On October 27, Chief Judge Gerald R. Kinney and Circuit Clerk Pamela J. McGuire announced the opening of the new Will County Legal Self-Help Center. The new center is internet-based and is accessible to anyone with a computer and internet access. For those people without a computer or who may need assistance in navigating the website, the public access computers for the center will be available at three locations within the court system. Terminals for connecting to the Will County Legal Self-Help Center will be available at the Law Library in the courthouse, at the River Valley Justice Center and in the Will County Arbitration Center. The Will County Legal Self-Help Center can be accessed online at http://will.illinoislegalaid.org.
“We encourage everyone who comes to court to have an attorney if at all possible,” said Chief Judge Kinney. “The system works more efficiently when litigants are represented by knowledgeable lawyers who understand the court system. However, we know that today many people cannot afford to hire a lawyer and legal aid cannot provide legal representation to all of these people,” he said. “The legal self-help center provides legal information about the simpler, more common civil legal problems that many lower income people may have. If people take the time to use the information on the website to prepare for their court hearing, we think that their court hearing will be less intimidating and frustrating,” he said.
Circuit Clerk Pamela McGuire also expressed her support for the new legal self-help center. “Every day people come into the circuit clerk’s office seeking help because they do not have an attorney to represent them,” she said. “Because we are not lawyers and because we are part of the court system, we cannot provide any legal advice to these people and they are often frustrated when they leave our office. This new center will provide a place where people can get current legal information which should help them when they have to go to court and represent themselves,” said Ms. McGuire.
“In these difficult economic times, I am particularly pleased that we are able to offer a free service to people who may need to come to court but who cannot afford an attorney,” said Ann Dralle, Chair of the Judicial Committee of the Will County Board. “Having this resource means that people who want to take the time to prepare for their court hearing will have a better idea of how the court system works,” she said.
“Will County is to be congratulated for taking a leadership role in working to improve access to the court system in the county,” said Joseph A. Dailing, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. “Members of the county board and Chief Judge Kinney approached Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Coalition for assistance in setting up a legal self-help center for the county. We were happy to respond to their request,” he said. “We are very lucky in Illinois to have an organization such as Illinois Legal Aid Online which has developed and maintains the underlying body of legal information that serves as the backbone for the legal self-help center,” he 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. The homepage of the website features a welcoming video by Chief Judge Gerald Kinney and lists the locations of the three centers for individuals who do not have internet access from another location.
“The goal of Illinois Legal Aid Online is to provide legal information that will help people learn more about their legal problem and provide information to assist people in better understanding the operations of the court system,” said Teri Ross, Outreach Coordinator of Illinois Legal Aid Online. “No legal advice will be provided to people who use the internet-based center. Only a licensed attorney can provide legal advice,” she said. “Without an attorney, individuals must decide on their own what to do based upon the legal information with which they are provided,” Ms. Ross said.
The legal self-help center was developed by a broad-based group of people and organizations in Will County including representatives from the Circuit Court, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, the Will County Board, Will County Legal Assistance, the Will County Bar Association, Will County Law Library and others. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online, both Illinois nonprofit organizations, provided technical support and assistance. The Will County Legal Self-Help Center is the thirty-third such center to open in Illinois since 2007.
Submitted by: Illinois Coalition For Equal Justice on 10/28/2009