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Michigan Legal Help Updates - Fall, 2013
- Our new mobile site is launched! Since over 30% of people who visit Michigan Legal Help are using a mobile device, we wanted them to have a great experience. On 9/1/13 we launched our much improved mobile site - check it out on your smart phone or tablet!
- LiveHelp: Starting October 1, LiveHelp will be available from 11am - 3pm. LiveHelp is a chat-based feature where website visitors can get help using the website. They can also get answers to their legal information questions, but not legal advice.
- Our User's Guide is now available online. If someone is just sitting down to use the website, this can help them understand it quickly and easily.
- Organizations and Courts can now order PR Materials online as well. If you would like some cards, brochures, or flyers about Michigan Legal Help to pass out, we will happily send them to you!
- Custody Toolkits are now available for both Plaintiffs and Defendants who are not married to one another, but need custody, parenting time, and child support orders. These include interviews to create complaints and answers/counterclaims for custody.
- Two new Self-Help Centers are opening this fall, one in Monroe County (on October 7th) and one in Marquette County.
- We celebrated our first birthday on August 17, 2013! We also hit a milestone shortly afterwards on September 15th - one million pageviews.
Thanks for all of your continued support! As always, we love feedback - so please feel free to drop us a line if you have suggestions or comments about Michigan Legal Help and how we can better serve the self-represented people in Michigan.
Michigan Legal Help Assists More than 200,000 Self-Represented Litigants in Its First Year
When MichiganLegalHelp.org launched on August 17, 2012, initial estimates expected around 3,000 visits per week to the legal information website. According to Michigan Legal Help Project Manager Angela Tripp, “This estimate proved too conservative. Starting in January, there were over 5,000 visits per week, and that grew to over 6,000 per week by July. We are very gratified that so many people have turned to the website for help.”
The Michigan Legal Help website was created to provide free legal information to people who cannot afford to hire an attorney and need to represent themselves in simple legal matters. It makes legal information easier to understand and shows self-represented people how to navigate the court system properly and efficiently. The website contains information on many areas of law in the form of articles, toolkits, forms and instructional checklists to help prepare people who represent themselves in court. Many court forms can be completed using a simple question and answer interview format. The website can help users look for a lawyer in their area if they need more assistance, and includes information about legal self-help centers and local community services as well as details about the court where a website visitor’s legal issue may be handled.
In addition to the website, Michigan Legal Help works with communities to open local legal Self-Help Centers, with staff (called ‘navigators’) who help visitors find what they need on the website, answer basic questions about court practices and processes, and provide information about forms that are available on the website. Neither the website nor navigators can give legal advice; they provide only legal information.
Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Centers are now open in Wayne, Oakland, Allegan, Oscoda and Muskegon counties. More centers are expected to open over the next year, including in Marquette and Monroe counties. Information about locations and hours for the centers can be found on the MLH website. In addition, public librarians across the state are being trained to assist their patrons in finding the information they need on the website. People do not have to be at a self-help center or library to use the website, which is accessible via the Internet from any computer or mobile device.
“Many visitors take the time to share how the website has helped them handle a legal problem on their own, or to give suggestions on how Michigan Legal Help can be even better,” Tripp reports. “Some typical messages are: ‘This site was a very useful and informative tool. It has provided me what I need, to represent myself in my divorce hearing. Thank you sincerely,’ and, ‘I was so stressed about this process. Not having money for a lawyer was making me nervous about this entire process. But the website, walked me through the step by step questions with a sense of ease. I am so thankful for this service!!!’”
The Michigan Legal Help Program is the culmination of several years of work by the Solutions on Self-Help Task Force, which was established in 2010 by (then) Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly to improve and coordinate resources for self-represented persons. More than 100 individuals participated in the Task Force’s work, reflecting input from judges, bar associations, legal aid, local self-help centers, libraries and others. Many of these groups continue to collaborate with the effort which is managed by a nonprofit organization, Michigan Poverty Law Program, based in Ann Arbor.
As of August 1, 2013, MichiganLegalHelp.org contained 30 Toolkits, 74 Articles, 312 Common Questions (with answers), 19 Automated Interviews that populate a total of 50 different forms, and referral information for over 212 Organizations (including “Find a Lawyer” and “Community Organizations”). There are videos to educate people about using the website and what to expect when going to court. The legal information content available now is in the areas of Family Law, Protection from Abuse, Consumer Law, Housing Law, Expungement, Income Tax, and Public Benefits. More content is added regularly.
In the second quarter of 2013, website visitors used the automated interviews to create 7,359 sets of forms, placing Michigan fifth in the nation among states using these types of automated forms. Tripp said, “These numbers are impressive, as many other states are more populous and have had resources available for self-represented people for much longer than one year.” She also noted that the website has had more than 200,000 visits since the launch a year ago.
The response to MLH in its first year demonstrates the need for assistance for those who must represent themselves because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer or because nonprofit legal aid agencies do not have enough resources to help everyone who qualifies for their services. Also, courts are seeing an increasing number of self-represented persons; one court reported at least one self-represented party in 80% of all divorce cases and both parties in 50% of such cases.
The Michigan Legal Help Program plans to expand to cover more areas of law especially needed by low-income persons. In addition, a LiveHelp feature will be launched this fall enabling website visitors to chat online with navigators who can help them find what they need on the website.. In response to the fact that over 30% of website visitors access the site through a mobile device or tablet, an updated mobile version of the site will be available in September. Also, by year end, much of the content on the website will be available in Spanish.
The website also has links to a User’s Guide and informational flyers which can be downloaded and printed out for groups to distribute to potential website users. Questions or requests for other information can be directed to Angela Tripp via the feedback link on the website.
Mid-Summer Michigan Legal Help Site Update
There have been a few exciting additions and improvements to the Michigan Legal Help website in the past three months.
First, new resources in the area of housing have been added to the Michigan Legal Help website. There are now three different Answer to Eviction Complaint Toolkits, each with an automated interview to help people draft their Answers. These toolkits are for filing answers to complaints for Non-Payment of Rent, to Recover Possession of Property (formerly known as Termination of Tenancy), and for Eviction from a Mobile Home Park. Each toolkit also has an interview to draft a Motion to Set Aside Default in a Landlord/Tenant action in case people need that as well.
Second, the interview for Petition for Personal Protection Order (Domestic Relationship) has been revised and improved. The plaintiff side interview to prepare documents for a custody case is live, and the rest of that toolkit will be launched very soon. The defendant side custody interview and toolkit will be launched in mid-August.
Finally, we wanted to share with you some of our recent statistics - since the beginning of 2013, we have been averaging over 5,000 visits per week. Also, between the website launch in August, 2012 and the end of June, 2013, 35,000 automated online form interviews were started via Michigan Legal Help, with over 17,000 completed forms being generated. We are so happy that many people are accessing these tools!
Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Muskegon County Opens July 1, 2013
(Muskegon, MI.) Residents of Muskegon 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 Muskegon County. Located on the 6th floor of the Michael E. Kobza Hall of Justice (990Terrace Street), the Self-Help Center helps visitors use the Michigan Legal Help website at www.MichiganLegalHelp.org to gain information about how to represent themselves in simple civil legal matters. The Self-Help Center is open on Monday through Friday from 8:30am until 4:30pm.
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Muskegon County is part of the Michigan Legal Help Program, which consists of a statewide legal self-help website (MichiganLegalHelp.org), affiliated local self-help centers and partnerships with courts, bar associations, libraries, legal aid and others to educate those who assist self-represented persons.
The Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Center of Muskegon County is an internet-based self-help center that makes use of the free legal information website www.MichiganLegalHelp.org. In addition to the website, during certain times self-help center ‘navigators’ will be available to help visitors find information 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 how to navigate the court system properly and efficiently. The website contains articles explaining specific areas of law, toolkits, forms and instructional checklists to help prepare people who represent themselves in court. 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.
Current website sections include family law matters, protection from abuse, housing issues, consumer law problems, public benefits, income tax, 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. Public benefits materials include articles and common questions about state and federal public benefits such as food stamps, cash assistance, and Social Security benefits. The Income Tax materials focus on the Earned Income Tax Credit and other credits, and opportunities for free tax preparation for low-income individuals. 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 the community partners in Muskegon County,” said Project Director Angela Tripp. Tripp is the project director for the Michigan Poverty Law Program, which manages the Michigan Legal Help Program. Tripp said, “The support for this self-help center includes judges and staff from the Muskegon County Circuit, District and Probate Courts, as well as the County Clerk. 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.”
Do You Need a Self-Help Center in Your Area?
Would your community benefit from a legal self-help center? If so, read on to learn how you can cooperate with others in your local legal community to apply to open a Michigan Legal Help affiliated self-help center this year! This will let you bring the resources of the Michigan Legal Help website to even more people by giving them access to computers and staff who can help them navigate the website and answer questions about legal processes.
Michigan Legal Help Self-Help Centers: Request for Proposals. Bar associations, courts, libraries, existing self-help centers and other government or nonprofit entities are invited to apply to open a new local self-help center site that uses the Michigan Legal Help website as a primary resource. Existing self-help center sites may also apply in order to expand and become an official affiliate of the Michigan Legal Help Program. The deadline for submitting a proposal is June 28th, 2013.
These legal self-help center sites will receive staff training and support, and are eligible for some start-up funding, if needed. All sites will be affiliated with the Michigan Legal Help website, which is an up to date, trustworthy, innovative, statewide, user-friendly website. Currently, the website contains basic content in the areas of family, housing, protection from abuse, consumer, public benefits, income tax and expungement law. It also provides links to help persons locate a lawyer if they wish to retain one, and to local self-help centers and community resources. Planned expansion of the site includes additional areas of content, the implementation of LiveHelp, a chat-based resource, and the addition of Spanish language content. Even with relative quiet marketing, the website is receiving broad use since it launched in August, 2012, with over 140,000 visitors and 600,000 page views to date.
In 2012, four local self-help centers directly affiliated with the Michigan Legal Help Program were opened; all are doing brisk business. Several other pre-existing self-help centers also use website materials. However, there are many locales where no formal self-help center yet exists and many of our state’s residents are not yet able to access the help they need when faced with a legal problem and many courts are struggling to handle large numbers of unrepresented litigants on a daily basis. Should you choose to submit a proposal, you will not only represent an important local resource, but your experience will contribute significantly to the development of self-represented litigant resources in Michigan as a whole. Illinois, for example, has been able to open a local self-help center in each one of its counties.
Please consider whether you would like to collaborate with others in your community and apply to develop a self-help site for your county or region. I look forward to hearing from you and am available for any questions or concerns you might have as you move forward.
Co-Managing Attorney, Michigan Poverty Law Program
Project Manager, Michigan Legal Help Program
220 E. Huron Street, Suite 600A
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Updates and Upgrades to Michigan Legal Help!
There have been a few exciting additions and improvements to the Michigan Legal Help website in the past few weeks.
The first announcement is that the people using the Divorce and Answer/Counterclaim for Divorce interviews are no longer required to use Internet Explorer! All automated online form interviews on Michigan Legal Help are now "browser independent." This change is due to a server upgrade by Law Help Interactive, the company that hosts the interviews. Because this is a very big change, there is a chance that there might be small quirks or problems in the interviews. We did a lot of testing before the upgrade, but there may still be hidden issues - if anyone finds such a quirk, please send an email to LHI at email@example.com or use the "Contact Us" link on Michigan Legal Help.
Second, there are new resources on Michigan Legal Help in the areas of income taxes and public benefits. These new resources mainly consist of informational articles. We will also launch our automated online form interview for the Waiver/Suspension of Fees & Costs by the end of the week.
Finally, we wanted to share with you some of our recent statistics - since the beginning of the 2013, we have been averaging about 5,000 visits per week. Also, between the website launch in August and the end of December, 2012, over 10,000 automated online form interviews were started via Michigan Legal Help, with over 4,500 completed forms being generated. We are so happy that many people are accessing these tools!
Thank you for your continued support of Michigan Legal Help - it means a great deal to us.
Justice Marilyn Kelly Makes National Presentation on Michigan Legal Help
Justice Marilyn Kelly (Michigan Supreme Court, Ret.) spoke about the Michigan Legal Help program to a national audience during the recent mid-year meeting of the American Bar Association in Dallas. She explained how the program assists self-represented persons in Michigan and why judicial leadership in creating and maintaining such programs is important.
In 2010, then Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly established the Solutions on Self-Help (SOS) Task Force to promote coordinated, quality help for persons who have to represent themselves in simple civil legal matters. In doing so, she said the effort was needed to help close “the justice gap” for the increased number of self-represented litigants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer.
In her speech, Justice Kelly said she hoped her participation in the Task Force helped demonstrate judicial commitment for the effort. She encouraged the audience of legal aid funders to get judges visibly involved in their programs to assist the self-represented. She also noted that many judges and other individuals from the court system participated with legal aid, legal self-help centers, lawyers, librarians and others in the SOS Task Force. She said that collaboration built broad support for the project, allowed resources to be centralized rather than duplicated and laid the groundwork for future expansion.
Justice Kelly detailed the work of the Task Force, which ended in December of 2012, and explained that its work continues through the Michigan Legal Help Program, particularly its innovative website and affiliated self-help centers supported by the Michigan Poverty Law Program. She said that the Task Force’s efforts in related areas, such as training materials for courts and libraries, policy improvements and working toward more understandable and consistent forms throughout the state were also important. Justice Kelly quoted recent statistics, including about 250,000 page views in the first few months of website operation, and positive feedback from users and commended the many people in Michigan and around the nation working to improve resources for the self-represented.
Divorce Answer and Counterclaim Toolkits Now Available
Did your spouse recently file for divorce? If so, you may want to file an answer and possibly a counterclaim in order to stay involved in the case. The new toolkits on Michigan Legal Help can help you find information about the divorce process and file these documents on your own. Whether you have children or not, these toolkits have articles and common questions about divorce in Michigan and about being a defendant in a divorce case. They also have an online interview that you can use to complete the court forms you need to file an answer and counterclaim in your case, and instructions for what to do after you have completed the forms. The toolkits also have referrals to local legal services agencies, helpful organizations, and information about the courts and offices that will handle your divorce.
If you and your spouse do not have minor children, and your spouse filed for divorce recently, visit the My Spouse Filed For Divorce, and We Do Not Have Minor Children toolkit. If you and your spouse do have minor children, and your spouse filed for divorce recently, visit the My Spouse Filed For Divorce, and We Have Minor Children toolkit.
Small Claims Toolkit Now Available
Do you have a legal claim that is less than $5,000? If so, you may be able to handle this matter on your own in Small Claims Court. In small claims court, the parties cannot be represented by attorneys, and you aren't allowed to have a jury trial. Your case may be decided by a Judge or by a Magistrate. This toolkit has articles and instructions for handling your small claims case from start to finish. It also has an online interview that you can use to complete the court forms you need to start your case.
If someone has filed a small claims case against you, this toolkit can also help you with articles about small claims court and defending a case in small claims court. Learn more at http://www.michiganlegalhelp.org/self-help-tools/consumer/i-have-small-claims-case.
New Interviews Available on Michigan Legal Help
Michigan Legal Help rings in the new year with two new online form-completing interviews for users! We have new tools for answering a complaint if you're been sued in a debt collection case, and for requesting a hearing from the Department of Human Services if you're having trouble getting public benefits such as food stamps, cash assistance, or state emergency relief. Please check them out!