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|New Legal Self-Help Center Opens for Jackson County||
On October 22, Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice in conjunction with Southern Illinois University School of Law Library, Sallie Logan Public Library and Carbondale Public Library announced the opening of an internet-based legal self-help center for residents of Jackson County. The new center will provide legal information directed to lower income unrepresented litigants in Jackson County.
While the center can be used by anyone with a computer and internet access, people without a computer or internet access will be able to visit three Jackson County locations to use the legal information found on the center. Computers will be available at the SIU School of Law Library, the Sallie Logan Public Library in Murphysboro and the Carbondale Public Library. The Jackson County Legal Self-Help Center can be accessed online at http://jackson.illinoislegalaid.org.
The homepage of the center features an introductory video by the Chief Judge of the First Circuit, Mark H. Clarke. It also contains the three locations of the center as well as six links to common civil legal problems. A search bar at the bottom of the homepage allows a website user to locate additional legal information, videos and written articles on many civil legal problems. The website and legal information is maintained and updated by Illinois Legal Aid Online, an Illinois nonprofit corporation. Similar centers have been opened in more than thirty counties of all sizes throughout Illinois.
“Every judge in Illinois sees more and more people each week who are coming to court on their own. Coming to court without an attorney can be both intimidating and frustrating. All too often these self-represented litigants have only a vague idea of their legal problem and how the court system works. Most of these people cannot afford to hire an attorney or are not able to obtain representation from a Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance attorney or a pro bono attorney,” said Joseph A. Dailing, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. “Even with a pro bono program, the number of people requesting legal representation exceeds the number of attorneys available to represent these individuals,” he continued. “While the legal self-help center is not an adequate substitute for representation by an attorney, it does provide legal information which can be helpful to the unrepresented litigant when he or she must go to court without an attorney,” Dailing said.
“We strongly encourage everyone to have a lawyer in court, if at all possible,” said Mike Fiello, Managing Attorney of the Carbondale Office of Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. “We provide representation to as many low income people as we can but our staff is limited. We have a large geographical area to serve and the reality is that we cannot help everyone, even with the volunteer lawyer program,” he said. “For those who cannot find or afford a lawyer, the Jackson County Legal Self-Help Center will provide useful information to these people representing themselves in court,” Fiello concluded.
“It was here, at the SIU School of Law that the first Illinois internet-based legal self-help center was established,” said Teri Ross of Illinois Legal Aid Online. “Because of recent funding losses, SIU has had to close its center. We are happy to be able to build on the strong tradition of the law school in being a leader in the provision of legal information to unrepresented, lower income people by opening this new self-help center,” she said. Librarians and law students will be trained to assist patrons with finding legal information on the website. “No legal advice will be provided to people who use the internet-based center,” said Ms. Ross. “Only a licensed attorney can provide legal advice. Without an attorney, self-represented litigants must decide on their own what to do based upon the legal information with which they are provided,” she said.
The internet-based legal self-help center provides legal information and court pleadings on a broad array of simpler civil legal problems. The website also has videos explaining the court system and how to go to court. As noted, the front page of the website features a short welcoming video by First Circuit Chief Judge Mark H. Clarke.
The legal self-help center was developed by a broad-based collaboration of people and organizations in Jackson County including representatives from the Circuit Court, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Carbondale Public Library, Sallie Logan Public Library, SIU School of Law faculty and students, The Women’s Center in Carbondale and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online, both Illinois nonprofit organizations, provided technical support and assistance.
The Jackson County Legal Self-Help Center is the thirty-second such center to open in Illinois since 2007. Similar centers operate in Alexander, Pulaski, Massac, Pope, Saline, Johnson and Union Counties in the First Judicial Circuit. A grant from the Illinois Equal Justice Foundation through Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance provided the funding to purchase a computer, printer and supplies for the new legal self-help centers. The Illinois Equal Justice Foundation receives it funding through an appropriation from the Illinois General Assembly.
Submitted by: Illinois Coalition For Equal Justice on 10/28/2009