Judge David K. Frankland and Circuit Clerk Patsy Taylor today announced the opening of the Edwards County Legal Self-Help Center. The internet-based center will provide legal information to individuals who cannot afford to hire an attorney and are unable to secure representation by a legal aid or pro bono attorney. Individuals who do not have access to an internet-enabled computer can use the public access computers at the Albion Public Library to use the materials on the legal self-help center. Librarians have been trained to assist people in initially using the website.
“We in the court system believe strongly that litigants are best served when they are represented by a skilled attorney. We also know, however, that many people are coming to court without an attorney to represent them because they cannot afford to hire an attorney and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance does not have enough attorneys to provide representation to every low income person,” he said. “Unfortunately many of these self-represented litigants have inadequate or incorrect information about the law and how the court system works,” said Judge Frankland. “It is often a very frustrating experience for everyone in the courtroom. The new Edwards County Legal Self-Help Center can help lessen the problem by providing litigants with information about Illinois law, court pleadings and several short informational videos about courtroom rules and conduct. We appreciate the involvement of the Albion Public Library as a partner in this project. Having public access computers available at the library will be critical for many lower income people who don’t have access to the internet,” he said.
“People often come into the circuit clerk’s office and want us to help them fill out court pleadings or tell them what they must do in court,” said Circuit Clerk Patsy Taylor. “We aren’t lawyers and we can’t give legal advice. My deputies and I are pleased that we now have a place where we can refer people to get the information that they need in court when they can’t find legal representation,” she said. The Circuit Clerk’s Office will begin handing out an information sheet which provides information on how to seek legal representation as well as information about the Edwards County Legal Self-Help Center.
State’s Attorney Mike Valentine commented, “A legal self-help center is a great resource to have for the people in the area. Not only will it provide materials for individuals to educate themselves on certain civil legal topics, but it will also help them to prepare documents that they might otherwise have trouble with. I think that it’s great idea.”
The online Edwards County Legal Self-Help Center can be accessed 24 hours/day and 7 days a week by individuals who have access to the internet. The center can be found at http://Edwards.IllinoisLegalAid.org. Individuals who do not have access to the internet at home or through a friend or relative can use the public access computers at the Albion Public Library during normal business hours.
The homepage will have a welcoming video from Chief Judge Stephen Sawyer of the
Second Judicial Circuit and a list of the public access location in Edwards County. The homepage also lists six common legal problems of lower income people. A link at the bottom of the page will take the user to the website’s search bar to look for other legal information. The center also provides legal information on a number of non-court legal problems such as Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, Powers of Attorney and other matters.
The center is the result of the collaboration of a number of people and organizations in Edwards County. These organizations include the Circuit Court, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, the Albion Public Library, the Edwards County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Edwards County Public Defender, the Victim Witness Coordinating Committee and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online provided support and technical assistance to the planning committee. Start-up funding for the Edwards County Legal Self-Help Center was provided by The Illinois Bar Foundation.
“The goal of Illinois Legal Aid Online is to use technology to help improve access to justice for lower income people in civil matters,” said Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator for Illinois Legal Aid Online. “Working with the Coalition and local courts, circuit clerks, bar associations, public libraries and other community groups, we have set up a network of legal self-help centers across the state to provide current legal information to lower income litigants when they have no other resource,” she said. “These legal self-help centers have become even more important in the last year as legal aid organizations are once more facing loss of revenue and will be forced to lay off attorneys. Particularly in rural areas, the legal self-help centers will be the only source of legal help for many people,” she said.
The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice is a project of the Illinois State Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Association. Illinois Legal Aid Online is an Illinois nonprofit corporation whose mission is to use technology to improve access to justice. Illinois Legal Aid Online developed and maintains the underlying website. The Edwards County Legal Self-Help Center is the seventy-sixth such center to open in Illinois since 2007.
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