LawHelp Celebrates 10th Anniversary

VOLUME 10 ISSUE 4October 2012
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LawHelp Celebrates 10th Anniversary

“LawHelp/NY was a tremendous help to me. I never expected to gain so much knowledge about divorce. I feel confident knowing I am on the right track!” – Woman seeking online assistance with uncontested divorce in New York State
This year marks the 10th anniversary of LawHelp/NY, developed by Pro Bono Net and a consortium of New York legal services providers with the goal of providing a central online source of legal information and referrals for the public. Today, with the support of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), LawHelp has grown and evolved into a nationwide network of statewide sites, developed and maintained by hundreds of legal services organizations. The LawHelp network serves upwards of 4.3 million people annually, providing a critical starting point for those at risk of losing their homes, their families and their sense that our society is fair and just.
“Over the past ten years, we have watched LawHelp go from a mere concept to an invaluable resource for LSC-funded legal aid programs. LawHelp has been innovative, client-focused, collaborative, and extraordinarily productive.   With assistance from LSC funding, LawHelp has created a platform and a network of resources that have expanded access to justice throughout the United States.  What a great investment!” - James J. Sandman, President, Legal Services Corporation  
The anniversary of LawHelp/NY was marked recently at the New York State Bar Association’s 2012 Legal Assistance Partnership Conference, where Leah Margulies, LawHelp/NY Project Director, was recognized. In introducing her, Lewis Creekmore, Deputy Director, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, noted, “At this point LawHelp/NY has been a resource literally to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who cannot afford to pay an attorney. And it’s a resource for our programs as well, giving us a single point to use to find resources and information for our clients.”

 

Leah Margulies

The event provided the opportunity to note all of the new services that have been added to LawHelp sites over the years, including LiveHelp, chat-based support staffed by legal aid staff, law students and other volunteers who provide assistance in finding self-help and referral information; access to interactive legal forms via LawHelp Interactive; an increasing volume of multilingual resources; multimedia resources such as video; a new, more user-friendly interface that began rolling out in 2011; and, today, development of mobile versions of LawHelp.
"As a small, rural legal services provider, we receive intakes from all over New York's 44 rural counties.  The legal issues clients are facing include questions about property, housing, family law, consumer debt, disability issues, and a host of other unique problems.   I'd like to say that we have the legal answers or services for all of these clients, but the truth is, we do not.   However, our services are greatly augmented by LawHelp/NY, because not only can we go to your site with a client, we can also learn substantive information that helps us serve our clients.  We are a better program because of LawHelp!”  - Susan Patnode, Director, Rural Law Center of New York
 Efforts are underway to increase awareness of LawHelp among constituencies such as public libraries, which often serve as a critical resource for low-income people seeking assistance with civil legal issues. Libraries and other community resources are especially important in rural areas, where the nearest legal services office may be more than 100 miles away. A webinar series conducted by Pro Bono Net with support from LSC and in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN) has been educating librarians and other community stakeholders about online access to justice resources such as LawHelp, and how they can be used to better educate and assist their patrons with legal needs. Several hundred librarians and other advocates have participated in the series so far. The final webinar is Nov. 1; more information and recordings of previous webinars can be found at www.probono.net/librarywebinars.
“LawHelp has made legal information, legal remedies and basic legal rights accessible from anywhere there is a computer at any time of the day or night. This is particularly important in a large state like Texas, with vast rural areas which have no brick and mortar offices. A decade ago, many in Texas and across the country were excited about this new technology and saw it as a first step toward using technology to disseminate high quality legal information targeted toward those who desperately need it but can ill-afford it. Over the years, it has expanded to become the go-to resource in many states.” - Betty Balli Torres, Executive Director, Texas Access to Justice Foundation

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