Residents of Detroit and Wayne 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 Wayne County. Located in downtown Detroit at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, Room 1911, the Self-Help Center is staffed by navigators who can help visitors use the new Michigan Legal Help website (www.MichiganLegalHelp.org) to gain information about how to handle simple civil legal matters. The Self-Help Center is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm.
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Wayne 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 (including Centers 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. Maria Oxholm, Presiding Judge for the 3rd Circuit Court’s Family Domestic Division. “Wayne County courts have some of the highest caseloads in the state, including some very economically-depressed areas of the state. This means that our judges see a staggering number of self-represented persons each year, typically individuals who simply cannot afford to hire an attorney. A staffed self-help center will help these persons as well as the courts to more efficiently resolve their legal problems”
“The Third Circuit Court and collaborating partners applied to be a Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center site because we are committed to serving those in need and empowering self-represented persons to handle their legal issues properly in our courts,” added Hon. Megan Maher Brennan, Judge for the 3rd Circuit Court’s Family Division. “We believe that this Self-Help Center will make a positive difference in the lives of people who cannot hire an attorney to represent them.”
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Wayne 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 Wayne 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, “These stakeholders include judges and staff from the Wayne County Courts, Friend of the Court, Administration, and Clerk’s office, and representatives from the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, Man Power Mentoring, Inc., the Detroit Public Library, the Wayne County Family Law Bar Association, the Arab American Bar Association, Legal Aid and Defenders Association, the William Booth Legal Aid Clinic, and the Eastern District of Michigan’s Probation Office. 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.