyer of the Second Judicial Circuit. The homepage also lists the hours of operation and address of the Lawrence Public Library. Six legal topics of most interest to self-represented litigants in Lawrence County are listed on the homepage. Other legal information can be found by clicking the search bar at the bottom of the page.

“Illinois Legal Aid Online will continue to maintain the website on which the Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Center is based,” said Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator for Illinois Legal Aid Online. “We are constantly trying to improve the website, add new information and update information on a regular basis,” she said. “We are proud to help Lawrence County set up its own center and we look forward to an ongoing relationship with the court and the library,” Ms. Colston Patterson said.

The Lawrence County Legal Self-Help Center is the seventy-eighth such center opened in Illinois since 2007. For additional information, please contact Judge Robert Hopkins at the Lawrence County Courthouse.

Submitted by: Illinois Coalition For Equal Justice on 04/09/2012