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2015 End of the Year Greetings
Well, the verdict is clear: we’re doing lots of things right! The Michigan Legal Help Program is now in its third year, and the state-wide project to help self-represented litigants in Michigan is growing:
- 6.3 million page views to www.michiganlegalhelp.org since August 2012
- 23,000+ visits per week
- 276 sets of forms completed per day on LawHelp Interactive
- 10 Self-Help Center locations
As 2015 ends, we would like to share some recent highlights with you:
- This fall we improved the website design. The new toolkit layout collapses the Common Questions and makes the important, county-specific Checklists easier to find. We also updated the LiveHelp button so it floats on the screen while you search the site. Traffic on the chat service increased right away. Now it is easier for visitors to find the legal information they need and succeed with their cases. If you have any feedback about these changes, we'd love to hear it!
- As always, we continue to develop new legal content and work with our partners. The new section on Estates & Guardianships achieves both these goals. The Small Estates Toolkit: How to Transfer Property When Someone Dies explains simplified processes and informal probate proceedings. The automated interview helps people handle estates valued at $22,000 or less.
- We are also very proud that the Spanish-language version of the website, ayudalegaldemichigan.org, is complete! All content, including housing, is available en español. We will continue to translate new content as it is added to MLH.
- The Self-Help Network also grew by a lot in 2015! Services to the Detroit metro area increased dramatically. MI Supreme Court Justice Viviano came to the MLH Self-Help Center of Macomb County opening on October 22nd. Then, on November 19th, the MLH Legal Self-Help Center of Southwest Detroit opened at Family Alliance for Change. This site will complement the bilingual website and help Latino residents. This SHC is the second one in Wayne County. The original site, on the 13th Floor of the Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit, expanded its services this month! Approximately 300 hundred people per month use the six computer stations now available. Welcome to all of our new Navigators who joined this year!
We are grateful to everyone who has helped to improve and expand our project. And we are excited about what is coming in 2016! Look for a new content area on Special Education coming soon…
Happy Holidays from the MLHP Team
Michigan Legal Help Legal Self-Help Center of Southwest Detroit Open
People in Wayne County who need information about how to handle simple civil legal matters but cannot afford an attorney have a new place to go for help– the Michigan Legal Help (MLH) Legal Self-Help Center of Southwest Detroit. This new center is located at the Family Alliance for Change, a community center at 3627 W. Vernor in Southwest Detroit that offers support, advocacy, referrals, resources and education to all Wayne County families. With the addition of the MLH Legal Self-Help Center, now families can also find support when dealing with some legal issues.
Visitors to the Center can get assistance using the Michigan Legal Help website in English (www.MichiganLegalHelp.org) and Spanish (www.ayudalegaldemichigan.org), and can use the Center to access computers and printers. The Center is open to the public on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.. All services are provided free of charge.
The MLH Legal Self-Help Center of Southwest Detroit complements the well-established service delivery model of the Family Alliance for Change (FAFC), a parent driven, peer-to-peer service dedicated to supporting, educating, and empowering parents with special needs children. In the Legal Self-Help Center, FAFC Parent Support Partners serve as trained Navigators who help visitors find information they need on the Michigan Legal Help website. While Navigators cannot give legal advice, they can answer questions about court practices and processes, help visitors locate and complete the SCAO-approved forms available on the website, and find referrals to a lawyer or community service providers.
The Spanish-language version of the website, www.ayudalegaldemichigan.org, was launched in September 2014 in an effort to reduce language barriers in access to justice. Toolkits from all ten content areas are now available in Spanish. The LiveHelp chat service, which allows visitors to the website to ask questions via chat, is staffed by bilingual Navigators through Michigan Legal Help. Six informational videos covering topics from “Going to Court” to “How to Serve Divorce & Custody Papers” to “How to File a Personal Protection Order” are available in both English and Spanish. Automated form interviews that enable litigants to request a foreign-language interpreter, personal protection order, or a fee waiver are other examples of how Michigan Legal Help works to make the court system accessible regardless of language proficiency, national origin or income level.
The MLH Legal Self-Help Center of Southwest Detroit is the second self-help center to open in Wayne County, the tenth in the state-wide MLH network, and the first bilingual MLH Self-Help Center in Michigan. This newest center represents the joint efforts of the Michigan Legal Help Program and its local partners, including Development Centers, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides a continuum of prevention, treatment and training services to meet the behavioral health, social and vocational needs of individuals, families and the community.
The Michigan Legal Help Program is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering people to participate in the justice system through a website and individual self-help centers that provide tools to help people navigate the legal system effectively. Visitors can access free articles, court-approved forms, and toolkits designed to enable them to resolve their legal problems independently. Many court forms can be filled out online using a simple question and answer interview format. The website can help visitors look for a lawyer in their area if they need more assistance; it also includes information about local community services and details about the court(s) where a visitor’s legal issue may be handled.
“We are so pleased to be a part of the second Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center in Wayne County,” said Hon. Kathleen McCarthy, Presiding Judge of the 3rd Circuit Court’s Family Division. “Many of our litigants do not have access to legal representation or to legal aid clinics, especially those who do not have readily-available transportation or who speak Spanish as their primary language. The new bilingual Self-Help Center in southwest Detroit will enable residents to access free legal information and forms easily without having to come downtown to the courthouse. The center, along with the Michigan Legal Self Help website that is available in English and Spanish, will serve as a great resource for our community and the court system.”
By clarifying county-specific procedures for filing paperwork properly and providing clear answers to common questions, the MLH Self-Help Centers around the state are essential to ensuring access to justice for self-represented litigants. The standardized forms and automated interview process benefit the courts by educating the general public and improving accuracy and efficiency in court proceedings.
Currently, the MLH website has legal information about family law matters, protection from abuse, housing issues, consumer law, expungement, public benefits, income tax issues, estates & guardianships, and individual rights. In addition to the four metro Detroit Self-Help Centers, Michigan Legal Help collaborates with lawyers, court personnel, librarians, community organizations and volunteers from around the state in building a strong network of public legal support.
“We are delighted to be working with so many community partners in Wayne County and throughout metro Detroit,” said Michigan Legal Help Program Director Angela Tripp. “The integration of the Self-Help Center of Southwest Detroit into an established network of community services gives us the chance to reach even more people who need legal help. We are so excited about the growth in the Self-Help Center network state-wide, and about this very first bilingual center in southwest Detroit.”
The original Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Wayne County is located in Smart Detroit, Suite 1300 of the Penobscot Building, at 645 Griswold in downtown Detroit. Six computer stations are now available to the public at this site, and trained staff is also available to assist visitors in navigating the justice system. The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Oakland County is located in the Adams-Pratt Law Library in the Oakland County Courthouse in Pontiac. The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Macomb County is located in the James C. Daner Law Library in the Circuit Courthouse in Mt. Clemens.
The Michigan Legal Help Program is funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, the Michigan Supreme Court, and through grants from the Legal Services Corporation.
More coverage of the newest MLH Self-Help Center of Macomb County
Yesterday's Grand Opening of the newest SHC in Macomb County
Self-help center for legal matters opening in Macomb
By Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press
The center will be in the law library on the fifth floor of Macomb County Circuit Court in Mt. Clemens
Macomb County residents who need information about how to handle civil legal matters but cannot afford an attorney will have a new place for help.
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Macomb County is to open its doors Thursday in the James C. Daner Law Library on the fifth floor of the Macomb County Circuit Court building in downtown Mt. Clemens.
This will be the third self-help center in metro Detroit, with other centers located in Smart Detroit in the Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit and in the Adams-Pratt Law Library in the Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac. There are six other local self-help centers throughout the state, according to a written statement.
The Macomb County center will be free for visitors.
Visitors can use computers and printers for free articles, court-approved forms and toolkits to help them resolve legal problems on their own. They also can receive help using the Michigan Legal Help website in English or Spanish at www.MichiganLegalHelp.org or www.ayudalegaldemichigan.org.
The center in Macomb County will be open 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
It is being offered through a joint effort with the Michigan Legal Help Program, Baker College and Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc.
Interns from the paralegal program at Baker College will help visitors find what they need on the website, find referrals to a lawyer or community service programs and answer questions about court practices and processes. They will not be able to give advice and will be supervised by staff from the Legal Aid and Defender Association Inc.
The Michigan Legal Help website has legal information about family law matters, protection from abuse, housing issues, consumer law, expungement, public benefits, income tax issues, estates and guardianship and individual rights. The nonprofit organization is funded by the Michigan State Bar Foundation, the Michigan Supreme Court and grants from the Legal Services Corp.
Contact Christina Hall: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
Grand Opening of the MLH Self Help Center of Macomb County!
We are excited to announce the launch of our newest Self Help Center in Macomb County! The grand opening celebration will be tomorrow, October 22nd, from 11:30am - 1:30 pm. There will be an esteemed panel of speakers beginning at noon, including Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano. We hope you can join us there at the Macomb County Court's law library!
Details in the attached press release.
MI Supreme Court Finds Sharp Increase in MLH Use
The MI Supreme Court analyzed patterns of useage for the Michigan Legal Help resourece, and their results confirm what we see every day:
More and more people are visiting the website to acess information, and many of them choose to complete the automated interviews we have prepared to assist people in competing court forms for all sorts of civil matters.
Based on this year's traffic and record of completion, we are on track to produce over 60,000 interviews by the end of 2015!
Change is good!
One constant in life is change...here at Michigan Legal Help, we have some new changes to tell you about!
- New Content! Last month we added three new toolkits to MLH. In “I Need to Revoke (Undo) My Husband’s Paternity” and “I Need to Revoke (Undo) My Paternity of My Wife’s Child,” you can learn how the new Revocation of Paternity Act works to change paternity of children born or conceived during a marriage. A new automated online interview allows you to draft the forms you need to handle this legal problem. In “Small Estates: Transferring Property When Someone Dies,” you can learn about how to distribute someone's property after death when there is only a small amount of property to distribute. This toolkit also has an interview you can use to figure out how much each heir inherits, and helps you draft the forms you need.
- Ayuda Legal de Michigan: The Michigan Legal Help team has been busily working to add new content to Ayuda Legal. In the past few months we have added many new toolkits in Spanish. Three Protection from Abuse interviews have also been added.
- Self-Help Centers: The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center Network of Calhoun County opened on May 1st! This group of five self-help centers can be found in the public libraries in Albion, Tekonsha, Homer, and Battle Creek (both Willard and the Helen Warner Branch).
- New Staff: As the Michigan Legal Help team loses one staff attorney, we gained a new outreach and development team member. If you'd like Michigan Legal Help to do outreach in your area, please contact us!
- New Laws: Whenever a law changes, we have to make needed changes on Michigan Legal Help. We do this as quickly as we can, but sometimes it still takes a while. The biggest change lately has been the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. We're working to update our resources here - thank you for your patience! Please check back soon if you aren't finding what you need.
New legal information available!
Do you have questions about getting your Michigan ID or Driver's License? We've got answers for you witih our two new toolkits! These tools replace the former MichID website, which has been decomissioned.
Are you recently unemployed? We also have a new toolkit that explains how unemployment benefits work and how you can apply for them. We'll be adding more toolkits soon about appealing denials of unemployment benefits and other related topics.
Finally, we've added several new toolkits and videos to our Spanish-language website, AyudaLegaldeMichigan.org. If you or someone you know would rather read legal information in Spanish, Ayuda Legal can help.
Changes to Michigan's Expungement Laws
Michigan's expungement laws changed recently. The new rules allow someone with one felony conviction and two or less misdemeanors to set aside the felony conviction. Or, if you have one or two misdemeanor convictions and no felony convictions, you can ask to set aside one or both of the misdemeanors. You must still wait for five years from the date of sentencing, release from prison, probation, or parole to file your application. Find out if you qualify to set aside your conviction by using our Automated Online Application to Set Aside Conviction interview.
Michigan Legal Help Evaluation Report
Part of making Michigan Legal Help the best resource it can be is doing a formal evaluation of our work. Here's a report looking at the effectiveness of MLH in helping people navigate the divorce process: http://goo.gl/yYmw3O
We spent several months designing the study, four months collecting data by surveying divorce case files in clerks' offices and interviewing court and self-help center staff, then several more months analyzing the data and reducing it to a written report. This project was funded primarily by a Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation.