Chief Judge James Lanuti announced the opening of a new, internet-based LaSalle County Legal Self-Help Center. The new center will be located in the LaSalle County Courthouse at 119 West Madison in Ottawa. A public access computer will be available to find information on the internet-based website. A court staff member will be available to show people how to use the website from 8:00 am – Noon, Tuesday through Friday. No legal advice is provided. Individuals who have a computer with internet access can connect to the legal self-help center 24 hours a day, seven days a week by going to the LaSalle County Legal Self-Help Center homepage at LaSalle.IllinoisLegalAid.org.
The LaSalle County Legal Self-Help Center was developed to provide legal information to the increasing number of people who are coming to the courthouse without an attorney to represent them. The center is focused on providing legal information on simpler civil legal problems of lower income people including court pleadings, instructional videos and other information on non-court legal problems such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and related matters. “The legal self-help center is not an adequate substitute for representation by an attorney and we encourage all litigants to find legal representation, if at all possible,” said Chief Judge Lanuti. “We realize, however, that many people coming to court cannot afford to hire an attorney and Prairie State Legal Services cannot handle all of the requests that it receives for representation. As a result, many people are forced to come to court on their own, often with little understanding about how the court system works. If unrepresented people take the time to read the information on the website and to prepare for their court hearing, we think that their experience in court will be more meaningful and less intimidating,” he said.
“Locating the new legal self-help center at the courthouse will make it much easier for unrepresented litigants to research their legal problem and determine what they can do to resolve the matter,” said Joseph A. Dailing, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. “Judge Lanuti and LaSalle County are to be congratulated for taking a leadership role in working to improve access to the court system in the county,” he said.
“In the last few years, more and more people have contacted Prairie State Legal Services to represent them with their legal problems,” said Don Dirks, Managing Attorney of the Ottawa Office of Prairie State. “We simply don’t have enough staff attorneys and pro bono attorneys to handle all of the requests for representation, particularly at a time when we are facing budget cuts ourselves” he said. “We are happy that there will now be a place for those individuals who we cannot help to find legal information,” Dirks said.
The internet-based legal self-help center provides legal information and court pleadings on a broad array of simpler civil legal problems. The website also has videos explaining the court system and how to go to court. The homepage of the website features a welcoming video by Chief Judge Lanuti. There is also a list of the hours when assistance will be available at the courthouse for those individuals who do not have access to the internet. Illinois Legal Aid Online, an Illinois nonprofit organization, developed the homepage and the underlying website. Legal information on the website is updated regularly to ensure that the content is current and correct.
“The goal of Illinois Legal Aid Online is to provide legal information that will help people learn more about their legal problem and the operations of the court system,” said Stacie Colston, Outreach Coordinator of Illinois Legal Aid Online. “No legal advice will be provided to people who use the internet-based center. Only a licensed attorney can provide legal advice,” she said. “Without an attorney, individuals must decide on their own what to do based upon the legal information with which they are provided,” Ms. Colston said.
The legal self-help center was developed by a broad-based group of people and organizations in LaSalle County including representatives from the Circuit Court, the Circuit Clerk’s Office, the LaSalle County Bar Association, Prairie State Legal Services and ADV & SAS. The Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice and Illinois Legal Aid Online provided technical support and assistance. The LaSalle County Legal Self-Help Center is the forty-eighth such center to open in Illinois since 2007.
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