Residents of Oakland County who are unable to afford an attorney now have a new place to go for assistance – the Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Oakland County. Located in the Adams-Pratt Law Library in the Oakland County Courthouse at 1200 N. Telegraph in Pontiac the Self-Help Center is staffed by navigators who can help visitors use the Michigan Legal Help website at www.MichiganLegalHelp.org to gain information about how to handle simple civil legal matters. The Self-Help Center is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30am until 5:00pm. Another branch of the Self-Help Center is located in the Oakland County Clerk’s office, and will be available from 8:00am until 4:30 pm Monday through Friday as well.
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Oakland County was selected to be part of a pilot project overseen by the Solutions on Self-Help Task Force. The project includes the Michigan Legal Help website and several affiliated local pilot self-help centers (with three now open in Oakland, Allegan and Oscoda counties). The Task Force was established in 2010 by (then) Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly to improve and coordinate resources for self-represented persons in Michigan.
“We were pleased to be selected as a Michigan Legal Help self-help center site,” said Hon. Denise Langford Morris, Judge for the 6th Circuit Court. “The partnerships and infrastructure that exist to help self-represented litigants in Oakland County will be a great benefit to our center. Though it is always best to hire a licensed lawyer, if possible, the information available through the center will assist many persons who have to handle simple legal matters themselves.”
“The courts see a large number of persons who are representing themselves, and many seek help from our law library,” added Hon. Joan E. Young, Judge for the 6th Circuit Court. “Having a staffed self-help center will provide enhanced services to insure better and more efficient outcomes for these self-represented parties.”
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Oakland County is an internet-based self-help center that makes use of the free legal information available at www.MichiganLegalHelp.org. In addition to the website, self-help center staff (called ‘navigators’) will be available to help visitors find what they need on the website, answer questions about court practices and processes, and answer simple questions about forms that are available on the website. Navigators cannot give legal advice.
The Michigan Legal Help website was created to make legal information easier to understand and to show people who need to handle simple legal matters themselves how to navigate the court system properly and efficiently. The website contains articles explaining specific areas of law, toolkits, forms and instructional checklists. Many court forms can be filled out online using a simple question and answer interview format. The website can also help users look for a lawyer in their area if they need more assistance. The website also includes information about local community services and details about the court(s) where a website visitor’s legal issue may be handled.
Currently, there are specific sections regarding family law matters, protection from abuse, housing issues, consumer law problems, and expungement. Family law matters include divorce, custody, and child support. Consumer legal issues covered are suits regarding debts, small claims, installment payment plans and garnishment. The housing section deals with leases, security deposits, landlord/tenant issues, mobile homes, eviction and subsidized housing. Expungement provides information about setting aside an adult criminal conviction or a juvenile adjudication. Although it does not cover all areas of law, new content will be added frequently.
“We are excited to be working with so many community partners in Oakland County,” said Project Director Angela Tripp. Tripp is the project director for the Michigan Poverty Law Program, which was selected by the Task Force to create and manage the pilot website and self-help center project. Tripp said, “The partners for this self-help center include judges and staff from the Oakland County courts and Clerk’s office, and representatives from the Oakland County Bar Association, the Family Law Assistance Program, the Oakland County Law Library, Common Ground, Legal Aid and Defender Association, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, and Haven. This community-based approach to operating a self-help center is based on the model which Illinois Legal Aid Online has used successfully for more than a decade.”
The Michigan Legal Help web site and affiliated local self-help centers are part of the overall work of the Solutions on Self-Help Task Force to promote coordinated and quality assistance for persons representing themselves in civil legal matters in Michigan. The Task Force is a statewide collaboration of judges, courts, lawyers, bar associations, nonprofit legal aid agencies, legal self-help centers, libraries and many others. For more information about the Solutions on Self Help Task Force and it other projects go to www.sostf.org.
Michigan Legal Help is funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation and The Legal Services Corporation.