In their September 2012 issue, Consumer Reports takes a look at legal DIY websites. While interesting, the article unfortunately fails to note the availability of high-quality legal information and referral materials available for free from the nonprofit legal sector – an important resource for the increasing number of Americans facing legal issues without access to an attorney. Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien wrote a letter to the editor of Consumer Reports, which we’ve reprinted below. Richard Zorza has also responded to the article on his blog. Take a look and let us know your thoughts in comments.
August 7, 2012
101 Truman Avenue
Yonkers, NY 10703-1057
To the Editor,
I was disappointed that the article “Legal DIY sites no match for a pro,” in your September issue, focused only on consumer offerings from for-profit companies, and did not take note of the high-quality legal information and referral materials available for free from the nonprofit legal sector.
It is certainly true, as your article points out, that “many consumers are better off consulting a lawyer.” But millions of Americans cannot afford to do so, and are forced to navigate civil legal issues affecting their family, home and livelihood on their own.
These individuals can turn to free resources produced by nonprofit legal aid organizations and courts around the country, including the network of statewide consumer legal information websites funded by the federal Legal Services Corporation, all of which can be accessed through www.LawHelp.org. In addition, in many states, excellent court websites, often funded by state access to justice commissions, offer self-help tools and information. In both cases, users can feel confident that all of the content is produced by trusted and reliable subject matter experts.
Many of these websites also feature automated online forms, similar to those discussed in your article, powered by Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive service, which enables users to create legal forms for free, based on user-friendly, plain language interviews created by legal aid programs and/or courts with expertise in their jurisdictions. LawHelp Interactive is used by self-helpers in almost thirty states to complete more than 1,000 legal forms per day. Commonly-used forms include those for family law, including child custody and support; housing; wills and advance directives; and consumer debt.
As a mission-based organization working to ensure fairness, Consumer Reports understands the importance of ensuring that justice is not limited to those with means or ability to pay. I hope you will take the opportunity to let your readers know that there are resources available for those facing civil legal issues on their own.