Yale, Cornell Law’s A2J Lawbrarians Launch Global Online Access to Legal Information Project (GOALI)

The Global Online Access to Legal Information project (GOALI) will provide universities, nonprofits, judges, and others in low- and middle-income countries access to law journals, e-books, and databases with a focus on international law, human rights, humanitarian law, and labor law.

Recipients within the 115 selected countries have not had previous access to these materials, and this is the first time licensed legal content will be available to these institutions in developing countries. GOALI currently provides access to more than 10,000 legal titles from 60 different publishers. The Yale and Cornell Law librarians will be in charge of curating the content and training users.

From Law.com:

The initiative, Cadmus said, “will promote access to justice by removing the economic and technological barriers to proprietary legal information in developing economies around the world.”

Students, researchers, judges, librarians, policymakers, and labor groups may request access to GOALI. If they are approved and come from a low-income nation, as defined by the UN, they will get free access to GOALI content. Users from middle-income nations pay a nominal fee.

I’m excited to see academic law librarians working on improving access to justice and legal information for low-income communities!

More info on GOALI

 

Madison County Law Library (IL) Receives Grant to Expand & Coordinate Services for Self-Represented Litigants

The Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts Civil Justice Division recently awarded grants to eight circuits, including Madison and Bond counties. The larger Madison County will be using the $15,000 grant to expand their services into Bond County.

In addition to adding computer terminals, Madison County’s A2J lawbrarian Angela Warta will be coordinating between seven counties in Illinois to help the growing number of self-represented litigants in the state. Warta will be bridging communications and partnerships between Illinois courthouses so they can swap ideas, create new tools and resources, and establish programs for assisting self-represented litigants.

It’s really inspiring to see law librarians working with courthouses, lawyers, a2j commissions, and government agencies to come up with best practices for serving self-represented litigants. Read the full article on The Telegraph.

 

Harris County Law Library Expands Services for Low-Income Houstonians

I’m a proud Houston native, so I was especially thrilled to read this announcement.

Joseph Lawson, Deputy Director of the Harris County Law Library, shared a press release announcing extended “Library Booth” hours for self-represented litigants. The booth is staffed by local pro bono attorneys. Full press release below:

HVL Announces Expanded Pro Se Program at County Law Library
Houston Volunteer Lawyers (HVL), a service of the Houston Bar Association, has announced the expansion of its pro se assistance program at the Harris County Law Library, located at 1019 Congress in downtown. Beginning today, the “Library Booth,” as it is commonly known, will be open five days a week, from 9:00 a.m. until noon and from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. The booth previously was open only during the morning hours. Pro se litigants will be served on a first come, first served basis during the hours the booth is open.
The Library Booth provides legal information to individuals who are representing themselves, primarily in family law matters such as divorce and custody modification. In 2017, the program helped 1,457 people.
“Because of the incredible demand for assistance to self-represented litigants, we are pleased to offer expanded opportunities for help,” said Alistair Dawson, president of the Houston Bar Association. “We believe the extended hours will benefit the courts and the administration of justice, as well as the pro se litigants.”
Along with a senior HVL staff attorney and a paralegal, attorneys on rotation from different Houston law firms volunteer their time to help the pro se litigants. HVL also is looking into expanding other aspects of its pro se divorce program, including monthly divorce clinics and paid internships to assist pro se litigants with completing documents and forms such as petitions, final decrees, civil process requests and civil answers.
In addition to the Library Booth, HVL has an office on the 17th floor of the Civil Courthouse, 201 Caroline, to answer questions from pro se litigants from 8:30 a.m. until noon and from 1:00-2:00 p.m.
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Houston Volunteer Lawyers is a service of the Houston Bar Association. The HBA, with nearly 11,000 members, provides professional development, education, and service programs for the legal profession and the community.

 

 

“Eliminating Barriers to Justice” Con: Teach pro se litigants to D-I-Y

The “Eliminating Barriers to Justice” conference at Georgia State University School of Law gathered A2J experts together to discuss access to justice for Georgia’s rural population, specifically for those who speak limited English or have a disability.

During the event, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Nels Peterson noted that access to justice means more than having access to a lawyer. From the Daily Report Online:

The lack of lawyers for people who need help with civil matters in underserved areas is about more than law; it’s about economics, transportation, health care and education, the justice said. People in the South Georgia counties with no lawyers, and the many others with only a handful, have more needs than just legal, he said.

I know there’s been a push for public service lawyers to practice holistic legal representation, and for good reason. When I interned with the Georgia Justice Project years ago on their expungement project, I noticed that clients faced a multitude of barriers to employment beyond their criminal records: lack of access to disability or veterans benefits, housing issues, child support issues, etc.

It was not effective to ignore these other problems and focus solely on criminal records, so attorneys would often triage legal issues according to urgency. Clients were sometimes routed to local partners, such as medical-legal partnerships, social workers, or government agencies.

The Daily Report Online article also features A2J lawbrarian Laureen Kelly, who I talked about a couple of weeks ago on this blog. Since that #TBT article was written, it looks like Kelly has received some much-needed support to offer legal “self-help” services to Georgia’s rural pro se litigants:

She created and expanded a law library in the Daugherty County Courthouse, where she works daily providing research and assistance to people who can’t find or can’t afford a lawyer. She serves on the State Bar of Georgia Access to Justice Committee, which has won a grant to address the rural lawyer shortage. The plan is to use the grant to expand Kelly’s library and make it a pilot project for other parts of the state to copy.

If people in Atlanta or other cities don’t fully understand the needs of rural areas, Kelly seeks to be the translator. When people asked why the state can’t simply provide more legal aid lawyers, Kelly explained that often those who come to her for help do not meet the low-income requirements for legal aid help, but they don’t have the money to pay a lawyer either. Or they do meet the guidelines, but they have a need that legal aid lawyers aren’t allowed to handle such as divorce. Or the legal aid lawyers are already overbooked.

When someone asked why people in underserved areas don’t just use their computers and broadband internet to get help online, Kelly explained than many of the people who walk into her second-floor library don’t have laptops and tablets. A significant number of them can’t read or write, she said.

You can read the full article here. Kelly and all the other A2J lawbrarians out there are undoubtedly amazing for walking so many non-attorneys through the clunky and not-user-friendly-at-all legal system.

I’m always hunting for free, ready-made tools and resources that could facilitate the time-consuming process of explaining legal research and issues to law library patrons. With the help of these resources, law librarians may also be better able to hone in on other legal, social, or medical issues pro se litigants are facing.

Legal

 

Courthouse Help Centers for Pro Se Litigants

From the Hamilton County Law Library Blog:

The Hamilton County Courthouse has a new tenant, one that will hopefully help level the playing field for Pro Se litigants attempting to navigate the legal system on their own.

The Help Center, located on the first floor of the Courthouse in room 113, is an amazing new resource for anyone with questions or who needs help with a legal topic. Staffed by a fully-licensed attorney and law students from UC, this center offers guidance and limited legal advice for any wishing to represent themselves or for those who cannot afford an attorney.

There are no salary caps or other restrictions on who can be seen. Currently, the Help Center focuses on small claims, evictions, garnishments and judgments and has many guides and cheat sheets about each topic. Staff and volunteers can help patrons understand and fill out forms, prepare for an upcoming court date, understand court processes and procedures and even give coaching on how to represent yourself.

Both “Self Help Centers” and “Law Libraries as Resource Centers” are listed in this 2008 Self-Represented Litigation Network report on Best Practices in Court-Based Programs for the Self-Represented, and this 2015 NCSC Trends report has an article that talks about law library-court collaborations. It would be interesting to know how many courts in the U.S. currently house Help Centers with law librarians on hand to help pro se litigants. I’ll look in those reports to get a general idea, and follow the trail from there.