Linda H. Lord
Local lawyers will visit 40 libraries across Maine on May 1, Maine Law Day, to speak with library patrons about the challenges an individual faces when confronting a legal problem.
Volunteer lawyers will provide information about how to access civil legal resources and will be available for a brief consultation. Information will be provided about free resources and low-cost legal assistance. Information also will be available for those who do not qualify for free legal help.
Local libraries, times and details can be found online at www.lawyersinlibraries.org.
This event is organized and presented by the Maine Justice Action Group Collaboration on Innovation, Technology and Equal Access to Justice, which includes the Maine State Bar Association, Maine Bar Foundation, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Maine public libraries, Volunteer Lawyers Project, the state judicial branch and other organizations committed to furthering the cause of access to justice.
The Justice Action Group initiated a partnership with public libraries in 2010 to help their patrons discover and learn to use the self-help resources offered through a new website, www.helpmelaw.org. Through HelpMELaw, librarians can help their patrons find easy-to-use interactive tools for preparing court forms and locating reliable information about legal issues.
The Volunteer Lawyers Project approached the Maine State Library for its involvement in 2012. The goal of the Volunteer Lawyers Project is to bring information about Maine's legal system and civil law to people who might not be able to access lawyers on their own.
Some of the key points made by this program include:
* In most civil cases, a person does not get a state-appointed lawyer, even if she or he doesn't believe they can afford one.
* Hiring an attorney does not have to be prohibitively expensive. Some forms of representation, such as limited representation, can create affordable options for those who do not qualify for legal aid.
The Volunteer Lawyers Project and State Library decided to use the new video conferencing infrastructure available in 21 libraries to share live video presentations from the state library.
After each presentation, the videoconferencing permits interactive Q&A with the remote sites, and also opens the door for attendees to seek out more specific assistance through the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Archives of these broadcasts will be available in the next few months via YouTube.
Sessions have covered the following topics: landlord/tenant law; veterans' benefits; tax preparation and guidance; consumer issues and rights; end-of-life legal issues; what to do when in debt; and understanding the family law process.
Librarians who attended special training sessions have been extremely positive. Immediately after a training session, one library director wrote: "60 seconds ago I had a patron looking for legal information. I showed him how to use helpmelaw.org. Perfect! He was so happy."
The Maine State Library and Maine public libraries recognize how critical the Lawyers in Libraries Project is for many Maine citizens and are honored to be able to assist in bringing legal resources to Maine citizens.
Linda H. Lord is the state librarian, working out of the Maine State Library, Augusta.Tweet
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