A new webinar series developed by Pro Bono Net and its partners, “Librarians and Access to Justice,” has attracted hundreds of attendees eager to learn how librarians can use online resources to better educate and assist their patrons with legal needs. The most recent webinar, which took place Oct. 11, is summarized below. The last webinar in the series, “Developing Legal Aid-Library Collaborations: Models and Replication Resources,” takes place Nov. 1. Click to register or to see archived versions of the first three webinars.  

“Libraries serve the entire community…  [through libraries] underserved groups have equal access.” – Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager

On October 11, Pro Bono Net’s popular “Libraries and Access to Justice” webinar series continued with its third webinar, “Helping Patrons Find Legal Assistance in their Community: Online Referral Tools.”  This webinar served to highlight several resources available to librarians and patrons, including an overview of legal hotlines, ImmigrationLawHelp.org, and StatesideLegal.org, a website designed to provide information and referrals to service members and their families.  Presenting at the webinar were: Libby Vazquez, Director of the Legal Hotline at the City Bar Justice Center; Ken Ramsey, Program Coordinator at the Immigration Advocates Network; Peter MacArthur, AmeriCorps VISTA at Pine Tree Legal Assistance; and Kathleen Caldwell, Statewide Website Coordinator at Pine Tree Legal Assistance.  Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, moderated the panel, and gave background information on the subject.

Libby Vazquez provided insight on legal hotlines, which allow callers to speak to an attorney or advocate and receive specific legal information on their problem.  Hotlines do not typically provide full representation to callers. As Ms. Vazquez explained, there are several different types of legal hotlines.  Some provide just legal information and referral services to callers, without providing any type of representation, some provide legal information and do intake for ongoing representation within their agency, and others are hybrids of the two.  Legal hotlines may also address certain populations (such as the elderly) or certain topics (such as family law or health law).  To ensure the quality of hotline services, the ABA adopted standards for hotline programs.

Ms. Vazquez also provided numerous other resources the City Bar Justice Center uses in their hotline system, such as LawHelp.org/NY, which provides legal information and referrals (a list of all state legal information websites can be found at LawHelp.org), the state’s uniform court website, DIY forms, and e-court case look ups.  These resources not only provide legal information, but also provide listings of legal aid providers in a geographic region, and in a given subject area.   You can find a listing of legal hotlines in your area at LegalHotlines.org.   Ms. Vazquez also discussed the ABA’s Lawyer Referral Directory, which has contact information for lawyer referral services in all 50 states.

The webinar next highlighted a nationwide resource, ImmigrationLawHelp.org.  As Ken Ramsey explained, ImmigrationLawHelp.org provides information on 960 legal service providers who specialize in immigration law.  This database was created with low-income users in mind, and can assist both librarians and patrons to find advocates and attorneys in this specific field. Each listing provides the agency’s contact information, service area, types of immigration assistance provided, populations served and languages spoken.  The site also supplies information regarding other legal and non-legal services the agency may provide.

Users can search by state, county or detention facility, and can filter the results, download, print or email the results, and map the directions to the agency’s office.  The site is available in multiple languages. The directory information is updated consistently, and the site itself allows users to report any out-of-date information.    To view a demo, check out the webcast of the webinar.   ImmigrationLawHelp.org is a project of the Immigration Advocates Network.

Another nationwide resource explored during the presentation was Stateside Legal.  As Peter MacArthur explained, “Stateside Legal was created three years as a clearing house of easy-to-read information for service members and their families when they have non-criminal legal issues.”  The site was developed by Pine Tree Legal Assistance and the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership.  Stateside Legal provides self-help materials for service members and their families, as well as a referral tool.  Users can browse topics and find a library of legal content geared to the unique needs of service members.  There is also an option to view form letters that individuals can use when facing deployment or coming home, helping them deal with car or cell phone contracts, lease agreements and other contractual issues.

Stateside Legal provides referral resources under their “Find Legal Help” section.  This information includes military legal assistance, to locate legal services that can assist with deployment-related issues; general civil legal aid help, assisting low-income service members with general legal issues; civil or criminal legal services for justice-involved veterans who may be facing criminal charges; and legal service providers who can help with service-related benefits (such as VA related claims and disability benefits).  One new feature of the site was highlighted by Kathleen Caldwell, who explained that users will be able to search different legal help organizations in the database and see all the organizations in a map with their contact information.

If you’re interested in listening to this or any of the past webinars, or registering for one of the future presentations, visit the Libraries and Access to Justice Webinar Series Homepage for information, recordings, and registration information.  All recordings are free and open to the public.  The webinars are being produce with funding from a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative (TIG) grant, in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Louisville, Central Minnesota Legal Services and Legal Services State Support (MN).